By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.
It’s not clear how much ;longer this arc of Sword Art Online is going to go, or if it really is the final arc in the story. I don’t think even the author knows, especially given that his afterword talks about how he gets distracted by side stories and diversions all the time and can’t advance the plot. But I think he’s thinking about it, and we get a little of that with Silica here, who gets to have most of the narration that isn’t Kirito’s when he’s in the Underworld. She’s been one of the original SAO gang for so long it’s sometimes hard to remember that she’s three years younger than most of the others, and she’s noticing that Asuna and Lisbeth aren’t playing games quite as much as they used to. It’s not framed in a “put away childish things” sort of way – indeed, Silica notes one of her friends think she’s the weird one for continuing to game so much after SAO – but hey, adulting is necessary. The real world beckons.
The plot here is neatly divided in half. On the Underworld side, Kirito, Asuna and Alice finally get to see Alice’s sister frozen in time, awaiting her return… along with two other surprise guests! Unfortunately, unfreezing them will involve Kirito and Eolyne becoming astronauts, going to one of the satellites where Kirito, pre-memory wipe, hid the information. But, of course, while there they find bad guys doing terrible things. On the Unital Ring side, the rest of the main cast need to find more ore in order to keep up with the other gamers, and doing so will involve facing off against a giant wasp nest! Can they use a dangerous flower that the SAO players know very well to try and swing the battle a little more their way? can can we really get to see a scene with Silica sitting on top of a giant bear fighting a wasp? Because that sounds pretty awesome, frankly.
This book not only thinks about the future a little bit, but also manages to recall the past. We get more “what measure is an NPC?” philosophy, but this also involves Asuna clearly thinking of Kizmel, and almost having a little breakdown. Those reading the Progressive books will know that Kizmel is hugely popular and I think the author is dragging things out a bit to use her more, but it’s also plainly obvious that she’s not going to stick around till the 75th floor, so we can guess what likely happened. And of course, we get more Underworld stuff, though of all the minor characters from that arc to make an emotional reappearance, the elevator operator was not the first one I would have guessed. It works well, though, and also allows our heroines to have a nice long bath, satisfying both Asuna’s love of bathing and also abec’s love of drawing fanservice.
So yes, the plot progression was minimal here, but this was a solid, fun read. SAO fans should be happy.