Rather than the RPG genre as per usual with isekai anime, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (Hamefura for short) bases itself around the visual novel. Upon getting injured in the head, Katarina Claes (Maayua Uchida) remembers her past life as an otaku and that the world she’s been reborn into is the same as an otome game she’s played called Fortune Lover. There is a catch to this realization however. In Fortune Lover, Katarina is the antagonist who, regardless of what route the player takes, is fated for either exile or death. Katarina must now use her knowledge of the game’s original story in order to change her future and survive.
That’s..actually a pretty clever concept, perhaps far too clever for isekai and light novels but clever nonetheless. A problem with mixing gameplay and worldbuilding is that it’s an extremely cheap means of shorthand used to avoid actually creating an interesting world. Save for a few exceptions, unless your story is actually set in a game, having characters talk about stats and leveling up is incredibly dubious. Visual novels however, are light on gameplay and heavily focus on narrative so when Katarina says her world is like the game, it’s a little easier to take seriously. For all intents and purposes, the world of Fortune Lover is just that, a world.
Utilizing the nonlinear, branch-based structure of the genre is not only shorthand but also a neat twist on a scenario we’re all very familiar: a character finding about their future and actively trying to avoid it. It also creates a huge sense of uncertainty. Whereas a game can be replayed, Katarina’s life will only go in one direction: forward. She has no concrete way of knowing which route she’ll end up in and thus must take into consideration every character, every event, and every action she makes.
And I won’t lie, it does get very funny watching Katarina do whatever she thinks will help her in the long run. She creates a mental council of various personalities, the leader of which has a Monopoly mustache, to debate over what she should do. She takes sword and magic training far more seriously than her in-game counterpart ever would so that she can better fend for her life. She pursues gardening so that she can bond with the Earth which is the element her magic is mainly based in. The best part is seeing how everyone else reacts to her actions. They’re all confused and, in the case of her parents, horrified at how differently Katarina is now acting.
Katarina’s main approach to changing her future however is changing how she interacts with other characters, specifically the bachelors of Fortune Lover. This includes Gerald (Asami Seto), her betrothed, and Keith (Sora amamiya), her step-brother. Katarina’s engagement with Gerald is a key part of the latter’s route but unfortunately for her, the former unwittingly allows it to develop. She’s currently seeing much better success with Keith, straying away from the emotional abuse her in-game counterpart inflicts on him and instead acting as an actual sister.
I kind of wonder how genuine Katarina’s actions are. There’s a great climatic moment in this premiere where she gets injured after spurring Keith into showing her his magic and whereas the original Katarina would probably lay the blame on him, the one we’re following reconciles with Keith and assures him that she still wants the two of them to be family. It’s an effectively emotional note for the episode to end on but the extent in which this is her saving her hide versus her doing it out of genuine love feels a bit too blurry for my liking. Admittedly, the Katarina we’re following is clearly not the same character from the game so she clearly feels very differently about Keith. Still, it’d be great if future episodes address with Katarina’s exact feelings on the people she needs to interact with and her actions towards them.
There’s some other things I’m curious about. What effect will Katarina’s actions have on the people around her. Will any of them change or will some stay the same no matter how hard Katarina tries? One especially has to wonder what will happen when she meets the would-be heroine, Maria. I imagine she’ll treat her much more kindly but that should surely have a profound effect. It’d be really funny if it results in Maria falling in love with Katarina…and I’ll be extremely disappointed in this anime if it doesn’t go with such a good punchline…and if that ship doesn’t sail.
That I’m curious about Hamefura‘s story at all says a lot about my first impressions on it. Even with isekai anime that I thought looked decent, I’m rarely ever vying to see more of them. With this show, I do want to see how things pan out. I still hesitate to say I’ll watch this to completion, but up to the three episode mark? The halfway point? It’s very possible actually.
OP: “Shoujo no Route wa Hitotsu Janai!” by angela
Thanks for reading!
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! on Crunchyroll