By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.
Last time I mentioned that the regulars not named Kirito barely appeared in the book, and this time they don’t appear at all – even Asuna isn’t in it, as we spend our entire time in Underworld watching Kirito and Eugeo slowly make their way upward in order to stop our chief villain of this arc. It can be a bit frustrating, especially as Kawahara excels at introducing new characters who could conceivably be quite an interesting addition to the ensemble and then leaving them by the side of the road. Eugeo, at least, continues to play the second protagonist role admirably, and once again the narration of the book is divided, with first-person Kirito for the first half and third-person Eugeo for the second. The book, in fact, somewhat mirrors the last one – just as that ended with a pile of exposition after a series of cool fights, so this one begins with the exposition before we get to the fighting. Kirito even gives us a “for those of you just starting this series” intro.
My favorite part of the book was probably the two girls on the cover, Fizel and Linel. They’re introduced at a point where the ordinary reader would be very suspicious, which is why the cover fakeout is so clever – given that they flank Kirito, clearly they’re meant to be new allies that he picks up along the way. A heh. Perhaps not. That said, once their subplot is done they are tossed out of the way like everyone else, and I do wonder if we’ll ever see what becomes of them, particularly if Kirito wins the day, something that is still not entirely certain. The best fight scene in the book goes to an Integrity Knight named Fanatio, which has to be intentional as she certainly seems fanatical. She has a complex about being a feminine knight, both because she was treated as weak by other men before and also because Alice has just arrived and is pulling off being feminine and hella strong perfectly. Kirito, who points out that he’s had the crap kicked out of him by women in fights before, is all too happy to duel her and teach ehr the error of her ways. It’s not terrible, but I’m not sure it comes off the way he wants it to – there’s still a tinge of sexism here.
Of course, we knew that before we reached the top of the tower and the final villain we’d have to fight Alice again. And, as if proving Fanatio to be even more wrong, she proceeds to absolutely kick Kirito and Eugeo’s asses, at least until the obligatory cliffhanger. Given everything that we learn about the Integrity Knights in the early infodump, I am curious as to whether Kirito and Eugeo will be able to snap her out of it – I suspect that may take up a good deal of the next book. In the meantime, Sword Art Online continues to be exactly the sort of series you think it is. The highs still high, the frustrations still omnipresent. I’d still argue it’s well worth a read, unless you hate Kirito.
Also, I found it hilarious that Kirito points out he has now failed to graduate THREE times – from middle school (trapped in SAO), high school (being trapped here), and sword academy (for breaking the taboo index). It’s OK, Kirito, there’s always McRonald’s.