My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
Eight year-old Catarina Claes, the only child of nobles, is hit on the head one day by a rock, leaving not only a very visible scar, but her suddenly remembering her past life as a teenage otaku into otome games. It turns out she was sucked into the game Fortune Lover, the game she played shortly before her passing...and is the reincarnation of the game's villianess! A character who in high school, depending on the route in the game you take, either dies or is exiled. Catarina decides to use the next eight years of her life to better herself and change her fate, going from a selfish brat to a kind sweetheart along the way to avoid her "doom flags".
Tim: I avoided this show for two years due to the mere mention of otome games. And then I saw funny clips of the show making the rounds on YouTube, and two years later, I convinced Stig to watch this show for me for our synchro watches. We agreed, and we both ended up liking the show.
Stig: By the time we started watching this, I had already read some good word of mouth elsewhere, so Tim didn't really have a hard time convincing me to put this show to the synchro test. As well he shouldn't, because even putting aside my general like for people who usually play villain roles do a protagonist role instead for a movie, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom just puts a nice foot forward with the concept of just being kind and supportive without coming across as cloying or insincere.
Next Life (which is what we'll be calling the show for this review) is divided into two parts: childhood and teenage years. The first three episodes are about Catarina as an eight year-old, and her changing for the better to avoid her fate. She thinks in literal game terms, always calculating each and every move she makes, each person she encounters, and even what the relationships of the people she knows are like. Some of these sessions come in the form of her subscousiness, which is divided into five tiny versions of herself divided among her emotions, not unlike the movie Inside Out. This is a recurring segment throughout the season, and it's usually pretty humorous as well. It reminded us a bit of Myne's mental ponderings in Ascendance of a Bookworm, though Catarina has these head meetings far more than Myne's chibi thoughts ever did. And instead of involving other people in her life, Catarina has a meeting with herself, herself, herself and herself...with a moustache.
Child Catarina is also bit of a tomboy, pulling pranks with toy snakes and climbing trees like she was a monkey crossed with a cicada. While her parents - her mother and her personal maid in particular - seem a bit confused by her sudden change in personality, her cheerful demenaor and happy-go-lucky nature makes her life-long friends who genuienly love her and will always be there for her and, as is the angle of the story, will never know the villain she would otherwise become. She also decides to take up gardening, complete with full farming attire and tools in hand, because you can never be too careful. (I guess she was also a fan of Harvest Moon, though the real reason she does it is to prepare her own food in the event she gets exiled.) She keeps up her farming even at her new high school, much to her mother's consternation. It helps that Catarina's parents also seem like genuinely nice people who, despite their position, were still at their wits end about their daughter before her sudden change.
Now granted, isekai where characters are sucked into video games is hardly new or interesting in the 2020's, but what makes Next Life a bit amusing is that Catarina, for all her smarts on an otome game, is not so great at the subtext OF said game. For a game that was as big on romance as Fortune Lover, Catarina is kind of blind to romance herself. (Doubly ironic when she is an avid fan of romance novels.) Even as a teenager, Catarina is blind to the very, VERY obvious signals that her friends would easily date/marry her if they were given her blessing. It might have to do with her being rather single-mindedly working to survive and never considering she actually has a chance for love (as that isn't her place in the game), but it can come across as a bit aggravating, since the way she has become a part of everyone's lives simply make everyone love her for it.
And eeeeeveryone loves Catarina. And by everyone we mean every one: boy, girl, and even her own maid. (Not romantically for the maid, of course.) And usually this would be annoying in a show/video game where everyone idolizes the main lead. But here's the thing; Next Life actually SHOWS why Catarina won these people's hearts over in little story arcs. She isn't just being nice; she's being nice when it might get her in serious trouble. When her baby brother Keith, who came from a broken family who despised him, was adopted, she was the one who opened up her heart to him when he was scared he would be rejected and unloved again. When she meets Sophia, she's the first to find her silver hair actually pretty, and not make her feel like an outcast, never mind their shared love for romance novels. And later in high school, when the other girls pick on a blonde girl named Maria for being a "commoner" who doesn't belong, Catarina stands up for her and befriends her, too. Little moments like these really do add up. It also helps Catarina never takes advantage of the people who love her...though she isn't above getting them to help her garden. But more than anything, Catarina's true love lies in her love of sweets, which is thankfully kept to a normal level in this first season.
At the same time, as much inside out Catarina knew about Fortune Lover before her old life ended, she never actually did all the routes IN that game. As such, she can't always predict her "doom flags", and thus she has to think a bit outside the box on the occassion. This especially comes to a head in the season finale, which introduces our first major baddie of the series. As such, Catarina is certainly NOT invincible and privy to everything in her life, which does a lot to make her feel more human and less like a walking, talking strategy guide to the new world she's in. The show is a little bit stronger with its childhood parts, granted, seeing as that's how Catarina creates most of her bonds. However, even though the show relies on the kidnapping plot at some point during the last arc, we still get a sense of just how much Catarina's change shakes up the otherwise predictable plot and adds to the lore, even if the ending can feel a bit asspull-y.
From a visual standpoint, Next Life isn't terribly exciting. The backgrounds tend to vary between mansions, pastoral countrysides, and the school, but little of it looks all that amazing save for the occasional establishing shot. You're not gonna be blown away by the animation either, since this is a very much talking heads show, aside from some of Catarina's childhood pleasures like tree climbing. The visuals' strongest aspect is in its character designs, which look fairly nice, and the many nice clothes the characters wear. And, of course, in how the character wear their emotions on their sleeves, which is where the animation is at its strongest.
Tim: Overall Next Life, at least its first season, is a fun, fun show, with very likable characters and a nice blend of comedy and drama. Unfortunately, it would not keep this up in its sequel season, which we'll get to eventually.
Stig: I think it's fine to consider this a bit of a standalone. Like Tim said, the second season -- never mind the review thereof -- is not going to be a fun time, but this season comes to a nice and strong ending point, so you can actually pretend the second simply doesn't exist. Hence, the first season gets....
Recommended Audience: Teens and up. Fan service and violence are almost non-existant, but the series does on occassion dive into some heartbreaking situations, even to its cast when they are children.
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, English dub (Stig) and Japanese with English subtitles (Tim)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! © 2020 Satoru Yamaguchi, Ichijinsha/Hamefura Production Committee
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