By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.
(Of necessity, this review is going to have to spoil events in this book. If you want to be surprised, read the book first.)
It has to be said, given the length and breadth of the Alicization series, and the complete absence of most of the rest of the original cast, that Kirito and Eugeo’s relationship feels like the strongest and most valid in the series. Yes, this includes Asuna, who is almost entirely absent from this book save for the cliffhanger ending. But Kirito and Eugeo are meant to be two sides of the same coin, each yearning for what the other has, with Kirito’s cynicism being set off by Eugeo’s innocent idealism. Even the fate of Alice Synthesis Thirty, who nearly sacrifices herself a couple of times for Kirito in this book, has her own Eugeo counterpart in Alice Zuberg’s state of being and eventual fate. Kirito and Eugeo is the main reason to watch the upcoming anime to see what they do with it. And it’s also what makes this volume the most heartbreaking of the books to date.
For all that Kawahara wrote a story about a death game where people die in real life, he’s been pretty good about not actually killing most of the main cast. When there is a death, it tends to have major impact on the characters going forward – see Sachi and Yuuki, for example. This volume, though, is absolutely filled with horrible deaths, both seen and unseen. The actual plot is pretty simple – it’s the end of the fight to the top of the tower. Eugeo throws off his mind control fairly quickly all things considered, but that’s not really helping any of them defeat Administrator, who is simply too damn overpowered. And so one by one characters come out of the woodwork to buy time so that the hero can figure out what to do. And no, that hero’s not Kirito this time, who spe4nds much of the book dealing with the fact that he’s getting his ass handed to him. It’s up to Eugeo to make the ultimate sacrifice, destroying Administrator for the sake of the world, even if it costs him his life.
Actually, while Administrator is the weak part of the book, being the usual ‘I have no nuance I am just eeeeeeevil’ Kawahara villain, she is impressively tough, in that she even survives Eugeo’s final attack, only to get taken out by her minion’s overpowering creepy love for her. Still, she is a piece of work. The ceiling of her tower will go up there with the depiction of the Senate in the previous book as one of the most disturbing things in SAO. As for the state of the world now that Administrator is gone, we’ll have to see. It may have to deal with life without Kirito for a bit, as things have apparently been going on in the real world in his absence, and his “fluclight” is seemingly damaged right at the very end. Will this mean an entire volume with no Kirito narration?
Kawahara says in the afterword he debated letting Eugeo survive in the LN version, but decided not to. Much as I love Eugeo, I think it was probably the right choice. In the meantime, this is a very strong volume of SAO, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here – we still have four books to go after this, let’s remember.