Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Obsessions of an Otome Gamer
eBook 1 - Elementary School Years
Eighteen-year-old Rika has been burned by love in real life, so she turns for solace to an otome game. She becomes obsessed with it and one of its protagonists to the exclusion of almost all else in her life, and when she dies in an accident, she finds herself living in a version of the game's world! Now an elementary school girl named Mashiro, Rika's new life seems to be following the path of the game's remake, throwing her in with Kou and Sou, the two romanceable characters. Rika was obsessed with Kou, but Mashiro is finding that this second chance at life might not be worth throwing away on boys. Does she have a chance to live a normal life, or will she be herded onto a romance route no matter what she does?
The isekai trope of being reborn into a game-like world is one that has been done with increasing frequency in recent years. So why should you give yet another iteration of that story a chance? Because Natsu's Obsessions of an Otome Gamer isn't about fantastic powers, a painstaking catalog of power-and-level-ups, and doesn't follow most of the conventions. Instead the story takes place inside an otome romance game similar to La Corda D'Oro, where music plays a large role in the heroine's life. She has two romance options, pink hair, and amazing musical skill, but apart from a few notes about events being cleared, this isn't about being trapped in a game. Instead it's about a girl given a second chance at life, possibly through sinister means, and her determination to live it.
When we first meet the heroine her name is Rika and she's eighteen years old. She suffered a major romantic blow, and for solace turned to a particularly difficult otome game popularly known as Hear My Heart, where the heroine, Kon, has to win the two available guys through her musical compositions. Since that required the players to actually compose music that was at least kind of good, the game was deemed almost impossible to beat and languished in terms of popularity. (Only have two romanceable characters who were both oresama types didn't help either.) But Rika loves it and Kou, one of the heroes, to the point where she doesn't pay attention where she's going while looking at an ad for the remake, falls in an open manhole, and dies.
The next thing she knows, she's seven years old and named Mashiro. Somehow after her death she was reborn as the heroine of the remake version of Hear My Heart with the chance to romance the guys in reality as they move through school. But when she meets Sou, the second hero, she begins to see that they're real people, and when she takes up the piano, she realizes that she loves playing just because. Mashiro, therefore, decides that she'd rather not follow any game routes and just wants to live a normal life playing the piano.
The catch here is that we're not entirely sure what landed Rika in Mashiro's life, death notwithstanding. That central mystery at first feels tangential, but Natsu is a skilled author and builds it well as the book progresses, eventually making us really question what's going on. Our first hints start when Mashiro meets Kou's twin sister Kon – the heroine of the original game. Kon is also reincarnated from Rika's world, but it quickly becomes apparent that she's hiding something from Mashiro. The most obvious suspicion about who she is is largely confirmed in a late chapter, but it still leaves us questioning the why and how. Natsu handles this mystery in a nicely understated way, giving us just enough information to think we can solve it, but withholding a few bits to keep us guessing. That Mashiro is giving us the clues while not realizing it herself is an interesting device; she's only mildly suspicious of Kon and what she isn't saying, choosing instead to focus on avoiding both Kou and Sou's “routes” in order to have the life she didn't the first time around.
That someone doesn't want this is another interesting feature of the novel, and one that makes us question whether Rika is as dead as she says. The only game-like interruptions are to let us know when an event with one of the boys has been cleared, and those serve less to break up the story and more to let us know that Mashiro's going to have work harder if she wants to really escape the confines of her prescribed story. To this end she's a little bit oblivious to the way Kou clearly feels about her, which works largely because she's not unaware of Sou's growing attachment. Of the two Sou is the more appealing at this point (making a late scene particularly difficult to read), but both boys have their charms. To the author's credit, none of the four main characters feel like cut-and-paste otome game characters – yes, each has aspects of “the sweet one” or “the teasing one,” but there's still more to them than that, making the book appealing as a romance as well as a reincarnation mystery.
As you might guess, music does play a significant role in the story, and Mashiro does spend a fair amount of time discussing it as she learns to play the piano and strives to improve. While there are a few places where this drags, it mostly just serves to remind us that Mashiro's got bigger fish to fry than boys, and bold-face song titles, while a little distracting, can be used to create a soundtrack to accompany the text, which is kind of fun. Parts will be more interesting if you know something about classical music, but it doesn't detract from the book overall. The only major issue on that front is the occasional over-explanation of Japanese terms and customs, and that isn't likely to be one if you're new to light novel reading.
Obsessions of an Otome Gamer's first novel is Cross Infinite World's longest to date, covering the entirety of Mashiro's elementary school experience. It gets dense at some points, but rarely drags, and the story remains interesting and engaging throughout with moments of very real emotion. The art is nice, if not quite as impressive as the story, but since the writing is visual enough, it really doesn't detract much. If you're an otome gamer yourself, this is definitely a book worth reading, but even if you're not and are just looking for something different from most reborn-in-a-game stories, it's worth checking out.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Unique use of the reborn-in-a-game trope, Mashiro's an engaging heroine, game mechanics don't derail the story
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