Doctor Elise: The Royal Lady with the Lamp – Episode 1

By: Alex Henderson January 11, 20240 Comments
A blonde woman in a white formal dress running across a cloudy sky background

Content consideration: blood, surgical procedures, mention of terminal illness

What’s it about? Empress Elise is a wicked villainess who gets betrayed and sentenced to death, only to be reincarnated in a very different world as an ordinary girl named Aoi. To atone for the evil deeds of her past life, Aoi trains to be a doctor, and grows up to be one of Japan’s most respected surgeons. But then Aoi herself dies in a plane crash, and wakes up back in Elise’s body.

We’re doing reincarnations upon reincarnations this season. It’s enough to make you dizzy! This is honestly a pretty interesting premiere, though; I just wonder if it’s actually going to keep the elements that made it interesting as it goes forward.

Maybe it’s just novelty value (there aren’t that many anime about adult, professional women embroiled in fantasy plots, but villainess isekai are becoming dime-a-dozen) but I found myself intrigued by Aoi’s story. A reverse isekai in which a very archetypal fantasy character is reborn into the audience’s real, modern world and has to navigate its unfamiliar aspects while consciously trying to make the most of her second chance at life? That’s neat!

Closeup of a serious-looking woman dressed as a surgeon

It’s not bad storytelling, either. It’s gradually revealed that Aoi is a self-aware former villainess while the audience watches her live out her normal life. The show doesn’t feel the need to explain or narrate every little thing and characterizes Aoi by her sweet-natured interactions with co-workers, patients, and strangers. Some of it’s a bit twee, and I’m a little confused about Aoi’s work (surgeons usually specialize, but Aoi seems to be an expert at every kind of surgery ever. She’s just really good! Don’t worry about it), but hey, there’s characterization in this thing. She’s likeable, motivated, and is clearly carrying internal conflict, dedicated to her work and trying not to let slip to her friends that she’s haunted by the mistakes and heartbreaks of a past life.

It’s brief, but the episode puts the work into making her feel like a character, which inflicts a genuine sense of loss when Aoi dies. This is something these sorts of isekai often lack—setting up a sense of the protagonist’s life before their death and rebirth, providing a sense of who they were and what they’ll be missing. Honestly, it’s pretty solid. There’s even a neat sense of dramatic irony as a kicker: Aoi dies because she leaves her own injury unchecked while saving everyone else’s lives, a poetic but brutal reversal of the selfishness that sent her to the grave in her first life. Damn! I’m sad!

Closeup of a blonde woman with purple eyes looking into a mirror. Subtitle text reads: I'm back in Elise's body?

But… given that Aoi is dead and has now turned back into Elise, the next question is: will the show retain or return to any of the stuff that made this episode fresh, different, and interesting for me? I assume that now we’re back in the fantasy world, the story’s focus is going to stay there. Things seem nicely set up for Elise—like other time-looped wicked queens before her—to try a second run at her first life and aggressively try to be a better person this time, armed with foresight and a lifetime’s worth of modern medical knowledge. That could be cool, or it could be really tropey and boring. I really can’t make any predictions because the rest of the show will surely be so wildly different to the premiere in its setting, cast of characters, and general vibe. This may be the very definition of a series that requires the three-episode test.

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