By Reki Kawahara and Shimeji. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.
Last time I said it might be 2020 before we see the next book in this series, and here we are. More amusingly, last time I talked about this series have a better class of villains than SAO or Accel World, and in the afterword here’s Kawahara talking about how he hates it when villains turn good and always has his villains be “extra evil” because of it. Kawahara-san, you are wrong and should feel bad, at least about the second part of that. This particular book is sort of a breather volume in the series, with minimal battles but a whole lot of set up for what’s to come. Liquidizer, who gets the subtitle this time around as well as a second cover picture in a row, isn’t joining the good guys per se. But she wants Trancer back, and for that she’s willing to join forces with Minoru if she must. Meanwhile, Minoru is slowly (though he doesn’t realize this, which is honestly a good thing) letting others into his life.
We get a large chunk of the book that takes place at Minoru’s school, including a handsome guy who is highly interested in Minoru, mostly as he improves vastly on his midterm grades. Of course, the question is was this him being smart or others falling – there’s a rash of illness going around the school, leading the previous top scorers to all be too tired and drawn to do their best. This applies to athletics as well, including Minoru’s not-girlfriend Tomomi, who is feeling more and more as if she doesn’t want to run – to the point where she eventually collapses and goes to hospital. We do eventually figure out who’s behind this, but not till the cliffhanger ending. Still, it’s far more school than we’ve had in the previous book.
The rest of the volume is devoted to Liquidizer and her request for help in recovering Trancer from the hands of the… good guys? Well, that’s a good question. Given this is a book where the author has decided not to make all his villains evil beyond all measure, it makes sense that the people in charge of the good guys likely also have murky motives of their own. Of course, she’s not asking the others to work for free – she’ll give them the location of Oliver’s younger sister Claire, who is revealed to have been captured before Minoru joined them and also had Jet Eye powers. I… kind of wish this had been seeded into earlier books, as it really reads like a far-too-handy reveal here. The few action sequences that we do get are well-handled as always, and show off Minoru’s growing strategic thinking. Oddly, the one think missing here is romance – Yumiko is briefly seen to be annoyed that Minoru has had Suu to his house before, but Liquidizer’s relationship with Minoru rarely goes beyond allies, possibly as she spends a lot of it with a bullet wound.
I enjoyed this book despite it mostly feeling like putting pieces in place for next time. As for when next time is, shall we bet on 2022?