I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 5

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

As the author notes in the afterword to this volume, this series has come a long way from its first volume, which was mostly dedicated to the relationship between Rae and Claire. That’s still the case in this final volume, but it ends up being the first volume writ large; where the first volume focused on the school they were enrolled in, and the second their kingdom, this final volume sets their romance against the end of everything. I am going to try not to spoil too much in this review, but there’s a big swerve about 1/4 of the way into this volume that makes sense on a plot level, and also helps to explain a few things that have been bubbling under since the third book began and we started to get the continuation plotline. Unfortunately, it appears that once again events may conspire to force Claire to make the difficult decision that will save the most people, leaving Rae to scream about it.

So it turns out that the ones who’ve been going after Claire so much are servants of the Demon Queen, who is here to destroy the Empire in order to get her way. Dorothea, realizing a bit too late that being the sort of person that she is means that calling for aid is going to get her nowhere, decides to abdicate in favor of Philine, who is not going to be winning any sword battles but is certainly far better at actual negotiation. And then there’s the Apostle, who bounces between bodies in order to tell Rae and Claire that she’s on their side… despite the fact that she honestly feels extremely untrustworthy. In any case, at least our heroes finally get the Demon Queen herself to make an appearance. And… oh no, that face seems really familiar somehow…

I’m not spoiling you on the main surprises, but finding out the Demon Queen has a Rae face should not be too much of a surprise after meeting the Pope in previous books. We know this series stacks up Raes the way that the Fate franchise stacks up Sabers, so the reader’s reaction is more “ah, knew it” than anything else. Also without spoiling anything, Rae reacting to things, both for good and ill, is one of the highlights of this volume. Her lack of confidence in herself deep down comes up here again, even to the point where she’s surprised that her children show her as much affection as they do Claire. It helps to make the climax of the book have even greater impact. The fight scenes are also nifty, with lots of cool battles that would look great animated, hint hint. And let’s also pour one out for poor Lilly, who is fantastic here and absolutely gets shafted by the narrative, because that’s what the narrative has to do. Ah well.

If it sounds like I’m not saying much, that’s because I really want the impact of the reveals here to surprise the reader. Trust me when I say you won’t regret it. This was an excellent finale to the series… but I’m also very happy we’re getting She’s So Cheeky for a Commoner in the next few months.

I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 4

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

Last time I mentioned that it felt awkward to start a new volume of the series when it could easily have ended in Book 2 with “and they lived happily ever after”. Oddly, towards the end of this book Claire’s father thinks much the same thing, trying to send Rae, Claire and their family back home because “they’ve done enough”. Not in a negative way, though Claire initially takes it that way, but n the sense that the country of Nur is quickly about to become super-dangerous. That said, as events unfold in this book one gets the sense that this world is not about to let either of them go live a quiet, happy life very easily… though it has no such qualms about quietly shuffling most of the new cast we met in the third volume off to the side, to the point where I wondered if this were a Christie novel set on a faraway island. As for why? Well… revolution. Again. Come on, it’s in the game title.

The general thrust of this volume should be familiar to readers of the series. We start off with a lot of cute, fluffy things, like a fantasy cross between Iron Chef and the Great British Bake-Off, and we then start the balls rolling down the hill until you reach a climax that can be summed up by “great googly-moogly, it’s all gone to shit”. Part of the problem is that while Dorothea is amusing as a strong as heck, emotionally blunt empress, she is also a somewhat terrifying dictator, and does not particularly care if that means that the country is hated by everyone around it. As for her daughter, after being the comedy girl with a crush at the start, Philine’s development is actually one of the strongest parts of the book (though I’d argue it does come a bit too fast). Which is better, speaking softly or carrying the big stick?

As with previous books in the series, there are occasional digressions in order to discuss modern gender politics. Rae gives a good explanation of gender identity, and one of the subplots later in the book also resolves around this sort of thing. On the down side… there really is an awful lot of “brainwashed to be evil” in this book, and indeed in this series, though some of it is less “I am here to kill you” and more “I am here to threaten you on behalf of the Church”. Fortunately, the main reason to read the books is Rae and Claire, and they’re both excellent. There’s a recurring theme of Claire being beloved by all (including her daughters) and Rae getting either slightly less attention (her daughters) or outright dislike (one of her classmates). It’s amusing but also makes sense, as Rae’s personality is the sort that is difficult to trust… the exact opposite of her partner.

The book ends on another cliffhanger, and seems to indicate the 5th will be the last. Till then, this remains for the most part a well-plotted and compelling series with excellent LGBTQ content.

Oh yes, and mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be tsunderes.

I’m in Love with the Villainess, Vol. 3

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

If a lot of this third volume feels a bit like Chekhov restocking his armory, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The second volume of this series ended at a very satisfactory place, to the point where I was very surprised to see a third volume. This is not uncommon in the light novel or manga genre, with a lot of “short” series becoming very popular and the author trying to extend things a bit. That said, this book is clearly written knowing that there will be a fourth volume coming later (it’s already out in Japan). As such, we get a lot of events here that… don’t really go much of anywhere at all. We know they will eventually, but for the moment they’re just sitting there, on the mantelpiece. Of course, that’s not to say there’s nothing going on in this book. We go to an “enemy” country, fight off demons, and try to prevent assassinating the Pope. There’s something for everyone.

As you can see by the cover art, which feels like a culmination of 100 years of yuri, Rae and Claire are happily together now with their adopted children, May and Aleah. It’s about a year after events in the second book, and they’re both teaching at the academy and being very lovey-dovey. Even setbacks like one of their daughters turning out to have zero magic power is dealt with sensibly and with love. Then… they’re asked to join a political “exchange” with the Nur Empire. Rae is familiar with this plot from the side story sequel to the Revolution game, which, much like its predecessor, has somewhat unimpressive romantic routes and a fantastic non-romance route. The empress, Dorothea, is not here for decorum or political gamesmanship. Its imperial princess is currently too meek to really start any sort of revolution. Oh yes, and the Pope has just shown up, and she looks… exactly like Rae.

The intrigue is quite good throughout, as are the few tragic moments. What I enjoyed most about this book, though, is seeing that the relationship between Rae and Claire is just as fun to read now as it was when Claire was a “villainess”. Rae, honestly, feels like the more immature of the two most of the time. They also both manage to wear the “oblivious to love” hat at different times, as Rae can’t seem to figure out (or at least is deliberately ignoring) a student’s crush on her, while the third princess ends up falling for Claire after Claire essentially enacts a classic otome game “route start” scene in front of her. That said, these two are crazy about each other. I especially loved Claire attempting to act like a bully again, to try to excite Rae, only for Rae to completely fail to pick up on it. The book also has several short stories after the main action, which involves weddings, holidays, and nightmares that involve Claire realizing how lucky she is that Rae is… well, the sort of person she is.

This definitely feels like “Part One of Two”, and I expect most of the dangling plotlines will come up there. But there’s still so much here to love. This is a very hard book to put down, even when you want to, and fans of Rae and Claire will be very happy with it.