Sword Art Online, Vol. 11: Alicization Turning

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book that more perfectly summarizes the best and the worst of Sword Art Online in one handy gulp. The high points of this book are excellent, and the low points are incredibly frustrating. Put together, though, we have a series that continues to intrigue even as the main cast that isn’t Kirito continues to be entirely absent – Asuna gets a few pages in the middle, but for the most part we are entirely in Kirito’s fantasy world here. Fortunately, the first half of the book or so gives another break from Kirito’s first person, as we get a long stretch narrated by Eugeo, who is nice and earnest and a good contrast to Kirito. I was expecting that we would see more training at the knight academy, probably ending up in the giant fighting tournament that had been lampshaded earlier. But then things went entirely off the rails.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. We have yet ANOTHER instance where female characters are captured and threatened with rape, so that we may see how irredeemably evil the villains are (Kawahara’s villains remain his giant weak point – he can’t write nuance) and also justify Kirito’s violence towards them. This is even more annoying because we’d barely gotten to know Tiese and Ronie, so the threat doesn’t have as much of a reader impact as it did with Asuna and Shino, assuming the reader impact cannot just be narrowed down to “rolls eyes, sighs”. And then due to the plot moving on, we don’t see the girls after this, which just makes it more blatant it was done for pure “damsels in distress” reasons. I understand in the original webnovel this was taken from, the girls actually were raped – thank heavens for small favors that this was changed. SO BORED WITH RAPE THREATS, KAWAHARA.

Of course, disposing of the two villains does mean that the plot makes a right turn, as now Kirito and Eugeo are captured by the Synthesis Knights and brought to the Central Cathedral… which was their goal, to be fair, but probably not as prisoners to be judged. Things pick up a great deal here, as we find that Alice (remember Alice?) is one of the knights, but doesn’t seem to remember Eugeo at all. Kirito takes up the narration again here, and it works out well, showing off his smarts in knowing when to push hard on “this is a game world with game rules” – breaking the chains was particularly good. What’s more, after a long and highly interesting fight scene that shows us the knights may in fact be brainwashed, we are given a long, long infodump by a new character that actually feels realistic and welcome, telling us a lot more about the Underworld, how it got its start, and the evil woman now at the head of it all.

In the end, this is book 3 of a 10-book arc, so there’s a limit to how far it can take things. But once you get past Kawahara deciding that nothing adds to drama quite like rape threats, it’s enjoyable and fun, with excellent fight scenes. Just… get a new gimmick. I beg you.

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