Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
In this volume of short stories – both manga and prose – we go back and see some of the events from Katarina's past from a different perspective while filling in a few blanks, such as Jeord's feelings, some of the ways Katarina tried to get close to Keith, and that moment when Nichol almost gave up on her.
Every story is at risk of leaving things out, because the advice that the author has to know 80% more about their world and characters than the readers do doesn't tell you which 20% to share. That isn't often an issue in Satoru Yamaguchi's My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, which is impressive, but there are a few gaps that have needed filling. The aim of this volume seems to be to do just that with a few of the characters, and while a couple of them don't fare especially well, others become much more interesting because of it.
Perhaps the most important development we get is for Prince Jeord, Katarina's fiancée. Although we have gotten inside Jeord's head in other books, and we know that he loves Katarina because she keeps him on his toes, we haven't really gotten to know him as a person as much as some of the other contenders for her heart. That's largely because Jeord isn't a particularly emotional person. While Keith wears his heart on his sleeve and Alan broadcasts his feelings loud and clear, Jeord gives off the feeling that he's keeping himself to himself. That changes in the first (and longest) story in this volume, where a new villainess rears her head. Marsha was once one of the young nobles who was in the running for Jeord's hand, and when Katarina won out, Marsha essentially became the character the original game version of Katarina was. She began a campaign of bullying and badmouthing, which eventually got her family banished to the countryside – a fate, you'll remember, that was originally Katarina's. Now at age fifteen, Marsha is back in order to attend the same magic school as the rest of the cast, and she's still nursing her hatred of Katarina…who is, of course, oblivious. Mary, Jeord, and Keith, however, are well aware of what's going on, and they take strides to keep Katarina safe. While this does give us some wonderful Keith moments where he outmaneuvers Jeord to escort Katarina places, the real meat of the story is when we shift to Jeord's perspective towards the end of the narrative. Here Jeord reveals that he is in fact the black-hearted prince Katarina thinks of him as from his in-game days, and he knows it. Jeord feels that he's not a good person in the slightest, but Katarina inspires him and allows him to be someone better. That's his angle on the romance plot: unlike Keith's love based in how she made him feel like he belonged or Alan's that stems from her showing him that he's worthwhile or Raphael's coming from the fact that she gives him a future, Jeord's feelings for Katarina are rooted in the fact that she makes him a better person. That's just as worthwhile as anyone else's reason for loving her and it gives Jeord the push he needed in the readers' minds to make him a more serious rival for her heart. Knowing he loves her is one thing; knowing why makes all the difference.
We get to revisit this a little in the story from Alan's perspective, when he and Katarina end up at school during summer break together for a little bit. While this piece doesn't tread much new ground, Alan is one of the characters we don't hear much from on a regular basis, which makes this a treat for his fans. (Previous volumes in the series have, perhaps inadvertently, made it feel a bit like the competition boils down to Jeord and Keith.) The same goes for the Nichol story, which is another of the longer pieces, which follows him after his graduation as he tries to put aside his feelings for Katarina and do “the right thing,” which he believes is marry someone else since he has no chance. This is not only a nice story for his fans, but also because it really gives us a much closer look at how Nichol differs from the other members of Katarina's harem; no one else has come even close to giving up on her, even Alan, who is the second most conflicted. (And still totally in the dark about Mary's feelings for Katarina.) Nichol, at the end of the day, is perhaps the most noble of the bunch, truly believing that he doesn't have the right to covet his friend's fiancée and that his own feelings aren't worth much in the long run. As with Jeord, this makes him a more sympathetic character and a more serious consideration for readers trying to decide who they favor, and the reveal about his own parents is definitely interesting.
If anyone gets the short end of the stick here, it would be Raphael and Sora, neither of whom get much page time. (Mary and Sophia don't either, but their appearances feel a bit meatier.) Raphael does get a short story, but it's exclusive focused on him at work and is largely Katarina-free, while Sora only shows up in a couple of the sillier manga shorts. Those are a lot of fun – Hidaka actually does a bit better when she's writing her own thing using Yamaguchi's characters rather than adapting directly – but not much if those two characters have any dedicated fans.
The single biggest weakness of this volume, however, is that Yamaguchi still is not great at giving each character's first-person narration its own voice. Everything sounds basically the same, so if a story simply begins without telling us who's speaking, it can take a few pages to figure out who the narrator is meant to be. With new characters like Marsha getting first-person pages, that's a major problem, and it does cut down on some immediate enjoyment. (For whatever reason, Nichol is the only character who has a more recognizable “voice” based on his more formal speech patterns.) Since that's a persistent issue throughout the series, however, dedicated readers can just brush it off and enjoy filling in a few blanks, because no matter what's going on, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is just a delightful story.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Story and character gaps filled in, Jeord and Nichol become much more sympathetic.
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