My Next Life As a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 12

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 Joshua Douglass-Molloy.

I get the sense that this was the first book written not only after the 2nd series of the anime had aired, but after the author had noticed fan opinion of that series. There’s a combination of things that worked really well in that season combined with an effort to move the plot along to its inevitable conclusion even more than it was in the previous volume. That said, that inevitable conclusion is becoming more and more a single route. My hope was that we might, at least, get an open ending with no romantic resolution, but the plot twists introduced here, while not technically resolving anything, very much say that Katarina is going to end this series married to Jeord and we are all going to have to lump it. Even Sophia and Maria get very little to do, though at least Mary gets an opening scene where she can pretend she and Katarina had a kid. That said, have faith, yuri fans, there is one bone thrown to you here.

The focus of this volume is on Frey Randall, Katarina’s underclassman and currently on the Student Council at the academy. The fact that none of the princes have married is starting to be a THING, and Frey’s father, Marquis “I am 100% evil” Randall, is starting to throw rumors around that Prince Jeord has abandoned Katarina (the weak link of the fiancees) and is going to marry Frey. This is, of course bullshit, and Frey would surely say so, except she was called back home and has not appeared since, clearly held hostage. Katarina immediately… does NOT spring into action, instead realizing that rushing off to save Frey would be counterproductive without help. So instead she gathers all her powerful allies, with the exception of Jeord (who can’t make a move because politics) and, most importantly, Larna, who, of course, has a secret of her own.

If your favorite episode of the 2nd season of Bakarina was Episode 8, this book is like catnip. Starting off with a chapter devoted to showing off what Frey used to be like before she came to school and how she changed thanks to Katarina, it also references the talk she had with Nicol (which he owes her a great debt for), and also shows that she and Ginger are, shall we say, VERY close – like Katarina and Maria, they’re planning to work at the ministry together, and unlike Katarina, they don’t have men in their life. The author almost confirms the yuri in the afterword. The other big success in this book is Katarina herself, who, after a chapter that tries to get all the “I am unobservant” out of the way at once, shows she can, in fact, be VERY observant when it matters. She’s maturing, if not in terms of romance, then in terms of life skills, and her harem are all more surprised than they really should be.

The author does sometimes still tend to slide into “comfort zones” a bit too much to make this a lights out volume (it ends with the standard “Jeord tries to get a moment alone with his fiancee but everyone else interrupts), but after two years I was very glad to see our baka back in action and really achieving things. Hopefully it won’t be another two years before 13…

My Next Life As a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 11

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.

I get the sense that the publisher may be telling the author “can we start to move towards the ending, however little”, because the first half of this book has Katarina finally admit out loud… and more importantly, admit to Jeord and Keith… that the reason she has been bouncing off their love confessions is not because she doesn’t like them or is afraid of their advances. Nor is it because love is not something that she can feel. It’s because she’s gotten so completely fixated on “if I fall in love I will turn into the Katarina of the game and get jealous and evil” that love terrifies her. As explanations go, it’s not too bad, and works within the confines of the series. She still puts them off, saying she has something she needs to do first. That being avoid the ending off Fortune Lover 2. That said, it’s no surprise that fans of Jeord and Keith loved the spoilers for this book much more than everyone else.

Of course, just because Katarina’s love life may be closer to resolution does not mean we still don’t have lots of plot points dangling. The mad relative in the attic that Katarina keeps running into when she visits the palace insists that she’s leading all her love interests on. And the King also wants to discuss Maria and Katarina’s grimoires, but also tell them about the kingdom’s bloody and brutal past, just in case. Fortunately, both handle it well. The second half of the book forcuses on Dewey, who is dealing with both a crush on Maria and guilt stemming from his family back home. The two come together when a letter calls Dewey home and Maria and Katarina follow along… along with Larna, who has her suspicions. Turns out Dewey’s upbringing manages to be even worse than Maria’s. Can Katarina work her magic? Or, for once, is this a job for someone else?

As with all books since the end of “Season 2”, if you’re a fan of Mary or Sophia, you really should give up (and you probably have, judging by what I see on Tumblr). Fortunately, as with the rest of the series, Maria is an exception. Here we see how, as with Katarina, she too is maturing. Sometimes this comes across when she deftly rebuffs any attempts to date her – Dewey asking her out to lunch becomes “and Katarina will come too” so fast it was stunning. She knows who she likes. More to the point, after resolving her relationship with her mother, and gaining confidence from simply being around Katarina, she’s able to try to resolve things with her father, who has been doing the old “I will make them look good by making myself look bad” shtick. That said… boy, that resolution took five seconds. A bit more conflict might have made more impact.

So even as Jeord fans rub their hands gleefully, and Mary fans bite their handkerchiefs, the series itself is caught up with Japan, and Book 12 is not scheduled yet. So it will be a while. Till then, enjoy Katarina using empathy as a superpower again.

My Next Life As a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 10

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.

As this series goes from a quick two-volume story to a double digit franchise, it’s perhaps a very good time to take a look at exactly who Katarina Claes is now. I still tend to call the series Bakarina out of habit, and certainly when it comes to not picking up romantic clues there’s still no one who can touch her, but the earlier books showed off how difficult it was to imagine Katarina as an adult out in the world. That’s not really the case anymore, and it almost sneaks up on you. While she can’t read the room in regards to anyone’s love for her (and her offhand “love, maybe I’ll try that one day” really will delight the ‘Katarina is asexual/aromantic’ faction), her empathy and desire to help others is off the charts, and, when told to start learning black magic, she develops a power that is literally cleansing the evil out. With a magic wand.

Back at the Ministry after the events of the last book, Katarina has discovered that the books that she and Maria are trying to decipher also turn out to be very user-specific – Maria can’t teach anything that she learns from her book, and Katarina would no doubt be the same. But Maria is a light magic expert. So, much as she worries it will lead to her doom, Katarina is told to learn dark magic. Still, she also has time to go with Cyrus and Maria (and everyone else in the cast, because this is a Bakarina novel) to an orphanage, where she learns what she can and can’t do with little kids and tries to help a particularly stubborn orphan. Unfortunately, we also see the return of a villain who hasn’t been seen since Book Four – Sarah is back, and still trying to find troubled folks she can do dark magic experiments on. Can even she be helped by our all-loving heroine?

I’ve talked before about how I think this series is LGBT “by accident” – that is to say it’s because the premise has everyone fall for Katarina, not because of any desire by the author to have the girls end up with other girls. That said, particularly in the case of Maria Campbell, it’s becoming hard to try to drag things back to the normal romance novel mode. Cyrus has amazed us by being one of those rare main characters not in love with Katarina Claes, and she spends much of this book trying to get the awkward lug to get closer to Maria – and failing, because of course Maria is over the moon for Katarina herself. Even the bonding activities that they’re doing with his teaching her martial arts comes down to her desire to protect Katarina rather than needing to be the one who is protected. If Cyrus does end up being a love interest for Maria in future books, we’ve got a LONG way to go. Then again, the same could be said about Katarina and Jeord.

From what I hear, the next volume may do something about that. Till then, enjoy this series and its all-loving heroine, who may be impulsive but is also a very good person. And now she has a magic wand.