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 honestly feel a bit suckered in. We’ve had, for the last five volumes, a bunch of goofy fun gun battles, with some nice characterization and an ongoing plotline about what people game for. The author, who is known for writing endless amounts of spinoffs for other people’s work, also wrote himself into the series as a complete loser who exists to get mocked and humiliated. And, really, for about 85% of this 6th book, we get much the same thing. People are here to read the gun battles. There’s a reason for that: they’re good gun battles. There’s a lingering plotline, which we think will be dealt with in the epilogues, that has Karen wondering why she does GGO anyway – what’s in it for her? But no, this gets answered in the climax of the book. Instead, the 2nd epilogue is there to make you say “Oh, right. This is ALSO the author of Kino’s Journey. He can create something absolutely stunning as well.”
LLENN and the others are invited to a different kind of event in GGO. They’re trying to develop some NPCs, and want to test them using the top teams in the previous Squad Jams. So the teams are invited to storm a castle which is being defended by other guns. They can either work together or fight each other – indeed, the first half of the book shows off some of the teams wanting to fight – particularly LLENN, who has not realized that her inability to fight SHINC is the series’ running gag. Once they get intel on the group in the castle they’re up against, the book becomes a puzzle – how to get into the castle and/or kill those inside it without dying three times (they get multiple lives here, which is good, as the book starts with LLENN getting killed in a flashforward).
I’m going to try not to spoil the ending, which is hard, as it leaves me with not much to talk about. Suffice to say there are some good hints dropped here and there, particularly the scenes between LLENN and Jacob, one of the NPCs. Other than that, we’re left with a game situation which does not really rev up Putohui’s bonkers-ometer, and as a result she’s rather rational and awesome, much to LLENN’s surprise. LLENN is also able, through the course of this battle of attrition, to recall why she does this sort of thing in the first place. The side story helps there as well, when Miyu suggests to Karen a much of parodies of games which help to solidify her feelings. Basically, playing GGO for LLENN, with its mock battles and not-really-murders, is fun. Gaming is fun. And, as the epilogue I am not spoiling shows us, it can also be valuable in other, more tactile ways.
So, congratulations to Keiichi Sigsawa, who with one plot twist made this probably my favorite volume in the series. The 7th book is not scheduled yet, so it may be a while till we see LLENN and Pitohui again. (Clover’s Regret in between, perhaps?). That said, when we return I expect Squad Jam IV will bring things back to the sort of book Sigsawa normally writes in this series – happy little gamers killing things.