My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!

My relationship with shojo anime and otome games is an interesting one. I haven’t played any otome games myself, though I am quite familiar with a fair few of them, and the only shojo anime I’ve seen is Akatsuki no Yona, one that I reviewed years ago. My main criticism of that show—or one of them, at least—was the protagonist, Yona. I hated how the show tried so desperately to make you like her because of her ‘fiery personality’ and ‘strong will’, and in general I spent most of my time with that one sympathizing with the character Hak’s constant struggles and joking about the protagonist’s reverse harem. There were unique things about it, to be sure, but in a lot of ways it was the worst kind-of example of what’s wrong with a lot of shojo anime, with the protagonist and her “merry band of hot guys” at the center of it all. Why is that relevant to this review? Well, I’m not sure if you could really call this a shojo anime per-say, but it sure does come close. To understand why that is, you need to understand the premise; Katarina Claes, the spoiled rotten daughter of a duke, hits her head on a rock when she’s about 8 years old and regains the memories of her past life. Before she was reincarnated as a noble, she was an otaku who died on her way to school after playing an otome game called Fortune Lover all night. After regaining her memories, not only does her personality do a complete 180, but she realizes that she’s actually in the world of the otome game that she’d been playing before she died. On top of that, she’s been reincarnated as that game’s villain—the aforementioned Katarina Claes—who ends up either being exiled or killed in pretty much every ending of Fortune Lover. Thus begins the protagonist’s quest to tear down all of her death flags to try and escape that inevitable fate; and with that basic plot summary, there are some conclusions to be drawn. Since this is an otome game we’re talking about (which is basically like a reverse dating sim where you play as a girl and try to win the heart of a guy), you can probably imagine that, much like the aforementioned shojo anime Akatsuki no Yona, there’ll end up being a reverse harem of guys. Well, there is, but the big difference between this and that is how it’s handled; the intro of the show, and in fact the first three episodes chronicling Katarina’s childhood leading up to the events of the game in which she’s been reincarnated, is fantastic. The very first thing that really blindsides you is just how likeable and fantastic of a protagonist Katarina actually is. Initially, I was actually quite hopeful, but expected that Katarina would be a bit more like a stereotypical otaku and part of the intro would be focused on how she has to acclimate to living as a noble. Instead, the show focuses not on how she has to try and play the part of a noble lady while she’s an otaku on the inside, but moreso on how her completely bucking the trend of being prim and proper is such an important part of what makes her so special to everyone around her. And that particular theme—Katarina being an important part of the lives of everybody around her—is one of the show’s most core aspects. As the show’s opening episodes chronicle how she meets and forms friendships with all of the male characters, not only are those characters likeable, but they go through significant character development driven by Katarina herself, and legitimate reasons are established as to why they end up romantically interested in her. And it isn’t just the male characters; Katarina ends up positively changing the lives of just about everybody she meets, and a few female characters end up romantically interested in her as well, something that surprised me. By trying to tear down her own death flags and change her eventual ending for the better, she ends up inadvertently making all of the important characters fall for her and essentially becoming the protagonist without even realizing it. And yet, for as dense as the protagonist truly is, it’s somehow believable; she’s so caught up in the idea that she’s the villain, that the male characters will inevitably fall in love with the game’s original protagonist and that her life is in danger to the point where you can actually sympathize with her denseness. That alone is nothing short of impressive, and in general the show does a fantastic job of making the protagonist immediately likeable. There are plenty of other things that made my first impression of the show so strong; the very impressive art and animation and the unique art style—while the show is quite modern and shiny looking, it still manages to have a unique looking storybook aesthetic that fits the otome game theme very well. The pacing, especially in regards to the first three episodes, is fantastic and the show does a really fantastic job of introducing you to all of the characters and important plot details in such a way that it all sticks with you. Even though the show is not particularly plot heavy and is driven less by the initial hook of Katarina trying to avoid her eventual bad ending than you might think, this doesn’t take away from it at all. The intro does a great job of introducing you to all of the side characters and making you like them, and this factors into how the show ends up being very character driven and focused on Katarina’s relationships with everyone and how she has touched their lives. And yet despite this, it actually downplays the romance aspect and focuses instead on how all of Katarina’s various potential love interests end up coming together and forming a rather tight knit group of friends. All of them are keenly aware that they are love rivals—with the exception of Katarina herself, of course—and yet they get along, with Katarina bringing them together and never giving any one of them a disproportionate amount of attention. Despite the show’s short 12 episode length, it tells a complete story with a satisfying conclusion and doesn’t leave behind any loose plot threads or unanswered questions, ending on a positive note after a genuinely unexpected and exciting plot twist. Over the course of the show, Katarina remembers her past life in greater and greater detail, and it becomes more important to the story over time. It’s almost uncanny how despite this technically being an Isekai, it never feels like it at all; it feels almost totally different to the usual Isekai formula, and I think that primarily has to do with how we are made to care about Katarina Claes, not the otaku girl who died and was reincarnated as her. I absolutely loved this, and the show handles it in such a fantastic way, particularly towards the end. About the only particular criticism that comes to mind, at least in regards to the end, is how the protagonist ends up conveniently remembering a very important detail at a particular part of the story, but this is minor and doesn’t really matter because the plot twist itself that accompanies it is a good one, and the show does a good job of making the viewer realize it themselves only moments before the protagonist does; it’s a genuinely good reveal! Another thing that I’ve neglected to point out until now; the comedy is fantastic. The show is genuinely funny and you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at a lot of the jokes, not to mention with a constant smile on your face. In general, it gives off that same feeling as other “feel-good” shows like Kin-Iro Mosaic, Iruma-kun, Seitokai Yakuindomo, etc. Venturing back to what I said before about expecting that Katarina would act more like a stereotypical otaku, she ends up totally subverting that expectation, and in all honesty this is for the better as she is just such a funny, down-to-earth and well-written character with plenty of interesting character quirks and personality traits. A point is made of letting the viewer see what is going on in her head, and this helps you not only sympathize with her plight, but understand why she does a lot of the things that she does. Constantly somewhere inbetween treating the world like a video game and making deep, personal connections with the people within it, she’s simultaneously grounded in reality and fiction, sobered somewhat by the idea that failing to change the events of the game she knew in her past life will mean her death. In theory, all of the actions that she takes are motivated by her quest to avoid her inevitable death or exile, but eventually actions that she takes are motivated moreso by her love for her friends than personal gain, and end up inadvertently helping her achieve her ultimate goal. Even though the world presented here is a fantastical one, those elements of it are often downplayed; despite the characters all attending a magic academy and being able to use said magic, Katarina herself is only ever capable of casting incredibly weak spells and rarely does anything particularly dangerous or exciting happen, which is a big part of why I mentioned before that the entire show is very character driven. In fact, Katarina’s total acceptance of her magic being hopelessly weak is another one of her really well done positive character traits, and the contrast between Katarina’s extremely weak magic and the powerful magic of all of the other characters makes their infatuation with her all the funnier and more meaningful. The show’s OST is really good and stands out while fitting the theme perfectly. The show has moments with genuine emotional weight despite its overall light tone, and in general it’s just absolutely god-damn fantastic. I would highly recommend you give this one a watch. Aina would be proud.

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