By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.
As you might gather from the title, Kirito and Eugeo are divided throughout the book, as the cliffhanger from last time leaves Kirito and Alice hanging off the edge of the tower, and Eugeo needs to go on by himself to duel the last of the Integrity Knights there to stop them. This once again allows the author to alternate between third-person Eugeo POV and first-person Kirito POV. I’m not entirely certain if the hate-on fans have for Kirito is as omnipresent in Japan as it is here in the West, but I get the sense that Kawahara is playing with the reader a bit here. Eugeo is the straightforward, pure, noble type hero and Kirito is the snarky little cheater. Possible the funniest moment in the book is when Kirito wears Eugeo’s sword, and he and Alcie talk for a bit about how difficult using two swords actually is. Kirito doesn’t bring up his past as he feels embarrassed by it. Even Kirito is sick of Kirito. That said, Eugeo does not end up in a good place either.
As I said before, Kirito and Alice end up hanging off the tower by their swords, and have to find a way to climb up about twenty floors. This allows them to snark at each other, bond during fights, and of course for Kirito to tell Alice what’s really going on with the Integrity Knights. I will note that this scene should look fantastic when animated, though I suspect my fear of heights will mean I would never be able to watch it. I was most interested in how Kirito and the author are both telling the reader to think of Alice Zuberg, the little girl and childhood friend, as a separate person from Alice Synthesis Thirty, the Integrity Knight. Kirito knows that saving the former means killing the latter, and is feeling increasingly bad about that. More to the point, Eugeo is clearly there for Alice Zuberg… but Alice the Integrity Knight is obviously being set up as another of Kirito’s love interests.
Speaking of Eugeo, his fight against Bercouli was pretty awesome, and I was amused by the idea of a time-traveling sword slash. Eugeo gets the better of him in sort of a double suicide attack, but unfortunately is then found and brought to the administrator, whereupon he runs up against the necessity of the plot. Kirito and Eugeo are both great protagonists, but there can be only one Kirito in Sword Art Online. And come on, you know that the two friends were going to have to battle at some point. So yes, much as we’d like Eugeo to be strong and throw off the obvious brainwashing, he falls, and the cliffhanger shows that he is now an Integrity Knight with his memory removed. (Speaking of which, Alice, Eugeo and Kirito all have flashes of Kirito being present in their childhood – something Kirito clearly doesn’t recall now. I do wonder what’s going on there.)
So we’re all set up for friend vs. friend next time around. Will they finally be able to take down the Administrator? Well, possibly not, as we’re only now at the halfway point of the Alicization arc. One last thing: Kirito and Alice discovering the true nature of the Senators may in fact be the darkest, most horrifying scene Kawahara has ever written. Well done. I shuddered.