It’s best never to go all-in on making disliking something part of your personality, least of all when you’ve got to come back to try to evaluate more of it fairly. But what do you want from me here? In Another World With My Smartphone was the worst anime I watched in 2017, and I was hardly alone in recognizing it as such. And so the gods weep, and their tears coalesce into our plane of existence as In Another World With My Smartphone Season 2, a sequel whose only real escalation is that I’m futilely shouting “Why?!” at the heavens even louder than I was over half a decade ago.
The biggest, perhaps most disappointing trick of Smartphone 2 is that it doesn’t immediately trail off into its worst tendencies. The first episode is the patented Patora Fuyuhara nothing-burger of Touya and his wives sitting around talking about what they have or will soon get. But starting with the second episode of this season, it uncharacteristically feels like it might be trying. The show clears the meager isekai hurdle of condemning slavery for one, which does feel like praising a sandwich shop for not giving you food poisoning. That element feeds into the next episode, easily becoming the most earnestly entertaining Smartphone has ever been. We cruise through a silly little story of Touya stumbling into sourcing a bunch of boys-love novels for an adventurer’s guild seemingly staffed entirely by fujoshi and interacting with a neighboring kingdom’s princess who moonlights as an overconfident BL author. It properly embraces Smartphone‘s languid, non-threatening approach while offering instances of actual character rapport. Hooray for the bare minimums, sure, but it was enough to make me think I might be getting into Smartphone!
Alas, it was not to be, as following that uncharacteristic flirtation with actually being entertaining, Smartphone settles back into its same old tedious tenor. The rest of the show is the usual structure of simply watching Touya acquire things. A new, driving element of this one is We-Have-Kirito-At-Home getting access to the Workshop, facilitating broader construction and fabrication of new toys. That makes it kind of like the jump from Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Tears of the Kingdom, if instead of video games, those were waking nightmares created to punish me for my hubris. In practice, this is all to make it easier for Touya to produce things like mecha, castles, and rec rooms and then barely do anything with them while advancing through discovering still more floating sky palaces. Roughly half the episodes of this season progress with sort of a “Babylon of the week” structure, punched up by Touya getting into weirdly sexualized escapades with a host of new gynoids he stumbles into ownership of.
It’s infuriating because this is nominally all building up to Touya having resources ready for the plot seeded by Ende, the intrigue-embodying character from the very end of the first season, who I liked. Of course, nothing comes of it all. Ende pops up maybe twice for some world-building vagaries (and to have more chemistry in his dialogue with Touya than any of our boy’s wives do), but then Smartphone just forgets about it and diverts energy to discussing Touya’s future wedding plans instead. But then that forgetful feeling manifests in the so-called romance element by introducing an appropriately amnesiac new member of Touya’s harem. No sooner has Touya rescued and named this girl Sakura than the narrative forgets about her less than half an episode later. Her mysterious past may get paid off in later stories from the source novels, but the economics of adaptation means you don’t need to bring her in here if you know there isn’t going to be any timely follow-through. Instead, Sakura winds up as just one more swiftly forgotten plaything shoveled into Touya’s impulsively filled toybox.
That’s always going to be the fundamental problem with Smartphone, that the writer thinks the only measure of story progress is acquiring things but doesn’t want to write about the effort it takes to get those things. So partway through one episode, Touya will go, “It would be neat if I could fly,” and then teach himself to fly. His summoned guardian beasts that he never uses will tell him, “Hey, there’s another guardian beast you could summon,” and so he will. Even the slave-freeing stunt is only there to provide him with the free workforce he needs to staff his initial location and eventual entire franchise of cafes, spreading out across the whole actual country he becomes ruler of in this season. Did Touya have some background in civics that informs his governing skills here? Or did the author get super into a Civilization run one weekend? Truly, we may never know.
The philosophy extends to the characters, at least the ones the show remembers exist. I fail to understand how any alleged fan of this series could pick the Best Girl (apart from the previously mentioned yaoi author) since Touya’s wives are less distinct characters and more a singularly moving multicolored marriage hydra. Smartphone treats its harem romance-comedy aspects with the same acquisitional approach as everything else in its “story”, regularly adding women to Touya’s inventory sheet but bristling at the chore of having to go out and interact with, or show basic affection towards them. It feels like a fantasy from the perspective of an eleven-year-old boy who knows pretty ladies are neat but isn’t entirely sure what they want to do with them. Which makes all the sexcapades with the robots stick out even more strangely.
I could go on about everything Smartphone does wrong from episode to episode. A plot about a military coup is introduced and resolved as blithely as Touya buys a bunch of yaoi for his café. There’s an astonishingly poorly managed story across a couple of episodes where the series attempts some serious court intrigue but winds up in a dissonant tonal clash where the primary result of Touya taking down a pedophilic pretender to the throne is that our hero gets engaged to his prepubescent fiancée instead. Whole fights and missions are skipped over in those odd mini-bumper transitions that have returned from the first season. There’s a scene where a bunch of regally clad royalty shoot billiards, go bowling, and sit in massage chairs in Touya’s man cave. Half the point of Smartphone lulling you to sleep is so that it can inflict the banalist fever dreams possible on you once you’re out.
All this, and it turns out six years have yet to improve the show’s production values. Character models are more of a suggestion than anything else, with faces constantly contorting into misshapen geometry. It’s easy to catch multiple instances of missing lip-flaps during dialogue, and I swear there’s at least one instance of a character speaking someone else’s line in the wrong voice. I almost didn’t mind the show’s constant delaying the much-hyped mecha‘s debut since I knew there was no way they could make them look good. Seven episodes in, after those flat monuments to mechanical failure finally shuffled on-screen, I begged them to either be put back in the hangar or out of their misery.
It’s a pity I can’t help but feel for Smartphone as a whole and the people who profess to turn to it for enjoyment. It’s a story that exists only to imagine only the most surface-level possibility of material happiness, something I’d hope most of us could do without the aid of some of the shoddiest anime ever put to screen. It’s sadder still how you can catch odd points of potential in this second season. There’s that third episode, of course, but there’s also a moment in the tenth. It’s just a short scene after Touya has brought Sakura into the fold, where her propensity for singing prompts him to play a few tunes on the piano and reflect on it as a skill he practiced hard to attain in his previous life.
Imagine the satisfaction of working to earn an ability and one that gives us just the slightest insight into who Touya was before he was thrust into this purgatory that grants him everything he could ever want but clearly can never satisfy him. In this oddly sentimental stretch, as he plays alongside Sakura’s voice, Touya looks more genuinely happy than he ever does fending off the affections of his brides or navigating royal diplomacy. And, of course, it doesn’t last, as Sakura gets shoved back in her locker, and Touya and the rest of his harem head out to kill some magic cows for the rest of the episode. Expression and interiority must be excised, and all that remains is an almost shocking disinterest in anything material about this fantasy beyond checking off a shallow list of things nerds might want to have.