My Next Life as a Villainess

April 4, 2024 · 0 comments

By Andrew Osmond.

My Next Life as a Villainess is one of those handy anime titles that effectively tells you the story. It opens with a hugely spoiled aristocratic little girl called Catarina being introduced to a potential future husband, a prince no less. They’re strolling around the gardens outside the family mansion when Catarina trips on a loose paving stone, bashes her head very hard… and is shocked when a lifetime of memories pours into her. Before she was Catarina, she was a Japanese girl in “our” world, who died in that standby of anime reincarnations, a road accident.

But that’s only half of the shock. In her previous life, the girl adored “dating” videogames, playing through them avidly. In particular, she played a game called Fortune Lover, set in a magic school, where the player controls a shy young girl who can form relationships with various gorgeous boys. The course of the story depends on which boy she picks. But in multiple branching scenes, the player is opposed by a dastardly, ruthless rival girl… called Catarina.

You’ve got the picture. Our protagonist has been reborn in the world of the dating game she played, only now she seems doomed to be the baddie. Even worse, all Catarnia’s storylines in the game end terribly, with death or exile. And yet, Catarina has a trump card that might save her. She’s still a child – the story in the game hasn’t started yet. Armed with her foreknowledge, can she rewrite her way to a happier end?

Many readers of this blog will know about dating videogames, sometimes called dating sims. It’s a kind of computer game, especially big in Japan, where your character develops a romantic relationship with someone else, often one of multiple “possible” characters.

Actually, the definition’s more contentious than that. The above description could apply to many Visual Novels where relationships are important in the branching story, including epics like Fate/stay night and Steins;Gate. But you’ll find people claiming online that dating sims are not Visual Novels. Rather, dating sims should be seen as a different kind of game, often focused on saying the right thing to the right person at the right time, where you’re scored according to how well or badly your relationships are going.

Visual Novels aside, dating sims are a blurry continuum. Some action RPGs include dating sim elements, including the Persona and Sakura Wars series. But one obvious way to classify dating sims is to separate them into the ones where you’re a guy, and those where you’re a girl. Dating sims where a girl woos guys are called “otome” (maiden) games, and they range from the fantastical Alice in the Country of Hearts to the historical Hakuoki, both adapted as anime.

In My Next Life as a Villainess, (based on the book) Catarina recognises the boys who’ll be part of the game. Of course, they’re not meant to fall in love with her, but with the game’s virtuous heroine, Maria Campbell, who isn’t on the scene yet. But Catarina can meet with the boys instead – they’re still kids like her – and ring changes on the story. For instance, she has an adopted brother called Kevin, who the game says will spend his childhood locked in his room. But that won’t happen if Catarina cuts through the door with a whopping big axe… (If only Anna had thought of freeing her sister like that in Disney’s Frozen.)

The opening episodes focus on Catarina’s interactions with Kevin and the other boys. There’s Geordo, the prince mentioned at the beginning, who becomes engaged to Catarina after her accident in recompense for not catching her. Then there’s Geordo’s brother Alan, as well as the more enigmatic Nicol. Catarina meets them all, having an impact on each that she’s pretty oblivious about, as she has other priorities. For example, she becomes obsessed with farming, on the basis that if she ends up exiled, at least she’ll have a way to support herself! She holds regular strategy sessions in her own head, humorously presented as debates with multiple Catarinas.

After a few episodes, a time-skip takes us to the start of the game proper. Now a teen, Catarina must enrol at the elegant magic school, meeting several more characters including her “rival” Maria Campbell. (Maria’s voiced in Japanese by Saori Hayami, Shoko in A Silent Voice and Yor in Spy x Family; Catarina herself is voiced perkily by Maaya Uchida, whose other fantasy roles include Lilliluka in Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeron?) But in this already changed world, Maria and Catarina aren’t rivals any more. Indeed, one of the show’s gags is that Catarina finds herself “stealing” scenes from the game that were meant for the boys, like chasing off a crowd of bullies.

We’ll have to wait and see if the show will be open about changing a “girl meets boy” game into a girls’ love story instead. Plainly, that’s not crossed Catarina’s mind; when she checks who her friends like and three girls express their deep fondness for her, she just thinks that’s not the right kind of “like.”) An anime comedy like Trapped in a Dating Sim, with a similar premise but a male protagonist, could easily change a girl-meets-boys scenario into a boy-meets-girls one instead. But anime’s still conservative when it comes to same-sex love.

Later in the story, there’s a big reveal about one of the characters, and it might not be the character you expect. Meanwhile, magic school adventures come more to the fore, with dungeon-crawling, magic books and a hidden enemy.

Given that the “reincarnation” device is a staple of Japan’s portal fantasies, it’s no surprise that My Next Life as a Villainess originated on the Shosetsuka ni Naro website, where tons of these stories began – so did Trapped in a Dating Sim. Beyond the reincarnation plot, the idea of taking a canonically bad character from an existing story and changing his or her destiny is a favourite device in fanfic. As of writing, for instance, some of the most popular Harry Potter fanfics being together the malefic Hogwarts student Draco Malfoy and the franchise’s heroine Hermione Granger. (They’re called, if you couldn’t guess, Dramione stories.)

But it goes beyond fanfic culture, into blockbusters. Think of the Wicked book and stage musical, which retells Wizard of Oz with the wicked witch as the wronged hero, or Disney doing comparable rehabs on its past iconic villainesses in Maleficent and Cruella. (Some pundits argue that the Joaquin Phoenix version of Joker does the same for a comic-book psycho.) On that basis, why not have the next Gundam anime focus entirely on Kycilia Zabi, such a memorable antagonist in the original TV series, showing what she’s like when she’s not consumed by blood and glory? And perhaps she could be possessed by a fan from our world, determined to fight for her better destiny.

Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films. My Next Life as a Villainess is released in the UK by Anime Limited.

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