So I’m a Spider, So What?

Before we get into the thick of this one, a bit of background; I’ve been using the site MyWaifuList for a solid while now to keep track of good characters from all sorts of different sources. At some point, they introduced a little something called MyWaifuList News. One of the joke articles published on there was the announcement of an anime adaptation for “So I’m a Samsung Flexwash Frontload Washer, So What?”, a very obvious parody of this show and what initially introduced me to it (If you haven’t seen the aforementioned article, I strongly recommend looking it up, it’s hilarious). After reading that article and finding out about the source material it was parodying, I decided that I would eventually have to watch this at some point given the actual premise honestly isn’t that much more ridiculous than the washing machine parody version. Well, not too long ago it finally finished airing and just a couple of days ago I sat down and sank my teeth into it. Speaking of the premise by the way, I’m sure you can already guess that this show is very upfront about what it is; an Isekai anime where the main character dies and gets reincarnated into a fantasy world as a spider. Now, I’m sure many of you are already drawing the immediate comparison I did. “This show seems like a rip-off of Reincarnated as a Slime!” And honestly, the similarities are undeniable and extremely obvious right from the beginning. “So I’m a Spider, So What?”, with the original Japanese title of “Kumo Desu ga, Nani ka?” is not at all afraid to draw from all kinds of different sources for inspiration, so much so that there are tons more comparisons to be made here aside from just Reincarnated as a Slime. At the end of the day, I think that’s part of the problem; instead of trying to create something new, the writers instead try to put their “own spin” on a world built on a foundation of borrowed concepts. In and of itself, borrowing ideas and taking inspiration from numerous sources isn’t necessarily a problem, but the end result we see here can only be described as overly convoluted and lacking in substance. If I had to describe it in the most simple way possible (and for clarity’s sake this review is gonna be filled with spoilers, my apologies), it’s like a bizarre homogenization of the Rance, Rising of the Shield Hero and Star Ocean universes; a gamified matrix-like “system” built by God-like administrators filled with RPG elements such as levels and skills where the whole skill system in and of itself is hiding really sinister shit. Hell, even the “seven deadly sins” theme is ripped straight from Rising of the Shield Hero. I’m not gonna bother to explain everything in detail, half because that would spoil the whole show and half because none of it fucking matters. Let’s look at Rance for a second, something this show pulls from very heavily. Now, I’m a Ranceverse lore nerd, but let’s set all of that aside for the moment and talk about what it’s like to play through the games casually without digesting every last bit of lore info through outside sources. When I think of playing the Rance games and experiencing their stories naturally, I think of absurdist comedy, strong characterization, really interesting and organic worldbuilding, etc. The lore exists to serve the story, not the other way around. That’s the problem with Kumo Desu ga; the lore is the story. All the important characters ultimately have to find out the truth of their world, why it’s headed towards destruction and what their strategy is to prevent that, and because so much time and effort is spent focusing on this and trying to drive the plot and world further and further out of the box, it becomes tired and bland. I’m not usually the type to criticize anything for blending genres, but the introduction of new sci-fi elements here towards the end just feels silly, almost bordering on parody despite how seriously the show tries to take it. The characters themselves are dry and uninteresting, and there’s too much build up with critical information presented to the viewer in an intentionally incomplete way despite the main character already fucking knowing all of it, resolving themselves to save the world from being destroyed for reasons we don’t know and are never told because of a horribly misguided pretense from the writers that it’s “too early” for the audience to know everything. Look, I understand that I’m a Rance lore nerd, but thinking of this show reminds me of a quote from videogamedunkey’s Cyberpunk 2077 review; “Nobody gives a rat’s fucking ass about the minute details of fictional technology. That should not be the focal point of dialogue in your game.” That same sentiment applies strongly here; the over-focus on details of the universe completely overshadows characterization and makes the story fall flat on its face and feel pointless. From what I understand, while the original source material is extensive and more detailed it still follows the same basic plot line with the same characters. What reason do I have to care about any of them besides the main character? All of the heroes are generic and bland, and all of the villains are presented as being enigmatic, callous and emotionless. There’s supposed to be a setup for a story exploring the moral gray area of whether ends justify the means and whether or not the heroes are truly in the right or not, but that doesn’t work if you don’t write villains who are more relatable. If you want me to question whether or not the heroes are the true villains, maybe try putting some effort into humanizing both sides? This isn’t fucking rocket science, guys. Now, I know I’m kinda ranting a bit here about the issues this show has, but the truth of the matter is that I actually really liked it and enjoyed my time with it! The thing about Kumo Desu ga is that it does a poor job of playing to its strengths; but those same strengths are so strong and so well done that they redeem a lot of its weaknesses. In contrast to the impersonal overarching plot stretching across both of the show’s main casts (essentially two separate story arcs set years apart running in parallel in order to give context to eachother), the very personal story of our protagonist, the spider Kumoko, is absolutely fantastic. We hotswap constantly between the story of Kumoko and that of the Hero’s party, creating a strong and intentional contrast between the two very similar to what we see in the good part of Arifureta (another show from which this one clearly takes very strong inspiration, apparently Arifureta’s second season is mid-run at the moment). Whereas Shun the Hero’s story is humorless, characterless and filled with political intrigue, Kumoko’s is a very personal story about survival in the face of overwhelming odds and trying to make the best of your circumstances. First and foremost, Kumoko and her whole side of the show in general are just funny. There’s a lot of really great comedy here, and while at first Kumoko comes off as a bit overwhelming and off-putting, she quickly grows on you and you become invested in her struggle to survive and build a better life for herself. We see that in her past life she was an unfulfilled socially awkward loner resigned to her lot in life, and after being reincarnated she decides she wants to take the opportunity she’s been given in order to live her life to the fullest the second time around. The personality hiding beneath her socially awkward exterior is endearing and extensive with hidden layers of complexity despite the way in which her character is presented as being down-to-earth and simple. Even though her side of the show is comedic, it’s also violent and disturbing, filled with dark undertones and really interesting characterization. As she grows more accustomed to being a spider and doing whatever is necessary in order to survive, Kumoko goes through subtle changes which become more pronounced over time, slowly losing her humanity and being desensitized to death by not only her determination to become stronger and survive, but the game-like nature of the world itself. Her story asks the question of whether or not her actions are ultimately justified, and her character is a case study of how we in real life have a tendency to see our own actions as being justified. It’s really awesome and I thought for the most part that it was done really well; it’s just a shame there are so many problems biting at the ankles of what makes the show genuinely compelling. One of the biggest I’ve seen other people talk about is the CGI; this show’s animation is rough, without a doubt. The animators made what seems like a stylistic choice to use an absolute ton of CGI, to the point where it’s simply too much. Despite what some would have you believe, it’s not embarrassingly bad nor is it all bad; in fact, the first half of the show sticks to using CGI mostly for Kumoko’s story and it works pretty well there. Kumoko herself is very animated and expressive, and the various monsters she fights look cool and are mostly well animated. The problem is during the second half where the animators start getting lazier and the CGI starts bleeding into too many scenes—one of the primary issues with using CGI for human characters is that it’s very hard to make them expressive. Main characters are animated in CGI during later episodes in which they look like extremely uncanny automatons, it’s just not done very well. Other issues are present as well; there’s a scene where one of the demon army commanders teleports in that looks absolutely ridiculous, there’s a scene where a dragon gets a hole blown through his chest and it looks like they literally just deleted polygons from the model and did nothing else, etc. Once the show starts using a lot of CGI for its human centric parts, there’s a really clear and stark contrast between it and how much better the traditional 2D animation looks. In general, the animation for human characters in 3D is just awkward and stiff as well. They really should’ve stuck to 2D for human characters and 3D only for monsters and other shit where it can actually work. There are also numerous scenes where mouths of speaking characters are blatantly hidden; come on guys, what was even the animation budget you were working with here if you had to try and cut down costs in such a ridiculously cheap way? Even still, for the most part I would say that the animation is mostly fine, doesn’t take away from the show too much and anybody who tells you it’s downright offensive on the eyes is definitely blowing things way out of proportion, I’ve noticed over the years anime fans like to shit on anything CGI heavy. Despite so much of its world structure being borrowed from other sources, the world here is still somewhat interesting and the political intrigue is actually kind-of engaging despite the fact that the characters are so god-damn bland. If anything, I think Kumoko gives you a bit of an anchor making you more interested in the details of the plot than you would otherwise be; I found myself interested in learning what Kumoko’s fate would ultimately be in the far future of Shun’s storyline and what her relationship was with the Demon Lord, which kept my attention almost to the end. I mean, I binge watched this shit—24 episodes watched in two days, the first day during which I watched like 17 of them before finally getting too tired to continue. While the show’s first half is definitely its strongest, the second doesn’t drop off as hard as I expected and was still a good watch up until the end. Ah, the ending… it’s disappointing, man. Nothing is resolved and the show ends on a cliffhanger for both Kumoko and Shun, and Kumoko’s entire reconciliation with the Demon Lord feels forced as hell. An absolute ton of screen time is dedicated to Shun and his party during the last few episodes showing us really lame and half-baked action sequences and delivering a bunch of exposition, introducing the aforementioned bland, enigmatic villains. We finally learn who Kumoko actually is in the future except that it doesn’t make any fucking sense. I understand that Kumoko is socially awkward and the very aggressive side of her we’re shown is mostly in her head and as a result of her prolonged isolation within the labyrinth, but the 180 she seems to have done in the future is simply inconsistent with her character; how the hell does she go from being outspoken, down-to-earth, funny and determined to being this completely emotionless enigmatic kuudere who doesn’t give a fuck? It’s an extremely disappointing reveal and it feels like the further she gets towards being humanoid, she’s slowly character assassinated. In fact, during the very last episode in which she evolves into an Arachne, we get to see her in a semi-human form for the first time and it is beyond disappointing, it’s far less expressive and well animated when compared to her original spider form and it feels like her whole identity is different in a bad way. In terms of the ending itself, I don’t think it’s an intentional attempt to try and get people to read the source material, I really don’t. Instead, it seems like the people adapting that source material tried to bite off more than they could chew, forcing them to end things on an unsatisfying note because there was simply no way to try and fully tell the story of the original web novel even after making a lot of concessions and removing a lot of shit, which I’ve seen fans of the original novel absolutely dunk on them for. Honestly, I’m not of the same opinion; I think they did a good job of trying to adapt the source material and were quite faithful to it despite how much had to be omitted. In the end, even after trying to omit all of the parts they saw as being unnecessary in order to buy themselves time, there’s simply too much here for them to fully adapt as a result of how overconvoluted the story itself is, and so all they can really do is make an ending practically begging for a second season. Rocky animation quality aside, the “adaptation” part of this anime adaptation is not bad at all; most of the problems its story has have to do with its original source material. And sure, I can’t comment on the exact differences because I don’t know them, and most importantly I don’t know how much more detail is given in the novel compared to the show. But even if they did try to incorporate everything they omitted, would that be better? Do we not already get enough exhaustive exposition about the universe in a show which completely fails to ingratiate us to any of its characters aside from Kumoko, who gets character assassinated later for the sake of driving an impersonal plot exploring whether or not the ends justify the means when trying to prevent the destruction of the world? It’s just a crying shame, man. There’s so much potential here, even with the very same universe I’m criticizing. A lot of it is genuinely cool and it incorporates lots of really cool concepts done well in other shows and given a unique spin in many cases. I liked the religious politics regarding how people worship the voice they hear when gaining levels and skills as a goddess and some of the hidden depth to the skill system itself. But in the end, so much of that stuff is poorly utilized. And despite all of that, I still really enjoyed my time with the show because of how genuinely awesome a character Kumoko is throughout the vast majority of its runtime, how great the comedy is, some of the well done action scenes, the killer opening and ending songs and pretty good original soundtrack, the really interesting layers of complexity and dark undertones of Kumoko’s character and journey through the labyrinth, etc. I’m not sure if I could confidently recommend Kumo Desu ga as being worth your time, and that pains me—the more biased part of me would say to give the show a try if the positives I mentioned seem interesting to you, and see if you like it. For real, this show is a great example of why review scores are so fucking meaningless and arbitrary. Honestly, I’m actually a bit curious to try reading the novels now which is rare for me, if only to see how much really changes by comparison to the show.

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