What’s it about? After spoiled noble Catarina Claes hits her head, the memories of her previous life as a teenage geek girl come flooding back to her. To complicate things even further, she realizes she’s been reborn into a world exactly like an otome game she played in her past life—and as the antagonist, no less! Can Catarina change the story, or is she doomed to a Bad End?
I don’t know what ’90s shoujo star we wished on to get a Saturday Lady-Led Isekai Block this season, but I hope it comes around again so I can wish on it some more.
My Next Life as a Villainess has a lot of points in its favor, but I’ll start with this one: Catarina is an absolute A-plus delight of a protagonist. Cheerful but pessimistic, self-involved but generous, athletic but clumsy, empathetic but oblivious, hard-working but easily distracted—she is a bundle of contradictions and is sincere about all of them.
She has long debates with herself (delightfully animated here as a Catarina Council) but barrels forward on instinct, causing problems and resolving them in equal turns. She has a general distaste for the “ladylike” behavior expected of nobles, preferring instead to climb trees and farm the land in peasant clothes.
And her response to someone isolating themselves is to tear down the literal wall between them with a literal ax. She has the compassion of a saint and the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and I love her very much.
Another point in Villainess‘s favor is that the animation and art design match the protagonist to a T. Silver Link is two-for-two on chipper light novel adaptations this year, bringing Catarina’s world to life with lovely storybook watercolor backgrounds and bright, expressive character animation.
The light novels spend a lot of time in characters’ heads, but this premiere doesn’t let itself get bogged down in internal monologues or extended flashbacks. It clips along at a lively pace, introducing characters, establishing relationships, and hitting its comedic beats without overstaying its welcome.
Admittedly, it does barrel through the more serious material somewhat quickly, especially the last act involving Keith’s past trauma and anxieties with magic. I definitely Felt a Feeling when Catarina busted through the door and Keith opened up to her, but I’ve also read the first few light novels, so I’m familiar with the story. I’d be curious to hear if that scene worked for non-LN readers or if the anime breezed past it too quickly for it to land.
Villainess is primarily a comedy, but in the vein of a character-driven sitcom instead of a gag-driven sketch show (think Ouran High rather than Nozaki-kun). There’s plenty of intrigue, suspense, and even poignancy between all the silliness, so hopefully the anime can slow down a little during dramatic moments in the coming weeks and let them resonate more strongly with the audience.
As someone who has read the first few Villainess light novels, I do feel duty-bound to let folks know that it slots pretty solidly into the “problematic fave” category for me. The series is, in some ways, a loving parody of the otome genre, but it also exists in that awkward space between “cleverly commenting on the genre” and “having a lot of the same issues as the genre.”
Assuming the anime is a faithful adaptation of the first couple books, you can expect mild doses of romantic obsession and somewhat aggressive gestures of physical affection. Most of the cast are good kids, but one of them does kinda suck in that “possessive shoujo love interest” way. And, as you saw from all the blushing this week, Keith has a crush on Catarina, so there’s your regularly scheduled stepfamily “route.”
The series also has a, er… complicated relationship with queerness, as the opening theme may have suggested. There are multiple queer characters in this series (both explicit and implicit), but there’s also a fair bit of heteronormative “we’re both girls”-type language in the light novels. I’m hoping the anime will drop all that in favor of a more inclusive approach, but I figured it was worth giving folks a heads-up just in case.
All of which is to say that, unless the anime makes some dramatic changes to the source material, My Next Life as a Villainess isn’t going to be a progressive manifesto. It has a fantastic protagonist, loveable supporting characters, and occasionally does some clever stuff with shoujo/otome tropes. But it will also likely feature some low-key unpleasant elements in the coming weeks that may be deal-breakers for some viewers, depending on adaptation choices and your own personal thresholds.
Nevertheless, I’m excited for this one. Both lady-led isekai and shoujo light novel adaptations are in short supply, and despite its flaws I really did have a good time with the source material (the second book in particular was a delight). This is looking to be a great adaptation of a fun little story, and I fully intend to be here from start to finish. I hope AniFem readers will give it a try as well and cheer Catarina on towards a Good End.