Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
As the Villainess, I Reject These Happy-Bad Endings!
Iris has just come to a terrible realization – she's been reincarnated into the world of her favorite otome game which took the unusual stance of making sure that not even the heroine got true happy endings. Since she's been reborn as the villainess, she's in for even worse fates, so Iris makes a decision: she's going to make sure that the heroine doesn't end up with any of the targets, and thus thwart the game's insistence on happy-bad endings – for everyone.
Iota Aiue's As the Villainess, I Reject These Happy-Bad Endings! is, in a lot of ways, very typical of its chosen genre. Iris comes to awareness after recovering from a dreadful disease, realizing that even though she's currently in the body of a thirteen-year-old girl, she was previously a twenty-eight-year-old Japanese woman. Hard on the heels of that revelation is the fact that she's been reborn as the bad guy in her favorite otome game. Iris du Chevalier was her favorite character despite being the villainess, but the problem here is that the game, HanaKoro, was infamous for its near-total lack of true happy endings for anyone, and if things are going to end badly for heroine Camille, they're only going to be worse for Iris. That means that Iris not only needs to keep herself from dying horribly, she also has a vested interest in making sure that the heroine doesn't actually end up with any of the target guys either, because doom for Iris also spells doom for Camille. Fortunately for both the book and Iris, she realizes that she's got the perfect excuse to do this: she's already the bad guy. So why not just act like it?
This twist on the basic concept of the very crowded isekai subgenre of villainess reincarnation offers the novel a saving grace. More typically with these stories, the villainess wants to reform her character so that she's no longer evil, or if the main character liked the villainess best out of all of the characters in the game, she sets out to romance her. Instead, here we have Iris deciding that playing up her bad girl qualities is the way to go, and while I can't say that she's particularly good at being bad, it definitely makes things feel more interesting. In part that's also because of the game she's been plopped down in, with its so-called “happy-bad” endings. All of them rely on the idea that romantic interests turn into yandere characters once they've secured the heroine's affections, with one locking her in a tower and another tattooing her and literally chaining her to himself. Since one of those guys is Iris' twin brother and the other is her fiancé, she also has an interest in saving them from their own worst impulses outside of her and their relationships with Camille.
The book doesn't manage to fully live up to this potential. It still hits most of the recognizable story beats, from the prince being actually in love with Iris to Camille wanting to be Iris' new best friend and all of the details in between. But it also features some interesting elements that keeps it from feeling like we've read this exact story seven times in the past month. One of the most interesting is how Iris seeks to reshape basic society to be less offensive to her modern sensibilities. Iris is aghast at how much power her father wields over the women in his family, such as the way she and her mother are made to wear belled chokers with the family crest to prove his “ownership” of them, and the way her mother not only goes along with it but even plays up to it is even more upsetting to her. Although she doesn't say as much, Iris clearly feels that this is symptomatic of the sort of world that would allow the love interests to transform into possessive monsters. It's a more overtly feminist approach to the story than we often see, and Iris' decision to do what she wants regardless of what she's “supposed” to do creates ripples at the highest levels of society. Her father may never quite learn the lesson, but the younger generation does, and that's done well.
Part of this is Iris deciding to take on the backstory of the game. When she awakens to her past memories, it's two years before the start of the game's plotline, and Iris sees this as her chance to head off two formative tragedies, both brought about by the same disease she survived: soilpox. Like smallpox, soilpox causes scarring, and the scars it inflicts on Iris' arms become a burden to her in the game. But this Iris recognizes that there may be a bigger connection between soilpox and smallpox than she previously assumed, and she uses that and the knowledge of how the smallpox vaccine was originally developed to figure out a way to use magic and create a vaccine for soilpox. By doing this, she figures, she can prevent the deaths of the crown prince and the love interest of one of the target characters, but what she also ends up doing is destigmatizing a disease that no one really understood, and thereby eliminating part of the reason why Game Iris became a villain in the first place. It's neatly done and an interesting tack to take, and it also manages to make the redeeming of the romanceable characters feel like more conscious work than in other, similar stories.
At only one volume, As the Villainess, I Reject These Happy-Bad Endings! is fairly tightly plotted. That can call more attention to the fact that it still uses most of the tropes of its genre, but it also wraps things up without dragging them on for too long. It's a fun, pleasant read, just different enough to not be grating while still maintaining its appeal for dedicated fans of the genre.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B+
+ Iris' methods are interesting, social change makes for a good catalyst. Art is very soft and pretty.
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