Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Weakest Manga Villainess Wants Her Freedom!
One day Elle comes to a terrible realization – not only is this her second life, but she's the villainess of what was her favorite shoujo manga series during her first time around! Elle has zero interest in dying a terrible death at the hands of the series' good guys, so she determines to figure out how to escape from her preordained role and live a life of glorious, peaceful freedom. What she hasn't counted on, however, is that if she changes her role in the story, other characters might claim the same freedom for themselves…
There are plenty of shoujo light novels where the premise is that an unassuming fan dies unexpectedly and ends up reincarnated as the villainess of her favorite pop culture story, but most of those feature protagonists reborn into otome games or, in the case of I Refuse to be Your Enemy, an RPG. Thus far only Kazuki Karasawa's The Weakest Manga Villainess Wants her Freedom lands the main character in a manga series. Superficially that doesn't actually change much about the base plotline – Elle (we don't know her previous name) wakes up one morning to realize that she's read about herself in her past life and isn't exactly destined for a lovely happy ending, so she decides to get the hell out of the story. But of course she had her meet up with Truck-kun before she got to read the final volume of the manga, so there are some major details she's in the dark about, meaning that she's forced to rely upon not only her memories of what happened, but also the guesses she had about how things ultimately turned out.
That, as it happens, is more significant than you'd think. Yes, we do see a slight parallel in the cornerstone of the genre (in English translation, at least), My Next Life as a Villainess All Routes Lead to Doom in that Katarina never beat two of the routes in the game, but in an otome game, the “routes” (romances) often define the story, whereas the manga series Elle was reading is more along the lines of Yona of the Dawn in that there's a reverse harem aspect, but the fantasy war angle is just as, if not more, important. This is what brings things to their climax in the novel, because Elle's previous life ended before she knew who the Big Bad was and one of the key elements of that villain's plans, meaning that they come as a shock to her in the novel.
As twists on the genre go, it's a good one if only because Elle and the readers are equally unaware of what's really going on. Some of the changes to what Elle remembers are very much staples of the this subgenre of isekai: people who originally fell in love with manga heroine Aela now fall for Elle with her being entirely unaware of the fact, for example, despite many very obvious signs, or Elle not being nearly the monster the manga painted her as simply by virtue of her now being a person rather than a character. But not knowing the manga's endgame gives this novel a more organic storytelling feel even within an increasingly saturated field of fiction; it separates this story from the one Elle “knows” in a positive way – and it gives readers the satisfaction of going back and looking for the clues that foreshadowed the reveal(s), which isn't always a given in this style of novel.
Apart from that, this is a comfortable entry into its subgenre, meaning that if you enjoy it in general, this book will very likely make you happy. Elle is nicely self-aware of her role as “the loli” in the original manga and she leans into the cuteness that that entails, basically bouncing from one plot point to the next as a pigtailed ball of determination. She's a good mix of her original self and the manga character, which again gives her a bit of a meta aspect within the story, but mostly serves to allow her a bit of clarity as she makes discoveries about the world she finds herself in and how that information both does and does not agree with her prior knowledge. The implication is that she was the same age when she died as she is now (hence why she suddenly regained her memories), so we're not dealing with a situation where she's an older spirit in a younger body – she's just a two-times-over fifteen-year-old drawing on experiences from two different worlds. This keeps her innocence and naivete believable, because barring magic, her lived experiences are on roughly the same level in both lives. The romance plot is basically settled early in the game – Julius, one of her fellow bad guys who escapes with her, begins the book as her arranged fiancé and has zero intentions of changing that as he does in the manga, and even though a second aspirant to Elle's hand shows up, by the time he does, the whole thing is pretty well zipped up. Interestingly enough, the same is true of Aela, the original heroine; with two members of her manga reverse harem removed, her love life is also squared away by the time she enters the story.
This does allow for more focus on the war plot and Elle's attempt to escape it, which is a nice change in some ways from what we more typically see. That said, there's surprisingly little plot in the novel, or at least it feels that way – Elle learns the truth about her country almost immediately and by the time Aela arrives with her entourage, the biggest barrier to resolving it is convincing Julius and Prince Guido that they don't need to protect their respective love interests to the point of sabotaging cooperation. Most of the novel feels like it's taken up by Elle crowing about her plans or attempting to show off, which is fun and sometimes funny, but does get to be a bit much towards the end, mostly because of her way-too-often repetition of her intention to “roast, ghost, and post” someone, which is presumably meant to remind us of when and where she's from.
For the most part, however, The Weakest Manga Villainess Wants her Freedom is a cute, fun book. The illustrations are a little more polished than we typically see in light novels and the author is clearly having a lot of fun playing with genre tropes, while Elle really is a take-no-crap kind of heroine. It may not be perfect, but it is a great piece of escapism to take you away for a little while.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Fun story, plays enough with the tropes to make it feel different from its genre pals.
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