Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
I Refuse to Be Your Enemy!
All her life, Kiara has been having dreams of living in another world, one where she played a game that featured herself as a character. When she turned fourteen, Kiara realized that she was in fact dreaming of her past life as a Japanese girl – and that the game she played then is the life she's living now! Determined not to grow up to become the mid-boss in an RPG, Kiara sets out to change her future. Her first step is running away before her wicked adoptive dad can turn her into a sorceress…and once she figures that out, she's got to find a way to save the boys who died in her game, because being an enemy combatant is not what she wants out of any life!
In some ways, I Refuse to Be Your Enemy! feels a bit like a poor man's My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!. Mostly this is due to the fact that the beginning of this introductory novel is very, very rushed – we barely know Kiara as a character before she's realizing that she's been reborn from modern-day Japan into a world that's a version of the JRPG she used to play before something happened to her at age fourteen and she was reborn. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because it does get the ball rolling with expediency, but it also doesn't leave author Kanata Satsuki much room to show us why this series is any different from the others that play out along the same lines (this is the third to be translated into English as of this writing), and that could easily turn away readers who aren't interested in a genre rehash.
If you can get through the long first chapter, however, there's a good story waiting, and one that has some significant differences from the others currently available in translation. Most obvious is, of course, the fact that Kiara's world is based on a role-playing game rather than an otome game. That means that there's a lot more violence inherent in the story and that Kiara's goal (unlike Iris' or Katarina's) is not just to survive, but also to prevent herself from becoming a military pawn where she's forced to murder people. Since this involves war between nations, that also gives the plot a more political aspect; Kiara's actions determine not just her own fate, but that of her entire country as well. That's because the first thing she realizes she needs to change is the fact that the prince, Reggie, dies before the events of the game even begin.
That she's invested in this isn't necessarily a surprise, but what is striking is that Kiara's life in the fantasy land of Farzia is far from a fairy tale. Or rather, it's exactly like a fairy tale, but in all the wrong ways: where in Japan Kiara led a good life with a loving family, here she's forced into a Cinderella-like role, with her mother dying in her toddlerhood, her father remarrying an angry woman and then ignoring Kiara, only for him to die and her stepmother, after treating her like a servant for a few years, sells her off to Lord Credias, who aims to turn Kiara into the wicked sorceress of the game. This means that Kiara has zero investment in her homelife and has, in fact, been relying on her dreams of her past life to sustain her. When Lord Credias plans to marry her off to an old, abusive man, Kiara flees her boarding school, sneaking into a carriage about to depart. This throws her into the company of Alan, the original game protagonist, his knight Wentworth, and of course Reggie, the doomed prince.
Kiara's investment in figuring out how to save Reggie (and Alan's parents, who ultimately take her in at Reggie's request) becomes the force that drives the volume. She's uncertain but determined, and because she's not just interested in saving herself, but also in making sure that Reggie, who had a similarly awful childhood, survives, she's innately sympathetic. Because she's gotten her knowledge from a past life, Kiara largely feels that she needs to go this alone, something that Reggie and Wentworth very much admire about her. (Alan is much more uncertain about Kiara in general, but given the genre of the story, that stands to change going forward.) Although Reggie does eventually figure out that she's hiding something, he's committed to being there for her even when he doesn't know what's going on, and their friendship is a highlight of the character interactions. Kiara isn't as oblivious as some of her reverse harem counterparts; it's more that she's just so focused on, basically, saving the world that she doesn't have the emotional capacity to think about other things. Naturally this means that she misses a lot of signals from Reggie (and a few from Wentworth), but it feels a bit less awkward than it might because we know what's at stake. Reggie's an easy character to like, so keeping him alive becomes one of the reader's stakes in the story, making it easier to forgive Kiara's lack of understanding when it comes to his feelings.
There is a slight disconnect between the illustrations and the text which can be a little annoying, although it certainly isn't a deal-breaker – the author repeatedly describes Kiara's dresses as having “panniers” and using other terms that refer to eighteenth-century fashions for both men and women, and while that is reflected in images of the men, the women's clothing is drawn to look like “generic pseudo-Victorian,” which is kind of jarring since the author was so specific. Since most of the illustrations are character portraits, pickier readers are likely to have an issue, which is too bad, since they're perfectly serviceable images otherwise. The translation, on the other hand, has an especially nice flow, making it an easy read even in the slower first chapter.
I Refuse to Be Your Enemy!'s first volume is one of those books that gets better as you go on. By the midway point of chapter two it's become genuinely good, but getting to that point can take a little willpower. It's an enjoyable take on the reborn-in-a-game variant of the isekai genre, however, and the world presented is certainly an interesting one that stands to develop well. All in all it's a good book, and it looks like it may only get better from here.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : C+
+ Gets better as it goes on, some good differences to set it apart from its brethren. Kiara's stakes are believable.
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