My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!meet Twelfth Night. I’m sure you’ll get along beautifully. Although I doubt anyone ever said that, it’s also a little hard not to think it while reading Cross-Dressing Villainess Cecilia Sylvie, yet another light novel attempting to put its own spin on the popular “reborn as the bad guy in an otome game” isekai subgenre. And you know what? It actually works surprisingly well. That’s largely because the story does take some interesting twists as the book unfolds, but it’s also because it manages to capture what so many imitators of Satoru Yamaguchi‘s series miss: a sense of genuine goofy fun.
It is, however, a bit difficult to escape the similarities between this and Katarina’s story, to the point where it almost doesn’t matter which series came first. Cecilia is the only daughter of a duke in a fantasy kingdom when she awakens to her memories of a past life as a Japanese teenager, and with that realization comes the horrible fact that she’s been reborn as a character in an otome game she used to play – the villainess. Cecilia knows that that means untold amounts of terrible endings no matter which route heroine Lean ends up on, and since she died for this game once already (in a fire at a movie theater where she and her friend were watching the film adaptation of the game ), there’s no way in hell she’s doing that again. So she sets out to figure out a way to continue living while not bumbling into any of the game’s plots, most of which begin when she starts the equivalent of high school. The first route is easy enough to avoid: her adopted brother Gilbert simply needs to feel loved so that he doesn’t turn into a creepy shut-in. But things are trickier when it comes to avoiding the main hero, Oscar, as well as the other love interests who show up once Cecilia gets to school. It’s at that point that she hits on a brilliant plan: she’ll simply become a boy.
Fortunately for the book’s credibility, Cecilia isn’t completely foolish. She takes Gilbert into her confidence so that she has an ally at school who knows what’s going on, is careful to avoid Prince Oscar after their first meeting when they’re five and six years old (respectively), and gains a reputation as a sickly young lady so that no one questions why she’s not at school. From there it’s a simple matter of binding her breasts and acting masculine.
Or rather, it should be a simple matter. Cecilia, although a bit oblivious as all good heroines are required to be, isn’t stupid, and she knows that she really has to sell the act if she’s going to make this work. Her comment about her “unnecessarily large” breasts is a very nice departure from the light novel norm, and she really is putting in the effort overall; The problem is that, having had limited interactions with real men in either life, her idea of “masculinity” is pretty far off from what the actual guys think. Basically she conducts herself like a character in an otome game, resulting in all of the girls at school flock to her sweet, chivalrous ways. It’s a nice way to show the failure of Cecilia to fully grasp that the world she currently resides in is a game no longer, and that the “characters” are now “people,” subject to the human nuance that game characters lack. Simply put, they’re not going to be one-dimensional tropes anymore, even if she’s treating them as such in her mind.
This leads to some entertaining disconnect between Cecilia’s perception of things and their reality. While she may be easily fooling the girls at school, Oscar isn’t so simple, and even if he hasn’t quite figured out that “Cecil” is Cecilia, he knows that there’s something off about the pretty boy. Gilbert tries to bring Cecilia’s tropey behavior up but is met with the patented Wall of Density for his troubles, leaving him to mostly pick up the slack. He’s fine with doing so, because naturally he’s in love with her, and he’s a bit more proactive than his character type typically is; as an example, in volume one he’s already taken steps that it took Keith (in My Next Life as a Villainess) ten books to achieve. Cecilia is also generally more accomplished in a variety of skills than she technically ought to be, which makes her a much more proactive heroine than other similar characters; again, she’s more of a person than a stock character. Her one major blind spot (apart from romance) is that she doesn’t fully understand that goes for everyone else, too.
To that end, Lean (which I dearly hope is pronounced “Leeanne”) is a major sticking point for Cecilia. She mostly just ignores the changes in the boys (in part because they make her a bit uncomfortable), but she can’t quite reconcile Lean’s personality changes with the character from the game. We readers figure out what’s going on with Lean fairly quickly, but that doesn’t detract from the nice twist on typical reborn-in-an-otome-game stories. The fact that Lean is suddenly revealing major fujoshi tendencies – and awakens another love interest’s inner fudanshi – is mostly just funny, as it puts poor “Cecil” through the wringer as one of the subjects of their unhinged romantic fantasies. This joke does walk a fine line about the acceptability of using real people as fodder for your fanfiction, but it works better than it might because it throws Cecilia off so badly; after all, there were no rabid BL fans in the original game, so it’s pretty much the last thing she’s expecting to encounter.
Cross-Dressing Villainess Cecilia Sylvie is a lot more fun than it ought to be. Distinctly similar to other books in the same genre, its cross-dressing twist works because it’s not the actual heart of the series, but instead just a piece of the story’s plot. Dangmil‘s illustrations are attractive and add to the reading experience, and Cecilia’s attempts to cope with the changes in the game’s plot are entertaining, even if she’s not fully cognizant of the fact that the changes are all due to the characters having their own agency just as much as she does. If you’ve still got an appetite for this subgenre, Hiroro Akizakura‘s novel is a nice, frothy entry into it and worth picking up the next time you want a light read.