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.

My Next Life As a Villainess! All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 1

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

Sometimes you come into a title with a lot of buzz and hype and are greatly disappointed. This is not one of those times. I’d heard great things about this series, especially its humor and the “denseness” of its heroine, Katarina Claes (the series’ nickname is “Bakarina”). I’m pleased to say they seem to be accurate. This book is a hoot from beginning to end, as what could be yet another “protagonist dies and ends up in a game world” series – and yes, we’ve seen this premise before here even with a reverse harem – ends up getting bulldozed by Katarina stomping across the plot like a berserker. This is not to say that she’s evil – the opposite, in fact. She may be a loud tomboy, but Katarina’s innate niceness throws off the entire cast, and what should be her just trying to alter history so that she’s safe ends up being her creating a vortex of partners around her – male AND female.

The premise: a girl (we never do learn her original name) rushes out of her house after spending all night playing an otome game and gets kit by a car and killed. She wakes up in the game, as 8-year-old Katarina. Unfortunately, Katarina is the antagonist. IN Magical Academy seven years down the road, the spoiled and rich Katarina bullies and torments the player character heroine, and in the endings is either a) exiled penniless to the country, or b) killed. But now Katarina has the memories and the wherewithal to change her future. What’s more, she’s a rambunctious but basically nice girl, and so the arrogant haughtiness vanishes as she attempts to find various ways to fix things. She succeeds beyond her wildest dreams… but is completely unaware of the fact that her fiancee the Prince is now in love with her. As is her adopted brother. As is the Prince’s brother. As is her best friend Mary, showing that everyone falls for Katarina. Katarina notices absolutely none of this. After all, why would anyone be attracted to her? She has a villain face!

Like Obsessions of an Otome Gamer, this plays with its premise a bit and does not take itself seriously. Unlike Obsessions of an Otome Gamer, there’s no serious plotline to worry about. Everything here is for the sake of the comedy. The primary source of the comedy being Katarina’s thought process, which beggars belief at times… well, OK, all the time. Watch our heroine as she becomes an 8-year-old farmer, works on ways to create more convincing toy snakes to throw at her fiancee, and decides the solution to eating and drinking too much at tea parties is to take her own portable toilet the next time she’s there. Most of this volume deals with Katarina as a child, with only the final chapter having the now 15-year-old Katarina start university, and she still hasn’t met the heroine of the game. Still, I think she’s good. The book balances her narrative POV at the end of each chapter with the POV of the other characters, showing what they were like before they met her and how she changed their lives. It also has a good moral, spelled out at the end: treat people as human beings. Katarina is so blunt and straightforward that she can’t help but charm everyone she meets. (Also, kudos to the author for including the girls being in love with her but not making it for the sake of comedy – Mary and Sophia are the same as the guys, and there’s only one “but I’m straight!” from Katarina, said right after she’s spent a lot of time gushing about Mary’s beauty.)

I highly recommend Bakarina to light novel readers. You will laugh. You will cry… wait, no, you won’t. But you will laugh more. You will also wonder why Japanese authors try their hardest to avoid using the romanization “Gerald” (first Jellal and now Jeord).