On the surface, Sarasa Nagase‘s I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss looks an awful lot like other villainess isekai stories. Aileen regains her memories of her past life in a moment of crisis, realizes that knowing the plot of the game may help to save her, and there’s definitely something amok with the characters who are supposed to be the heroine and main hero of the piece. Where it differs is in its approach to the regular story beats and tropes: rather than just saving herself, Aileen appears to be actively trying to flip the script so that she, not Lilia, is the heroine of the story. While that does typically happen in other novel similars – and really, it only makes sense, since if the villainess is good, the heroine needs to be the opposite – rarely is the reincarnated villainess actively pursuing it as a goal; it more often just sort of happens. That makes Aileen a bit more self-aware than her counterparts usually are, and that adds to the appeal of the story.
In no small part this is because the personality of the original Aileen appears to have been eclipsed by the newer consciousness. Our Aileen is fully aware of the oddities of her family (her father’s weird sadism, for one; it’s not hard to see how she could have originally been a bad guy) and the intricacies of the story’s world in a way that no one living in the world should be, since they don’t have a player’s outside view. But she’s also got the sort of political savvy borne from a modern society, rather than a unlike a medieval or 19th-century-inspired fantasy life: most of the nobility, she’s got an understanding of economics and the ravages that poverty can enact on an unequal society, and she’s been actively working behind the scenes to try and deal with that. Although the story’s original characters seem to write that off as part of her training to eventually become the empress when her fiancé Prince Cedric ascends to the throne, established isekai readers know that this is a trope designed to show us that Aileen has really been the reincarnated Soul from birth, unconsciously using her modern knowledge in her new fantasy-past world. When Cedric, upon breaking his engagement to Aileen, insists on keeping the business she’s created to provide affordable medicines to the lower classes, he immediately changes both the business model and pricing, showing that he had zero concept of what Aileen was actually doing, or at least didn’t think it was a worthwhile endeavors.
As you might reasonably guess, Cedric is a tool. Again, this feels largely due to the fact that his deposed older brother Claude, a young man with the potential to become the demon king, has to become the new male lead alongside Aileen. This is, explicitly, part of Aileen’s plan: she knows that in several routes Claude is as doomed as she is, and she determines that her best chance for survival is to marry Claude and upend the story from the back. To that end, shortly after regaining her memories, Aileen marches herself up to Claude’s doorstep and proposes.
Although this is the event that opens the book (more or less), the story doesn’t really start to get going until sometime in chapter two. That makes this one of those novels that improves as it goes on, starting on a fairly cookie-cutter note and evolving into a much more interesting story as it continues. Although Aileen is patently unaware of the fact for much of the book, what she’s doing is actively changing the heroine of the story in a way that many reincarnated villainesses eschew – Katarina (My Next Life as VillainessIris (Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter), or Laeticia (Since I Was Abandoned After Reincarnating, I Will Cook with My Fluffy Friends), Aileen still wants a traditional happy ending where she gets to live and gets the guy. What she doesn’t quite comprehend is that in pursuing Claude, she’s also at risk of getting side character routes with his two handsome subordinates, demon Beelzebuth and human Keith. Although those aren’t really developed in the novel, it’s not hard to see how, were this really an otome game, Aileen could capture either or both of them…which unequivocally makes her the official heroine of the story she’s rewriting.
Of the three new male leads, Claude is the least developed. We’re mostly told about his personality rather than seeing it demonstrated, while both Beelzebuth and Keith seem to have more overt motivations and characteristics. This could be deliberate; Claude stands to have some serious abandonment and trust issues given that he was disowned by his family and removed from the order of succession just because he might become the demon king, which frankly sounds like a good way to speed up the process to me. Essentially he needs Aileen to save him every bit as much as she needs him to save her, and that’s something that she comes to realize over the course of the novel. It’s in rescuing Claude from his fate that Aileen really turns the plot on its head, and there’s an implication in the final pages of the novel that this book is just the prologue to Claude and Aileen’s story, meaning that Claude may well get a lot more character development in the books to come.
all in all, I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss is a nice twist on the villainess story. It isn’t wholly innovative, but Aileen’s growing awareness that she’s actively rewriting the plot is good, and the novel just gets better as it goes on. The largest issue that some readers may have with this translation is that it’s written entirely in the present tense, which I personally don’t like. There’s also something about the translation that makes it difficult to ignore the verb tenses, which isn’t always the case with present tense texts, so that did impede my enjoyment somewhat. If that’s not an issue for you, however, and you aren’t tired of villainesses (or just like to read the book before the show comes out), this is a solid entry into the genre and a good time overall.