Villainess Level 99 took a real risk with its first episode, because if you weren’t in on the joke, it could have fallen very flat. Rather than starting with the actual story, we’re instead treated to half an episode of the dullest otome game imaginable: plucky and pretty commoner Alicia is the only person who can use light magic and thus the only non-noble at her fancy new school, and she quickly proves that she’s all sweetness and sugar while meeting the three smartest and hottest boys in school. I play a lot of otome games, and it almost made me gag – but that’s the point. The opening gambit is designed to show us how out of place the actual protagonist of the show is, because while she may have played it in her previous life, she wasn’t in it for the dating sim or story elements. No, the girl who is now Yumiella Dolkness was a hardcore level-grinding fiend of a gamer, so finding herself reborn into a sickly sweet otoge is quite possibly one of the cruelest tricks someone could have played on her.
But that’s also what makes this series work. As a fan of the original light novels, I’ll be the first to admit that these two episodes, while still faithfully adapting the plot, aren’t nearly as good as the books, but they can’t all be The Apothecary Diaries. And one thing that this absolutely nails is Yumiella herself. Ai Farouz’s deadpan delivery is perfect; it shows us how blasé she is about the entire situation. Yes, she’d very much like to avoid becoming the hidden boss, and no, she’s not thrilled about living as Yumiella, but mostly, she just wants to be left alone to do her own thing. She especially wants to avoid the game’s four main characters, not only because they’re the most likely to kill her, but also because she just doesn’t care about them. She just wants to live as a background character, kill the demon lord if necessary, and get on with things.
It’s never that easy, though, is it? Poor Yumiella has shot herself in the foot, because she’s such a level-grinding nut that she accidentally got herself to max level just trying to figure out a way to survive the game plot. And that’s where things really begin: Yumiella mistakenly outs herself as super powerful and earns the immediate ire of everyone around her, especially the four leads. And if it were just that, it would have been enough – this show takes macho posturing and anguished screams of defeated man tears to a new level as Yumiella handily defeats/humiliates all three capturable characters. Seriously, those screams are works of art, especially Edwin’s when his attempt to get Yumiella expelled is foiled. Although maybe William’s is better as he’s flung across the training ground? It’s hard to say.
But injured pride isn’t the actual issue here. There’s very much an underlying theme of prejudice that is peeking through the chibi shots and the male leads’ posturing. Everyone finds Yumiella upsetting by her mere existence, and hints of that come through when they all address her as “you, with the black hair.” Notably, she’s the only dark-haired character in any scene, and her parents are so disgusted with her coloring that they’ve never even met her, abandoning her in their country manor shortly after she was born. Her dark magic also causes fear, and many props to the magic teacher, who immediately tells everyone not to assume she’s evil for her looks and magical affinity. She’s the sole voice of reason in the entire cast, the only one who stands up to the head of the school and the prince when they want to expel Yumiella. That not only makes her the lone person on Yumiella’s side (and let me remind everyone that she’s probably about fifteen, so an actual child as far as anyone knows), but also the only one thinking ahead. Yumiella notes that the kingdom would be insane to let a level 99 dark magic user go to another nation. Surely, this is something that Edwin should know, which begs the question of how much the game influences people’s actions.
And that’s the question most of these reborn-in-a-game stories tackle: is the game still being played, or are these real people living their lives? Yumiella isn’t in a place where she’s ready to question any of that; she’s just accepted who she’s supposed to be in terms of how her new world sees her. But it’s something that bears paying attention to as this goes on, because she does notice that some timeline issues have occurred, and we can see a few background characters getting more notice than others. This isn’t perfect, but it’s doing a good enough job to make it fun with the potential to be more.
Villainess Level 99 is currently streaming on
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