By Reina Soratani and Haru Harukawa. Released in Japan as “Kondo wa Zettai ni Jama Shimasen!” by Gentosha Comics. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Molly Lee. Adapted by T. Anne.
I remember when I read the first volume of this series, I was impressed at its ability to take a stock plot, “villainess goes back in time to try to avoid her fate”, and seriously examine what traumas they might actually carry back by doing so. In the second volume, I was impressed (but also a bit wary, as it’s clearly the end pairing) at showing how disturbing and obsessive Yulan’s love for Violette is, and also at how the series shows that even if you do have a “safe haven” at school, and make new friends, there’s still the abusive family at home. And now we have the third volume, and by the end of it I am reduced to begging the author to please make it stop. This is still an excellent, compelling read, provided you can get past, well, the entire plot. But let’s face it, at this point we’ve switched genres. It’s not a villainess book. It’s a horror novel.
In the first two-thirds of this book, things are looking relatively good for Violette. She manages to apologize to Claudia for her previous behavior, closing the book on that chapter in her life. She’s managed to make a good friend in Rosette, another noble who hides her true self behind a facade. Sure, Yulan tells her that he can’t study with her this round of exams because he has to study with Maryjune, but that’s… she can deal with that. She may not like it, but she can deal with it. Heck, she’s even having Marin come up with new hairstyles for her, which is a big, big change, because her hair is one of her triggers from her childhood abuse by her mother. Then even more good news: her abusive father is called away to her grandfather’s place for the week! Now mealtime will be peaceful… OR WILL IT?
There’s no sugarcoating this, the last third of this volume is straight up terrifying. We haven’t really seen much at all of Lady Elfa, Violette’s stepmother, in this book, and given how absolutely terrible Violette’s father was, and how innocently terrible her sister is, I wasn’t sure we needed another terrible person. Sadly, I proved to be incorrect. (Indeed, the author states that the head chef, named in this volume, is literally the only non-terrible adult in the series.) Elfa feels like a horror parody of all the smiling, “ara ara” moms that you see in anime, and her words and actions towards Violette come uncomfortably close to a line I really really do not want this series to cross. That said, the most terrifying parts of the book involve Marin, Violette’s maid. She’s not the heroine, so does not have plot immunity, and I am very, very worried that she will not live to the end of the series.
I can’t recommend this series for everyone anymore, as it’s just become far too harrowing. If you don’t care for emotional torment as a plot device, Tearmoon Empire would be a better “villainess goes back in time” book. But for those who love a good soap opera that’s not afraid to get dark as pitch, this is a nightmarish yet thrilling ride.