Winter ’22 in Review part 1: In the Land of Leadale

The past three seasons I have done season-ending summaries for titles that I watched out. This season I am doing that in two (possibly three) parts between now and the start of the Spring ’22 Preview Guide on 4/1, as there are a few titles I want to talk about in at least a little more depth than a single paragraph reaction. This is the first installment, for one of the titles that have already concluded.

From the beginning, In the Land of Leadale was primarily – if not exclusively – distinguished by being a power fantasy isekai which featured a rare female protagonist. That never really changed, as even up until the last episode (#12), Cayna is still performing feats of magic that are jaw-dropping by any sense of scale in her new world. In fact, the power shenanigans going on here are so ordinary that this would fall in nondescript fashion into the ranks of the most generic power fantasies if Cayna was male. Nothing (beyond alcohol!) is even a slight threat to her, and nearly everyone she meets that is not a blatant bad guy quickly gets won over by her; despite her immensely out-of-scale power, no one seems even mildly threatened by her presence (excepting her “kids” when they have done something to piss her off, of course).

The one thing that saves the series from complete mediocrity is that it usually does not take itself seriously. I only read one novel of the source material, but the anime version of those parts of the story is distinctly more comical, and it gets just enough mileage out of the generally-light-hearted interpretations of Cayna’s antics to keep the series afloat. Much like the other major isekai power fantasy with a female protagonist – I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level – the series also usually has a laid-back feel to it, with an emphasis more on fun and familial relations than conflict. The only parts that ever truly gets heavy are the ones about the former player leading bandits and the zombified village, and while the latter incident does have long-term consequences, the writing barely dwells on the darker elements.

That aspect of the series is both good and bad, however, for it results in the series seeming directionless for most of its run. The only thing in the story even approaching an overarching plot is the mystery about how Leadale came be to be a “real-world” setting instead of just a game, but Cayna hardly dwells on that beyond trying to find and reactivate the towers of the other Skill Masters, which were abandoned when the game shut down. Even meeting other former players, and discovering that they ended up here at different times without dying, does not spark her curiosity to further investigate what happened, and deciding to adopt an orphan girl late in the season seems to put a limit on how much further she might bother to pursue the matter.

That sense of aimlessness continues until the very final scene of episode 12, where Cayna makes some comments which initially sound like standard fare for wrapping up a series. However, upon further reflection, those comments speak to the true purpose of the series. This story is not about Cayna going on grand adventures or trying to solve some big mystery; it is, instead, just about her getting to live a new life, one which she can actually enjoy. Getting a chance for a better life in a new setting is a common theme of isekai titles even beyond the anime/LN/manga sphere, but the real-world situation of Cayna’s never-named player is the grimmest of any isekai character you’ll find anywhere. Her life literally was the game, so getting to experience the game setting for real was the best possible outcome for her. As long as she’s doing what she wants and experiencing what this world has to offer, that’s all that matters to her, and that’s what the story is about.

Understanding that does not detract from the flaws the series has. The series will never be remembered for its artistic merits, Cayna is effectively a bully when it comes to her adult “kids,” Skargo is stupidly over-the-top, and the catty behavior of the werecat butler and maid towards each other gets annoying quick. However, the series does ultimately achieve its goal, so I can give it slightly positive marks overall.

Overall Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

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