by Rebecca Silverman,

Obsessions of an Otome Gamer

Novel 2: The Middle School Years

Obsessions of an Otome Gamer Novel 2: The Middle School Years
Mashiro and the others are starting middle school, but things are anything but perfectly peaceful. With Mashiro still at public school, Sou in Germany, and Kon and Kou at Seiso, the special music school Mashiro hopes to attend for high school, the group doesn't have as much time together as they used. With Mashiro focusing on her piano to the exclusion of almost everything else, Kou and Sou struggle with their feelings for the girl who doesn't seem to return them, while Kon has her own problems in the form of a “bargain” she seems to have made with her purported love interest. Is this really the world of Hear My Heart? Or could something else be going on?

After the heart-breaking end of the first novel (for Sou fans, anyway), the story of Rika, an eighteen-year-old who died and has been reborn as the heroine of her favorite otome game Hear My Heart, continues as she begins middle school, the equivalent of grades 7 – 9 in Japan. This is still three years before the start of the actual game events, so Mashiro is in a position where she has what may feel like more choices: she can make moves that will result in the game timeline commencing as she remembers it, or she can choose to focus on just living a life that will be independent of the game's story. At least, that's what Mashiro believes, something backed up by Kon; whether or not that's actually true remains to be seen.

One thing is for certain – neither of the love interests from the original game are quite behaving as expected. In part this may be because Mashiro not precisely as she was during the game; Rika's memories, having resurfaced at age seven, are guiding her more than she may be aware. In part this means that her early interactions with Kou and Sou in the pre-game timeline are entirely her own, and she may have been making choices that her original game counterpart would not. But more importantly, this isn't a game, and Kou and Sou are actual people with real emotions, not programmed and written characters. While author Natsu never expressly says this (and indeed implies that Mashiro may not be fully aware of it), it's very evident to the readers what's going on. The boys react to Mashiro's words and actions like, well, boys, reading into everything she says and does and using that to formulate their own thoughts and feelings. Since Mashiro is remembering them as characters rather than people, she sometimes does things that would have different results in fiction than in real life, and she tends to interpret their actions in the same light. Therefore she doesn't understand Kou's masquerade as a playboy (in the middle school sense) or that Sou doesn't see her as a substitute mother figure. In part, of course, her reactions to them are also born of the trope that the heroine never notices that she's got a few guys in love with her, but there's also a genuine failure to fully understand on some level that she's dealing with actual people. She begins to make that change at the end of the volume, but for most of it she's strikingly oblivious.

This is why it's very nice that Natsu includes a few segments from Sou's and Kou's perspectives. The entire book is written in first person, and both boys get to narrate short chapters themselves, letting us know what they're thinking and feeling free of Mashiro's bias. Sou gets more – probably because he's not physically present for most of the book, being in Germany – but both are equally interesting, especially in the way that they understand that Mashiro is perhaps not yet ready to see them as people she could fall in love with. This allows us to see that they, too, aren't following a game route, but instead are coping with the perils of emotional human life as best they can.

Music of course continues to play a central role in the story as well, with Mashiro focusing on competing in a major competition in hopes of winning a scholarship to Seiso for high school. As with the first novel, actually knowing the pieces discussed will help with fully understanding what she's talking about (and there is a lot of music talk), but Natsu does a good enough job describing the sounds and feelings that it isn't too difficult to follow these scenes. It's also very clear that Mashiro is progressing quickly with her piano, which is likewise important to the competition/scholarship plot, as well as the idea that maybe she'd rather end up with her piano than either of the boys, which may be intended to help make her a foil figure to Sou's absent mother.

What's perhaps most important in this volume, however, is the way that we begin to learn more of what's truly going on. Kon's adversarial feelings for her supposed love interest were evident in volume one, and here they become even more obvious, along with the fact that Rika may not be as dead as we've been assuming. That, of course, calls into question the validity and reality of the entire life Mashiro's living as well as Kon's potential future both within and without it. It also adds a slightly more supernatural flavor to the tale, one more in line with more traditional isekai stories; let's just say that I suspect that Tobi's nickname of “Prince” may be referring to a slightly different figure than “Prince Charming.” Technically speaking, the romance/music story is strong enough that the book doesn't need this additional element, but it certainly adds to the narrative and gives it an additional urgency beyond who Mashiro will end up with.

As to that, English-language readers will have some say in the matter. The volume ends with Mashiro choosing her route, Kou or Sou, and as of this writing Cross Infinite World is still running their poll as to whose story you'd like to read first. They do plan to translate both the Kou and the Sou high school volumes, but if you have a preference for one of them, now's your chance to say so. I will say that it feels like a much harder decision after finishing this book.

With its heroine reincarnated as the protagonist of an otome game rather than the villain, two appealing love interests, and a story that blends music, romance, and some darker elements, Obsessions of an Otome Gamer is one of the most charming light novels currently being translated. It is a digital-only title, but don't let that stop you from reading this take on the isekai genre.

Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B

+ Characters are developing and more hints about the situation come to light
Mashiro can be too oblivious, crush subplot isn't as good as some of the others

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Story: Natsu

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