By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.
This is the other major series that Kawahara has written, after Sword Art Online, and it’s interesting to see how the two series compare and contrast. SAO was written 6 years earlier and published online as a web novel, and only picked up for publication once Accel World won a major award. So it’s likely that this is the series that really kickstarted his career, with SAO along for the ride, though I’d argue that SAO is currently more popular than Accel World. And I can see why this book did well: it’s a strong first volume, barring a few hiccups, with a hero who is meant to be a definite contrast to the generic male lead that Kirito proves to be much of the time.
And right there is hiccup Nunber One, as we get yet another volume I can’t read on public transit. The cast of Accel World are all 13-14 years old, this time mostly for plot reasons, but there’s still the same amount of fanservice and sexualization you tend to get in series like these. Just as the Fairy Dance manga had Kirito’s younger sister showering for the benefit of readers, here we get the hero imagining Kuroyukihime in the shower. While I’m at it, I might as well bring up hiccup number two, which is the presentation of the villain of this volume, Cyan Pile. Kawahara seems to have trouble with villains in general, but here in particular it suffers from us barely getting to know this character at all before the big revelation, and therefore the emotional torture that should be there (and is written as if we feel it) simply isn’t.
That said, there’s a lot to like here as well. Let’s start with the hero. The author has apparently said in interviews that Kirito and Haruyuki were meant to contrast with each other, and that’s certainly evident here. Short, fat, and with an incredibly negative self-image, Haruyuki is so far away from the typical harem protagonist that he is completely unable to notice that he has two girls crushing on him over the course of this volume. His only skill (which, given this is another series about a virtual gaming world, proves to be highly important) is his speed and agility when playing virtual squash in a court no one ever goes to (so he doesn’t have to deal with people). This brings him to the attention of Kuroyukihime (real name deliberately not given, though there are hints), who tells him about a game, Brain Burst, that may allow him to achieve amazing things.
The game is the other success of this series, after seeing the generic RPG world of Sword Art Online. Much time is devoted to how to play it and strategy, and we see right away that Haruyuki is very good at thinking on the fly and coming up with solutions in battle. (Well, almost right away… he gets his ass kicked the first time. There are rules.) That said, I think that the main reason I liked this so much (and I did really enjoy SAO too, if you’ll recall), is that it’s a book that shows the skills the author has developed in the 6 years between that book and this one. It just reads easily. It’s a light novel, with all the cliches that this entails, so don’t read it if you dislike those sorts of cliches. But most fans of the genre should enjoy this, and I’m interested to see where it goes with Haruyuki.