OP: 「keep weaving your spider way」by Azuna Riko
「転生, 異世界?」 (Tensei, Isekai?)
“Reincarnation, in Another World?”
Kumo Desu ga, Nani ka puts an interesting spin on rebirth isekai by emphasizing the harrowing nature of what life would be like in an RPG if you were among the many monsters that had to devour to survive. But while it could’ve immersed itself in the kind of edgy, dark atmosphere that’s brought to us when we see spiders cannibalize each other, much of the darker tone is remedied by the character of Kumoko, an unusual gamer who stumbles her way through her new life as a cute chibi spider.
I have to give the show credit for starting right out the gate with the grisly reality that Kumoko faces right when she’s reborn as a spider. As Kumoko makes the realization of what she’s become, the tone is set immediately when she notices her fellow spiders eating each other out of necessity. Even with Kumoko scuttling about and cracking jokes to the viewers, the grim “kill-or-be-killed” atmosphere never dissipates.
In fact, for the remainder of the episode, Kumoko remains stuck in this dank cave surrounded by monsters that she will either have to avoid or devour in order to survive. The morbid vibe provides much of the show’s tension with how harrowing it is to see Kumoko force herself to stop puking as she eats a fellow spider or chews through a poison frog until it gasps its last dying breath. It makes it interesting to see an isekai like this where the stakes are high enough that the looming threat of death is taken seriously, and survival instincts are what it takes to progress instead of just skill or talent.
At the same time, it’s not the edgiest anime of Winter 2021 by a country mile, and much of that is owed to the performance of voice actress Yuuki Aoi in providing levity through Kumoko’s eccentric personality. She hoots, hollers, screams, and quips her way through the role as Kumoko meanders from one train of thought to the next with reckless abandon. It’s easy to forgive the CGI because of how much of the spider’s physicality relies on her actress’ line delivery.
It also helps that Kumoko as a character is amusing for how she tries her damndest to make the most out of her life as a spider regardless of the setbacks she faces. Discovering she was stuck in an RPG where her stat increases could unlock new abilities was a revelation until she found out that, in this universe, the Appraisal ability didn’t work out how she thought it would. The funniest moment in the episode had to be when she decides that the first thing she should do with her webbing is to create a nest and do an MTV Cribs segment on her new furnishings. Her astonishment and disgust about the things she has to do to survive provide some humor with how often she’s impressed with herself for making it as far as she has.
If there’s one thing that’s a weak spot about the first episode, it’s the jarring transition into the world where Kumoko’s classmates were fortunate enough to gain forms as humans or friendly creatures. It provides intrigue considering how much it fleshes out the whole afterlife system in the game and gives you a whole cast of classmates who bring their issues in the past life with them to the RPG world. But aesthetically, it looks even more unappealing than the murky cave Kumoko was in. Most of the shots awkwardly frame the characters from their foreheads to their ribs, so it looks like every shot is zoomed in far more than it needs to be. It almost feels like a camrip that had to zoom in on the movie theater screen or crop out parts of the frame so that it can be posted on streaming sites.
But aside from visual hiccups like this, Kumo Desu ga, Nani ka sets a decent bar for a bulk of this season’s isekai as a quirky yet morbid journey into the life of a spider. It ended up being amusing to see Kumoko wing it as an idiosyncratic spider that has to face a number of treacherous obstacles if she has any hope of surviving in the human world. It should be neat to see how this one turns out and whether it can keep up the momentum with its unusual yet endearing tone.
ED: Ganbare! Kumoko-san no Theme 「 がんばれ! 蜘蛛子さんのテーマ」 by Yuuki Aoi