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.
This is more of an ensemble effort than any of the previous books. Pay2Win has added quite the large cast over the course of the series, and most of them are present and correct trying to take down whoever has stolen Ichiro’s account. (The mystery as to who has done this, by the way, is almost nil – it’s very obvious. That said, the mystery isn’t the point.) Everyone does what they do best – The Kirihitters try to look cool and fail miserably, Amesho gets her fanboys to valiantly sacrifice themselves hoping she’ll look their way, and Iris’ sharp tongue ends up being weaponized, as (to her chagrin) it’s generally agreed that her spiteful words are her defining trait. That said, the bulk of the characterization here goes to Sakurako/Kirschwasser, who is allowed to use “any means necessary” to defeat the fake, and Sera, who’s gender is finally made clear and who shows they are probably the savviest character in the series.
For all that the last Afterword mentioned that the publishers were uncomfortable with giving too much attention to Sakurako (she being explicitly over 25 and therefore “not a heroine”), but she does get quite a bit to do here. That said, most of it is comic relief. I’ve said before how I think Pay2Win works best when it’s funny, and that still applies, as Sakurako’s sudden access to unlimited amounts of money (and approval to use it from her boss) sets her on a slippery slope that ends up almost being a metaphor for addiction. It’s something that’s understandable for almost anyone who’s played a game – even I, casual that I am, know the terror of “just buy 3 hammers for $1.99 to get past that stupid Candy Crush level”. Here, of course, it’s taken up to 11, as you’d expect, and the fallout is hilarious and also painful – you feel sort of bad for her.
Then there’s Sera/King Kirihito, explicitly said to be female here. The afterword has a very interesting reveal, which is that in the webnovel version of VRMMO, Sera was male. I wonder if this too was changed at editorial request, though the author also says an audience vote was part of it. That said, there are a few lines in this book which suggest Sera sees themself as non-binary, and that suits me fine, so let’s go with that. Sera’s brilliancy at games extends to other arenas here, and I raised an eyebrow seeing them keep up with the American technobabble going on despite the fact that Sera speaks Japanese. Sera also understand the ways of the heart a bit better than Asuha does.
There’s only one volume of this series left, and it seems about the right place to end it. We need to see what’s going to happen with the suddenly doomed little startup that NaroFan is part of, and also hopefully resolve Iris’ design issues a bit, though the answer to that may be “sometimes things just don’t work out”. In any case, this continues to be a series that won’t wow anyone, but should make them smile. Also, Ichiro is perhaps at his least irritating in this book!