The Condemned Villainess Goes Back in Time and Aims to Become the Ultimate Villain, Vol. 1

By Bakufu Narayama and Ebisushi. Released in Japan as “Danzaisareta Akuyaku Reijō wa, Gyakkō-shite Kanpekina Akujo o Mezasu” by TO Books. Released in North America by Airship. Translated by Alyssa Niioka. Adapted by Vida Cruz-Borja.

As I was reading this volume, I thought about the simple fact that there are too many villainess books at the moment. It’s inevitable, of course, just as there are too many isekai books (though that’s slowing down a bit), and that we briefly had too many high school romance books before that bubble quickly burst. And so I start to drill this new series down into subcategories. There’s no Japan or otome games involved, which is nice. Aside from the time travel, there’s no magic here. It’s one of those “person goes back in time” series like Tearmoon Empire, though this series is far more serious than Tearmoon. As expected, “becoming the ultimate villain” mostly involves things like trying to be a good person and avoid making the same mistakes, rather than “getting revenge” or anything. And, unfortunately, its biggest weakness is one that many other villainess books possess: there’s a “heroine” as well, and in order to balance against our clever villainess, the heroine is an amazingly annoying dipshit. Anti-Maria Campbell Syndrome.

Unlike a lot of other villainesses in this genre, Claudia Lindsey really was an annoying, petty villainess who tried to sabotage her half-sister Fermina, and is somewhat poleaxed to find that everyone hates her and she is not only not engaged to the Prince, but she’s being sent to a nunnery. Things do not improve when, on the way to the nunnery, her carriage is beset by bandits and she’s kidnapped and sold into a brothel. She spends the next few years there. maturing and realizing how shallow and selfish she had been. She also becomes a top-notch sex worker. Unfortunately, her one main ally dies from disease, and a couple of years later Claudia also passes away… and wakes up ten years earlier, in her 14-year-old body, on the day of her mother’s funeral. After realizing what’s happened, she takes advantage of “grieving” for her mother to completely redo her personalty, gain actual allies, and avoid the fate which Fermina manipulated her into last time. Because oh yes, Fermina is not a nice person, regardless of the timeline.

The strengths and weaknesses of this book are similar to other “serious” villainess books. The weakness is Fermina, who despises Claudia for having the life she feels she deserves, but without Claudia being shallow and vapid, Fermina can’t achieve anything she did in the past timeline, and is reduced to a one-note character we’re happy to see the back of at the end of the book. The strength is Claudia, who I greatly enjoyed. I liked that she is 10 years older in mind but still has room to mature, and in fact a lot of her actions are driven by her terror of Fermina somehow gaining the upper hand on her again. I also appreciate that this is a heroine who is allowed to have a libido: we don’t see her sex work, but she’s certainly more experienced in flirting than a woman of her age and noble status should be, and her growing horror as she realizes that teenage hormones means that she’s not able to put a lid on things as much as she’d like to is amusing. I also enjoyed her casual bisexuality, as she admits she finds one of the prince’s bridal candidates to be just as enticing as the prince.

The rest of the cast are good but stereotypical: the sadistic prince who loves Claudia because he can’t tell what she’s thinking; the beleaguered aide, the doting older brother, and the ludicrously loyal maid (who is her former mentor at the brothel in her former life, because nobles rescuing women from terrible fates and making them household workers is another villainess cliche). If you’re looking for something new, look elsewhere. If you’re happy with more of the same, this is quite good. It also feels like it ended with this volume, but there’s 4+ more out in Japan, so…

You Are My Regret, Vol. 1

By Shimesaba and Ui Shigure. Released in Japan as “Kimi wa Boku no Regret” by Dash X Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Andria McKnight.

As with the author’s previous series, I wasn’t going to originally be reading this at all. Mostly that’s because the author’s previous series was Higehiro, and the first volume of that annoyed me in about 8,000 different ways. The other reason is that it has a title and cover art that made me think it was another of Yen’s many “license the novel based on a new animated Japanese movie starring a young teenage couple whose love is perfect and yet also tragic”, and I’ve kind of gone off those. But then I saw it was none of those, that’s it’s a romantic drama which tries to dig into the concept of “free spirits”, being selfish about being selfless, and how middle school students are dumbasses who can’t talk to each other. Honestly, the same holds true in high school, which is why this is a romantic drama and not a comedy. Everyone is in love and it’s killing them inside.

Back in middle school, Yuzuru and Ai dated. She had confessed to him, and he loved being around her. They walked around, did couple-y things, etc. But eventually the pressure of thinking that Ai was the sort who shouldn’t be tied down to anyone and should live her life freely got to be too much for Yuzuru, and he broke up with her while badly communicating this. Shortly afterwards, her family moved away,. and he now contents himself with sitting in the literature club classroom, reading, and being completely oblivious to the feelings of angry tsundere Kaoru. Unfortunately for him, Ai has moved back and is transferring into their school. Even worse, she’s still in love with him. Can they manage to recover their relationship and figure out what went wrong in the first place?

This was a bit of a mixed bag for me. That’s actually a plus, because it means that it rises ahead of Higehiro. Unfortunately, it does that by actually taking place in high school and featuring kids the same age, meaning it doesn’t have 90% of what made Higehiro annoying. It does have the remaining 10%, which is Yuzuru, the male love interest. I want to push him into a canal. That said, I get it. He’s a high school kid. He’s also one of those “cool intellectuals” who really isn’t, and fails to understand how women think or even that they do. I really pity poor Kaoru, who not only is clearly in love with this schmuck but also has to take him by the hand and lead him to the actual clue, that clue being that when you break up with someone because you feel dating them is too selfish, you need to ask yourself what it means to be dating, AND talk to the other person. As for Ai, I am honestly not sure it’s healthy for her to BE dating him at this point, but I suppose that’s what fiction is for. She is a ball of energy and angst, and I hope we get more depth about her in the next two books (a 2nd book from her perspective would help, but I’m not expecting that.)

This is a compact three volumes in Japan, so it should resolve things fairly quickly. I wasn’t wild about it, but I’ll try another volume. Just remember that teenagers are idiots.

The Kept Man of the Princess Knight, Vol. 1

By Toru Shirogane and Saki Mashima. Released in Japan as “Himekishi-sama no Himo” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

This book has one big, big thing going for it, which is that I finished it. More than that, I plan to read the next book. That’s a big deal, because this book is dark as fuck. It starts off really bleak, but at about the two-thirds mark I said “ah, good, it’s bleak, but it’s not 100% bleak”. NOPE. It is indeed 100% bleak, and I regretted even thinking it would be otherwise. This is a book filled with violent death, and not just of evil bad guys. The protagonist is an incredible asshole, and does things throughout the volume that are beyond the pale. The Princess Knight who is in the title is somewhat out of focus, mostly as she has to be off in the dungeons for most of the book, but she also has many issues. I have no illusions that this will have any ending other than “everyone dies, but at least they get to choose the manner of their death”. And yet… this was an award winner, and I can see why. You can’t put it down.

Matthew is the Kept Man of the title, and the Princess Knight is Arwin. Her country has been destroyed, fallen to monsters, and the only way she can save it is with a legendary treasure located at the bottom of one of the world’s only remaining dungeons. Matthew is a lecherous layabout who is as weak as a kitten but hella tough, and who, it is said by everyone, sleeps with the princess and is paid by her to do so. As the book goes on, we get to find out Matthew’s actual past, see how he goes about his day when Arwin is in the dungeon, and see him gradually get embroiled in various plots in the dark side of this town – which is, to be honest, the entire town – as he tries to hide the real reason that the princess is so dependent on him.

Translator Stephen Paul, who must have been over the moon to work on this anti-Kirito title after so much Sword Art Online, described this as being “raunchy and funny”, and I’ll agree with him on the first, but I’m not really sure where all the laughs are in this book. Matthew’s comebacks end up being more “yo mama” jokes than anything else, and the best joke in the book is one I won’t spoil, but involves some brothers. It’s definitely raunchy, though I note that the author, who knows his audience will only put up with so much in regards to their heroines, obfuscates about whether Matthew and Arwin are in fact lovers. But the main reason to read this is the sheer jaw-dropping awfulness of everything going on. Matthew’s past and present are awful, Arwin’s past and present are awful, Matthew kills about a dozen people throughout this book, and even those who try to escape the book’s world can’t make it out. It’s a compelling, nasty world.

Again, I hate reading dark stories where everyone dies, but I still finished this and want more. That’s a big selling point. That said, buyer beware.