If I have a major knock against I’m in Love with the Villainess, it’s that its world is boring. That’s not unusual for Otome Villainess shows since they’re often predicated on character-focused games that use generic, vague aristocracy and magic schools as simple backgrounds for the stuff they care about. Yet knowing the “why” doesn’t make sitting through minutes of explanation for this show’s extremely basic magic systems any less stultifying. If you’ve played any RPG with elemental magic, or just have a basic understanding of how water reacts to fire, you could skip nearly the entire first half of this episode without missing anything but a boring lecture. Maybe some of this stuff will be pertinent later, and the exact mechanics of wind magic or something will be a critical plot point, but in the here and now it’s akin to skipping through tutorial text boxes on how to catch a Pokémon when you’ve been playing the games since Gen 1.
To be fair, the show does try to bridge that boring gap with a few gags. Claire and Rae’s magic duel swiftly turning into Bully-Flirting is cute, as are Rae’s fantasies about becoming her lady’s knight. That she’s just as excited at the prospect of fighting alongside Claire in the Royal Knights as being her guard is a cute escalation to the gag, and Claire does look pretty dashing in that armor. Yet that’s not enough to salvage a perfunctory first half. Similarly, the fact that Rae’s concern during the slime fight is that she’ll be forced into attracting attention from one of the princes is a great gag – the girl would rather die than have to suffer through a shmaltzy cut scene with a boy – but not quite enough to carry an extended action sequence with this show’s production values. Ironically, I’m grateful in this instance that the magic system is boring and straightforward since the show can just barely manage to have all the characters stand still while magic blasts out of their wands. Anything more than that and the whole episode would have probably melted.
Thankfully, everything beyond that packs a lot more interest. For one, it’s cool that Claire gets to be the one who saves the day. As funny as it is to see her get hoisted by her own petard around Rae, seeing her more competent and noble side is also important to keep this whole dynamic believable. So even if the animation is lacking, it’s great to see her and Thane take down the slime rather than Rae using some OP power set or player knowledge to steamroll the whole encounter. Even more effective is what comes after, when Rae witnesses the tender moment between Thane and Claire, and can’t bring herself to watch. Our heroine may insist she’s happy so long as Claire’s happy, but seeing your love go unrequited right in front of your eyes is not something most people could quietly sit through. Similarly, it’s telling that Claire’s first response upon noticing Rae is to make sure she’s alright. She’d never admit it, but it would seem she cares at least a little bit about her not-at-all-secret admirer.
It’s those little glimpses behind the armor, where we see Rae the person rather than her ever-deflecting persona, or Claire lets down her haughty defenses, that make this episode worth it. Plus, we do get a pretty adorable little mascot with Rae’s newly adopted slime familiar. Granted, I don’t approve of Rae going to the Twilight school of naming by just smashing her and Claire’s names together to dub the little goo-ball Ralaire, but dang if it isn’t a cute little blob. Villainess is at its best when it’s focused on charming jokes and meaningful character beats, so here’s hoping we’ll get back to that now that the worldbuilding homework is out of the way.
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