Sword Art Online, Vol. 5: Phantom Bullet

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

I had wondered at the end of Fairy Dance how the series would justify there being more MMORPGs and not just having the entire virtual genre banned due to massive deaths. Well, Phantom Bullet answers that – the Seed that Kirito got from SAO’s creator is now all over the world, and basically the genre has ballooned to the point where it’s impossible to legislate – much like the internet, actually. As a result, more and more people are doing different types of games, including Gun Gale Online, the FPS that’s featured in this next arc. It’s not really Kirito’s genre, but he’s become a sort of government gun-for-hire (he feels he owes them due to the help he got rescuing Asuna), and he has to go into GGO to find out who might be, once again, killing players in real life. The answer turns out to be something a lot closer to the old SAO game than Kirito expected.


Once again, anime fans may be well ahead of light novel readers. In the LN continuity, this is the first we’ve heard of Laughing Coffin, the guild in SAO made up of players who kill for the thrill of it. The anime needed to pad out its episode count, and to be fair it’s a great way to do it, so added the guild to its ongoing story. Even SAO Progressive’s novels have introduced what may be a precursor to the guild in the volume out this June. So seeing it here is not as much of a surprise as it is seeing how they’re once again succeeding in remotely killing people, and we’re not even sure how yet. It also triggers a bit of PTSD in Kirito, who is still having issues coping with the fact that he had to kill several times over the course of SAO. Which leads nicely into his heroine this time around.

Asuna and Kirito complement each other well, but only share a few similarities. The same could be said of Kirito and his sister suguha. Shino Asada, though, aka Sinon, is a lot closer to Kirito. Like him, she’s naturally quiet and introverted except when in the confines of a game. Also, like his current self, she’s coping with PTSD, this one stemming from a real world incident when she shot a bank robber to death in order to stop him killing her mother, and found that Japan now regarded her as a monster. That said, like Asuna, she reacts poorly to embarrassment and the author attempting to be funny. I don’t blame her for that, really. And like Suguha, she has a ‘nice guy’ real-life wannabe boyfriend who I suspect will, also like Suguha, come second place to Kirito.

My experience of FPS games is next to nothing, so I’ve no idea how well the Gun Gale Online concept works as a system. It does make for exciting action scenes, including the final duel between Kirito and Sinon, framed as a bit of a wild west duel. The novel does not so much end as stop, and it’s clearly another two-volume arc which we’ll need to resolve in December. Still, there was no nasty cliffhanger. And no threats of rape, always a good thing. I’m sure we can keep that up for next volume. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic, do not reply in the comments.) If you like SAO and were irritated by Fairy Dance, you might want to give Phantom Bullet a try – Sinon is another in a line of very different heroines. I wish she got the cover, though, even if she is wearing a battle bikini with bulletproof vest combo.

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