By Keiichi Sigsawa and Kouhaku Kuroboshi, based on the series created by Reki Kawahara. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.
This book was always going to have a tough time living up to the previous one, and let’s face it: it does not. It’s a pretty good book, especially in the back half once the game starts, but it does show off the big flaw with this series as opposed to its parent: Sigsawa is not as good at writing Karen, Elza, etc. as he is at writing Llenn and Pitohui. He’s here for the gun battles, and all else is secondary (leaving aside the last book, which feels like an aberration at this point). As a result, when we see something that is a huge threat to Karen in this book, it doesn’t really come off as well, because we’re far more familiar with the fast pink blur whose ideal man is her gun (no, literally, she says that here) than the tall awkward rich girl. Things are not helped either by the presence of one of my least favorite Kawahara traits, now borrowed by this author as well: the smug villain who wants the girl to submit to him.
As noted, Karen is at an event her dad is attending, trying to be a wallflower, when she meets a short, fat man who tries to commiserate with her about height. They converse, he leaves, all is good. Then she gets a marriage proposal, which her dad suggests she accept. While this is going on, there’s a new Squad Jam starting. Four people is a bit small, so this time around Pitohui grabs Clarence and Shirley to fill their ranks – though Shirley wants no part of this, really. There are two big problems with this Squad Jam, at least in this first book. The first is that we have added zombie monsters, who are attracted when one of their number is killed by gunfire. The second is that Karen’s wannabe fiancee has shown up in the game – his avatar is just as wish fulfilling for him as hers is for her – and, using her real name, demands that if he beats her she has to go out with him.
So yeah, another smug guy who wants to control the woman he desires in a Sword Art Online book, yay. He doesn’t show up in the back half, fortunately, so I will put off my grumpiness till later. As I said, the back half of the story is better, and I always enjoy seeing how different the teams in the game are to their real-life personalities – Llenn’s team gets waylaid by literal suicide bombers in the Jam, who pose quite a problem, but seeing what they’re really like made it more amusing than anything else. Our team shows off good teamwork as well – minus Shirley, who cannot let go of her grudge towards Pitohui (who, to be fair, fuels it) and Clarence, who is a big goofball and not much else, frankly. And then there’s Llenn’s constant effort to finally have a showdown with SHINC, which – no surprises – gets derailed by the cliffhanger, showing, I suppose, that money can’t buy happiness, but it comes close.
So it’s a setup book where I’m not that fond of the setup. Still, Sigsawa knows how to write his gun battles. And this one is a 3-book arc, so I’d better settle in.