4 out of 5
Directed by: Shin Itagaki
covers season 1
Yeah, there are OF COURSE stand out performances across the decades of anime that – just from my small taste of select shows – have led me to look into a particular voice artist and find out what else they’ve done. But, very generally, these performances are also part of something larger: directors, animators, and other cast members, supporting what that one person is doing.
So I’m A Spider, So What? is, for sure, a larger something, and I definitely don’t want to – in any way – dismiss that: Millipensee’s animation and character design; Shūji Katayama’s music; and Shin Itagaki’s direction launch the show forward quite immediately amidst masses of other shows, including those with similarly hope-to-catch-your-eye quirky titles. However – however – it is quite possible that Aoi Yuki’s performance as our lead character, a spider nicknamed (by fans) Kumoko, could solely carry the series. So energetic and enthused and emotive is her acting that it absolutely paints a picture; you can close your eyes, listen to her tra-la-laing her way through the most insane sequences, and be utterly entertained. Then add to that those other impressive pieces – not to mention the rest of the actors, all doing admirable jobs – and you’ve got a show that makes its impressions immediately: if you like the first few minutes, you’re sold.
Thankfully, all the visual / aural elements I’ve just mentioned are in service to a ridiculously grabbing spin on isekai, in which our (actually) nameless lead is reborn as – yeah – a spider, level 1, and uses those genre-usual powers of being able to read stats of the other creatures in the dungeon in which she finds herself to plot her way to increasing her skills. All normal enough, just replacing an arachnid with a slime or whatever other isekai creature, except Kumoko is wholly aware of isekai, and of what she should expect being a character in one, and so uses that to her advantage. Still, we’ve seen this advancement in the scene, so “So I’m A Spider” adds a sense of playfulness, as the world occasionally functions the way Kumoko expects, and sometimes doesn’t. And then maybe there are also others “reborn” into this world with some awareness as well, playing their own games with it…
This all sounds like a kooky good time, and yet, there’s somehow an emotional undercurrent, as Kumoko will briefly reflect on her past life, and compare it to her Now; though she’s very much the optimist in that regard, this gives the show a dash of depth, and helps to inform her tireless pursuit of, initially safety, but then more power as well. On top of that, there’s a deepening mystery of What’s Actually Going On – something that isekai’s generally decide not to deal with – and then a whole other half to the story in which we touch in with those other reborn folks who’re growing up as non-spiders in a world of deeply conflicting religious / philosophical beliefs, into which, somehow, Kumoko is intertwined. It’s actually, like, really complicated?
This last bit is where the show – though perpetually buoyed by its confident presentation, and Yuki – loses a step or two. We see things from Kumoko’s perspective right from when she’s “born,” but we cut to the human side of the story very much in the middle of things, and the show episodically cuts between the two, slowly peeling back their connections. In theory, this is sound, but it’s a lot of characters and lore to keep track of when we’re not with Kumoko, and the show is coy with how much information it reveals… leading to some confusion as to whether or not we’re supposed to “know” something, or if it’s purposefully mysterious, or irrelevant. For the most part, the pacing is good at feeding us information so we’re not too far behind where, I think, we’re “supposed” to be, but as you get deeper into the show, some bigger unknowns become apparent, and it kinda sorta just adds to what I’d consider to be unnecessary complexity.
However, what’s good to note about this is that neither side of the show is boring to watch. While I’m not sure if the human drama would be as compelling without the spider bits, the fact that the creators did wait before introducing that part of things did do the (I’d assume) intended job of getting us invested, and the flip back and forth between the halves is done at a good pace so we can keep that investment. So even if you’re fed up with trying to suss out what’s what, you have the option of just kind of tuning out and enjoying the momentum of the whole thing, with extra dollops of Yuki greatness.
(And expect to have your mind blown by the first ending credits song…)