My Next Life As a Villainess! All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 4

By Satoru Yamaguchi and Nami Hidaka. Released in Japan by Ichijinsha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Shirley Yeung.

This is a stronger volume than the previous one. The reader gets the sense that the author has decided on a forward path after previously ending the series with two volumes and then extending it out. Now, arguably there might be some frustration with Katarina getting confessed to at the end of the last book – and the end of THIS book – and being able to forget about it merely by being mildly distracted. It borders on disbelieving. But this is the sort of series we are reading, and we all know that the moment Katarina realizes everyone loves her and she has to do something about that, the basis of the series would stop. So on that front, things are much the same. Fortunately, we don’t add another person who falls madly for Katarina’s dense yet forthright personality this time around. We do get what seems to be an ongoing villain, though, and we also see that Katarina might be able to do more than just be really nice at people until they give in.

The premise for this book is that Keith is kidnapped by forces unknown, who leave behind a note saying he is running away from home. No one really believes he would do this, except of course Katarina, who is already getting hammered by her mother and servants for being too… well, too much like herself. So she resolves to go find him, and a crack team heads out composed of herself, Jeord (who is still trying to get her to react to his declaration of love), Maria (whose light magic is super useful here), Larna (who remains entertained by Katarina, but also wants to see what’s really going on) and Sora (the villain from last time, he’s now there basically to get in Jeord’s way so everything remains status quo). Oh yes, and Alexander the Ugly Bear, a magical device/familiar that really does not like Katarina, and the feeling is mutual. Can they find and rescue Keith/ And is there more dark magic at the cause of this?

As I noted above, the book feels more confident in its characters. Katarina can still be a blockhead much of the time, but there is a sense that she is maturing, just not in the field of romance. She has minimal talent in Earth Magic, but one scene towards the end suggests that, with the help of certain artifacts she happens to buy at a flea market, she can do a lot more to fight the forces of evil. This is important going forward, because clearly she’s going to join the Ministry, and “because she makes me laugh” was not really a good enough reason. There needs to be more to Katarina’s life besides “who will she end up with?”, and this is a very good start. I also liked the brief look we got at the series’ new villain, Sarah, who feels incredibly creepy and broken and who I suspect might be a tough nut for Katarina to crack.

Not quite as deeply silly as it has been, I still greatly enjoyed this volume of Bakarina. Will everyone finally graduate in the next volume? I want to find out.

My Next Life As a Villainess! All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 3

By Satoru Yamaguchi and Nami Hidaka. Released in Japan by Ichijinsha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Shirley Yeung.

The author admits in the afterword that the series was supposed to end with the second volume, which was pretty obvious (see my review of said volume), but presumably the series did well enough for more. As such, this is the “difficult second album” for Bakarina, with the first half of the book in particular spinning its wheels and showing us the same sort of thing that we’ve seen before. Katarina goes around the school festival with her classmates, eating lots of food, and coming across her friends one by one as they attempt to either flirt with her or cut off others flirting with her, which Katarina herself remains blithely oblivious. And, of course, we then get to read it again, because one of the conceits of the book (which I sometimes quite enjoy – see the second half of the volume) is that we see Katarina’s POV followed by other POVs of the same scene. It can be exhausting.

The best part of the first half of the book is the play, where one of the actresses falls ill and Katarina has to take on the role of the wicked stepsister. (I thought this was a ploy by Jeord, but apparently not.) Since she blanks on her lines, she just decides to act the part on instinct, and everyone is amazed at how well Katarina can play a villain! It’s metatextually delicious, frankly. The meat of the book, though, is in the second half, as Katarina is kidnapped as part of a plot to get Jeord to give up his claim to the throne. This is supposedly engineered by the second price’s fiancee Selena, but she’s more an easily led dupe. (Her idolization of Katarina also shows that our heroine is not the only one in the cast to completely misinterpret everything.) In reality, it is the smiling “butler” Rufus who is doing this, theoretically on behalf of the eldest son.

There are no real surprises in Bakarina, to be honest – even the secret identity of one of the characters was easily guessed once I saw their reaction to Katarina being Katarina (hysterical laughter – she’s clearly a reader stand-in). You read this series because you enjoy seeing Katarina being dense, and also because you enjoy seeing Katarina converting everyone around her with the sheer power of her niceness. This world, as it’s an otome game, runs on tropes, and this gives Katarina, who has memories from the real world, an advantage at times in dealing with people unable to understand why in God’s name she’d go this far for someone. That said, we may have finally hit a turning point regarding the main relationship, as after being scared out of his wits by Katarina’s kidnapping, and also seeing that Rufus (who now loves her, of course) bit her on the neck, responds by kissing her, and explicitly stating his love. Even Katarina can’t ignore this. Right?

There is some setup for future books here, as graduation is coming soon and we’;re clearly going to have Katarina working for the Ministry with Maria… and no doubt the rest of the cast. Still, this was an enjoyable book despite all its flaws, and got better as it went along. It’s definitely a book where you see the smoke pouring out of the author’s brain as they write, though.

My Next Life As a Villainess! All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 2

By Satoru Yamaguchi and Nami Hidaka. Released in Japan by Ichijinsha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Shirley Yeung.

When I was reviewing the 2nd and final volume of It’s My Fault That My Husband Has the Head of a Beast, I noted that it was a very open ending for a series that wrapped up there, not resolving much of anything. The 2nd volume of Bakarina has the opposite problem – unsuspecting readers who finish this book will definitely think it’s the final volume, which isn’t true. While none of the cast have been able to get their feelings through to the dense Katarina yet, the book takes us through to the end of the “Fortune Lover” game that her prior incarnation had been playing, and she successfully navigates it without getting a horrible Bad End. We even meet Maria Campbell, the actual heroine of the game, and she’s sweet and kind and also falls head over heels for Katarina, because of course she does. Problems are solved, tragic backstories ferreted out, and they all lived happily ever after and ate lots of snacks.

I will issue a word of warning: while there are still tons of hilarious parts to this volume, the second half of the book turns serious, and one of the backstories features sacrificial murder of a loved one. It’s not played for laughs at all, nor should it be. Katarina starts her school life, meets Maria and defuses any problems there by her love of sweet, and all seems to be well… except that the same things happen that occur in the game – Katarina is accused of being a terrible bully to Maria. Fortunately, in this world it’s not true, so this is rapidly defused, but it’s clear that someone is out to get Katarina. Someone with Dark Magic, which can control a person’s mind and also means they’ve killed to get it. The culprit is not exactly a mystery, frankly, but it’s handled quite well, especially as Katarina doesn’t have any foreknowledge of the events – her past self never got to the “hidden route” before she died.

Speaking of past lives, we find here that another of the main characters turns out to be a reincarnation, though she isn’t consciously aware of it. This allows Katarina, at a time of great peril, to get advice from her former friend who HAD played the game, and allows her to try to save the villain – because remember I said tragic backstory? Plus this is Katarina, and much as she may be silly and dense a lot of the time, she’s a kind and loving heroine, to an extreme. This means that she’s allowed to talk the villain down by simply saying that she’ll listen to him and she understands his pain. Bakarina is having fun with its heroine’s personality, but it’s not really subverting or deconstructing anything except perhaps the fact that literally everyone falls in love with her. She is 100% shiny and pure.

So with everyone living happily ever after, where does the series go from here? Well, they’re all still at school (though Nicol graduated, and time definitely seems to be moving faster than these sorts of books usually do), and this world may be based on a game but clearly isn’t actually a game, so I’m sure that something will come up. And maybe Katarina will realize the others’ feelings for her!… yeah, OK, no.