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.
I have been known at times to be a little annoyed when a book consists primarily of fight scenes. Let’s face it, for the most part, I enjoy talking about plot and character beats here. (Well, that and obscure stuff about publishers no one cares about but me.) When you get things like a tournament arc, or the Squad Jams in Gun Gale Online, there’s not really as much for a good reviewer to sink their teeth into. Readers don’t really want you telling them “watch out for this cool fight sequence”, and if I say Llenn and Pitohui are awesome and badass, I will likely just get a “well, duh” in response. That said, after a book like the previous one in this series, introducing yet another smug bastard who has decided to make the girl he is obsessed with his whether she likes it or not, and the fact that, despite Llenn’s protestations, the engagement seems to ride on this game… honestly, I’m delighted it’s just wall-to-wall action here.
The first third or so of the book is, refreshingly, not from the POV of our main team, allowing us to get into the heads of the others first before we resolve the cliffhanger from last time. We get to see MMTM be sensible, intelligent, and use their gaming knowledge well, which never works out in these sorts of books. We get to see Shirley and Clarence be the manzai comedy duo they were always meant to be. And we get to see exactly why SHINC takes Llenn’s unwanted suitor up on his offer, which is a nice combination of stick and carrot. This then allows the last two thirds of the book to simply be a bunch of really good set pieces, allowing the author to do what they do best: talk endlessly about guns and write action sequences that will look great if they’re ever animated.
I will note right away, the best part of the book for me was the carrot that got SHINC to agree to be part of the collective group, if only as it’s a tempting carrot for the reader as well. The fact that Llenn never gets to have her fated battle with these girls in book after book has become the running gag of the series, deliberately so, and it’s wonderful that THIS is the bait used to lure them in: we promise to let you have your fated battle. Of course, that promise ends up being broken, so I suppose technically this doesn’t count. But boy, it’s amazing till then, exactly what I would have wanted from a rematch, with both sides evenly matched and being clever, desperately, and crafty. Even Fukaziroh, whose job, let’s face it, is to be the goofy one, gets to do a bunch of really cool shit. M gets to be the sensible one. Pitohui is in her element, getting to shoot people and make suggestive remarks to Llenn. It ends badly, but THIS was the rematch we wanted, and we finally get it.
Unfortunately, now the boyfriend’s back, and there’s gonna be trouble. Kawahara may not be writing this, but it’s set in his universe, and thus the series has an allergic reaction when it comes to subtle, nuanced villains. But that’s next book’s problem. This one turned out to be a great ride.