By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.
I suspect how much readers enjoy the first half of this book depends on how invested they are in awkward teen romance. Last time we ended with Kuroyukihime inviting Haruyuki over to spend the night at her place, and he ends up accepting here, though he’s not quite sure how long he’ll be staying. As it turns out, the answer is “all night”, and there’s also a bath scene involved, which, as with everything else about this series, gets 80 times more awkward when you remember they’re both 13-14. But they are pretty sweet dorks, and things don’t really go anywhere beyond “I am depressed and want to take comfort in you”. And, as it turns out, Kuroyukihime has a lot more to be concerned about than being caught in an Unlimited EK, as her frined Megumi, aka Orchid Oracle, seems to be held hostage by the enemy… which has caused her real-world self to fall into a coma. Can they rescue her? And can Haruyuki get yet another girl to fall for him without trying?
Yes, we can add another “don’t read this in public” volume cover to the pile. In any case, one of the more important things that comes up here is Kuroyukihime opens up to Haruyuki about the circumstances of her birth, and we finally, definitively put to rest the rumor that her parents are Kirito and Asuna. (I’m not sure why anyone ever found this acceptable, unless they like grim ‘n gritty.) In any case, we don’t get her name, or the names of her parents, but we do discover that Kuroyukihime was a “machine child”, incubated in an artificial womb. While the direct SAO connection isn’t happening, fans of the Alicization arc may recognize some of the discussion here about the nature of the soul. According to Kuroyukihime, her parents regard her as an experiment rather than a child – she even has a barcode on her neck to drive the point home. It’s pretty heavy.
The weaker part of the book is in the middle, when most of the cast gets together virtually to try to figure out how to fix the huge trap they’re in. This involves lots of banter, some jealousy, and a whole lot of talking, but essentially boils down to “no, we can’t do this, no we can’t do this, hey, why don’t we try this”, only over the course of 50 pages. Things pick up again when Haruyuki teams up with Rose Milady in order to rescue Orchid Oracle, her sister, from the clutches of the White Legion. This amounts to a bunch of cool battle scenes, and Kawahara is quite good at those. Haruyuki tries to do the whole “I’m not really good at anything I just have a lot of help” whining, which promptly gets smacked down. That makes me happy. More importantly, they actually succeed in both the rescue and waking Megumi up, meaning this volume does not leave us hanging. (Well, everyone’s still in the deathtrap, but…)
So a decent volume, with some much needed revelations, but the core issue here is still not resolved, so the arc continues. Recommended to those already reading the series.