With I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss, Sarasa Nagase brings us a story that exists as part of the surge of villainess isekai stories that have emerged since My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! became popular. While fans of the latter will definitely see the similarities when reading this one, as you start to dig into things, it puts a very different angle on this type of story.
Our protagonist is Aileen Lauren d’Autriche, daughter of the Ellmeyer Empire’s Prime Minister, Duke Rudolph Lauren d’Autriche, and future Empress-in-waiting thanks to her engagement to Cedric Jean Ellmeyer, current heir to the throne. That is, until Cedric suddenly annuls their engagement and trades her for the prim and pretty Lilia Reinoise. Humiliated in front of a large gathering of those loyal to Cedric, the shock of the situation brings Aileen memories of her past life as a lonely teenage girl in modern Japan, who spent most of her time playing the otome video game “Regalia of Saints, Demons, and Maidens”, which turns out to be the world she’s in right now! And that’s really not good news, as Aileen was the villain of the game, and in every route meets a rather grisly end.
Determined to avoid her fate from the game, Aileen uses her newfound knowledge to form a plan to avoid all her death flags, which revolves around marrying Cedric’s brother, Claude. There’s a couple of problems with that though – Claude is the Demon King and final boss of the game who is usually killed by Lilia, the game’s heroine, and he doesn’t seem remotely interested in Aileen’s proposal of marriage. Not that any of that deters her though, as Aileen resolves to worm her way into his cold heart and save both herself and Claude from certain death.
While other entries in this genre often set themselves up as reverse harem stories based on the foundations of otome visual novels, I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss pleasingly goes off and does its own thing, focusing on the developing relationship between Aileen and Claude, as well as chucking us into a wide variety of court politics and intrigue. Both are handled really well, but it was definitely the latter that pulled me into the story as you get to see all of the different characters scheming against each other to gain an advantage in a power struggle to become the next ruler of the Empire. It’s not quite as brutal as popular fantasy novels such as A Song of Ice and Fire, but it still shows plenty of depth and insight in its worldbuilding, establishing a clearly unjust class system for the Empire’s citizens and what is effectively racial segregation by the ruling elite caging the demons within the Demon King’s Forest.
It does take a couple of chapters to get into all of this however, as it comes off a bit clunky in introducing us to the world and main characters, frequently repeating itself in its initial round of exposition. Seeing things through the eyes of it being a game also doesn’t pan out as nicely as it probably intends, as it often breaks the flow of the narrative and over-explains what is happening rather than letting us just enjoy the moment. It does work to preface some plot points and explain certain character motivations, but it’s just used too often as a reference point early on.
Once the first couple of chapters are out of the way, it picks up into a very enjoyable read as it fleshes out its plot around a quirky cast of characters that you soon fall in love with. Aileen is a very strong protagonist who offers plenty of humour, thanks to both her posh attitude and her scheming ways, but thankfully doesn’t come off as one-note, being very intelligent and empathetic to those around her. Claude stands alongside her well as they share a lot of the same values, and while they don’t click together immediately, seeing how their relationship progresses is very rewarding. He is however the Demon King and will always prioritise the safety of the demons under his care, which sets up a couple of key confrontations in this volume with Cedric’s faction.
Here it’s often Lilia who is the more interesting character, as her words and actions don’t always match up and it’s clear that she’s hiding something. Cedric on the other hand is very transparent and in terms of being the main antagonist of this volume, doesn’t really live up to the job. The supporting cast is pretty fun though, from Claude’s oddball attendants Keith and Beelzebuth, to Jasper, Aileen’s journalist friend who helps her in exchange for information from Aileen’s rather sadistic father.
It must be said however, that as much as I enjoyed following all the characters through to this volume’s exciting conclusion, it is very fast paced. The end wraps up everything in the story so far and it doesn’t leave anything on the table in making you want to read more. You could literally take it as a stand-alone short story and be completely satisfied with it. That said, considering we leave it as a complete reset, I’m at least intrigued in seeing how it handles its second volume, as there is a clear direction in which it wants to take its characters, but it might have to change the entire tone of its story to achieve it. Whether this is good or bad we’ll have to wait and see, but I think if it can keep up its political intrigue, then I’d be more than satisfied.
I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss is brought to us by Yen Press through their Yen On label. The translation has been handled by Taylor Engel and for the most part reads well, apart from a couple of small errors near the beginning of the book, although they didn’t impact my enjoyment of it. Illustrations are handled by Mai Murasaki and are well drawn and help the reader to visualise some of the finer details, such as the appearance of the demons and Aileen’s elaborate Lolita-style dresses.
The series is currently ongoing in Japan at 9 volumes and is serialised in Kadokawa’s Comp Ace magazine. The second volume is due for English release in February 2022. There is also a three-volume manga adaptation available (also published by Yen Press, with the first volume out now), while an anime adaptation of the series was also recently announced.
Overall, while I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss has a clunky start, outruns itself in its pacing and struggles to meld the video game elements into its story, it still makes for a fascinating read, as its main characters pull us into a world of political machinations and court romance, darkened by an intense internal power struggle and the segregation of humans and demons. If these themes take your fancy, then I think you’ll find this one to be a good time.