(*Note: The review of 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 reviewers. The episode 2-3 portion of the review is completely new.)
As someone who loves games—including JRPGs and dating sims—I greatly enjoyed this first episode. Over the years we’ve had numerous anime about being reincarnated in good games. The world of Trapped in a Dating Sim is the opposite: what it would be like to be trapped in a terrible one.
Let’s break down the game we see in this anime. To start with, it suffers from the shotgun approach to game design. Alto Liebe may be a dating sim first and foremost, but it also features both turn-based dungeon crawling and strategy RPG mecha battles. Worse yet, the difficulty for these parts of the game is ridiculously unbalanced. The game is literally designed around its cash shop—forcing players to dump even more real-world money into the game if they want to be able to beat it.
The actual story for the game makes things even worse. When the game was just a game, things didn’t really need to make sense. You could have fantasy magic, sci-fi mecha, and a feudal society together in the same story. You could even have an ending where the player character ends up with a harmonious harem made up of the kingdom’s finest young men. The problem is that when this becomes a fully-realized world, everything becomes taken to their logical extremes.
This is the world our “hero” (and I use that term loosely) Leon finds himself in. 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 the enemies’ weaknesses) but also that society is obsessed with money. But far worse is that, to contrive a happy reverse harem ending, the world suffers from a ludicrous level of ingrained misandry—with human men relegated to the status of third-class citizens. Leon himself is set to be married off to a 50-year-old black widow who will send him to the front lines to die for a quick insurance payout.
The world of Trapped in a Dating Sim is a joke—and that’s the point. It’s cliché and underwritten to the extreme. It’s a hell to live in. Because of this, we can get behind Leon and his rather ascholish nature. His drive to be as far away from the main plot as possible is understandable—at least in the background he might find something resembling normalcy. Of course, it almost certainly won’t be that simple and I look forward to watching Leon bust through numerous dating sim and RPG game tropes as the weeks go on.
After introducing us to its world and its protagonist Leon, the second and third episodes of Trapped in a Dating Sim are about developing Olivia, Marie, and Angelica.
Oliva is the player character for Alto Liebe. She’s literally tailor-made to snatch the hearts of the six romantic leads. What’s interesting is that Leon found her to be conniving and shrewd while he was playing as her. This is a reflection of himself, as he was playing with the express purpose of wooing one man or another and had no real feelings for any of them. However, the actual Olivia is just as the game’s intended creators: she is the stereotypical too-kind-for-her-own-good country girl who has been thrown into high society. The problem is that she is also designed to pure and vulnerable—someone who the male leads would step in to protect—but with the plot of the game heavily derailed, no one has been coming to her rescue. As such, she has been relentlessly bullied for no real reason. Leon has (somewhat reluctantly) stepped in to help her escape her pointless torment but he has the same issue that many reincarnated-in-a-game-world protagonists suffer from: he has trouble separating the video game character from the actual person. He sees Olivia as the literal center of this world and that everything is fated to go her way, even when this is clearly not the case.
While there’s no doubt Leon has been exploiting the game’s plot for his own benefit (such as getting end game items early for himself), his actions have yet to have any real effect on Alto Liebe’s core story. The same cannot be said for Marie’s actions, however. As another reincarnator with memories of the game, she uses her knowledge to supplant Olivia as the protagonist and reap the benefits. If Leon has issues seeing the inhabitants of Holfort Kingdom as real people, Marie straight up sees the whole world as her plaything. Those vying for her heart aren’t people, but simply things to be obtained and used. She doesn’t care about them beyond their looks and what they can do for her. She is simply going through the motions to rope them in. However, her impatience may prove to be her downfall. Rather than letting the romance events take place naturally over time, she has been rushing things towards the harem ending she so clearly desires.
Because of this, Angelica, the “villainess” of the story, hasn’t actually done anything worthy of the designation. While some of her minions have been provoked into bullying Marie without her knowledge or consent, she herself has done little beyond speaking out about the fact that the prince is ignoring the propriety of his station by publicly flirting with Marie. The worst thing she has done is simply push Marie aside in a fit of worry when the prince is injured.
As such, Angelica is a truly tragic character. After spending her life preparing to rule the kingdom and support her royal partner in all things, she now finds her fiancé flaunting his new relationship—going so far as to break off their engagement publicly and explaining he is fine being part of Marie’s harem. Seeing things from Angelica’s point of view, it’s easy to hate the prince and his pretty boy friends, who have all become so caught up in their romance that they’ve thrown both political and ethical considerations to the wind. They’re assholes who would stoop to publicly shaming a woman who has done nothing wrong.
And that’s why it feels so cathartic when Leon turns his own asshole-ish nature up to 11. Sure, a part of him clearly feels sorry for Angelica for being forced into her villainess role, but what drove him to step forward and become Angelica’s champion isn’t empathy, but hatred. If the prince and his fellow romantic leads were bad enough as characters in a game, as real people with agency he hates them even more (not to mention the obvious jealousy stemming from the fact that they alone seem unaffected by the world’s ultra-misandric nature .) And even worse than them is Marie who has condemned Olivia to a cycle of potential meaningless torment for her own benefit, playing with the fate of the world without considering the consequences of her actions.
Leon is quite clearly at his limit. With the game’s story so off track and his own chances of finding a nice girl and fading into the seemingly non-existent background, why not take a page out of Marie’s book and go for full self-satisfaction—consequences be damned? Now all that’s left is to revel in the continuing catharsis as Leon sets out to curbstomp them with his end-game mecha next episode.
Episode 2 Rating:
Episode 3 Rating:
• Nonsensical otome game remnant #1: Monsters turn into purple clouds of glitter when they die.
• Nonsensical otome game remnant #2: Treasure chests appear in dungeons—despite no one putting them there.
• Nonsensical otome game remnant #3: Humanity lives exclusively on a sea of flying islands.
• Nonsensical otome game remnant #4: A “KINGdom” in a land with absurd levels of misandry.
• Nonsensical otome game remnant #5: A magical medieval society with high-tech mechas.
Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs 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, check out his Twitter and blog.