My Next Life As a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 6

By Satoru Yamaguchi and Nami Hidaka. Released in Japan as “Otome Game no Hametsu Flag Shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei Shite Shimatta…” by Ichijinsha Bunko Iris. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Marco Godano.

At last, our cast has managed to graduate from school and become real adults. That said, working at the Ministry seems to be giving Katarina and company the same opportunities that they had in the 3nd and 4th books, which is to say going around investigating magical problems. More importantly, though, Katarina has discovered that Fortune Lover had a sequel that came out after her death (courtesy Sophia’s still unconscious memories – Sophia herself sadly seems to function only as a plot device this book) which features the return of villainous, one-note Katarina Claes… and this time there’s no exile involved, it’s jail or death. Now she has to charm new characters (read: new love interests) all while dealing with being put into the Magical Department that all the weirdos go into… not that Katarina is weird, of course. Oh no.

So yes, be reassured that the plot is moving forward at last. That said, I’m not sure how I feel about Fortune Lover II, which seems like a convenient way to simply have the same stuff happen. It certainly widens the cast, albeit at the expense of the original “harem”, who all get far less to do this time around, with the exception of Maria, who is in Katarina’s group for the practical exam they’re taking. (She does not end up in the department of weirdos.) This includes a trans character, though I’m not quite sure how we’re supposed to read her. The “girly macho” type is a Japanese stereotype mined for comedy, and there’s quite a bit of that here as well – she clearly makes Katarina uncomfortable. That said, Katarina does at least gender her correctly and use her preferred name, which the rest of the cast does not. (I’m not sure how much of that is down to translation, though.) It remains to be seen if this is progressive or just awkward.

As for the new “love interest” we meet in this book, Dewey, he’s meant to compare and contrast with Maria, being a younger boy from her hometown, also poor and relatively unloved, who studied hard and got into the Ministry at a young age and is not fond of a) people who pity him, b) asking for help, or c) nobility. Naturally, Katarina rubs him the wrong way. Fortunately, their practical exams blows up into a major crisis which turns out to involve a dragon (something thought to be mythical, even in this “magic exists!” world) and Katarina knows the best way to deal with it… throw rocks and sticks at it. OK, that didn’t work, but it distracted the dragon long enough for her magical darkness puppy (from Book 4) to get REALLY BIG and defeat it. (Katarina’s relationship with dark magic is something I hope we get into in future books… there’s already Ministry officials wanting to examine her.) I’m not sure Dewey has fallen in love with Katarina like everyone else in her orbit, but at least he knows she cares.

Despite the gimmicky Fortune Lover II jumpstarting the plot, this is a good volume in the series, and I’m happy we’re away from school life. Whether the author can handle the huge cast is another question – Jeord gets a chapter to himself here (and it’s good – the anime did him no favors, frankly) but I suspect we’ll be dealing with Katarina’s workplace friends more and more. Fans of the anime should still enjoy it, however.

My Next Life As a Villainess! All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 5

By Satoru Yamaguchi and Nami Hidaka. Released in Japan as “Otome Game no Hametsu Flag Shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei Shite Shimatta…” by Ichijinsha Bunko Iris. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Marco Godano.

It’s been a while since we last saw the light novel version of this series. Since last July, the anime has started to air and seems to be quite popular despite the fact that casuals will now ask novel fans why they spell Katarina with a K; the manga has started its second story arc, adapting the third novel; and a second manga has started with a spinoff idea of “what if Katarina fell and hit her head… when she was already bullying Maria at the Academy?”. Looking at my last review, I had wondered if the series would finally allow everyone to graduate next time. Well, the answer is no; this is a short story collection, taking place all over the Bakarina timeline, and therefore we don’t see her entering the Ministry of Magic or anything here. Instead we get a wide variety of tales, some good, some dull, and a few manga interspersed (the artist of the light novel illustrations is also the artist for the main manga series).

To start with the duller stories, Keith is a nice guy but tends to lead to tedious story beats, and that holds true here. Alan is slightly more interesting but “have a picnic and climb a tree” is still very slight. Raphael’s story seems to be there to remind us that that section of the cast exists, and the manga sections are fun but also very slight. The end of the book has a lot of tiny little stories from various minor members of the cast, showing how Katarina has impacted their lives. That said, there are also some very strong stories here. Katarina runs into a self-proclaimed rival who reminds me a bit of Nanami from the Utena series, and fares about as well; Nicol starts an arranged marriage process because he feels it’s his duty, only to run into a bunch of women who strangely don’t find “I’m doing this because I have to” enticing; Katarina and her girl friends/girlfriends all talk about romance; and Katarina’s snake making may upset her fiancee, but is a potential moneymaker.

The series is still ongoing in Japan, and I imagine is continuing its balancing act with Katarina being too dense to realize that everyone in her orbit is in love with her. That said, I do wonder if it’s showing signs that it might actually resolve with her making a choice, mostly as there are minor signs of “pairing the spares”, so to speak. Nicol’s final fiancee interviewee actually seems to go together very well with him, despite neither one wanting to get married to each other. Mary, usually one of the most hardcore Katarina fanatics, shows a brief moment of doubt after Alan rescues her from a creeper. That sort of thing. That said, that balances with the other thing this book hammers home, which is that Katarina is the best at it, but is certainly not alone in misreading the obvious intentions of everyone else. Even her own mother gets into the act, seeing only the annoying perpetual 8-year-old part of Katarina and missing the fact that she’s managed to become the most influential person in the entire kingdom.

So worth picking up, but lacks some of the impact of the other volumes. It’s also quite short. Will the next book finally have Katarina in the working world? And will she ever show any romantic feelings towards anyone at all? I look forward to finding out. Till then, there’s still the anime to watch.

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.