Kumo, desuka?

Yes, and the world of anime is very happy you are! I always like to observe that great art spans a spectrum from academic to entertaining. And this anime falls purely on the entertainment end! An extraordinarily entertaining display from start to finish!

Did I say it was great? I would not describe it as such, but it’s wildly entertaining, and that cannot be discounted. I don’t even know why it was wildly entertaining, but I know it was! There I was, watching an anime about a girl reincarnated as a spider in another world and I was laughing and smiling and getting a thrill in my heart all between times. And I was looking forward to it every week! I thought I’d lost my mind!

I love this show. It feels just a little different, and does a lot of anime things right. It’s a little confusing at times with how it handles the timeline, but it makes up for most of that with really entertaining action (and dialogue from Aoi Yuuki!) paired with decent story and nice artwork. It’s almost a hidden gem, or will be in a few years when and if people’s attention wanders to newer series.

I’ll keep this review spare, because there will be a second season and there’s lots of material from the light novel that isn’t covered in the anime. So there’s plenty left to fill in here!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 6

A six because they’re not a seven. Basically you’ve got Aoi Yuuki voicing the spider MC and then everyone else. And there’s a hella lotta everyone else. 

The reason there’s so many characters is mostly because an entire high school class got isekai’d. That’s the underlying premise of the story. So you’ve got 20 to 30 people (they tell the exact number in the show) right there. Not all of them join the main character group, but somewhere around 10 factor in either continuously or here and there throughout the show. None of them are very remarkable. They’re not too ordinary or typical though either. They conduct themselves almost like you’d expect people in their situation to behave, which is kind of unusual in anime like this. So not too many typical character tropes, but nothing to catch the viewer’s eye or heart either. And the names—don’t get me started on these pseudo-European fantasy world names. Letters don’t belong in that order. 

I will say they studio splurged nicely on the cast though despite the plethora of characters, with names like Sumire Uesaka, Ayana Sakura, Kenjiro Tsuda, Shun Horie, Eri Kitamura, and Kaito Ishikawa voicing some of the characters with the most screen time. They’ve done so many voices in major anime titles over the past ten years that I don’t even want to start listing it all out here. They do a good job as expected. I can’t think of anybody I’d point out as doing a poor job with voice acting in this show. I guess with this much experience in your cast you’d have to work pretty hard to not do a good job!

What’s the spider’s name? It’s funny, you kind of start to wonder about her name somewhere in the middle of this set of S1 episodes, but you realize she doesn’t have or need one. She doesn’t interact with anyone in a way that would necessitate having a name. Which brings me to the best thing about this show: Aoi Yuuki talking to herself!

We typically consign the soliloquy to Shakespearean times, but we probably all know a handful of pieces from different audio-visual art mediums that contain notable characters that simply have no one but themselves to talk to. Such works often live or die by the quality of that single actor’s performance. And Aoi Yuuki gave life to this anime as only she can!

So Aoi Yuuki spouts during Kumoko’s battle with Ariel.

Her performance is spectacular. The dialogue is funny and her delivery is great. If you don’t remember this rather unique voice, perhaps some of you remember Tsuyu Asui from MHA, or perhaps poor Yuuki from SAO. But most likely you’ll remember her best from The Saga of Tanya the Evil, where she is the evil Major Degurechaff herself. Her unique voice is perfect for this series, and she talks to the walls as well as anybody could. She definitely takes this show from an unusual curiosity piece amongst isekai anime to as entertaining an anime experience as one could hope for. 

I noted a couple of her best known works there above, but one thing that made her performance a little more front and center in my thoughts during the Spring 2021 season was how many major productions I kept hearing her voice in, all before, during, and after that season. 2020 saw her play prominent roles in Plunderer, Fate/Grand Order, Isekai Quartet, Rent-a-Girlfriend, and Fire Force. But she didn’t stop there. See how many of these titles you watched during 2021 that she appeared in: Kaizuko Oujo; Sonny Boy; MHA; Farewell, My Dear Cramer; D_Cide Traumerei; I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years; and The Seven Deadly Sins. As of September 2021, she’s already appeared in as many series as she averages per year, and is on pace to pass even her 2018 total, which was similarly extensive and prolific. She either really loves what she’s doing or has more energy than should be legal! I hope she’s raking in the money too, because she definitely deserves it for all this work. She’s great, an always instantly recognizable.

A really good cast highlighted most tremendously by Aoi Yuuki is what you’ll take away from the characters in this show. And that’s enough. There’s too many characters to keep up with everybody, and nobody gets enough screen time to make them memorable other than Kumoko. But Yuuki-san’s performance and the general good work by the other VAs is enough to do the trick, and this cast of characters does just enough to make the show very entertaining. Well, Aoi Yuuki accounts for about 99% of that!

I loved the incarnations of Kumoko’s brain. But that’s all Aoi Yuuki too!

Artwork

Rating: 7

Judging simply on appearances, I wanted to rate this artwork higher. It’s nicely done in many ways. The animation is pretty good, the human faces and forms are decent, and Kumoko’s faces and styling are great. How do you get a spider’s face to be that expressive?

But I have a few quibbles with the artwork as well. Primarily, we’re looking at a spider most of the time. While that’s not one of my quibbles with the artwork by itself, nevertheless this means we’re not looking at human characters a lot of the time. The vast majority of the beauty of anime artwork comes from human forms. So I can only get so excited about artwork where, 50% of the time or more, I’m looking at a giant spider. Or any creature: I don’t prefer creature anime like Beastars, etc., for that same reason. So the art doesn’t appeal to me on that level.

The second quibble, however, is a major one. If you watched this week to week during Spring 2021, you may remember some of the episodes near the end being delayed. Part of this had to do with the craziness of 2020 and its aftermath, but one of the reason’s I heard explaining this delay was that the producers wanted to get the animation right. Because for a few episodes before those delays, the animation was bottom-rung awful. 

You guessed it: the reason is CGI. There’s some CGI mixed into this series. I knew it was there several times as I watched, but it wasn’t bad. I thought it served its purposes well enough. But then we got near the 20th episode, the quality decreased noticeably, and it started to look really, really bad. Kumoko’s battle with the automaton spider thing and some of Schlain’s group battle with Hugo and his allies were, as a teacher of mine once eloquently put it, ugly, ugly, ugly. Long story short, the studio tried to cut back on their budget for the animation, and it really showed. Fortunately, the viewing public went berserk and let the studio have it publicly. Hence the delays on the last couple of episodes, where the studio got their act back together. The CGI animation looked a lot better once again.

Even in this still of Hugo and present day Sophia the CGI looks terrible. The optics and cinematography of this scene were great, but the CGI was so awful it overwhelmed the positives very badly.

So I have a problem not only with the poor CGI by itself, but most definitely with the decision to trim their costs by cutting quality here. I get it, these productions cost money, and they have to stay within budget. In hindsight, I can see they tried to save money in multiple places. There were even some episodes that didn’t feature Kumoko at all because, I presume, they tried to save money by not having to credit Aoi Yuuki for those episodes. That was disappointing, but them cutting the budget for artwork was worse. Don’t cut something visual like this, and don’t do it to the point the final product looks atrocious. The CGI had been mixed with the traditional drawing pretty effectively up until those late episodes, but suddenly it became painfully obvious where the traditional ended and the crappy CGI started. It was distracting at best and ugly at worst. For a visual medium, for the studio to imagine for a second that this was acceptable is atrocious. They just barely saved themselves in my mind by listening to the viewership and correcting their error in the final episodes.

My biggest positive for the artwork is the coloring. We expect fantasy isekai anime to be colorful, but there’s colorful and then there’s colorful. This isn’t No Game, No Life colorful, but it’s still very bright, very varied, and very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The color choices were good too, from Kumoko’s white and pink to Ariel’s interesting black and gold color scheme, and of course the party colored hair tones on the various human characters. And their eye colors to go with it. None of it was super remarkable in comparison to other fantasy anime, but it was still good, and very worth a nod of appreciation.

So my reaction to the artwork was very positive overall, just with those quibbles mixed in. It’s a very pretty anime to watch, very lively. Watching Kumoko’s faces is almost enough to keep you interested, paired with that quirky Aoi Yuuki voice. So the overall effect is a positive one despite the issues that appear here and there.

Story

Rating: 7

This anime was pretty story-heavy surprisingly. Isekai anime varies in this regard; sometimes a show is very story-centric, other times the story couldn’t matter less. But this particular isekai not only was pretty heavily based around its storylines, but the way those storylines were presented and handled was a little unusual. And mostly in a positive way.

It took me probably more than half of the episodes of S1 to begin to suspect that Schlain’s storyline wasn’t aligned with the storyline we were being shown for Kumoko. But once the legends of the Nightmare of the Labyrinth begin to align more and more with the depictions of Kumoko’s “exploits,” I began to see the truth. Apparently, the two storylines are offset by 15 years or so, with our scenes with Kumoko taking place before the scenes with Schlain and company.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the choice to handle it this way is fairly unique. But beyond even that, handling it this way without telling the viewer what’s happening adds a lot of mystery to the story once the inconsistencies start to show up. It’s very stimulating actually. I had to think long and hard about what was happening several times. Yet, in hindsight, I realize the answers were there within the show, I just had to look for them. So it was cleverly managed by the writers here. 

But second, an interesting question arises from this misalignment of the timelines: were all the characters isekai’d at the same time? 

The trigger was some sort of magic experiment accident in the real world (LN readers shush) which resulted in the death of everybody in Schlain and Kumoko’s (no spoilers for S2) high school class, including their teacher. Kumoko reincarnates as a spider in this new world. The others reincarnate as humans and a handful of other sentient monsters that remain interactive with the human world. Only Kumoko is separated beyond discovery. The story we see with Kumoko shows her right after arriving in this world. But we see Schlain and his classmates (most of them) appear later, and by that time they’re high school age.

What?

The curiosity arises out of everyone’s ages. Consider this: if the timelines we’re presented with are 15 years out of line, it would make sense that everyone was isekai’d at exactly the same moment. In other words, they all entered this other world at the same temporal instant. Kumoko matures as a species faster, but the other humans are still growing children while her reputation as the Nightmare grows. So we simply pick up Schlain and co.’s story when they’re 15 years old in this world, and Kumoko’s story, which we’re shown from the beginning, has been ongoing during that time. All of this seems to make sense except for one issue: their teacher isn’t 15 years old.

Or at least, I’m pretty sure she’s not. Since Ms. Oka is their teacher in this world (just as she was their homeroom teacher in the real world), then it’s likely her reincarnation (the elf girl Filimos) is more than 15 years old. This would mean that everyone did not isekai at the same temporal instant (assuming the elvish race here doesn’t mature faster than other races—unlikely). It’s therefore not clear that all of them were isekai’d as newborns either. Given that this show utilizes the whole reincarnation thing, and given Kumoko’s birth (and Sophia’s, the vampire) as a newborn, I want to believe that everyone was isekai’d into a rebirth, but because of this confusion with Ms. Oka (the homeroom teacher turned elf princess), I’m not sure.

I expect there’s an explanation to all this. I’m guessing that somehow we’re supposed to believe that everyone did arrive in this world at the same moment (so many of them are the same age) and simply the fact that the teacher is an elf serves to explain why she might be teaching at 15 years old. But the mystery of it all is intriguing, and makes me wonder how it will factor into the story. It’s a curiosity that we usually don’t have to consider in isekai. Usually everyone’s just there and that’s it. So I like this uncertainty here, this mystery.

WHAT?

Still, one might ask the question, how do you get a decent story out of all that? That’s just backstory after all. Indeed it is. Surprisingly, most of the story involves a lot of political intrigue. Even more surprising, this is actually handled in a manner that makes it pretty interesting. You wouldn’t think political machinations would make for a very interesting storyline, particularly in an isekai about a spider. Some of that is usually present in isekai (think Rising of the Shield Hero or That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime), but it’s not the main thrust of the story. Here, everything is about these competing factions and how they all react to the Demon Lord Ariel and Kumoko’s arrival on the scene. And it’s decently interesting. For one thing, it’s somewhat believable. I’ve never had to live amongst medieval political intrigue, but nobody’s interests seem contrived. They all seem to have somewhat realistic motives given the world they find themselves in. I never stopped and thought “that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard” whenever a character stated those motives in the heat of a moment. Nobody’s out after world domination or trying to reach the portal to the rainbow world to gain the lollipops of power or whatever. They’re more or less positioning themselves advantageously among the overwhelming powers of the Demon Lord and the Nightmare of the Labyrinth. They all have a limited view of the situation, causing them to clash at times even within their own faction. So it’s somewhat realistic and somewhat mysteriously interesting.

The RPG HUD thing is fairly unremarkable as an optional feature in isekai anime at this point. It’s fine. But interestingly, it seems only some of characters even have the ability to interact with their world through this RPG-style interface. I’m not sure if all the reincarnations can even see or hear it. We know Kumoko can, and a few others (I think Schlain for sure—it’s been several weeks since I finished it) for sure, but I’m not sure about every one of the reincarnations. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. 

We’ll see how many of the unanswered questions get resolved in S2. The Demon Lord’s background is still pretty unclear, as are her motives. We still haven’t accounted for one or two members of the reincarnated class I believe. And of course we anime-only people still don’t know who the Administrators are, and who the person is on the other end of the phone (what was up with that?). If it’s handled like the writers have done so far, I presume these answers will be very interesting. I don’t think we’re in for a letdown! 

Overall: 8

I really enjoyed this show. And even now, I’m not sure why!

It was just fun! From those two fantastic openings for the first and second halves of S1 to the last soliloquy from Kumoko, I enjoyed every minute of this show, and I consistently looked forward to it week to week. It was the first thing I put on the day it came out when I started watching anime for the day. I’d smile and laugh and feel a thrill each time. I loved it!

This show is a great example of how a production doesn’t have to wow the stoic academic to be really good. It’s a great example of how everything within a show doesn’t have to be perfect to be really good, just it all has to work together effectively. This show is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. You watch it, you have a great time, 20 minutes are past in a flash, you think about what happened, and you’re waiting for next week! 

S2 should be really good. If it’s any bit as entertaining as S1, it will be wildly popular. Hey, we’ve got a That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime thing going on now where Kumoko can take a human form too! People just about lost their minds when that happened—and while I wasn’t one of those people, I was very excited about it, as I was for most things in this show. So we’ll see where little things like that go in S2, and we’ll see what crazy answers we get to the lingering questions in this show. I highly look forward to seeing how things resolve in this crazy show about a person being reincarnated as a spider!

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