My Next Life As a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 8

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 always with Bakarina, it’s one step forward, two steps back. This volume is perfectly enjoyable, and I had a lot of fun reading it. But as for actual forward plot development, it’s pretty much “the pick of the best of some recently repeated Katarina hits again, Vol. II”, as most of the book has Katarina being incredibly kind and empathetic almost on reflex, followed by a different POV showing the affected person realizing how wonderful she is and far behind her they are in comparison. This is particularly true of Maria and Jeord, who get the bulk of the serious things happening to them… or because of them. Not everyone is as well characterized as I’d like (Mary and Sophia in particular suffer here, with Mary literally getting a nosebleed that forces her to be put to bed because she is thinking of Katarina naked), but if your goal is “pleasant silliness”, this will do nicely.

The subject of this volume is an International Assembly, an event that happens every two years, and this year Sorcie is hosting it. It’s a huge gathering of the higher nobles from many countries. Katarina cannot get out of it. What’s more, everyone is panicked that she will embarrass herself and everyone around her. So it’s time for history lessons, dance lessons, etiquette lessons, most of which she knows but it can’t hurt to be sure, right? That said, as readers know well, the issue is rarely Katarina when she has a prearranged agenda, it’s when she wanders off the agenda. That happens here when she’s caught lying on the grass one day by a dark-skinned young man. They bond very quickly, though Katarina has to pretend she’s a servant. Is *he* a servant? What’s more, why are Maria and Sora at the Assembly and what are they investigating?

There are many interesting things happening here beyond the surface of “Katarina charms everyone, they all love her”. She does gain a new love interest here, but he’s not making any moves while she’s engaged to Jeord, and he’s also from another country. He makes a cool new addition. There’s also a darker plot of slavery and kidnappings going on behind the scenes, leading to Maria almost getting assaulted at one point (Katarina climbs a tree – ruining her ballgown – to stop this) and a cliffhanger which implies a lot more action-packed thriller stuff next time. Perhaps most interesting is Jeord, a character who has not had a fun time of it with Western fandom, despite – indeed, because – being the primary love interest. His reaction to seeing Katarina besmirched, and near homicide he commits, horrifies him, and the fact that Katarina is not really all that appalled by it doesn’t really help matters. Please remember that you can burn people, Prince.

So it’s mostly fluff, but lovable fluff, much like our heroine. Next time might be more serious. Till then, hope you like Katarina making everyone’s life better by being an amazingly dense ball of sunshine.

My Next Life As a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Vol. 7

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 may be a bit late, to be honest – the reader’s patience after Vol. 2 has been sorely tested – but we finally have a volume of Bakarina that I would call excellent. The characterization works with the plot, there is actual forward motion in regards to Fortune Lover 2, and perhaps most importantly (and I know this may change), there is a love interest who does not fall for Katarina. This is important for keeping the series going, as if you are a black hole vortex of ‘everybody loves me’, eventually disbelief gets stretched a bit thin – as we’ve seen in Books 3 and 4 of this series. But yes, now people can like Katarina and not fall for her, which is a relief. Unfortunately for fans of the main cast aside from our heroine, only Maria and Jeord fans will really be happy – as I expected when I reviewed Vol. 6, Keith, Mary, Alan, Sophia and Nicol are reduced to small roles, if not cameos.

Katarina and Sora start their working days at the Magical Ministry, and she is absolutely DELIGHTED to find that it’s mostly running errands and lifting boxes – she was afraid that it would involve paperwork. Given Rafael’s current position, I don’t blame her. When not working, she’s trying to figure out who planted the note about Fortune Lover 2 on her, which leads to her meeting Jeord’s relatives and the reader learning about the recent past of the Sorcier kingdom, which is a lot bloodier and filled with concubines than I would have expected. She is also trying to sort out New Love Interest #3, Cyrus, which (try to contain your surprise) turns out to be a lot easier than she expected, because she is who she is. All of these plots converge when she and Maria come across a magic stone that offers Maria increased power in her light magic… and, Katarina is stunned to discover later on, more power for her dark magic – whether she wants it or not.

There is the usual “Katarina narrative voice, than another character goes over the same events” literary device we’ve seen throughout the series, but it’s not entirely “let me tell you how awesome she is” this time, which is a bit of a relief. Indeed, the book loves its running gag of how bad Katarina is at intellectual pursuits. She can’t read ancient script, which was taught to them in school, meaning when everyone else is deep in research she’s off to the side feeling useless. She does pull off classic Katarina empathy with Cyrus, as they bond over a surprising shared hobby, but Cyrus ends up with a crush on Maria – just like the game, in fact. This may be the ongoing worry – Katarina is sensing evil presences following her around, and her learning stronger dark magic against her will has her fearing that she really is headed towards the FL2 bad end – where OG Katarina returns with same.

Fortunately, she has the main cast to remind her that she is not, in fact, a bad person. That said, it’s a sad ending for Katarina, who is forced to do actual homework to satisfy Lady Larna’s curiosity. As for my own curiosity, I wasn’t wild about “Fortune Lover II” being the next plot point, but it’s going surprisingly well, and has enough of my preferred ship (Maria) to make me eager to read the next one. (Yes, I know it’s gonna be Jeord, shush.)

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.