While Ascendance of a Bookworm has taken on the role of an isekai series with a well-realized fantasy world starring a heroine slowly working to bringing down the class system, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! has a much more straightforward goal: to be a bisexual harem anime with the world’s most endearing, dumb-as-a-brick protagonist. Let it be known that it accomplishes this with aplomb and heart to spare.
In My Next Life as a Villainess, our heroine was an awkward nerdy teen before being hit by the roving truck that now targets isekai protagonists with fanatical precision, at which point she wakes up as a young girl in a fantasy setting. A strangely familiar setting, at that; it turns out that our heroine has been reincarnated into the world of her favorite dating sim, Fortune Lover… as the villain, Catarina Claus. Knowing that if things follow the plot of the game she’s destined for death or exile, Catarina gets to work trying to change her fate, unwittingly charming everyone in her vicinity along the way.
While it has broad appeal as a comedy, Villainess is likely to be a particular draw for visual novel fans. Catarina herself embodies the fantasy of knowing just the right thing to say in order to make everyone’s lives better, and the script is filled with sly winks to dating sim tropes large and small. For the casual player, there are the spot-on descriptions of the typical archetypes in a given game’s roster and the many jokes turning around the genre’s love of absurd (and absurdly tragic) fail states. Meanwhile, longtime fans of the medium could easily figure out future plot developments just by paying attention to what Catarina doesn’t mention. It’s smart writing that goes beyond shallow parody; this is a series that clearly loves both the games it’s poking fun at while also understanding that its world and characters need to be able to stand on their own.
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And more than anything, it’s just nice to see queerness normalized outside of explicitly labelled BL and yuri series. While that’s starting to become more normalized in dramatic-leaning works like Stars Align and Flip Flappers, it’s rarer to see in pure comedies, where queer characters are still more likely to be the butt of a joke. While one of Catarina’s suitors does occasionally shade into the “weirdly possessive lesbian” stereotype, the gender balance of the potential love interests makes it feel more like an individual character trait than an indictment of her sexuality.
Neither does the writing compulsively throw in “no homo” explainers every time a girl declares their affection for Catarina, who remains oblivious to all affection thrown her way even as she waxes poetic about how pretty her girlfriends are. Even if the show refuses to pick a “winner,” which is fairly common for harem series, its welcoming tone remains throughout. And to top it off, the whole story feels complete at twelve episodes despite the ongoing (by popular demand) source material. Bright, energetic, and unrepentantly kind, Villainess is an ideal watch for anyone looking to take a twenty-minute breather from 2020.