Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!

GN 1

Synopsis:
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! GN 1
Eight-year-old Katarina Claes hits her head one day and realizes that this is actually her second life – previously she was an otaku who died in a traffic accident at age seventeen. Even more horrifying is the realization that she's been reborn into the very otome game she was playing when she died—as the bad guy! The more she remembers, the more nervous Katarina gets about what she assumes will be her fate, so she puts her old knowledge into practice and begins preparing to avoid her seemingly inevitable doom. But what she doesn't realize is that she's no longer the Katarina from Fortune Lover: she's the Japanese girl who died in another world. So maybe she shouldn't be surprised when things start to change from what she remembers.
Review:

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!'s source novels began coming out over the past winter, and this winter it's getting a TV anime series. So why not consume the story in all available formats and read the manga as well? The answer to that question depends, of course, on how much you enjoy the light novels and what you think are the strongest pieces of them, because although this comes from the same author and illustrator, there are a few fairly significant differences that impact how the story comes across.

The most notable change is one that makes a certain degree of sense when you consider things in terms of page counts: the manga is strictly told from Katarina's point of view. Given that she's the heroine, that's logical, but it is also likely to be a bit of a surprise for novel readers, because in Satoru Yamaguchi's originals, all of the characters get a chance to relate events from their perspectives. This is one of the strongest facets of the books because Katarina isn't popularly known in her fandom as “Bakarina” for nothing; many of the series' jokes rely on the fact that she's spectacularly dense where emotions are concerned. Therefore it helps to understand how everyone, friends and love interests alike, see her and how her actions impact them in their own words. Unfortunately the loss of this conceit in the manga version means that we can make educated guesses based on genre conventions and artwork, but with neither of those strictly strong enough to convey everything, a fair amount of character development is lost. Keith and Anne suffer the most from this, with Alan close behind.

That's not to say that this isn't worth reading, however, and it does bring its own interpretation to the table. Sophia does the best by this, and there are hints sprinkled about that help us understand Katarina's past friendship with Acchan (who lent her Fortune Lover in the first place) and her new relationship with Sophia in a different light. This is something that the manga format is able to do with more subtlety than a storytelling style reliant on just words, and it makes for a nice addition to the tale. Likewise the heavier use of images gives us a slightly different view of the characters – Jeord's too-sweet smile and Keith's anxious hovering both take on more significance in this version of the story.

It is worth noting that Hidaka says that this is her first full-out manga, because she does a very good job with it. Being the original illustrator for the light novels gives her more familiarity with the plot and characters, and that does come through in the ease with which the manga moves through the story. There are only a few places that feel abrupt, where you can guess (or know) that something was left out from the source material; for the most part this feels much more natural than manga light-novel-to-manga transitions. Hidaka's art has also refined for this project, as might be expected; it's softer and a bit rounder, even when the characters grow up in the final chapter. She does a particularly good job of making child characters look like believable younger versions of the adults, and not just by giving them identical hairstyles – they really appear to have grown up organically rather than just been drawn bigger. There is some inconsistency with the costumes in terms of setting a time period, but given the fantasy setting, this is only likely to bother you if you're a stickler for such things.

The book is on the long side for a regular-length manga volume, not just because of the included prose short story, but also because it covers the entirety of the first novel. This decision is likely behind what was left out, and with that aside, it feels like you're definitely getting your money's worth with the volume. Yamaguchi's prose short story makes for a nice transition into the volume two storyline, which is advertised to cover Katarina's experience at magic school, the plot of the original Fortune Lover game. It takes place between the volumes and not only reminds us of who the apparent chief rivals for Katarina's oblivious heart are, but it also gives a glimpse of what the original character in the game was like, driving home present Katarina's fears about what her ultimate fate will be. Novel readers may want to pick this up just for the story, as it does fill in a gap in the story in that way.

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is, frankly, a lot of fun regardless of the format, at least in terms of the two available as of this writing. While the novels are better in terms of character development, the manga adds its own charms to the story with its focus exclusively on Katarina and her fixation on what originally happened and how it eclipses her understanding of what's actually happening. If you like the story or are looking to experience it before the anime debuts and aren't a digital novel reader, this is an enjoyable way to enter Katarina's life.

Grade:
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+

+ Manga version brings its own interpretation to the table, art is fun and pleasant, bonus included prose story
Loses some character development, rushes the story in places

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Production Info:
Story: Satoru Yamaguchi
Art: Nami Hidaka

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My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (manga)

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