This Week in Anime - The Little Spider That Could

5 months ago 79

We get multiple isekai series every season but we've never had an eight-legged protagonist before! So I'm a Spider, So What?'s major gets a leg up on the competition thanks to a stellar performance by voice actress Aoi Yūki. Steve and Nick check their arachnophobia at the door for this new adventure.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Steve
Nick, seeing as we're recording this column on Easter Sunday, let's try not being little hellish rapscallions for once in our This Week In Anime careers. Let's instead do the important work of spreading the good news about our very own lord and savior. The one and only. The manic talking spider with eight evil eyes.

Nick
Sure, I'll start a religion around Aoi Yūki. There have certainly been worse ideas for cults.

Honestly I'm sure somebody's already beaten us to that particular punch anyway. But since we have a little interlude before its second cour begins, and since we haven't discussed it since our isekai roundup at the start of winter, let's look at what a tangled web has been woven by So I'm a Spider, So What?

Or as I have insisted on calling it since learning it existed: So I'm a Spider, Big Whoop, Wanna Fight About It? And it turns out yes, a lot of people want to fight about it. So much fighting.

And so many screencaps of Punished "Venom" Kumoko that I've just finished sorting through. Turns out being reincarnated as a spider kinda sucks.

I mean it's not all bad. Sure, Kumoko spends weeks on end fighting for her life every second of every day, but at least her isekai storyline doesn't involve dealing with missionaries trying to spread the good news about Siri reading your stat sheet.

At least the horde of monkey monsters wait until after 7am to knock on your door with literature.

And on that note, we should really appreciate the magnanimity of Spider Time throwing not one, but two parallel isekai narratives at us at once. Most isekai series can barely tell their one story competently, so that's already a point of ambition in this series' favor. And I have to say, despite the amount of time I've spent ragging on the genre (most of it in this very column), I actually really dig this one.

Personally I think it's a little generous to say this show has two stories. It's more like there's an isekai show about a class of high schoolers that get reincarnated into the same fantasy world, and then every few minutes you stop to watch a VTuber playing Monster Hunter Rise for a while.

Sidenote: Kumoko really should learn how to use Hunting Horn. those buffs are no joke once you have it upgraded properly.

Buddy, I've seen how convoluted some of that VTuber worldbuilding can get. Up to and including multiple personalities.

Ah yes, even the show realized that Aoi Yūki yelling to nobody would get old eventually, so she managed to personify (spiderfy?) her 3 remaining brain cells.

If it works, it works! The show spends so much time inside Kumoko's head, it really does live or die on the charisma of its main character. There aren't many voice actors I can think of who could carry that role, but Aoi Yūki nails the kind of madcap energy it needs. There's just something about her performance that even makes me tolerate the long-winded mechanics-based exposition dumps I usually loathe. That's no small feat.

Sadly she's not quite enough to save these parts for me. She makes it work for a good long while! But despite hearing from fans that the human portions are the boring parts of the novels, the half of Spider that's felt the most repetitive for me has easily been watching Kumoko scroll through literal walls of texts and allotting skill points.

Oh yeah, if I had it my way, I'd still leave a lot of that on the cutting room floor, and then clean that cutting room floor with a flamethrower. But I do have to commend the subtitlers' efforts for going through such shitposty extremes to translate everything on screen. The unreadable deluge of text on top of text almost becomes a joke in itself. Only almost, tho.

Look I know Shin Itagaki isn't a great director but I never thought he'd take "translate text to screen" so literally.

He really needs to find The Lord, and then have The Lord tell him to tone it down a touch.

I fear he is beyond even the Lord's power at this point.

I've heard of Dutch angles but this is, uh, whatever the geographical antipode of the Netherlands is. I can't look that up right now. It's ridiculous, is the point.

But really, while Kumoko's story can be interesting, it's the hardest to have much to talk about. It's episodes on end of her fighting CG monsters with increasingly esoteric RPG skills. At least on the human side, while they still have all the video game mechanics, they do something narratively pertinent with em:

Boy, Spider really is one of the few "trapped in a video game" setups I've seen that actually seems to have considered the ramifications of the premise beyond the surface-level slog of referential humor. That in itself honestly redeems a great deal of the dryness of the level up scenes, because at least it sets the stage for interesting stuff like this: a cult that worships the robotic lady voice who tells you how many experience points you just got.

Because if a mysterious disembodied voice started talking to you about all of your unique attributes and magic powers, yeah, you'd probably start a religion about that.

You're born into the world where everyone can hear the voice in their head tell them they've achieved a quantifiable ability to brush their teeth, they're gonna start a church around it. Like I said, there's been worse ideas for cults. I also dig how this particular Follower of Cortana is a fellow reincarnation. Turns out having memories of a past life doesn't make you immune to propaganda!

I also dig that Kumoko's not the only one who got reborn as a monster. Her former bully got birthed from a Digimon egg too!

I mean the bar is pretty low, admittedly, but the series just has an above-average imagination in general when it comes to these isekai tropes. Like, yes, you've got reincarnation, but more specifically, you've got people reincarnated into different walks of life, which in turn informs their new personalities and motivations. Whether that's standard stuff like becoming a knight, or Kumoko stuff like trying to protect your cool spider crib.

I admit this is grading on a very generous curve considering its peers, but I really do appreciate the show actively trying to explore shit that so many isekai stories just take for granted or gloss over. Though it's still an LN isekai, so we have to have a little sister.

Isekai giveth, and isekai taketh. Which reminds me, I also like that several of their reincarnated classmates are straight-up dead now, and that's all we know about them. Like, Kumoko's misadventures do go a long way establishing that this world is legit dangerous, but this reinforces that Spider Time isn't interested in playing nice.

That said, before the second part starts, I need to make myself a cheat sheet of who is who, because giving everyone two names is a good way to ensure I remember none of them.

Oh I fucking gave up on that. I classify the cast entirely by their role. There's "Blue hair hero kid", "Red haired girl who was a dude in the past life", "Elf homeroom teacher" and of course "The Gamer":

Excuse me, there's only room for one Gamer in this anime, and that title already belongs to the Queen of Gaming.

Which is why he had to have his l33t gamer skillz forcibly removed.

Oh we'll get to Kumoko's brand of toxicity. But yeah, I dig that the combination of being born into extreme privilege and talent leads one of the reincarnated kids to just go full Solipsist. This is his world, and he's not letting a jumped up NPC get in the way of his power fantasy.

Terminal isekai brain. You hate to see it.

The only cure is being put in timeout by somebody with Admin privileges.

Literally.

It's funny to talk about in abstract here, but Spider hammers in how uncanny and frightening admin powers would be in this "real" context. Kumoko herself has a mini existential crisis over it.


Don't worry, she gets better.

"Better"

Though if I'm honest I can't say I'd handle getting a phone call from God any better. Especially if I lived in a world where phone calls didn't even exist.

Oh that whole scene is wonderful, not just for the disquieting ontological implications, but also for this.

Turns out there aren't any isekai language electives in spider school. Also turns out there isn't a spider school.

Kumoko would've flunked out anyway, so it's fine. But along with some world-bending twists, we get some timebending reveals in the latest few episodes. Specifically that, despite the assumption from all the crosscutting that they were happening in tandem, all the shit Spider Girl's been doing in dungeon was going on 15 years before the current timeline with her classmates:

Also, that's the dragon egg that eventually hatched into Fei, so Kumoko very nearly had a tag team partner.

Yeah! They start dropping hints about the timeline discrepancy earlier on, but I was so glad once they confirmed it. That's some very cool, very subtle narrative sleight-of-hand. It also gives us perspective on what Kumoko actually looks like when not filtered through the self-imposed lens of a former anime nerd.

Still kawaii, of course.

It also raises the question of what she's been up to the past decade or so, considering she speedran the growing-from-infancy stage of reincarnation. Now the show keeps dropping hints to that answer, but after that temporal switcheroo I fully believe this to be a tiny, spiderlike Red Herring.

The show's been smart about teasing the audience with just enough information and/or misinformation to keep the speculation engine running at full steam. Like, it seems pretty clear that the above Demon Lord is likely the reincarnation of the other loner girl in Kumoko's class, but there's also the nagging feeling that there's definitely more going on here than we can assume at the moment.

Personally I'm guessing present-day Kumoko is the mysterious, soft-spoken lady in all white who murdered the hell out of Schlain's brother. Mostly because I don't think the character designer would want to give up on that sick white-and-pick aesthetic.

Also, y'know, they both use a super cursed Rot magic that's supposed to be a literal abomination against god.

Plus, what we've seen of Kumoko's arc is already kinda tragic. Her fight for mere survival makes her stronger and stronger until she starts unwittingly tapping into more powerful and more dangerous techniques. But no matter how strong she gets, there's always the sense she's becoming entangled in struggles well beyond her ken. This is a good thing from the perspective of making her character development more compelling, but it tinges her manic adventures with a good helping of melancholy for sure.

Personally I like the idea of being such a dumbass that you accidentally tap into arcane knowledge and now have the world's darkest secrets crammed into your carapace. I hope she finds the Dead Sea Scrolls next.

Love that you can level up so much you have to bear the responsibility of foreseeing the inevitable heat death of the universe. Good mechanics they have here.

By far the coolest thing Spider does with its video game conceit is this scene, tho.


Like, damn, imagine learning your brother died because you unlocked a new job class in your tactical RPG.

It's fucking wild, yeah. That's exactly the kind of existential horror shit I love to see with the weird grey area between real- and game-world.

Though it wasn't quite as surreal as seeing a literal Phoenix Down.

They are a lot bigger than my Final Fantasy experiences would have led me to believe lol. But yeah, I love how that Hero scene just so elegantly follows from the previously established rules. It's actual, legitimate dramatic payoff stemming from isekai worldbuilding. I can scarcely believe it.

Lest I get too big for my britches, though, I do want to stress that most of my enjoyment of this series stems from Kumoko being very loud and very stupid—the two most important qualities in any anime protagonist.

Personally I'm just glad she's out of that labyrinth now, so she can presumably interact with other characters who can speak. But despite my frustrations I have really enjoyed my time with Spider, and I'm glad it'll be continuing into this new season.

Though uh, please stop letting Itagaki make action scenes. I beg of you.

Agreed, and that isn't that hard. Just swap out all the action scenes with more Kumoko faces. Problem solved!

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