After 8-year-old Katarina Claes, the spoilt, high-strung heir to a noble family hits her head, she recovers memories of her past life—as a normal high school girl, who loved anime, manga and otome games. After the head bump and the return of her older consciousness, Katarina slowly realizes that she’s not lost in this ‘other world’ at all, but is actually a character from the otome game she had been trying to finish before being transported here—the villainess!! Now, with the knowledge that her life is fated for unhappy endings no matter which route it takes (or which boy the protagonist chooses), Katarina decides to make preparations for the future, to survive the main plot of the game, and to live peacefully. Her sudden change in personality is causing a stir and peaking interest though, and her fate might not be following the path she expects…
My Next Life as a Villainess – All Routes Lead to Doom! or I Reincarnated into an Otome Game Villainess with Only Destruction Flags, known more affectionately online as Bakarina, is an ongoing shojo light novel series by Satoru Yamaguchi with illustrations by Nami Hidaka. The series is released digitally thanks to J-Novel Club, with translation by Shirley Yeung. This first book was released in November 2018. The manga adaptation is also being released later in the year by Seven Seas.
In the West, shojo light novels are few and far between when compared to the largest and most popular titles available. Bakarina is one of the few to break through, with a lot of popularity online and a pre-existing fanbase. Building off both the tropes of otome-inspired shojo light novels and isekai, the series blends the two to very humorous results. Our main character is unique in that she doesn’t just ‘wake up’ in another world, but instead recovers her ‘past life’ memories that come to coexist with the earlier Katarina ones: the two understood to be the same person. This does mean that her personality changes pretty drastically after the accident though, and instead of the stuck-up, proper lady she had been prior, she now thinks and lives as a normal (if a little rascally) girl with no heed to etiquette. Her past life climbed trees and fought older brothers, caught bugs and scratched herself up without a care. The small scar that had occurred from the bump (that she doesn’t think is a big deal) means that Katarina is now engaged to the third prince in a show of responsibility, and it’s this event which clued her in that this was the same scenario as her favorite otome game Fortune Lover.
Her fiancé is Jeord Stuart, who is the main love interest in the game—making Katarina the main character’s rival. Her past life had been struggling to get the Good Ending for his route shortly before her assumed death, but never managed it. He’s outwardly the epitome of a handsome prince—charming and beautiful—but inside he harbors a twisted dissatisfaction in life, tired of the predictable course his life is taking. In the game, Katarina is his childhood betrothed, keeping him hostage in the engagement by leveraging the faded scar on her hairline. Knowing that her character’s fate is set to either be death or banishment as soon as they reach age 16 (when the game is set) thanks to the game’s protagonist, she instead decides to become proactive in preventing that. She starts by learning swordsmanship, in case she needs to protect herself in a sword fight, and also tries to improve her feeble earth magic. It’s this, trying to become closer to her magic element, that inspires her to start a vegetable patch in the spacious gardens of her family’s home; quickly becoming her pride and joy. She climbs trees, fishes and tends to her vegetables every day, and when her fiance next visits and sees her in her gardening overalls, it’s the breath of fresh air he had been looking for—unknowingly sparking his interest, and changing their relationship from the game.
It’s not only Jeord that Katarina charms with her new personality either. Mary Hunt becomes her first friend after using a line from the game unknowingly to win her love and devotion, and her fiancé Alan, Jeord’s twin brother and the fourth prince, soon also joins the quickly growing group of people surrounding Katarina. There’s also her adopted brother, Keith, who she welcomes warmly into the family rather than shunning him like in the game, and who now earnestly wishes to protect her with his powerful magic skills. Finally is the Ascart siblings, Sophia and Nichol, who Katarina befriends via a mutual love for romance novels without realizing that most people shun them for Sophia’s ‘cursed’ looks. Meanwhile, Katarina still prepares daily for the (she presumes) inevitable banishment from the kingdom after one of the boys falls in love with the protagonist, without realizing that things have changed. By just being herself, with a personality that doesn’t antagonize others, who accepts everyone without worry for the social rumors or reputation, she’s far from the villain she sees herself as. Instead, Katarina’s built up her own harem of people around her without noticing, and thanks to her unshakeable confidence in her being the ‘bad guy’ doesn’t recognize the romantic gestures as such.
Bakarina succeeds in balancing its thickheaded main character with the good, kind things she does—none of her actions were calculated or done under the pretense of winning over the others but was successful in doing so anyway. She’s genuine and humble, down-to-earth in a society that strictly upholds pride and propriety, and hardworking towards her goal of living happily. It’s also notable that Katarina’s plan is always assumed to remove herself by not imposing on any of the potential romantic futures of the people in her life; she’s not looking for her own happily ever after, doesn’t think any of these attractive girls and boys could fall in love with someone with such a “scary face”, which also feeds into her obtuseness of the feelings of people around her. She unsuccessfully tries to end the engagement with the prince at her debut party, her 15th birthday, but he declines—now thoroughly smitten with Katarina, and unwilling to break their connection. With the final chapter-epilogue aging our main cast to their mid-teens, we’re nearing Katarina’s enrollment to the Magical Academy and the main events of Fortune Lover. In terms of plot, this book may, in fact, ultimately amount to scene-setting prologue for the next, but it was immense fun, regardless.
My Next Life as a Villainess – All Routes Lead to Doom! is a witty comedy romance with an obtuse-but-kindhearted main character and a variety of supporting cast. This first book is likely to make you laugh, especially if you want a fun twist on shojo isekai and otome tropes; but even if that’s not your usual thing, the story and writing have broad appeal. Definitely check it out if you get the chance!
Gee’s Rating: Highly recommended
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