Forget Being the Villainess, I Want to be an Adventurer is, in its first two novels, a mix of checklist villainess isekai and something a bit more innovative. The story follows Serephione, daughter of the noble Granzeus family in a fantasy kingdom, who one day realizes that she used to be a woman in modern Japan – and that now she’s the villainess character from a novel she read in that former life. But she also discovers that she has memories of living as Serephione as the novel’s plot played out, a perspective never given in the novel. This essentially makes the series a combination of two isekai subgenres, the villainess story and the loop story, because Sere is actually on her third life rather than her second. It’s a marked difference from many other reborn-as-a-villainess stories in that her information isn’t just coming from what she remembers from consuming the tale back in Japan; she’s also got additional information based on actually living it as well. That technically makes Sere a better-informed character than many of her fellow reincarnated villainesses, because she doesn’t have to guess at where things went wrong or question if she’s basing her actions on her book knowledge or if she’s consumed the original Serephione somehow. It also means the stakes for her are now higher, if only because she remembers actually dying and things spiraling out of her control in a way that reincarnated villainesses often don’t; she hasn’t just read about it, she’s lived it.
Armed with this two-fold knowledge, Serephione makes a plan to avoid problems. First on her list is making sure that she doesn’t end up at the magic academy where she meets the heroine, Maribelle, in the book. Her idea is that if she avoids plot points, the plot won’t be able to find her, and that’s actually not a terrible plan. Some things are unavoidable, of course, with that white tiger on the cover being one of them. Lou is one of four very familiar sacred beasts, and the first iteration of Sere forces him to become her familiar. That’s not the case for her third shot at life, although it’s less a deliberate action on her part and more something that feels very much like it has to happen. There are a few events in the books that give that impression, and a weakness of author Hiro Oda‘s writing is that Serephione never really questions why these things are still happening even though she’s going out of her way to avoid the plot of the original novel. Lou is one of them, while the other major one is her meeting with Gillain the emperor of a country. Originally he’s the one person who takes her in after she’s been branded a villain; in this go-round he’s her romantic interest. Sere does note that her gratefulness that he was the only one to stand by her in her previous life makes her more kindly disposed to him, but there’s still something a bit off-putting about their relationship here. Mostly this is because Oda has them first meet when she’s six and he’s sixteen, and he promptly announces his intention to marry her in ten years’ time. Ten years isn’t an insurmountable age gap once both parties are old enough to marry, but there’s definitely something a little creepy about a sixteen-year-old hitting on a six-year-old, even if Serephione is quick to remind us that her internal age is much older than that. (As an excuse for romance and maturity, light novels have worn this one to something less than paper-thin.)
Those ten years do pass over the course of these two novels as the story largely returns to checklist form. Sere successfully switches to attending knight school rather than magic school, but apart from that we see her collecting beaux she’s unaware of, demonstrating enormous skill in virtually everything she puts her mind to, and using her past-life knowledge of RPGs to finagle even greater power that no one else in the land of Judore possesses. There’s also that one inevitable kingdom that’s analogous to Japan for Serephione to visit in order to get her rice fix, making her fantasy adventure more comfortable. The second novel is paced much better than the first, in part because Serephione is, by that point, established as an adventurer and therefore not quite as bound to the fear of having to live out the original novel’s deadly plot.
One of Sere’s chief supporters is her widowed maternal grandmother, who turns out to be a genuine badass. She’s thrilled that her granddaughter chose a more adventurous life over a magical one, and it turns out that Granny’s a very powerful warrior/adventurer in her own right, commanding perhaps more loyalty and respect than Judore’s royal family. In part this could be seen as another one of the staples of the villainess light novel, which is that if the “vilillainess” is good, then the “heroine” must be bad. Maribelle, whom we see but briefly across these two books, is definitely looking less heroic than Serephione, but the reason for that makes it slightly more interesting. Like Sere, Maribelle very much appears to have been reincarnated into the world of the novel, and she’s very happy to continue down the established heroine route. This does make her come off as decidedly less good than Sere, though whether that’s out of a sense of entitlement or if she’s just a rotten person remains to be seen.
Forget Being the Villainess, I Want to be an Adventurer isn’t a terrible series. It’s also not a great one. It makes an effort to mix things up a bit but ultimately is too devoted to the basic villainess story to truly achieve that, giving it that slightly stale feeling. If you’re dedicated to the villainess isekai subgenre, there are some things to make this worth reading, but otherwise this is pretty much more of the same, because it just doesn’t try hard enough to truly set itself apart.