I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 2

By Inori and Hanagata. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Oshi wa Akuyaku Reijou” by GL Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Sas. Translated by Jenn Yamazaki. Adapted by Nibedita Sen.

(While I try not to spoil TOO much, this does talk about events in this book a bit more than some might be comfortable with, so this is your spoiler warning.)

When we last left Rae and Claire in the first volume of this series, things were still great fun, with lots of teasing and tsundere antics, but there was also excellent discussions of LGBT identity and a few hints of ominous rumblings on the horizons. This second volume proceeds – immediately – to walk up to our heroine’s happy, relaxed life and clever plotting and scheming and kick at it till it falls over, requiring a stronger structure. Things do not relax from that point forward. Even a trip back home to visit Rae’s parents, the slightest chapter in the book, is still filled with economic inequality and the difference between the haves and have nots. Rae’s past in Japan, which barely came up in the first book, gets an amazing flashback in the third chapter, which also gets into transgender rights. And all of this? Is before the Revolution that is the subject of the original otome game. Rae may be trying to save Claire… but is that what Claire wants?

There is a certain amount of ridiculousness to the plot that you are just going to have to accept. I won’t spoil everything, I will just note that there is a volcano eruption that is only fourth or so on the list of ridiculous things. It is also clear that the author has an agenda, and is here to push it, and honestly that’s great as well. I mentioned Rae’s past – as Rei – and it gets into the nitty gritty of coming out – internally and externally – and how that can be for good and ill and both. It also has a literal love square, the kind that you see arrow diagrams of, and also has Maria-sama Ga Miteru novels (or a very thinly disguised version of) as the gateway into this. So as you can see, it manages to combine the heartfelt and the over the top without sacrificing either.

Things definitely get more serious as the book goes on, though we know they’re going to right from the start, when Rae is forced to deal with her love for Claire, something that she states out loud multiple times a day, and how dedicated to it she really is. First as comedy, and second as tragedy, events conspire to force Rae to abandon her cool, logical, and calculating persona and admit that she does, in fact, not only love Claire but want to be with Claire for the rest of her life – fuck “I want my beloved to be happy” tropes. Once the actual revolution revs up, there’s no time for school – first Rae has to maneuver events so that Claire can avoid being executed for being the symbol of all that is bad as aristocrats, and then watch in horror as Claire’s growth, acceptance and love of Rae results in all those plans being shattered to bits.

Claire’s growth is, in my opinion, even more stunning than Rae’s because we get so much of it filtered through Rae, who gets it but also does not. She knows that Claire is far nicer than she pretends to be. She shows her what their country is really like, whose lives it is built on top of, and what the commoners really feel about all this. And Claire then resolves to make things better. She helps ferret out corrupt nobles with Rae. She helps pass out food to those who are starving with Rae. And, in the end, she makes a decision that Rae can’t do, which is to accept that she is a symbol of everything that was wrong with the class system, and go to her execution in order to take responsibility. As in the first chapter, Rae is devastated and almost gives up. Seeing how far Claire has come from the standard arrogant ringlet girl is my favorite thing about this book. It even pays off in the epilogue and side story, which shows Claire adapting to commoner life rather well – indeed, a bit better than Rae is.

There’s more I can talk about, like the whole plot with Yu and Misha, which revolves around (like, honestly, a lot of this book) a metaphor that turns out to be literal. There’s Manaria, who has gallant Takarazuka vibes up the wazoo, and without whom everyone would likely be dead. There’s the young cardinal who is in love with Rae and is also… well, I’ll leave that for now. There is the fact that the book has a large number of characters who are not only yuri, but also queer, a word used by Rae in the book. (As is lesbian.) There’s the fact that there is apparently a third volume in Japan, which surprises me given that this reads very much like an ending. Above all of this is the fact that the book is simply unputdownable – it has a very large page count, but I was forced to finish it in one day anyway. It may be the best light novel of 2021, and it’s only January 8th. Read it, please. You won’t regret it.

I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 1

By Inori and Hanagata. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Oshi wa Akuyaku Reijou” by GL Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Sas. Translated by Jenn Yamazaki. Adapted by Nibedita Sen.

I will admit, I knew very little about this series and was not really expecting much. It’s publisher, GL Bunko, seems to specialize in yuri light novels. This was a webnovel first, like so many others before it, and is another take on the popular “trapped in an otome game” genre, only this time instead of being cast as the villainess our protagonist gets to be the heroine. It does not really seem to concerned at first with setting up how she ends up in this world – she simply finds herself there in class, in front of her favorite character. It does not really bode well. And yet, she’s a very likeable character who’s fun to read. Then, as you go on, you realize that there really is a lot of thought being put into this, that a lot of the subtle (and not so subtle) hints pay off down the line, and by the last quarter of the book it’s become absolutely terrific.

Our heroine is Rae, who is the Maria Campbell of this series, a commoner who attends a school that, until recently, was reserved exclusively for nobles. However, now that magic has been discovered, commoners with abilities are being admitted. Rae is ALSO a former OL from Japan, overworked and unhappy, whose sole joy was playing the otome game Revolution… and analyzing it… and writing fanfiction about it. Particularly about the “villainess”, Claire. So when she finds herself now in the game’s world, as Rae, with the ability to interact with Claire every day… well, she could not be happier. She proceeds to insert herself into Claire’s life, first at school and then, as if that weren’t enough, as one of her maids. That said, the book is not simply happy go lucky shenanigans… remember the name of the otome game.

As I said, this book starts off pretty “same old, same old” to soften you up, though Rae’s general joie de vivre makes the narration run at a higher level. Claire is seemingly the standard “cartoon bully” you see in games like these, but we get to know more about her and see her more nuanced sides and grow to like her just as much (unlike Katarina Claes, Claire also has some depth in the game as well, it seems). There is also an honest discussion of sexuality, which uses the word lesbian, and also talks about the things that people tend to believe about them, which you almost never see in books like these. And then there’s the last quarter, where Rae declares that she’s not a political person and that her sole goal is to be with Claire, but politics is not something she can escape, and she does not hesitate to abuse her knowledge of the game to help save the girl she loves.

That love is still one-sided, at least by the end of this book, though Claire’s “I hate you” statements are getting weaker and weaker. More to the point, the book makes me absolutely ravenous to read the next two, despite the fact that the covers for the Japanese books are HUGE spoilers. I absolutely recommend it, even to those sick of otome game villainess stories.