Accel World: Flight Toward A Blue Sky

By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

One of the issues with Sword Art Online, particularly as it goes on, is that we keep seeing these deadly MMORPGs that wind up being abused for nefarious purposes, yet somehow more of them continue to be made, and are not banned or made illegal in any way (at least so far). I think Kawahara understands that, as in Accel World we have Brain Burst being very much an isolated thing, only playable to a certain (very young) age and unknown to the greater populace or government. And then there’s what happens at the end of this book, which helps to explain why revenge and real-world consequences of battles are not an issue here, even though it feels like Nomi wasn’t really punished enough for what he did. Indeed, the worldbuilding in this series is intriguing me more than the characters.

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The Brain Burst system, in fact, is starting to look more like a form of therapy than anything else. We’ve already seen how Haruyuki’s wings represented his own personal demons from reality. Now we see how even the powerups – which do so much damage to the psyche they’re practically forbidden – take their form based on childhood traumas, something bluntly stated by Niko, who shows up again in this book to mentor Takumu in how to properly use this technique (and by mentor I mean “beat up”, but this is a shonen fighting series, basically). Also, we finally figure out what Chiyuri’s ability is – not healing, but literal reversal of time – which is an amazing game power but also really depressing when you think about her relationship with Haruyuki and Takumu – she wants to return to when they were happy kids.

Chiyuri also showed the most sense in actually calling Kuroyukihime so that she could join the final battle – Haruyuki and Takumu are too invested in personal revenge and in not wanting to rely on her that they lose sight of how fatally dangerous this situation is. It’s always best to remember in situations like these, when you want to grit your teeth and beat some sense into the protagonists, that these are teenagers – not even that in some cases – dealign with needs and desires they’ve never felt before. Particularly Haruyuki, who has Chiyuri strip down and offer herself to him (something I id not like at all) and Kuroyukihime accept his accidental proposal (with a heavy blush – SHE at least gets it), but still too tied up in self-hatred to notice.

There’s definitely some seeds of future plotlines laid out here, as Nomi is backed by some sort of shadow organization that doesn’t like Kuroyukihime much, and I still get the sense that the psychotic sentient armor from Book 2 is not entirely formant, judging from some of Haruyuki’s OOC moments. On the down side, I’m fairly certain the resolution of the “Haruyuki is a peeper” plotline was far too easy, and there’s no way his reputation would be repaired that fast normally. Also, the reunion of Sky Raker and Kuroyukihime was far too abrupt and last-minute, and there had better be more to it in the next book. A good solid volume overall, though, and I will see what new twists the next in the series has – and hope Haruyuki continues to gain real-world confidence.

Also, for those who only saw the anime, this catches up to it, so Book 5 will have unanimated content.

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Vol. 1

By Nami Sano. Released in Japan as “Sakamoto Desu Ga?” by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine hertz. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

I’ve been waiting for this series for a long time, and it’s been worth the wait. This may be surprising, given that on the surface, the title seems like a simple gag manga. But the execution of its one gag is what matters, and, like its eponymous character, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto does it with coolness, flair and style. This is not a manga to be read ironically – if you go into this waiting to see the jokes getting undercut, you will be sorely disappointed. This is a straight up look at one of the coolest kids ever, and how not even his enemies can possibly stand up against his sheer force of personality. The humor comes from what Sakamoto does and how he does it – and the realization that he’s not only incredibly cool, but also incredibly strange.

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Of course, Sakamoto on his own is only half of the joke. Because of his very nature, he inspires frustration, jealousy and desire in those around him. We see the school bullies, angry as all the girls have totally fallen for him, trying to teach Sakamoto to know his place. We also see one of the bullied ones, who gets training on how to develop self-respect and fight back from Sakamoto (who also makes the most amazing McDonald’s clerk you’ll ever see). Another classmate wants desperately to stand out, be it via trendy fashions or just being the class clown. And though all the girls may swoon over Sakamoto, they’re not any better off – his total obliviousness to subtle love overtures leads to frustration and jealousy among the female classmates.

It’s interesting to think about how much of Sakamoto’s straightforward cluelessless is just an act. Clearly some of it is – he seems to get that the girls are fighting over him and tries to resolve it in his usual eccentric way, and early on has reactions to the attempted bullying that almost seem like a sneer. But as the book goes on we begin to realize that Sakamoto is not merely the coolest man alive, but also incredibly bizarre and sometimes incredibly obtuse. Keeping the balance is important – you’re never quite sure in the final chapter whether he’s driving another bully into fending for himself by being over-solicitous, or is genuinely, terrifyingly unaware of how creepy he’s getting.

Nami Sano’s art is also excellent, and fits the type of humor she’s trying to tell – this wouldn’t work if the art were more cartoonlike. Sakamoto’s poses, seen throughout, are drawn to look as amazing as possible, and he can make even the most trivial task seem easy – though he’s at his best when the tasks are almost impossible, such as skewering a hornet by its stinger with only his compass point. There’s not really any character development or plot to speak of here, but this isn’t that type of manga. Instead we are here to be amazed at Sakamoto, watch his antics along with the rest of his class, and wonder if he really is human after all – and if so, how can we be more like him? Even if you aren’t normally a fan of gag manga, give this a try – I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud at least once during the volume.

Log Horizon: The Knights of Camelot

By Mamare Touno and Kazuhiro Hara. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.

This second volume of Log Horizon improves on the first, doubling down on its world-building and showing us what it would be like to have to set up an entire governing body from scratch, particularly when there’s a limit to what penalties you can enact for immoral but not technically illegal behavior. Some folks, such as our heroes, regard abusing the rules of this new world for profit and ruthlessness to be no fun. Others are perfectly happy to enslave children to mass-produce what they need. And, despite the obvious black-and-white morality on display there, there’s a long argument that talks about what can actually be done given the resources and authority they have.

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The young kids seen on the cover are the twins that Shiroe occasionally mentioned in the first book. He had happened across them when they were just starting out, and helped them slowly advance through some beginner quests. Now they’re trapped in slavery, sleeping on hard cement floors and going out to get ingredients for useful potions which are then sold to those who DON’T need them. That said, they did agree to join the Hamelin guild, even in trickery, so, unless Shiroe can buy the entire building and kick who he wants out (which is prohibitively expensive), there’s not a lot that he can do. Which frustrates him intensely. Shiroe’s brilliant tactics keep getting undercut by his own self-hatred, as he keeps justifying making this world a better place as his own selfishness, and framing everything in the worst way.

I hadn’t thought that one of the minor aspects of the first book – food is bland and tasteless, so unenjoyable – would wind up being the main plot point of the second book. Once Nyanta, the Obi-wan Kenobi of this series (though not dead yet), discovers how you can make tasty food, suddenly endless possibilities spiral outward. It’s up to Shiroe and the Crescent Moon Guild to corral those possibilities and make sure that they can be used as a negotiating tool. I really love the look we get at the Crescent Moon Guild here – Marielle proves to be an emotional center, and we see a lot more of her self-doubt here even as she tries to cover it up with her dazzling smile. Meanwhile, Henrietta proves to be even smarter than Shiroe when she’s not busy trying to molest Akatsuki.

I had one or two niggles – when discussing what the new government should make illegal, rape was mentioned only as ‘between those of the opposite sex’, which left a bad taste in my mouth, especially given the aforementioned molestation being used as a running gag with no actual concern about Akatsuki’s lack of consent. And again, for non-gamers there really is a lot of technical detail in this book that goes over my head sometime. The Round Table meeting also introduced a bunch of people all at once, and I hope that we’ll see more of them in future books, but I could barely match names to lines – only Soujiro Seta made an impression, and that’s because he got to be the cute bishie.

Overall, though, this novel expands on the possibilities of the first and gives us a lot more cast, along with introducing a few ‘regulars’ – I look forward to seeing how the twins do in Shiroe’s new guild. I also look forward to more of Naogetsu and Akatsuki, who had surprisingly little to do in this book. Definitely recommended.