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: 12 episodes
Genre: Comedy, drama, romance
Year of Release: 2020
It isn’t an insult to say that the largest proportion of anime, manga, visual novella and other such otaku media, are far from ‘high brow’ stuff. Even those that aims to titillate the cerebral is oft plagued with pseudo-psychology and half-assed metaphors, and the ones that aim a balanced affair at the smart end often degrade into the masturbatory fluff they seek to find themselves above. The large majority of anime, instead, play privy to their desires, relinquishing any need for audience approval and striving forward into their most self-serving fantasies, throwing us a bone only when our interests line up. This lengthy titled anime, more pleasantly dubbed ‘Bakarina’, is one of a growing trend to comment on the most indulgent of its field, while also residing within it. And, I’ll let you in on a secret: one of the things I tire most of saying is that an anime made its cake and ate it, succumbing to its own desires and ruining its message; I might say the same of Bakarina, but its deconstructionism is so heartfelt, jovial and downright gooey, that it gets away with it, instantly rising to the top of its class.
Bakarina, then, is about feeling moreso than story, and it rarely becomes apparent how much the story is held-together by the concept. The semi-titular Catarina falls over in her childhood years, awakening Bakarina, a girl from our world who quickly catches onto the fact that she has been reborn into a video game – as the villain. This game, Fortune Lovers, takes place some 11 years into the future, where a quiet, poor girl from the country is sent to rich-kid magic school on the back of her rare magic-type, and she spends her first couple of years courting the hierarchy and choosing one of several men to fall in love with, all the while Catarina attempts to make her life hell before winding up exiled/killed as the heroine succeeds. Bakarina takes these 11 years to divert her fate, aiming to prevent her character’s difficult relationships getting the better of her while also building up the required skills to survive any of the various ways she might die or be exiled.
Bakarina’s ‘council’ scenes are a stroke of genius – different aspects of her personality are personified at a dimly lit table inside her head, discussing what her upcoming action should be to avoid doom. Bakarina becomes a wholesome, loveable person almost by a stroke of luck, as all she’s got to do to avoid becoming the villain is ‘be nice’. The hilarious mishaps her overthinking puts her into makes up much of the comedy of the series. The opening episode’s ‘Here’s Johnny!’ sequence still takes the cake of the most riotous of misunderstandings, but the series continues to show her gardening skills, climbing finesse and love of running coming in handy as she woos the different men and women of the game.
Unless you’re reading this in a future where same-sex relationships have been normalised, you might be catching onto something. Bakarina doesn’t stop at worming her way into the heart’s of the men, but the women too, and all by being the same person she has always been. What makes this reverse harem so wonderful is intrinsically tied to the bisexuality of it all; she isn’t targeting her affection; she isn’t completing ‘quests’ and being rewarded by love; she is merely being nice, kind, and unanimously so. And, rather than purely physical qualities, all that it takes is kindness to seduce many of these characters. Is it a meta-commentary on the cheapness of the genre? Perhaps. But it’s feel-good and, in Bakarina’s obliviousness to it all, hilarious. She’s got other things on her mind than feelings!
Thankfully, the anime doesn’t last long in the childhood years. Even though jolly good fun, I was always on edge that the series may accidentally fall into an uncomfortable trap in romancing children together when one is in fact 17 years old (in their head?), and, more importantly, this means that the banter is ramped up. Geordo, the slightly creepy boy to whom Bakarina is betrothed, has feelings for her and wants to take advantage of his position, but the cast comically sidetrack him – particularly Keith, Bakarina’s adopted brother, who has had feelings for her since a similar age, and definitely Bakarina herself, who is convinced that Geordo is just a playboy and is really looking for the game’s actual protagonist, Maria, and reminds him constantly that he can break off the engagement. Mary, the betrothed of Alan, is the most rambunctious of all the group and makes no qualms at all about her feelings, and her ‘battle’ with the rest of the group is hilarious; amusingly Alan himself, who Bakarina is attempting to get Mary with to avoid a personal ‘doom end’, but Alan is tsundere for Bakarina! Sophia gets the most development of the cast due to her shared interests with Bakarina, and despite her feelings for her, is still willing to wingman for her brother, Nicol. But, best of all, is the introduction of Maria.
As a meta-commentary, this anime’s subtlety can be almost fiendish at times. Protagonists of visual novels – and notably so for otome games – are typically vacant, empty of personality, and purely meant to imprint ourselves as readers upon. Bakarina keeps accidentally recreating the major romantic moments in the game with Maria, replacing the boy. She defends her from bullies, compliments her baking, and even goes insofar as creating whole new situations such as reconnecting Maria with her mother. To say that Maria is the leading horse in this race would be absolutely correct, and that is because her character’s traits are danced around, making depth out of her scant backstory at multiple opportunities and creating a foil to the series’ message.
That message is, put simply, a suggestion that shallow characters are easily manipulated, and yet at the same time, Bakarina makes it seem like it’s so easy to imbue a cast with humanity and agency without sacrificing any of the fun. Bakarina sits comfortably amongst its peers – and do believe me that I mean the genre-peers, it doesn’t attempt to differentiate itself from its genre despite the criticism it gives out – but it also has that extra something, a sharp reminder that we could all do better, as writers, but also as people, because it’s not that hard to be nice and amicable.
Still, I’ve got to repeat my earlier mantra. Bakarina is a joy at its best, but at its worst it gets embroiled with a weak story in its final episode and a half. An antagonist presents themselves, and while the story is solved in the Bakarina fashion, with her unintentional kindness shining brightly, there’s a brief narrative that feels like a distraction, a handful of plotholes and not quite enough development to truly work. It relies on spoon-feeding and leaps, if you look close enough. The emotional penultimate episode feels platitudinal, even. With the confirmation of a second season, where Bakarina must go on beyond the game’s ending, I look forward to more of the parts I spent a good 1000 words writing about, and while a bit of a connecting narrative could be appreciated… Bakarina, you could do a little better.
Upon reflection, Bakarina was not a 9/10 anime. The weakness of its story and repetition of jokes really hold it back and make my trepidatious about its upcoming second season.