By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.
After last volume’s short story collection, we’re back to the main plotline, as Silver Crow is (finally) cleared of the accusation of hosting the Chrome Disaster. Of course, now that they know he’s not evil, the leaders all get together to try to use Silver Crow for their own purposes. It’s a very Haruyuki-centric book as he tries to gain a new ability, learns his companion’s tragic backstory, prepares for the upcoming culture festival at school (yes, Accel World has a real life aspect as well), and worst of all, deals with getting utterly humiliated in a duel against a Level 1 who has super strength hard armor. This lets all his previous doubts and self-hatred come to the fore, though thankfully he has allies now who won’t let him slip too far into that. Essentially, it’s a good, solid volume of Accel World.
Kawahara does apologize in the afterword for Haruyuki getting all the character development so far in this series, and promises to work on developing the others soon. It’s a fair point – even Sword Art Online paid more attention to its other cast members than Accel World does at times. We do get to learn more about Utai here, and as a drama major, I appreciated the fact that she came from a family of Noh theatre performers – though that also meant that I could guess why she was so upset as a child, Japanese theatre being very male exclusive. The death of her brother is one of those freak accidents that sounds a bit more ridiculous than it probably was, but once you learn about him, the way he died, and the life she grew up with, almost everything about Ardor Maiden comes into clear focus. If this is the sort of character development we’ll get in the future, I’m looking forward to it.
And then we have the titular Carbide Wolf, aka Wolfram Cerberus. No, he’s not related to Wolfram and Hart from Angel, but he does seem to be related to Accel World’s big bads, the Accelerated Research Society. I enjoy the themes between personality and armor that Kawahara gives us – the name is wolf-themed, the armor has a wolf’s head… and the actual player sounds like a big friendly puppy when he’s dueling other people, or rather when he’d kicking other people’s asses. It’s hard to fight against something when you can’t do damage to it, and that also gives us the opportunity to dwell on various metals – this had also come up earlier, when Haruyuki was being asked to learn about mirrors in order to master a new ability. Haruyuki being who he is, of course, he grows and learns, with the help of some harsh training, and the rematch, though it ends in a cliffhanger, is another solid fight scene.
Accel World has always been the more consistently written of Kawahara’s two series, and that remains the case here. There’s occasionally some tortured exposition (the animal club member teaching Haruyuki about the different kinds of reflective mirrors really seemed like a reach to me), and Haruyuki’s self-deprecation can wear on the anime fan who wants all cool all the time, but overall this is another very good entry in the series.