Otome Game no Hametsu Flag shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei shiteshimatta Episode 1 Review

Title: Otome Game no Hametsu Flag shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei shiteshimatta… / My Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! / Bakarina
Length: ?
Genre: Comedy, drama, romance

While watching this rather ostentatiously titled anime from studio Silver Link – the second pleasant production in a row, in fact, following Winter’s exhaustingly titled, but wonderfully charming Itai no wa Iya nano de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu – I have learned one thing indeed, and it’s that being a romantic villain in young-adult fiction is awfully difficult. One must muster an immense amount of cruelty to bully somebody for years on end, or keep the heroine’s future love interest ‘imprisoned’ in a hateful engagement, or simply be as selfish and brattish as Catarina Claes is in the opening five minutes before she bangs her head. Future Lovers, the game we soon learn that the main character, a female otaku (yes, those do exist) has been reincarnated into as the villainess (several years before the game’s setting), is clearly not high fiction – and it doesn’t even pretend to be. No, this is a low-brow fanservice otome game, and it’s time to dissect tropes with a charming, genre savvy main character as our view-point into this equally genre savvy narrative, telling the story of just how absurd fiction can be.

Of course, protagonists lampshading tropes in the isekai genre is something of a low bar these days. Why indeed, it feels like every other Reincarnated Into Another World anime has a protagonist poking holes in the ficticious universe’s foundations. Catarina Claes, then, is not entirely different, but her characterisation is yet another way in which Bakarina is an anime that shows that even a tired formula in a fresh coat of paint can succeed. Catarina’s knowledge of Fortune Lovers informs her that, once she gets to the high school where the game is set and the ‘heroine’ appears, the villainess is doomed to exile in the various romance’s routes’ Good Ends or death in the Bad Ends. With an unlimited amount of gusto and some handy in-depth knowledge of the game’s lore, she’s gonna craft that happy ending with all her might.

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And, even if it does end badly, she’s going to be prepared for a best possible outcome. Rather than a more conventional inner-monologue or talking to oneself out-loud, Bakarina is the kind of anime that shines brightly at a construction level and opts for a council – manned by the various parts of Catarina’s personality, showcasing Maaya Uchida’s performing range in cheesy, comic gold. The studious part of her wins the first bout, causing her first objective in this new world to be the mastering of sword fighting and magic in a bid to prevent death in half of the routes and give herself some value in the exile routes. This sudden personality swap is a huge shock to her parents and maids around her, particularly when the stuck-up brat of aristocracy begins whacking hell out of wooden dolls to practice her swordsmanship and digging up the garden to create a farm to ‘speak to the Earth’ and improve her earth magic. Possibly. The gawks she receives are real knee slappers, and it only gets better when she meets the various romance options of the games to which she supposedly terrorises – a recently adopted stepbrother and her childhood fiancé of the same age (who, thankfully, she admits she absolutely cannot feel anything for because she is, after all, technically seventeen years old on the inside) – and she figures out how to avoid setting herself up for doom.

Catarina is the protagonist less drawn from pushover young-adult shoujo works, the likes of which Bakarina parodies, but is likewise not wise and intent to solve problems with unending good will like the usual soppy sort. The ‘go get ’em’ attitude she has reminds me of last year’s surprise hit of a female protagonist, Meiji Tokyo Renka‘s Mei, and she has both the energy and resourcefulness to pull it off. In fact, her strategy for Keith, to prevent him becoming a lonely child that results in one of Catarina’s many Bad Futures, is not a character trait, but part of a great deal of arguing with oneself, where boxing him up and throwing him in a river was a frontrunner before ‘being kind’ narrowly won out. It goes without saying, then, that Bakarina is a very funny anime, where misunderstandings are not born at a literal level, but a motive level, and the situations ramp up in hilarity – from the awkward snickers that Catarina’s world-uninformed antics arouse near the early episode, right up into the gut-busting ridiculousness of an eight year old recreating The Shining’s ‘Here’s Johnny!’ moment in the triumphant climax.

But, when we really look at it, it’s hard to say that Catarina Claes is a particularly nice character. We see inside her head – with brilliant creativity, even literally – such that we know her actions are not necessarily nice. Catarina acts selfishly and selflessly in equal parts, where the measurement is not so simple; Bakarina props itself firmly in the category of fiction that creates more complex virtues than ‘nice’ and ‘not nice’. If there’s one real takeaway that this rollocking good time bestows, then, it is a loud smack against the genre’s walls, and one that reverberates loudly into our lives even. Being a villain of contempt and scorn, whose future is only lined with doom, takes an awful amount of effort; the reverse must be true, no?

Rating: A+

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