Episodes 1-3 – Trapped in a Dating Simulator: The World of Otome Games is Hard on Crowds
(*Note: The review for the first episode is copy-pasted from when I reviewed it for the Spring 2022 Preview Guide, which also includes four additional reviews of this episode from other ANN reviews. The episode portion 2-3 of the review is completely new.)
As someone who loves games, including JRPGs and dating sims, I thoroughly enjoyed this first installment. Over the years we’ve had plenty of anime about reincarnation in good games. The world of Trapped in a dating simulator is the opposite: what it would be like to be trapped in a terrible.
Let’s break down the game we see in this anime. For starters, it suffers from the shotgun approach to game design. Alto Liebe may be primarily a dating sim, but it also offers both turn-based dungeon crawling and a strategy RPG. mecha battles. Worse still, the difficulty of these parts of the game is ridiculously unbalanced. The game is literally built around its cashier, requiring players to pour even more real money into the game if they want to be able to beat it.
The actual story of the game makes things even worse. When the game was just a game, things didn’t really have to make sense. You could have fantasy magic, sci-fi mecha, and a feudal society together in the same story. You might even have an ending where the player character ends up with a harmonious harem of the best young men in the kingdom. The problem is that when this becomes a fully realized world, everything is pushed to its logical extremes.
This is the world in which our “hero” (and I use that term loosely) Leon finds himself. The pay-to-win aspect of the game means that not only are the enemies in the world so strong that he almost dies on his first adventure (despite exploiting enemies’ weaknesses) but also that society is obsessed by money. But far worse is that, to invent a reverse harem happy ending, the world suffers from a ridiculous level of ingrained misandry – human males being relegated to the status of third-class citizens. Leon himself is about to be married to a 50-year-old black widow who will send him to the front to die for a quick insurance payout.
The world of Trapped in a dating simulator is a joke – and that’s the point. It’s cliché and guaranteed to the extreme. It’s hell to live. Thanks to this, we can get behind Leon and his rather goofy nature. Its desire to be as far away from the main plot as possible is understandable – at least in the background, it might find something resembling normalcy. Of course, it’s definitely not going to be that simple, and I can’t wait to see Leon blast through plenty of dating sims and RPGs over the weeks.
After introducing us to its universe and its protagonist Léon, the second and third episodes of Trapped in a dating simulator are on the development of Olivia, Marie and Angelica.
Oliva is the player character of Alto Liebe. She is literally tailor-made to rip out the hearts of the six romantic leads. What’s interesting is that Leon found her conniving and shrewd while he was toying with her. It’s a reflection of himself, as he played for the express purpose of courting one man or another and had no real feelings for any of them. However, the real Olivia is exactly as the game’s creators intended: she’s the stereotypical peasant girl too nice for her own good who’s been thrown into high society. The problem is that she’s also designed to be pure and vulnerable – someone the main men would step in to protect – but with the game’s plot heavily derailed, no one came to her rescue. As such, she was relentlessly harassed for no real reason. Leon stepped in (somewhat reluctantly) to help him escape his needless torment, but he has the same problem that many protagonists reincarnated in a game world suffer from: he struggles to separate the video game character from the real person. He sees Olivia as the literal center of this world and that everything is destined to go its way, even though it clearly isn’t.
While there’s no doubt that Leon has exploited the game’s plot for his own benefit (like getting end-game items early for himself), his actions have yet to have any real effect on the main story of Alto Liebe. However, the same cannot be said for Mary’s actions. As another reincarnation with memories of the game, she uses her knowledge to supplant Olivia as the protagonist and reap the benefits. If Leon struggles to see the inhabitants of Holfort Kingdom as real people, Marie directly sees the whole world as her plaything. Those who vie for her heart are not people, but simply things to be obtained and used. She doesn’t care about them beyond how they look and what they can do for her. She simply goes through the steps to chain them together. However, his impatience may prove to be his downfall. Rather than letting romantic events unfold naturally over time, she has rushed things towards the end of the harem she so clearly desires.
For this reason, Angelica, the “villain” of the story, has done nothing that deserves this designation. While some of his minions have been tricked into bullying Marie without her knowledge or consent, she herself has only spoken out about the prince ignoring the merits of his position by publicly flirting with Marie. The worst thing she’s done is just push Mary aside in a fit of worry when the prince is hurt.
As such, Angelica is a truly tragic character. After spending her life preparing to rule the kingdom and supporting her royal partner in all things, she now finds her fiancé flaunting her newfound relationship, going so far as to publicly break off their engagement and explain that he is going to be fine with the harem of Mary. Seeing things from Angelica’s perspective, it’s easy to hate the prince and his handsome friends, who have all become so caught up in their romance that they’ve thrown political and ethical considerations to the wind. They are assholes who would stoop to publicly humiliate a woman who has done nothing wrong.
And that’s why it’s so cathartic when Leon transforms his own asshole nature up to age 11. Sure, part of him clearly feels sorry for Angelica being forced into her villainous role, but what made him come forward and become Angelica’s champion? is not empathy, but hate. If the prince and his romantic companions were bad enough as characters in a game, as real people with an agency he hates them even more (not to mention the obvious jealousy stemming from the fact that they alone don’t seem affected by the ultra-misandric nature of the world.) And even worse than them, it was Mary who sentenced Olivia to a cycle of meaningless torment for her own benefit, toying with the fate of the world without considering the potential consequences of his actions.
Leon is clearly at his limit. With the game’s story so confusing and its own chances of finding a nice girl and disappearing into the background seeming non-existent, why not pull a page from Marie’s book and go for total complacency – damn the consequences ? All that remains is to revel in the continued catharsis as Leon sets out to put the brakes on them with his endgame. mecha next episode.
Episode 2 Evaluation:
Episode 3 Evaluation:
• Absurd otome game remnant #1: Monsters turn into purple clouds of glitter when they die.
• Remnant of Nonsensical Otome Game #2: Treasure chests appear in dungeons, though no one has put them there.
• Remnant of absurd otome game #3: Humanity lives exclusively on a sea of flying islands.
• Absurd otome game remnant #4: A “kingdom” in a land with absurd levels of misandry.
• Absurd otome remnant #5: A magical medieval society with high-tech mechs.
Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Hard on Crowds is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Richard is an anime and video game journalist with over a decade of experience living and working in Japan. For more of his writings, see his Twitter and blog.