The saying goes, “The best-laid plans never fail.” As a little child, Eumiella learns that she has somehow transitioned from her existence as a Japanese university student to becoming a character in an otome game with RPG aspects that she used to play, and she is quickly learning that this is more than just a cozy phrase. Naturally, she’s not just any character either—she’s the secret boss, whose actual identity is revealed only after the heroine and her love interests have discovered the plot’s resolution. Eumiella, like many reborn characters before her, decides to game the system because she doesn’t want to experience the horrible ending that the game has in store for her.
By now, the genre’s clichés are well known to us all: Eumiella awakens to her memories, attempts to make a course correction, but for some reason, things go wrong. There’s a slight change in that the game she’s been reincarnated into is equal parts otome and RPG, but even that’s hardly novel—Eumiella was more drawn to the RPG parts. Sarasa Nagase’s I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss and Kanata Satsuki’s light novel series I Refuse to Be Your Enemy! both have an RPG, and their heroines are slightly less familiar with the otome game she’s been reincarnated into than is typical. These two series are merely two examples of attempts to subvert the trends they represent. But none of this is meant to be a critique of Villainess Level 99; rather, it just serves to highlight how few truly original twists remain in the story of the resurrected villainess.
Yet despite using a well-worn playbook, original author Tanabata Satori’s Villainess Level 99 is nonetheless a fun read. Eumiella is a heroine who is entertaining to follow since she is simultaneously self-aware and shockingly naive. Eumiella realizes her predicament and devises a two-pronged strategy to avert her certain demise: first, she will ensure her strength to withstand death, and second, she will remain undetected until the game’s main action begins in order to dodge any concealed boss triggers. It goes without saying that these two endeavors are a complete failure. Eumiella trains excessively, which leads to the level indicated in the title. Because that level is so high compared to everyone else’s, it causes the heroine and her potential love interests to become suspicious right away.
The delight of this tale lies not in the familiar territory it covers, but rather in Eumiella. She’s not a very emotional character, and nocomi does a great job capturing her expressionless reactions, which not only make everyone around her uncomfortable but also serve to ground the narrative by making everyone else appear like a crazy person. They all start acting like characters in a tale would whenever they think Eumiella is bad, but since she isn’t acting that way, they end up coming across as overly theatrical while she merely stands there looking innocent. She understands completely that she lives in a made-up world, but she doesn’t let it bother her while everyone else keeps acting like a comic book character. It creates an unexpectedly effective contrast.
Eumiella is unaware of how politically astute the king and queen will be in response to her insane level being revealed. Their second son, who happens to be one of the heroine’s love interests, may not appear to understand that it would be wiser to curry favor with someone so strong, but they are well aware of it, and they act promptly to make sure Eumiella won’t turn against the kingdom. It’s too early to tell if this also means resisting switching the roles of heroine and villainess, which feels like a clear point in the series’ favor because that would have been the simplest (and most expected) outcome. Both Eumiella and the author resist taking things in the direction of having her replace the heroine.
The narrative does succumb to a number of the common traps of its genre. Although the levels are the most visible, we should be grateful that the book is thankfully devoid of status screens. The idea that having black hair and eyes is rare and should be feared is the other main cliche at play, and as someone with nearly black hair and eyes, I’ve always found that confusing. It still reads as the author trying too hard to create a pseudo-European setting without understanding the sheer variety of coloring (dark included) present in Europe, especially when you include Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Satori tries to explain it as the previous demon lord having that coloring and giving rise to prejudice against it. While these are the genre standard, other well-worn aspects of the story—such as light vs dark magic and the character categories the heroine and love interest perfectly fit into—are there to serve a very evident parody function.
The manga version of Villainess Level 99 is enjoyable all around. Its narrative and usage of genre conventions aren’t wholly unexpected, but it accomplishes everything satisfactorily enough to be entertaining, particularly if you prefer villainous isekai. The manga and the light novels from J-Novel Club are now available, so you may read the manga or, if you’d rather, prepare for the impending (as of this writing) anime. The tale is good enough to stand alone as a stand-alone book. One Peace Books published the manga.