All routes lead to doom! Our poor protagonist (antagonist?) finds herself reincarnated into an otome game where she’s the villain! In a rarer form of isekai where a girl finds herself transported to a new world, this show is funny and fast-paced with amazing characters and beautiful artwork. Definitely one of my favorites from the 2020 lineup!

S2 just wrapped up, and was a but underwhelming. But I am assured that S3 will return to some of the things that I think made S1 so good. Looking forward to that!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 8

I love Catarina Claes! She is voiced by an extremely exuberant Maaya Uchida, known for so many popular titles such as Date a Live, Highschool DxD, The Rising of the Shield Hero, The Promised Neverland, Noragami, Rascal Does not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Domestic Girlfriend, so many others, but perhaps most importantly as Rikka Takanashi from Love, Chuunibyou & Other Delusions. She does an amazing job! So excitable, so full of energy, so frustrated and confused! It’s a joy to listen to her race through her dialogue like she’s had waaay too much coffee already. She’s such an exciting character in this way! But also she has to live up to the villainess title. And while this just is NOT Catarina’s real personality, it comes through pretty often in her character. Usually this takes the form of raging outbursts and “scary” faces. I love her in the opening to S1 as much as anywhere. That’s about as villainous as she ever gets to be honest. From the start of every episode to the finish she’s so much fun!

Being an otome game, there’s a lot of romance going on around her. The thing is though, she’s not supposed to be at the center of it. Remember how she’s supposed to be the villain? The object of the majority of the male characters’ desires is supposed to be a young lady named Maria Campbell. Super pretty, very girly, and super shy, she originally is the central character in the game itself. This character is voiced by another prolific VA, Saori Hayami, known perhaps best as Yumeko in Kakegarui, but also is prominent in Monogatari (try to guess which character!), Snow White with the Red Hair, Demon Slayer, Naruto, Anohana, One Punch Man, etc. I love her voice, so smooth and pretty. Since Catarina has altered the game so much since she cannot maintain her villainous character, Maria now is falling in love with Catarina. Yuri alert!! It’s hilarious actually, given how the story is supposed to go and how it’s actually working out.

Then of course you have all the guys who are in love with Maria. Oh no, actually they’re all in love with Catarina! Yep, she’s altered the game so significantly with her shift in character that she’s pretty much the object of everyone’s affection, including Maria and most of the other girls as well. It’s a lot of fun to watch Catarina become suddenly aware of this one character at a time. But anyway, each of the male characters, and most of the supporting characters in general, are all pretty unique individually, if at times a little typical. But it’s okay! The chaos of their orderly game world is more than enough to make these characters sufficient. Most of the characters change from the way they were supposed to be in the original game. And that’s all due to Catarina. Of course it is! Everything’s about Catarina anyway! I love all these characters.

A handful of new characters were added for S2, notably Geoffrey and Sora. Sora ends up being another suitor for Caterina, but as of the end of S2 Prince Geoffrey is just about the only person not vying for Caterina’s affection. Well, Susanna Randall isn’t either, but she’s the fiancee of Geoffrey. We’re not totally sure where those two’s allegiances lie. They both seem squarely in Caterina’s camp, but the show gave us moments where their motives were at least shadowy, and there seemed to be more to these two than their mostly sunny public image. We’ll see how those threads resolve in S3.

Artwork

Rating: 9

If it wasn’t obvious already from the VA cast for this show, the producers quite obviously didn’t hold back on supplying this show with the best, including the artists. All the characters are amazingly beautiful. For kind of a zany isekai comedy, the artwork is uncharacteristically super beautiful. Everything is super lively and colorful, and very shiny and bright. Designs are fairly simple, both in surroundings and the characters’ faces, etc. It’s a little hard to describe now, as I sit here writing, but it’s all very beautiful.

Catarina herself is fantastic. Simple yet beautiful, and the height of expressive. She makes more different kinds of faces than any character I think I’ve ever seen. Usually it’s utter surprise or dumfounded confusion, but you also have her youthful exuberance, both as a child and young lady, and her outbursts, and her smug or threatening villain faces. And everything in between. I’ll repeat what I said before and say this character is so much fun to watch! Add to all these expressions her tasteful blue-themed palette of colors, her cheeky hairstyle, and the glassy gorgeousness of her teal green eyes, and you get this amazing character the likes of which you only see every few years. And design is perhaps chief among her best characteristics, which is saying a lot.

Some things in S2 felt like they downgraded a bit from S1, and artwork was part of that. Everything was still sparkly and shiny, but it became a bit ordinary somehow. It wasn’t as engrossing visually as in S1. Perhaps this is because the character of the show changed so much (see the Story section below) but it didn’t seem to have the impact visually or otherwise that it did previously. So I’m not sure if this is just an effect from my shifting impressions of the show overall or whether the artwork really did change somehow. Either way, it didn’t pop out to me like it did. S1 was so good in so many ways, and so unexpectedly so, it might be one of those things where it’s hard to follow it up. Still, I can’t knock the artwork. It’s very good by any standard.

Story

Rating: 6

The story kind of takes a back seat in this series, but it is unique and effective. Essentially, our MC is reincarnated as the villainess of this otome game, and after hitting her head in the game itself, she remembers her past life in our world. As a result, her character changes immensely, and she recognizes the game from her previous life, and knows all the potential routes. Of course, all of these routes in the original game lead to either her death or exile. Neither of which outcomes, of course, she finds acceptable!

So while that theme runs through the whole show, it essentially becomes very episodic. Which is to be expected, as she encounters each character and their associated traits (route in the game). She is constantly trying to dodge the stereotypical “death flags” that would trigger her going down a sure path to being killed or exiled. This consumes a great deal of her mental energy, much of which we get to hear as part of her dialogue. And through the end of S2, she has so far avoided all those! The flipside, of course, is all the terribly unexpected outcomes she encounters as a result. And so far, all of those outcomes have resulted in her becoming the central character in the game, and every character falling in love with her! Whether she was mean to them in the past or nice to them in the present, they’re all falling for her, girls and boys, rich and poor alike! It’s hilarious.

This worked very well as the premise for S1. S2 lost all of this. Suddenly there were no more doom flags to be avoided. Instead, the show became 2-3 episode mini-arcs of some brief scandal or adventure for Caterina and her friends to resolve. While those mini-arcs were all very memorable in their own way, the tenor of the show changed a lot from S1. Suddenly Caterina wasn’t constantly having to tiptoe around doom flags she recognized from the game. Suddenly she was just living her life as Caterina in this world without any inside information about what was about to happen. The show transformed into a weird fantasy slice-of-life combination that didn’t really show off the characters, and certainly not Caterina, like it did in S1. We still had the “reverse” harem thing going on (I don’t prefer the appellation “reverse” in these kinds of contexts–it’s still a harem show, just where the girl is at the center instead of a guy–but that term is recognizable to anime fans, so for the sake of clarity I’ll tolerate it here in my own writing) very strongly, and we had the really good cast of characters and VAs to support everything, but the show seemed like it lost a bit.

However, judging from the last episode of S2, it seems the doom flag plot element will return in S3. Caterina had a weird dream where she saw a school friend from her previous life powering up the “sequel” to Fortune Lover, the otome game world she’s trapped in currently, and there was some hinting at Caterina being cast as the villainess in that game once again. So we might have a much similar situation to S1 in S3, instead of this strange transition kind of season that was S2.

Overall: 8

S1 is fun from start to finish. From the start you have the fantastic opening, which is so much fun showcasing Catarina. And the craziness lasts from that moment until the episode ends! Oh, I forgot the personification of the various personalities inside Catarina’s head! That’s hilarious when we get those flashes inside her head and these five individual Catarinas have debates, with their different personalities clashing. But that’s just another fun thing about this show!

S2 was a bit of a letdown, but sometimes it’s tough following up a really good first season. I think Silver Link didn’t anticipate the quality of S1, and so perhaps S2 was impacted by that a bit. It felt more ordinary. I always wonder, in situations like this, if the one good season was just an accident at that rate. But even if that’s the case, I suppose art is that way sometimes. Sometimes a bunch of elements that might be ordinary any other way come together in just the right way to make something extraordinary, and the creators of that story might not always recognize or envision that final product the way it turns out. So either way, it works. I hope some of the magic returns in S3. As mentioned above, it seems that’s the direction this show is heading, so we’ll see for sure whether S1 was accidentally great or whether it really was the set of plot elements there along with all the other good parts that constituted such a satisfying experience.

Well, still, I cannot deny the really good parts of this show. S2 might not have engrossed my attention the way S1 did, but between the VAs and the artwork, you hardly help loving this show. If S3 puts a cherry on the top and returns it to S1’s form, this show will, oddly enough, could be among the most memorable of anime. We’ll wait and see!

There’s the adorable villainess!

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