ANIME REVIEW | Winning the Heart of a Stubborn "Villainess"
First, we had stories about being reborn as the protagonist of an otome game. Next, there were stories about being reborn as the villainess of an otome game. And now, we’ve got being reborn as the protagonist of an otome game, only to have eyes for the villainess herself. You would think that just about sums up I’m in Love with the Villainess, but you might be surprised!
Of course, we do have to start with that classic cliché: a character being literally worked to death. That “honor” goes to Rei Ohashi, who only found solitude in playing the otome game Revolution. But one night, she closes her eyes, opening them to the world of her favorite game. Rei is now Rae Taylor (Yu Serizawa), who now must use her knowledge of the game to make sure she and the classmates get out of the pickles they’re put in throughout the main story.
As for the romance route that otome games tend to have, Rae has her eyes set on a different path. She has zero interest in the men in the game; she wants Claire François (Karin Nanami), the main villainess of Revolution! Knowing her terrible fate at the end of the game, Rae will do all that she can to protect Claire from the literal chopping block. And Claire is having none of it!
Naturally, Claire is weirded out by Rae’s advances. After all, this is a world where same-sex relationships are both irregular and — sadly — illegal. Yet everything Claire throws at Rae in bullying fashion not only backfires, but our protagonist relishes it like a masochist. But that’s not all: Rae also weasels her way into the position of Claire’s maid, thereby guaranteeing that the otome-playing lesbian will get to spend all the time in the world with her waifu!
I’m in Love with the Villainess at first places a very wacky tone between the dynamics of Rae and Claire. Rae’s affection is very much cartoonish, in the same way Pepe le Pew always was fond of the cat he keeps mistaking for a fellow skunk. No matter how hard Claire fights off that affection, the tighter that romance grip gets around these two. Bad news for Claire, Heaven for Rae!
Thankfully, it never reaches full-blown uncomfortable when it comes to Rae’s clinging. At times it brings to mind the relationship between Noda and Chiaki in the delightful (yet still unlicensed in America!) Nodame Cantabile. Yes, Rae can annoy Claire, but for every strike she swings, she manages to hit a home run directly into the noble’s heart. And in those moments, you start to see Claire shed that blue blood attitude and show a little warmth towards her love-crazed classmate/maid.
There are still the boys that the Revolution game tries to get the protagonist to woo over: the Bauer brothers Rod (KENN), Sein (Daisuke Namikawa), and Yu (Yoko Hikasa). To be frank, most of them aren’t even worth a damn, as Rae casts them aside for her villainess crush. However, knowing Claire’s feelings for Sein, Rae will do what she can to get the two of them together. Even knowing that it’d mean she’s lose this game of love, it’d be all worth it for Rae to see Claire happy.
With the game being called Revolution, it’s clear that there’s a focus on class struggle. As I’m in Love with the Villainess goes on, the wall between nobles and commoners becomes a lot more visible. During the school festival, the bells of revolutions start to go into motion when a noble injures a commoner and gets a slap on the wrist. Even Rae is at first chastised for being a commoner by Claire and her friends, until her magic skills quickly quiet down even the loudest noble.
It’s why it’s so surprising to see an anime talk so frankly about class struggles. Although this is supposed to talk about the fantasy world, one can easily see how this mirrors into the real world’s current problem. The rich have all the power, as they squash the common people under the heels of their boots without worrying about the consequences. And while Rae may stick with Claire no matter what, she hopes that a change can occur that benefits everyone in the end. However, this is a world of magic, so this task may require more explosive spells and less boring legislation.
The same can be said about LGBTQ representation. Episode Three has Rae’s friend Misha Jur (Aimi) outright asking her about being gay. It is obvious that the world they’re in isn’t the accepting kind, hence why Claire and the others are weirded out by Rae’s mannerisms. Yet her full reveal presents the humanistic side of Rae, going so far as to show how tough it was in her past life to be queer. It goes to show that no matter where you may find yourself, there’s still that level of prejudice that lingers amongst the voices. (Even if they’re now the minority, they’re still pretty loud with their ass-backwards mentality.)
But the emphasis on I’m in Love with the Villainess is — above all — the relationship between Rae and Claire. As the show goes on, Claire’s bullying ways start to melt away from her personality. Whether it’s having a solid chat about different classes, an impromptu sleepover, or hunting for ghosts, the two have a bond that continues to grow. And it’s in that growth where you get to see the heart and soul of both these characters and the story itself.
Both Serizawa and Nanami play Rae and Claire with emotional delight. Sometimes, it’s a straight man/funny man situation, with Rae delivering an unexpected comeback to Claire’s rude antics. Other times, it’s a bit more dramatic, especially when Rae is given the chance to spill her feelings to Claire. But whenever they’re sharing the scenes together, that chemistry can be heard perfectly in the way their voice actresses bring their lines to life.
Its animation can be on the choppy side at times. Platinum Vision (Dr. Ramune: Mysterious Disease Specialist) looks like they might’ve skimmed on a frame or two to bring this story to the small screen. Having said that, they do a good job with showing how beautiful the Bauer Kingdom is when the time calls for it. Scenes that take place in gardens also demonstrate the prettiness of the world Rae and Claire roam through.
Noriyuki Asakura and Usagi to Uma pair up for the anime’s soundtrack, which sounds nice when it goes aristocratic. However, the songs lacks an originality to them, making them slightly unmemorable. Thankfully, the same can’t be said about the opening and ending themes, with both Serizawa and Nanami helming with a fun glee. Opener “Raise Y/Our Hands!!” is a playful romp of a song, whereas “O.C. Optimum Combination” has a melody that brings to mind Thriller-era Michael Jackson.
Although there are parts that can be a little iffy, I’m in Love with a Villainess is one of this season’s most fun romantic comedies. The characters are a delight, and the chemistry between Rae and Claire is wonderful to watch evolve. Yes, poor Rae may find herself in a one-sided relationship, but at least Claire is slowly opening her heart towards her. Even if I’m in Love with the Villainess might not exactly ship them both (yet!), perhaps with a little nurturing and a lot less pestering, a happy ending can be in the cards for Rae and Claire that’ll satisfy them and their viewers.
Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)
Final Grade (not an average):
I’m in Love with the Villainess can be viewed on Crunchyroll, and has been licensed by Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-9 were observed for review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.