By Blitz Kiva and Kuwashima Rein. Released in Japan as “VRMMO wo Kane no Chikara de Musou suru” by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.
Despite the fact that everything I either wanted or predicted would happen in my previous reviews turned out to be wrong, this ended up being probably the strongest volume in this series to date. Once again Ichiro is somewhat sidelined, this time by design – both parties have asked him to stay out of their design battle, which he does. In addition, I had predicted doom if Nem ever met Iris in real life – and lo and behold, that happens right at the beginning of the book. It’s OK, though, because this book ends up being a bit of a character piece, looking deeply at the life of a rich woman with tremendous talent but few friends or social skills, and a bipolar teenager (she says so herself, I might add) with a lot of drive and slightly more friends and social skills, but far less talent and likely headed for burnout.
The parts devoted to Nem are quite good, if a tad predictable, and I appreciate that she has the self-restraint to crush Iris in the game rather than Airi Kakitsubata in real life. As for Iris, I’m starting to see why the author mentions fans after the first volume wondering where she was. She’s such a car wreck in action, with astounding highs and devastating lows, that everyone around her defines her mood swings as her most well-known trait. I also appreciated the narrative acknowledging that as she is, she likely doesn’t have what it takes to make it as a designer – that may change now that she’s friends with Megumi, but even Ichiro admits that she falls short on the talent side. (Speaking of design, I appreciate the detail that these books go into showing off the careers of Iris and Megumi and what goes into creating custom fashion – there’s a lot of little anecdotes that help the whole thing feel more realistic.) And best of all, Iris still isn’t remotely showing signs of falling for Ichiro. I love that she still regards him as really annoying more than anything else.
The battle itself is closer than you’d expect, but Nem is a newbie to the world of NaroFan, while Iris is more familiar with “how would a gamer react” rather than “how would a normal human react”, so she comes very close, though in order to do so she does end up humiliating Sakurako, whose new character ends up being exposed a bit too much for her comfort. (There are also a few lines where Iris mocks the “old” Megumi, and Megumi and Sakurako’s reactions make me wonder if the author was poking at his editors for saying that the light novel reader hates women over 25.) Even Felicia is getting development, showing that she’s ready to break away from her cousin and achieve great things on her own in the game, something which ironically finally garners praise from him that she’d long coveted.
As I said, the only one who seemed to stay exactly the same is Ichiro, though you might argue that for once he appreciated his tactlessness a bit more than usual. Still, the cliffhanger leading to the next book seems to indicate that we’ll see more of him in it. The series is only six volumes long, so I’m quite happy to see what happens next. I wasn’t even as irritated by Ichiro this time around as I normally am, although that could also be a flaw in the work, given who he is.