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.

My Next Life As a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 9

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.

This was a strong volume of Bakarina, despite doing absolutely nothing that I thought it would do. I thought it would be action-filled, instead it’s merely the last quarter or so. I thought it would be more serious, but it’s no more serious than any other volume of the series. But that’s a good thing, as really, who wants to see these characters suffer? Unless they’re suffering because the woman they love is as dense as lead, in which case, yes please. The book also benefits from most of the cast being absent – Katarina is on a secret mission in another part of the country, and so for the most part it’s just her, Maria and Sora. Which is bad news for fans of the other love interests, but very good news for those who love KataMari or KataSora, as both of those pairings get some good attention. As for the actual plot, it goes pretty much as you’d expect, with Katarina walking into the solution.

Katarina, along with Larna, Maria and Sora, are following up on the “kidnapped citizens” plot from last time, heading to the tow “Ocean Harbor” to try to get to the bottom of things. (I love that the name of the town sounds exactly like what you’d name a plot-point town in an otome game.) They end up at a restaurant owned by Larna’s friend… well, frenemy Regina, who uses the restaurant as a front for ferreting out stuff for the Ministry. However, since they have Maria (who can cook) and Katarina (who is not only an excellent waitress but also knows how to market), they can now run it like an actual restaurant, and maybe turn a profit! Was there something else? Oh right, the kids being kidnapped, along with the noble girl. But that’s OK, I’m sure there can be someone for Katarina to befriend who will lead them to the bad guys.

Probably my favorite thing about this book was seeing Katarina as a waitress. Everyone is blown out of the water by how good she is at it, because she’s supposedly the daughter of a duke, but honestly I was surprised as well, as even though we know she has her past life from Japan and probably part-timed as a waitress before, the temptation would be to make her bad at the job for a laugh. Instead, she turns out to be fantastic at the job for a great character moment. I also really enjoyed Katarina’s “dates” with Maria and Sora, which are basically catnip to us readers, and also features Maria once again literally confessing to Katarina and having her say “You lost me” in the best Shirou tradition. Props to Sora, too, for realizing that, rather than Keith or himself, Jeord’s biggest competition in the Katarina Sweepstakes is Maria. As for the plot itself, it proved to be resolved fairly easily, but we got to see Katarina in peril, Katarina biting someone to try to get herself out of peril, Maria being a light magic badass, and so all is well.

It’s still pretty clear that someone is trying to destabilize the countries in some way, and while the reader likely knows who’s behind it, the characters do not as of yet, so expect more investigation in the next book. Till then, enjoy Katarina Claes, waitress extraordinaire!