I feel like a bit of broken record these days, as these past few seasons have proven expectations wrong repeatedly on the creativity that isekai anime still provides and will likely continue to do for the foreseeable future. Once again, we have another series this season (and not even the only one) that brings a new flavor to the table. Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games Is Tough for Mobs gives us a reluctant protagonist thrust into an NPC’s role rather than that of the hero or villain. His navigation of this world hinges on his knowledge of the game and manipulation of its characters and events. What starts out as a gamble to survive transforms into an unexpected coming-of-class story.
The setup is typical of similar game rebirth stories: the main character obtains a game and becomes intimately familiar with the details, dies, and is reborn into that same fictional setting. I’ve seen rebirth into heroic roles, villainous roles, and now the inglorious background character. Since this was originally an otome game, this world is also strictly matriarchal, its men treated to a near comical level of disregard.
Rather then succumbing to the rules of his new environment, Leon Fou Bartfort seeks a path towards self-preservation, one out of the hands of his selfish mother and her servile expectations. He quickly obtains the most broken weapon in the game, complete with micro transaction add-ones, that ensures his victory in every encounter. What he doesn’t bank on is the increased status that comes with public success. This push and pull of mob and hero scenarios keeps the story entertaining in its unpredictability, and when Leon inevitably turns out overpowered and friends with the game’s intended heroine *and* villainess, the path there is so silly it doesn’t end up feeling like every other Cinderella isekai.
The odd thing about Trapped in a Dating Sim is that many of my laughs aren’t even of the heart warming or good-natured kind. The comedy often places Leon as its topic, like when he shatters everyone’s hopes and defeats each of the male leads in turn with little chivalry and plenty of gloating. Then there’s his eternal suffering with teatime, a special break intended for men to treat ladies that instead turns into ravenous heirresses spilling tea and leaving crumbs all over the furniture. Leon exposes the ridiculous standards of this world while actively taking part in them. His AI sidekick, Luxion, adds in much of the comedic commentary with its dry humor and blunt analyses.
Another side to this show that surprised me was how despite each episode including a fair amount of public shaming and events gone wrong, I didn’t feel weighed down. There’s negative energy, yes, but it’s almost always offset by some kind of comeuppance seasoned with Leon’s now familiar smirk. The over confident pretty boys are shown there’s always someone stronger and smarter; the entitled ladies at school are exposed for their internal ugliness; the secondary isekai character, Marie, has each of her actions spun around to an alternative result.
However, complete success isn’t always a good thing, as the mistakes and failures we encounter in life teach us and often lead to growth. I didn’t really expect TDS to go there, but it absolutely does with Olivia’s character. Leon’s unintended success and protection of her means she lacks the exposure to hardship she’s supposed to have encountered in the original game. Instead of strengthening both mentally and magically, she remains afraid and in the shadows. Her withdrawal from friendships signals Leon to slow down and remember what role he actually wishes to have in this world. He isn’t the hero, nor does he want to be.
A single season cours was a perfect amount of time to tell this kind of story. Studio ENGI at the helm handled the art well enough to not leave me with any complaints. The anime could have looked better animation-wise, but I don’t recall any egregious scenes. Clever dialogue and a well constructed story does wonders for a mediocre-looking show that could have been easily overlooked in favor of more prominent profiles.
Rating: 1 dango
- 0 dango – average and forgettable.
- 1 dango – very good in its category.
- 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
- 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.