Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
After hitting her head at age eight, Katarina Claes, only daughter of the prestigious Claes family, suddenly awakens to her memories of her past life – as an ordinary Japanese schoolgirl. The most shocking thing about this revival isn't so much that it happened – it's that according to her memories, her new life is as the villainess of the otome game she was playing before she died, and if she doesn't do something quickly, Katarina is fated for a terrible, catastrophic end! With this in mind, Katarina begins coming up with plans to avert her doom(s), figuring out ways to survive swordfights, exile, and other horrors. But by just being her past self, Katarina's slowly changing the game. Can a villainess really become the heroine?
The third of three currently (as of this writing) serializing titles in the “reborn into an otome game” subgenre of isekai, Satoru Yamaguchi's My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable. Funnier than either Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter or Obsessions of an Otome Gamer, Yamaguchi's story follows the (mis)adventures of a tomboyish high school girl who dies in the inevitable traffic accident only to be reborn into the world of the otome game she was playing. When she abruptly regains memories of that life at age eight, Katarina (as she's now known) comes to the horrible realization that she's been reincarnated as the bad guy - meaning that if her life continues to follow the game script, she's going to end up dead or exiled. Fortunately she's nothing if not a go-getter, and she immediately sets about coming up with contingency plans in order to survive what she views as probably inevitable. What she doesn't realize, however, is that just by being herself (or rather, her past self), she's not only winning over all of the potential romantic interests in the original game, she's also completely rewriting the script so that she's the heroine of her very own mixed-gender harem.
While this certainly falls into a few tired rom-com tropes, most specifically “she's not like other girls,” the combination of lightheartedness and Katarina's total oblivion to the way she's changing the story makes it really work. The main reason why she falls into that particular trope is that she's not so much a fish out of water as a girl out of time; the world she finds herself reborn into is not just a fantasy one, but has much more in common with 19th century Europe than with 21st century Japan, and with her memories regained, Katarina's default is to the norms of her previous existence. What this means is that she's totally different from other noble girls in how she thinks and acts, and while this does cause issues with adults (specifically her mother), it's also appealing to other people her age. Since the story begins when she's eight, her engaging in activities like tree climbing speaks to the princes and noble ladies on a level where they'd like to be doing what she's doing, too, and this allows her to break a couple of them out of their shells. She challenges their way of thinking along with their notions of propriety, and for Prince Jeord and Prince Alan, that's particularly appealing. For others, her lack of demure modesty and willingness to just say what she's thinking is what changes their attitudes – Lady Mary and Master Nichol both appreciate that about her, as does Maria, the original heroine, when she comes into the story in the second novel.
Essentially what's going on is that Katarina is, by being an actual person rather than a one-or-two-note otome game character, encouraging the others to become real people as well. Like in Obsessions of an Otome Gamer, she doesn't necessarily see this – to a degree, she still thinks of the people around her as characters in a game, and this, almost as much as her own romantic oblivion, helps to keep the romantic tension going. By volume three Katarina has racked up an impressive number of suitors – the first book gives us Jeord, Keith, Alan, Mary, and Nichol (with bonus Sophia), book two adds Maria and the “secret route” character, and then volume three tosses in another two. That she hasn't expressed any feelings for any of them works better than you might think, in part because it feels natural to the character, but also because each book interrupts Katarina's first person narration every so often to give us the perspective of one of her suitors or friends. The most striking is consistently the voice of Anne, Katarina's lady's maid, who serves as our most impartial observer as to what's going on, but having everyone get a chance to speak enhances the story and makes the romantic kerfuffle more enjoyable. At this point, Jeord and Keith appear to be the most likely competitors for Katarina's heart, but Nichol and Rufus do stand to be spoilers, and with a fourth volume forthcoming, we perhaps shouldn't pin our hopes on any particular ship. But that, too, is part of the fun of the series; a harem end would be fine because of who Katarina is, although admittedly we'd likely feel badly for those pursuing her heart.
Although the writing isn't particularly adept at distinguishing voices or standing out in terms of the narrative voice of most light novels, it is easily readable and makes a nice transition between moods. Most of Katarina's part is written with an engaging breeziness, and this contrasts well with the more serious tone taken specifically by Keith and Sophia in their sections. While I would hesitate to say that they sound like completely different voices, the tonal shift is well done, and we get a firm sense of how much Katarina means to them and how that differs from the more confused feelings of Alan or the bittersweetness of Nichol's emotions. This of course implies, as you may have guessed, that the translation is very good and lacks for the most part the awkward grammatical constructions that occasionally occur in light novel translations. The only real issue is that in both books one and two the word “shirk” is used instead of “shrink,” which is a bit of an odd typo.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! may be aimed at an audience familiar with reverse harems and otome games, but its engaging characters and fun plot, as well as its breezy writing style, make it a good fit for anyone in the market for a romantic comedy. Katarina's romantic obliviousness works much better than many similar characters in other stories, and the use of multiple narrators – specifically giving us the same scene from two perspectives – makes this a truly fun series. It is digital-only, but if you don't mind that and haven't picked this up yet, you're missing out on an enjoyable read.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Multiple narrator gimmick works well, Katarina's an engaging heroine, smart use of genre tropes
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