Krystallina: 10-year-old Amy, daughter of an earl, realizes she’s in the world of an otome game! While she never really played the game in her previous life, she’s likely the villainess and doomed for a bad ending.
So phase 1 of avoiding destruction: get fat.
Okay, okay, as I’d Rather Have a Cat than a Harem! Reincarnated into the World of an Otome Game as a Cat-loving Villainess emphasizes, Amy gains pounds in a healthy way, and she’s not so much fat as adorably chubby in a world where thinness is equated with beauty. Still, her weight is the central strategy to avoid attracting the game’s princely male lead. Although she has read these sorts of light novels before, Amy has somehow missed all the ones that show being different is often how to capture someone’s attention.
Amy’s weight also improves her magic, and since she needed to learn healing to adopt a cat, it’s win-win for her. Big, fluffy Tigger becomes the apple of Amy’s eye, and her joy captivates Prince Edward.
In the author’s notes, Kosuzu Kobato mentions the story stemmed from an image not unlike the one of Amy on the cover suddenly popping into her head. I don’t know how the villainess reincarnation aspect got worked into that initial idea, but if the idea was cat > harem, this is a case where it might have made more sense if the lead was reborn as the otome game’s protagonist. It’s almost a stretch to say there’s a love triangle here, let alone a harem. Unless you count Amy-Tigger-Edward? But Edward clearly loves Amy, and he wouldn’t get in the way of Amy and Tigger time — which is a good portion of the story.
What truly makes I’d Rather Have a Cat than a Harem! atypical is Amy’s nuclear family were her family members in Japan! The novel doesn’t say how this happened and are all comfortable with their situation. Although Mom is also familiar with isekai novels, she doesn’t think Amy has anything to worry about, but suggests the weight gain to change her appearance enough to make her different from the game villainess.
Pets and livestock are practically identical to their Earth counterparts, so this is not like a certain other villainess isekai with a bunch of fantasy-world cuties. But despite her love of animals and uncertainty about the game’s story, Amy does not do much to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Her days are spent adoring Tigger, helping out with animals in need, and working on her magic — rather leisurely by fantasy standards. Making plans of becoming a vet or forming a rescue if she’s banished would have better blended the cat-love and villainess storylines.
I expected the novel to skim over some of Amy’s tween years to reach her academy years, but I didn’t like how the flow kept being interrupted by very short side stories. Events like Amy making female friends are only briefly retold after she’s having tea with them. That’s a more critical part of the story than a page about two gardeners and Tigger sneezing himself awake. Again, it’s a cute everyday tale, but it’s not necessary if you want a villainess tale. But the cat icon break markers were an adorable touch throughout the novel.
I do think volume 2 will be better than the first, if only because my favorite character is bound to be around. She arrives late in volume 1 and is a total tsundere for both her friends and her fiancée (think Lieselotte in Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte). If there are going to be more intermissions, I hope she’s the star!
Most people find their pets adorable, and many would love a safe space to share cute stories and events of the day without being judged as boring or obsessed. I’d Rather Have a Cat than a Harem! Reincarnated into the World of an Otome Game as a Cat-loving Villainess is like hanging out with other doting pet parents who like your every pet-related Tweet while you do the same. But if you zeroed in on this novel because of the words “harem” and/or “villainess” in the title over “cat”, consider other options.
Krystallina’s rating: 2.5 out of 5
Helen: Amy was having an off day to start with but when her parents inform her that she’s been selected as a fiancée candidate for the third prince she takes one look at his portrait and falls into a faint, realizing that she’s reincarnated in an otome game from Japan. But Amy never played much of the game, she joined just to give her friend in-game bonuses, so she’s a bit hazy on the details about even the structure on the game. With that in mind, she looks at herself in the mirror and goes oh no, these striking gold eyes and stunning black hair aren’t the appearance of a background character, she might just be the villainess!
Having not only Amy but her entire family reincarnated into this isekai is a nice touch that I enjoyed a surprising amount. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this set-up but in the other instance I know of (Past Life Countess) only the protagonist was aware of the occurrence. Here Amy, her brother, and her parents all recalled their past lives at the age of 10 and her parents even managed to re-find each other and marry a second time, although it’s unclear if they all died at the same time or what. The situation does make for a very happy home life and given how anxious Amy is about potentially being the villainess character in an otome game it’s very nice for her to have that kind of security and stability.
Which does lead to one aspect of the story that may be a sticking point for some readers: Amy desperately does not want to marry the third prince and her mom suggests that since the entire royal family (and society in general it seems) prefers very slender women, why not gain some weight and make the prince lose interest that way? It’s certainly safer than trying to actively anger the prince, so Amy goes along with the plan and actually finds herself liking how her face now looks much warmer compared to the chilly, refined look she had earlier (and her mother at least thinks that Amy looks even cuter than she did before). While talking about weight in the real world isn’t as taboo as it used to be, I certainly haven’t seen a character gain weight like this in a story before and wonder how it would come off to any plus-sized readers (I do recall years ago reading a YA novel where the protagonist described how uncomfortable the school uniform was to wear in great detail, which resulted in fat readers grumbling about how it brought back unpleasant memories and the non-plus-sized author said that all of these descriptions were based on her own experience, which is why I’m concerned about the reception here).
But, as I said, Amy is happy with her body after gaining weight and several times throughout the book we’re told that she’s perfectly healthy regardless (her mother even says that with how active Amy is it’s actually been a bit tricky to keep the weight on her, especially with puberty approaching). I did raise an eyebrow at how gaining weight causes Amy’s magic to become much stronger (it’s explained only slightly more thoroughly than how the isekaing happened, “Maybe because magical powers are tied to the individual person, it has some sort of inseparable relationship with the physical body containing it, like the relationship between an opera singer’s figure and their vocal power”) and I did wonder if that detail was created to make the weight gain more palatable for some readers. Since we don’t see any full body illustrations with both Amy and her female friends together, I’m not entirely convinced that she’s in fact “chubby” and not “a reasonable weight that only appears plump compared to skewed body standards;” it wouldn’t affect the story (or my enjoyment of it) but again, it feels like Kosuzu Kobato tried to create the most palatable character for readers in a place where asking someone’s weight isn’t the absolute rudest thing you could do.
But moving on from Amy’s physical appearance, this was overall an immensely charming isekai and I’m not just saying that because of the giant cat Amy adopts early on! Much to Amy’s chagrin, she is in fact very likely to become the third prince’s fiancée (her kindness and enthusiastic love for animals wins over quite a few characters) but her life overall is progressing quite nicely. With her slightly older mental age she’s able to brush off many of the mean comments about her looks (reasoning that a lot of them are probably just thoughtless comments from threatened young women who don’t know, which does seem to be true) and her healing magic is unbelievably strong as well. Amy can’t help but worry however that the “invisible hand of the game” will ruin this at any moment and try to get the world back into the plot of the game, especially since she knows so little about the game that she might not recognize it happening.
She has seen someone from a distance a few times that she fears might be the heroine, her pink-blonde hair does scream heroine, but I’m hoping that Cat-loving Villainess will manage to subvert the usual villainess novel tropes. Heck, I’m holding out hope that this mysterious girl might be Amy’s brother’s friend from their past lives, the catgirl “support god” gamer that set his standards for a real-world magical support adventurer so high! If that was to be the case then Amy wouldn’t even need to worry, as anyone who plays as a catgirl must also be a fan of cats and any friend of cats is Amy’s friend as well. Here’s to hoping for more friends, and of course more cats, in volume 2!
Helen’s rating: 4 out of 5