By Terasu Senoo and Munashichi. Released in Japan as “Shini Yasui Koushaku Reijou to Shichi-nin no Kikoushi” by M Novels (Futabasha). Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Roy Nukia.
We’ve had isekais for years now, and are used to “so what is the slight difference that makes this one worth reading”. Otome Game Villainesses, though, is still a relatively recent genre. That said, the fact that it seems to be exploding in popularity means that we can start to compare and contrast them that much faster. So, for those who would like a far more intelligent protagonist than Bakarina, or for those who want less emphasis on the romance aspect of these sorts of books, here’s a really nice choice for you. That said, Erika lacks Katarina’s empathy and emotional well of kindness, mostly because one was a happy-go-lucky high school girl who got hit by a truck while thinking about an otome game, and the other is a young OL who’s spent her entire life being slutshamed and the subject of rumors, and who finally was murdered by someone with a “grudge” against her for existing. It’s no surprised that Erika is a bit more jaded – even as an eight-year-old.
So you know the drill, she’s women up as a villainess – a bratty young woman whose death kickstarts the plot of the game she was playing. That said, this is years earlier, and the event that makes her so loathed is one she knows – don’t let the younger sister of one of the “targets” die because of her neglect. She succeeds in making young Anne a fan of her right away, but Claus is dealing with inferiority complexes and preconceived biases, so is a tougher nut to crack. He’s interested in the ruins that her kingdom is known for – and so is the sister, which makes it more annoying when they both deliberately vanish one evening, leaving Erika to try to catch them so that Anne’s death doesn’t lead to her own demise. Unfortunately, Erika reckons without her super, super bad luck in general, and also her past life making her more than a little death-seeking, even if it’s only unconsciously.
As you can see, the bulk of this is not so much “otome game villainess tries to stop dying” as “kids go on a big underground adventure”, and it’s all the better for it. They’re mysterious moving labyrinths, deathtraps galore, golems, and a big bad with a big grudge. Erika and Claus work well together, and you can see why he ends up falling for her despite their young ages. Though Anne is the one who can tell that she’s not really looking for any romance, especially after her last life. As for Erika herself, despite seemingly being weak in terms of alchemy, she’s actually quite the savant, something noted by her older brother in a side story, where he worries that she’s going to take after their shady (and now dead) mother. (Amusingly, Erika was wondering if HE was the evil one earlier, but they both seems to be OK.) Most importantly, the book is simply fun, a short, quick read that will please most fantasy readers as well as “otome game villainess” fans.
Each book in the series has a Harry Potter-style title, so we’ll see what Erika Aurelia and the _______________” gets up to next time. In the meantime, this is an excellent addition to J-Novel Club’s Heart line.