Accel World: Signal Fire at the Water’s Edge

By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.

A lot of what I’ve seen in Accel World has been the author recognizing, lampshading, and attempting to either fix or downplay the faults that we’ve seen in his previous series, Sword Art Online. The lead here, Haruyuki, is if anything even more powerful than Kirito, but while Kirito does have inner turmoil (something the anime was not that great in bringing out), Haruyuki is all inner turmoil. Kirito spends most of his time in SAO either solo playing or reluctantly partnering up; Haruyuki cherishes working with people and forming friendships. Also, while Kirito may be your typical light novel hero and amass a harem of girls who like him, Haruyuki is short, stout, and has twice the number of girls after him. And what’s more, with the exception of the current Alicization arc, Kirito’s problems tend to be easy to solve, while the Accel World narrative never quite wraps anything up, and things just continue to snowball forward in one broad narrative.

Niko is on the cover, and it has been a while since we’ve seen her, even though the book is filled with reminders that the last several books or so have only happened over a period of a few days. She shows up as some other Brain Burst user, who seemed very similar to Kuroyukihime, was being evil, and thus some of her legion took it upon themselves to challenge Nega Nebulus (which now has a new addition as another old face we’re already familiar with returns to the fold). It’s all a misunderstanding, but reminds us that the Acceleration Research Society is still trying to get their way, which involves parasitizing as many users as possible with ISS kits, including sadly a very familiar face. Niko shows up in order to apologize for the rash actions of her legion and also add some muscle in their fight, along with Pard. And they’ll need the help, as they decide they can’t afford to wait any longer, they have to attack Metatron NOW.

The book, as always, is well written, with lots of funny moments, good fights, and emotional scenes. My favorite scene was probably the most chilling, though, which is where Niko notes how safe they feel around Haruyuki. She’s quite to point out that it’s not that he’s a “nice guy” per se, it’s just all female-type avatar users have a certain fear of being found in the real world, and Haruyuki, who knows a ton of them, doesn’t trigger that fear. He cares about what they think, and listens to what they say. For an author who I have yelled at for going to the “rape as drama” well far too many times, this is a surprisingly nuanced take – and all the more chilling for it, as all these girls are 15 years old or less by definition. It’s something that girls have to deal with every day in our real world, and it’s sad and yet very realistic that even in the future, female gamers still risk getting attacked.

The author lets us know this is going to be another multi-book arc, though honestly, as I noted above, this book feels far more like one long narrative than SAO ever did. I really want to find out what happens next. The 14th book better arrive soon.

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