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.
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.