A 28-year-old woman realizes she’s been reincarnated in an otome game she loved. But unlike most romance visual novels, HanaKoro‘s high-affection endings were dark and bittersweet. The heroine, Camille, who rises from the status of a commoner to compete for and receive the title of Holy Maiden, doesn’t get any real happily-ever-afters, so of course her antagonistic rival, Iris, has even worse fates.
And guess who the woman finds herself reborn as?
So Iris sets out to prevent the game’s love interests from developing cruel streaks. That means teaching her twin, Nigel the rising knight, to respect women, not getting engaged to Prince Reseda, and preventing the death of Mage Cystisus’ first love. With that, Iris can surely live a peaceful life. A life without a husband, though; she was inflicted by a disease called soilpox which left her scarred, and in this world, those with these marks are considered blasphemers.
As The Villainess, I Reject These Happy-Bad Endings! is a full, rather lengthy stand-alone story. Those aspects are probably the novel’s greatest strengths, as readers get to feel like they got their money’s worth but without having to invest in more volumes. Another positive is this isn’t a harem or love triangle story. Reseda makes it clear to everyone through words and actions he’d rather be with Iris, but a combination of wanting to “raise” Reseda right and her scars makes Iris brush off such notions.
That attitude lasts almost the entire novel. Iris swoons the way any fangirl would, but romantic love? Not really, and it’s not because of her actual age either. Plus, because the novel covers almost three years, a lot of Iris and Reseda moments — and other potentially cool scenes like Iris winning a tournament — are abridged or summarized later. These are sacrifices made to keep the volume count down, but more “in the moment” scenes would have painted a clearer picture of Iris and her development. As for the guys, they hardly show signs of their creepy game selves.
Entering the academy and meeting Camille doesn’t happen until almost midway through, and that seems faster paced than the first half. Until then, besides introducing the characters, it focuses on…well, something perhaps too relevant right now: vaccines. Unlike in the real world, Iris has some magical assistance to make up for the medieval setting’s lack of technology, but much of the populace resists such a creation. I can see this novel getting some (undeserved) backlash for showing acceptance for vaccines. Even for those who support vaccines might find this lengthy arc hitting a little too close to home and ruining the escapist feel. That’s not the story’s fault, but vaccines have unfortunately become very political.
Putting that aside, despite being an avid HanaKoro player, this world still has some secrets for Iris. Fairy Leaders, for instance, were not in the game. Iris becomes the favorite of one of them, and her somewhat whimsical, possessive nature was fun to see with Iris, who doesn’t want to compete like her game self for the title of Holy Maiden. Others think Iris is worthy despite her lack of magic, but Iris wants Camille to win. She predictably helps Camille, but I liked how she can’t throw the competition either. It’s also funny how each time Iris thinks she has an off-ramp, she is shocked that instead, she’s forced to continue. The scenes chosen for the included illustrations were also well-picked.
However, these and the other bright spots isn’t enough to make As The Villainess, I Reject These Happy-Bad Endings! much of a standout in this continually-growing genre. You know the drill: a former gamer in a magical world avoids destruction flags and barely acknowledges the idea of the villainess being loved. The all-in-oneness and its long length give this a significant edge compared to other releases, but beyond that, it’s hard to see this as anything but yet another for the otome game isekai stack.