2015’s My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! Volume 1 is the first of eight volumes in Satoru Yamaguchi’s light novel series. The Illustrator is Nami Hidaka. The 2020 English translation is by Shirley Yeung.
A tomboyish Japanese girl, unnamed save for the nickname “monkey girl,” sleepy thanks to her obsession with late-night computer gaming, jumps on her bicycle and races off towards her school, through what turns out to be busier intersection than she expected. Exit unnamed Japanese schoolgirl, having squandered her seventeen years on Earth.
Eight-year-old Katarina Claes recovers consciousness, imbued with the memories of the dead school girl. Her new memories grant her new perspective. Specifically, they assure her that she is very much doomed.
Although it takes the new Katarina a while to connect the dots, the soul of the unnamed Japanese school girl has been conveyed into Fortune Lover , the very same romance-focused otome video game she was playing the night before she bicycled to her death. Wonderful news, if only Katarina were the protagonist or even a love interest. Alas, she is a romantic antagonist. The game’s happy endings involve Katarina’s disgrace and exile. The unhappy ones involve her death.
Katarina does not want to be exiled; dying would even less fun. Although she has taken the first step toward doom – engagement to Jeord Stuart, the handsome boy who caused her mishap1 – she resolves therefore to focus on avoiding the standard Katarina’s fate by focusing on activities the spoiled original ignored: honing her magical and sword skills. It’s just too bad she has almost no magical potential; all her Earth magic lets her do is summon a small pile of dirt. (Well, the inattentive might stumble over it, but all in all, not a great weapon.) At least she has genuine athletic talents.
It’s not helpful that Katarina is not endowed with the sharpest of intellects. Subtext often passes her by and she has been known to interpret metaphors excessively literally. Nevertheless, armed with background knowledge of the other characters, and her essential good nature, she perseveres.
The consequences for her social circle are impressive.
Because the setting is based on a fantasy romance, the characters are pretty and rich; bullying is rife, the better to shape character. It is a feature of the setting that certain matters are only discussed obliquely, if at all, with the result that at least one married couple spends the first few decades of marriage convinced their spouse is only tolerating them out of social obligation when in fact they are mutually smitten with each other.
Dim but nice turns out to trump smart but enormously self-centered. If Katarina were a D&D character, intelligence would be her dump-stat, allowing her to focus on charisma and the physical stats. Of course, this being a comedy, she focuses on strategies dependent on thinking her way past dangers, something she’s not well suited to do. At least, not in the manner she intends.
Katarina’s primary goals are quite reasonable: survive, avoid exile if possible, and if not, to enter exile with the skills needed to make a living. Having played the game in her past life means she has all sorts of background information on the other characters, some of it very useful. However, her information is limited to the background of the game as it existed before she started derailing plots left and right, Also, her grasp of cause and effect is rudimentary.
The central joke in this is similar to Donald R. Benson’s incredibly obscure novel And Having Writ… , which makes that novel the perfect one with which to draw parallels. She has a specific goal – but that doesn’t mean that she can avoid her actions affecting others. She repairs her parents’ troubled marriage – by accident – and she sets people on paths impossible in the game as originally written. Because the game is so vivid in her mind and she is exquisitely not bright, she does not notice that by the end of the book, she is the focal character in a harem comedy, with most of the romantic leads, male and female, infatuated with her.
The prose is workpersonlike. I am not sure if this is because the original’s prose is unremarkable or if this is a side-effect of translation. The plot races through almost a decade in 240 pages2. The characters are functional enough, with Katarina unsurprisingly getting most of the development … but because the plot races through a decade in 240 pages, it all seems a bit rushed. I am left with a feeling that I should have enjoyed this more than I did.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! Volume 1 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).
1: Jeord ostensibly proposes because he feels guilty for the accident that left Katarina scarred (a near-invisible scar that will fade over time). In actuality, he is bored with fending off girls attracted by his looks and social position; having a fiancée stops many aspirants (if not all).
2: The author makes it clear they do not want to write about romances amongst grade schoolers.