By Satoru Yamaguchi and Nami Hidaka. Released in Japan as “Otome Game no Hametsu Flag Shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei Shite Shimatta…” by Ichijinsha Bunko Iris. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Marco Godano.
It’s been a while since we last saw the light novel version of this series. Since last July, the anime has started to air and seems to be quite popular despite the fact that casuals will now ask novel fans why they spell Katarina with a K; the manga has started its second story arc, adapting the third novel; and a second manga has started with a spinoff idea of “what if Katarina fell and hit her head… when she was already bullying Maria at the Academy?”. Looking at my last review, I had wondered if the series would finally allow everyone to graduate next time. Well, the answer is no; this is a short story collection, taking place all over the Bakarina timeline, and therefore we don’t see her entering the Ministry of Magic or anything here. Instead we get a wide variety of tales, some good, some dull, and a few manga interspersed (the artist of the light novel illustrations is also the artist for the main manga series).
To start with the duller stories, Keith is a nice guy but tends to lead to tedious story beats, and that holds true here. Alan is slightly more interesting but “have a picnic and climb a tree” is still very slight. Raphael’s story seems to be there to remind us that that section of the cast exists, and the manga sections are fun but also very slight. The end of the book has a lot of tiny little stories from various minor members of the cast, showing how Katarina has impacted their lives. That said, there are also some very strong stories here. Katarina runs into a self-proclaimed rival who reminds me a bit of Nanami from the Utena series, and fares about as well; Nicol starts an arranged marriage process because he feels it’s his duty, only to run into a bunch of women who strangely don’t find “I’m doing this because I have to” enticing; Katarina and her girl friends/girlfriends all talk about romance; and Katarina’s snake making may upset her fiancee, but is a potential moneymaker.
The series is still ongoing in Japan, and I imagine is continuing its balancing act with Katarina being too dense to realize that everyone in her orbit is in love with her. That said, I do wonder if it’s showing signs that it might actually resolve with her making a choice, mostly as there are minor signs of “pairing the spares”, so to speak. Nicol’s final fiancee interviewee actually seems to go together very well with him, despite neither one wanting to get married to each other. Mary, usually one of the most hardcore Katarina fanatics, shows a brief moment of doubt after Alan rescues her from a creeper. That sort of thing. That said, that balances with the other thing this book hammers home, which is that Katarina is the best at it, but is certainly not alone in misreading the obvious intentions of everyone else. Even her own mother gets into the act, seeing only the annoying perpetual 8-year-old part of Katarina and missing the fact that she’s managed to become the most influential person in the entire kingdom.
So worth picking up, but lacks some of the impact of the other volumes. It’s also quite short. Will the next book finally have Katarina in the working world? And will she ever show any romantic feelings towards anyone at all? I look forward to finding out. Till then, there’s still the anime to watch.