Sword Art Online, Vol. 15: Alicization Invading

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

I was expecting that this volume would be a bit of a letdown after the highs of the previous work. Sadly, it’s even worse than I had anticipated: I actively don’t like this volume. Well, parts of this volume. We can divide the books events in half. Half of it involves Alice, having run away from the Integrity Knights at the end of the last book, living in the woods with Kirito, who is unresponsive and seemingly braindead. She’s struggling to find a purpose to fight, and various circumstances seem to give her that. This is not great writing, but it’s at least decent, and helps to set up the next couple of books. Alas, we then have the other half of the book. Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga discusses Shonen Power Creep, but there’s another aspect that Kawahara really suffers from, Shonen Villain Creep. Each villain has to be worse and more monstrous than the last one, doing even more evil things. So, ladies and gentlemen, meet Gabriel Miller.

Gabriel is introduced to us as a young corporate executive type, and we then flash back to his childhood, where he lived a comfortable life, met a nice sweet young girl to be his childhood friend, and then… well, Gabriel is a sociopath, like so many other of Kawahara’s villains, so you can probably guess. He’s part of a terrorist squad invading the ocean turtle, where Asuna and Kirito’s body are currently, in order to get the results of their experiments – Alice. He seems to regard humans and bugs exactly the same way, and is a thoroughly unpleasant individual. (He is assisted by another evil guy named Vassago, and I suspect that we may be familiar with him from previous volumes, though I will hold off till it’s confirmed.) Gabriel and Vassago are locked away from the Underworld, but they can still become “characters” in it. Which they proceed to do, as Gabriel is now the Demon Lord invading the human world.

The main problem with this book, and it’s teeth-grinding, is that half of it is from Gabriel’s POV. Given I already hate the way Kawahara writes villains, having to experience their thoughts for so long is unbearable. There’s also a couple of horribly violent deaths in the book, both women of course, there to make the reader feel sad and also make me wonder if the author had recently watched Se7en. (Speaking of which, Kawahara is rewriting his webnovel and editing it, and he changed events in Book 11 so that Ronie and Tiese are not, in fact, raped – however, dialogue towards the end of this book shows that he isn’t very good at cleaning up the mentions of it after the fact.) This may come as a surprise to the casual SAO fan, but I really miss Kirito’s POV here. Alice’s uncertainty and Gabriel’s loathsome villainy just make this book very hard to read. Oh yes, and Gabriel has also been in Gun Gale Online, and wants to do nasty things to Sinon as well. So that’s just great.

This was originally written when Kawahara was a much younger man, and it shows – it reads like the sort of thing an emo guy would write in order to be grim and gritty. The author, I think, realizes this – after the anime adaptation of Vol. 11, he publicly apologized for the rape scene, and said he wouldn’t write that sort of thing anymore. Unfortunately, it does mean we still have to plow through this book, which is filled with setup for cooler events to come, as well as appalling sadism. I won’t say to skip it, but you won’t enjoy it.

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