The Villainess’s Guide to (Not) Falling in Love (Manga) Volume 1 Review

The ‘Villainess’ sub-genre in anime/manga/light novels has really taken off lately; although they’re mostly centred on a protagonist inside a visual novel game, so have isekai elements to them, they’re not all the same story. Some are about a heroine trying to avoid a certain doom whilst in the villainess role (e.g. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!), some are about romancing the villainess herself (I’m in Love with the Villainess) and some use elements of said concept to build their own story (7th Time Loop: The Villainess Enjoys a Carefree Life Married to Her Worst Enemy!). Either way, there’s a lot of material out there to consume in this genre, and The Villainess’s Guide to (Not) Falling in Love is the latest release by Square Enix Manga. It should be noted that this manga is based on the light novel of the same name by Touya and Yoimachi, however the original Light Novel is not available in English at the time of this review, so the manga version is currently the only version of this story we have, so let’s take a look!

In her past life, she was a 30-year-old woman with no love life, but now she’s been reincarnated as Luciana, a villainess in a romance game she played obsessively in her past life. Luciana’s fate is to have her wealth and title stripped from her, after losing to the protagonist, regardless of which suitor they choose to go for. Luckily, she’s woken up six months before the game’s timeline, so Luciana’s plan is to fade into the background, avoid all the suitors and upcoming protagonists so she can survive and have a quiet life. However, she remembers a particular event from the game that is fated to spell tragedy for one suitor: a duke named Lakas Fritillaria. Does she keep quiet and let events take place? Or does she use her knowledge to help him prevent a tragic fate?

Just to clear up potential confusion, Luciana is the name of the villainess character, and we never find out the name she went by in her previous life, so Luciana is both the reincarnation and the main villainess. As a character, she straddles the line between ‘by the numbers’ and ‘quirky’. Because she doesn’t elaborate on what her past life was like outside a few lines, we mostly learn about her character through her dialogue and actions in this life. Overall she’s an OK villainess to follow; she’s not very good at thinking too far ahead, and ends up only remembering a few events in the game as and when they come to her (like the aforementioned tragic event) which at times plays out as convenient for the plot, but also for comedy as well, like the way she she sweet-talks her brother Saphir to get him to do what she asks.

What I found most interesting about her character, however, are the seemingly throwaway lines that actually have deeper consequences in the long run. One is that she admits she played the free version of the romance game in her previous life, which means that important plot elements might have been in the full paid version (a video game that blocks important game content behind a paywall?…yeah that checks out, sadly). This means that Luciana won’t know everything that happens, thus preventing her from being know-it-all and having all the cards from the get-go. Another is wondering why Luciana (in the original game) employed fire magic when she was weak using it and her family doesn’t specialize in it, leading to possible plot developments later – did she choose to weaken herself for a special reason?

And yes, you read that correctly, there’s magic in this villainess story. It’s set in a world where humans can be magic users, but due to power levels, there’s a class divide, with mostly royals and the upper class having  access to the strongest magic. In terms of the worldbuilding, magic is not so heavy in lore as in Fate or so rarely spoken of that you could mistake it for not being there like My Happy Marriage; instead, it sits somewhere in the middle. It has power levels, certain rules (like activating power circles before casting a spell) and different elements but it’s not explained in great depth. It’s mostly used to show a fantasy setting for our fish-out-of-water protagonist and an excuse for the male love interest to shout out attacks like the senshi do in Sailor Moon. Some thought has been put into creating the system, with lovely designs of the family crests and circles they summon for protection, as well as a double-page spread of the different designs between each chapter. I hope we get more in the following volumes, but this title is not one for those who love series that are deep into their magic systems.

Now let’s discuss the romance side of things. Since Luciana is in a romance game, she knows all four of the main love interests, and we get a brief mention of each one early in the book (with one mysteriously having their face covered…I suppose we’ll find out why later). This book mostly focuses on one, Lakas, with brief mention of his friend, Prince Ernesto, who’s a love interest too. I think focusing on one at a time is a good idea, because introducing us to a new world, Luciana realising she must navigate the plot to survive, a magic system AND throwing all four love interests at once would have been too much. This allows breathing space for us to get to know each suitor in turn. Lakas is the ‘brooding dark-haired’ boy of the bunch, known as ‘The Statue’ within the world; he’s a fire user who’s sworn to protect the royal family. His devotion to his family rounds out the sharper sides of his character and seeing him warm up to Luciana due to her facing her fears towards the end is a nice turning point, allowing their romance to blossom. I look forward to seeing him interact with Luciana more and it will be interesting to see how he interacts with the other suitors post this realisation in future books.

You’ll notice, however, that the cover features two guys being very close with our villainess, and the blue-haired on is her brother Saphir. Luciana makes it clear that, in the original game, he was not a love interest choice, and had such a small role that he didn’t even have a voiceover. However, there’s no ignoring the closeness of the pair, with his constant presence and teasing of his sister. So, I’m not sure at this point if the book was trying to have its cake and eat it too, or just setting up the ‘protective big brother’ role so that he can clash with a potential suitor in the future; this will be one to keep an eye on either way, if such a relationship isn’t your thing.

The translator is Meredith Singer, who does a good job making some of the more flowery dialogue (like the spells and text Luciana reads in school) legible. There are no translation notes, however it’s a hefty book at over 200 pages so there’s a lot of content for a first volume, that also includes a side story from the light novel writer, describing Lakas’s point of view during the events of the book. It’s a nice touch, but kind of amusing that the only way you can experience the light novel in English (at the moment) is via a short story at the back of the manga. There’s also a cute sketch of the main characters portrayed as Alice in Wonderland characters, which is a sweet art to end the book on.

Speaking of art, the manga illustrator is Ren Sakuma who does a fantastic job; the historic European royalty outfits are very detailed and flashy, the characters are well defined, the magic practically blasts out of the page and the backgrounds are great too – one small panel of the school shows a massive hallway with ceiling dips and features that are just enough to paint a grand school fit for the elite that go there.

If you’re a connoisseur of villainess stories, you might not find much new material to consume here, but as someone who’s just getting into it, I found this first volume enjoyable. There’s a lot of similar themes and concepts seen elsewhere, but the combination with the comedy edge, beautiful art and the story taking its time for the audience to get to know each suitor, made it an easily readable volume. This villainess may be failing at (not) falling in love, but it succeeds at a fun opening chapter of this story.

Read a free preview of this volume here.

Our review copy from Square Enix Manga was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services).

7 / 10


By day, I work in the television industry. By night, I'm a writer for Anime UK News. Twitter: @lilithdarkstorm

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