What’s it about?: When Cayna’s life support fails her, she finds herself thrust into a country very similar to popular VR MMORPG, Leadale. Only this isn’t the world of her video game: instead, in this version of Leadale, two centuries have passed, leaving Cayna to figure out where all the time went as she starts her new life in another world.
Episode 1, “An Inn, a Tower, a Bear, and a Banquet” starts off quite ominously by… well, I don’t know how to pleasantly put this, but by killing its protagonist. It’s the quickest isekai-ing I’ve ever witnessed: sis is dead before the opening credits roll, which is certainly a remarkable way to start the story.
Post-OP, we’re in the weeds with the story of Kagami Keina, a girl who was bedbound, disabled, and now, has been given a second life (I say this with the most discomfort: more on that later) as a high elf named Cayna in the fantasy MMORPG, Leadale. Here, she’s no longer on life support, no longer confined to her hospital bed: instead, her mind and soul enter the game where she can play as her level 1,100 elf mage.
From there, the story follows Cayna as she starts to rediscover the spice of life and the joys of movement, living, and thriving, all while enjoying the wonderful lands of Leadale while becoming acclimated to her second life and new skills as an able-bodied person in a fantastical realm full of monsters, magic, and lots of good food.
On the surface, everything about Leadale is pleasant: it’s got a charmingly bright color palette, solid enough animation that evokes a slightly low-budget Restaurant to Another World-esque vibe, a bop of an OP, and likeable characters. It also helps that Yukimura Eri (The Magnificent KOTOBUKI, A Certain Magical Index III) is on cast as lead Cayna: she really adds a particular joy to the role and really sprinkles on the charm. And while this all adds up to mostly table setting, it’s done well enough that I’ll be watching Leadale all season.
The premiere is full of a lot of bright, merry moments: we witness Cayna’s joy at eating food instead of having nutrient drips and supplements to help keep her body thriving. Cayna, herself, provides a lot of mundane joy as she settles into her elven body and starts to thrive as she relearns . And all of this culminates into an enjoyable, slow paced, slice-of-life isekai. But… that doesn’t mitigate In The Land of Leadale’s largest issue: inherent ableism in the plot.
I, myself, am chronically ill. I live with chronic fatigue that often veils my mind, making doorways dangerous passages into literal forgetfulness as I struggle to remember what I wanted to do. It’s why I make lists: copious lists down to things like “take out trash” or “eat lunch,” all in hopes of avoiding time slippage. And at times, my fatigue and chronic illness push me into bed, making the sheets and my mountain of pillows my sole refuge. When it’s like that, my world becomes centered on my disabilities, and in a way, they define time and the parameters of what I can do. Then again, my disabilities and chronic illness are always a part of me and are always shaping how I engage with the world.
I suppose that’s why I was kind of alarmed when everything about Cayna’s previous life in our world is just… handwaved in a matter of seconds.
I doubt that In the Land of Leadale will explore the incredibly discomforting ableism of its protagonist being “healed” and given a normative body for her story. I doubt that the show–or the source material novels–will ever consider how grotesque it is that Cayna only gets to have fun in a body that’s acceptable, and not as a disabled character. Outside of the simple fact that we learn that Cayna died due to a power outage, we never really explore her condition. It’s all handwaved in favor of her having an adventure that elides disability for a fun romp in another world.
Why can’t disabled characters be the heroes in isekai? Why can’t non-normative bodies be front and center? I don’t think you need me to answer that question because unfortunately, we all know why. I suppose that’s why there’s a slightly bitter taste left in my mouth about this premiere, though honestly, I didn’t expect differently. If anything, I suppose one could say that I should be thankful Cayna’s disabilities were left out, lest they become a punchline.
I guess. Le shrug, and all that.
All in all, In the Land of Leadale is a really enjoyable premiere, though it’s not without criticism. At base, you have a pretty solid premiere that shows its hand and sets up a cheerful, laidback isekai series with an enjoyable female lead. It’s not breaking the budget with its animation, nor is it remixing the formula. Yet I found myself instantly glomming onto Cayna and her world, hungry to settle into the chillest anime this season.
I can’t tell you how to watch this series: I know that for me, it’ll be hard to divoce Leadale’s inherent ableism from the show as a whole. Will that stop it from being enjoyable? No, largely because a lot of anime are quite ableist. But will that also stop me from critiquing it? Also no, because critique and enjoyment can go hand in hand, and should sometimes. In the Land of Leadale is cute and funny and enjoyable: but it’s also got some shit to unpack that I think it’ll never do. That doesn’t diminish my enjoyment: if anything, it just makes me want to engage in a conversation around the series.
All of this to say that I do think that if you’re in the market for a slow, simple slice-of-life isekai that’s character-driven, definitely consider adding In the Land of Leadale to your watchlist this season. It’s a sweet premiere, and while not the most dynamic, it’s definitely got healthy room for growth, lots of cute moments, and has all of the chill Winter 2022 you’ll need to survive and thrive this anime season.