WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Season 1 of So I'm a Spider, So What?, now streaming on Crunchyroll.
It's almost become a cliché at this point to say that the isekai genre is rampant with clichés. And yet, from the otome subgenre to the current influx of Boys Love-isekai stories, clever creators with alternative points of view keep proving there's still room for innovation. One of the latest and most prominent examples is So I'm a Spider, So What?, an ongoing series that premiered as part of the Winter 2021 anime season. The central mystery as to how and why the story's reincarnated cast prematurely died -- and lived again -- along with the peculiar nature of its titular protagonist, have kept viewers hooked for weeks. Now, as of Episode 10, 11 and 12, we know much more about the nameless spider's role in the story. And though it's not exactly a heroic one, neither is it strictly evil, either.
The mixed messages began when the protagonist, formerly known as Kumoko when she was a human, started to gain more and more Taboo skills in the RPG-style world she's wound up in. At first, becoming a "Kin Eater" was just an unfortunate happenstance from eating her kills in order to survive. But as she's leveled up -- by hacking and slashing her way through the Great Elroe Labyrinth -- the more she's veered towards the arcane. At one point, when her Taboo increased in power, she spotted a skill called "Pride" on her list of possible options. However, the computerized 'voice of god' prevented her from appraising the skill, which the protagonist suspected was because it might be one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Far from being put off by this assumption, she took it anyway. Her subsequent choices have all been very telling about the path she's choosing to walk down, too: from her Abyss Magic to her Evil Eye.
Things really ramp up in Episode 10, though, when we switch to the perspective of a human adventuring party traversing the Labyrinth. Led by a powerful mage, the group comes face-to-face with a large arachnid who looks a lot like our protagonist. The mage is stunned when the creature Appraises the group -- something he didn't think monsters were capable of -- and even more shocked when the creature proceeds to annihilate his group with its strong magic and quick reflexes. The mage, along with one other druidic adventurer, barely teleports out of the dungeon alive -- and his magical companion loses an arm before they escape. Later, the mage recounts the tale following a battle with the Demon Lord's forces, naming the beast the "Nightmare of the Labyrinth."
It's not until the following episode that we're given confirmation that this "Nightmare" was indeed the very same spider we've been rooting for for 11 episodes. (It was previously unclear due to her having no identifiable characteristics during the encounter.) While conferring with her inner voices, she too recalls the very same skirmish that terrified the mage, though in a much more casual manner. To the humans who got away with their lives, it's a battle that'll scar them forever. To her, it was just an average dungeon brawl.
In short, it's clearer than ever before that we're dealing with a sneaky new type of villainess isekai. The key difference, however, is that So I'm a Spider's 'villainess' probably wouldn't define herself as such. Otome series are usually predicated on the idea that the title character is aware of the archetype she's been reborn or remade as, and will therefore either embody or rebel against her designated role. The spider previously known as Kumoko doesn't seem to view herself in this way -- she's simply an RPG protagonist with an affinity for the darker side of things. No different from a player choosing to be a necromancer, or even just a plain old Warlock, in Dungeons & Dragons.
For this reason, the smartest thing about So I'm a Spider so far has been this fascinating perspective shift in Episodes 10 and 11. Because we, as an audience, have followed every tentative step and every hard-won fight our protagonist has gone through, our empathy for her is the same as it would be for any other more traditionally heroic lead. (Her chatterbox personality is also very endearing.) Her more villainous actions have been put through this lens, too. Killing monsters and humanoids easily falls into the remit of level-grinding and/or story progression for any player character, regardless of moral alignment. To suddenly be put into the shoes of others during the series makes it clear that in these types of settings, good and evil can really just be a matter of circumstance. In this world of humans vs. demons, So I'm a Spider's protagonist might just belong to a category all of her own.