Sword Art Online, Vol. 17: Alicization Awakening

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

I’m not sure why it is that odd volumes of SAO seem to be irritating me so much. It could simply be because I’m rather weary of this arc, which is an excellent reminder to authors about why you should not make your story arc ten volumes long. It could also be because, once again, this series cried out for authorial and editorial intervention and did not get it. I know that one of the reasons that publishers are so happy to pick up Japanese webnovels and turn them into light novels is that they know the work is already written to a large degree, so deadlines aren’t a thing. But this is about the 4th book or so where Kawahara has written in the afterword “I sort of cringe at what I wrote here, but decided not to change it”. Not sexual assault this time – although that’s in here as well – but the feelings between Japan, China and Korea, which is, like a great deal of SAO proper, an interesting plot point that is handled somewhat hamhandedly.

That’s Leafa and Sinon on the cover with comatose Kirito behind them, and good news for fans of one of those characters, they do get some really good scenes. Of the non-Asuna female characters that Kawahara has created, Sinon is the closest he’s had to another success, and I really liked her here, despite the fact that she deals with Gabriel Miller at his most “I am eeeeeeeeevil!” self. He also turns out to be known to her from GGO, and her battle is probably the action highlight of the book. As for Leafa, it’s almost comical in how badly she’s been treated since… well, her introduction? Here she comes down nowhere near the other characters, gets another egregious sexual assault scene (it’s even framed as ‘worms’ and ‘tentacles’, just to make it more obvious), and finally arrives too late to really affect anything for the ending “darkest before the dawn” climax. I just get so frustrated when I read Leafa’s character.

Other things, some good, some bad. Lisbeth’s discussion of how the SAO survivors are treated in school, as ticking timebombs who are required to get therapy (and, I suspect, will need to get SAO-related jobs or not get hired after graduation, similar to what Kirito is doing now) is really really interesting and therefore I wish we’d had any indication of it at all before this. There’s another traitor towards the end of the book, tied in to both the Administrator plotline and going back to the Fairy Dance plotline who is yet another “I am written to be as evil, creepy and misogynist as possible so you don’t like me”, which, y’know, objective obtained, but you already have Gabriel. On the bright side, the ongoing “what defines a real human” plotline is reasonably well handled, and we’ll see him handle it even better in the Progressive series. And, much as I am completely sick of Laughing Coffin, it is nice to have an antagonist who is not driven by lust, just love of death and cruelty. Welcome back, PoH, I look forward to seeing you get yours eventually.

I was expecting, given the title, the book would end with Kirito back in action. I was wrong, though it looks like it’ll happen early in the next book. Which will be the last in this arc, thank God. Till then, you have to read this if you follow the series, but be ready to lose more of that tooth enamel.

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