Sword Art Online, Vol. 24: Unital Ring III

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

Given that this series has now been running for twenty-four volumes, it’s no surprise that the current arc is seeing a lot more discussion of what has come before. This is especially true now that Kawahara has caught up with himself and no longer has to quietly edit the crappy things he wrote when he was 20 years younger. There’s a lot of interesting stuff that never really got developed in the past that can now be looked into at more leisure. This is the concept behind the Progressive series – which these books pretty much make clear have sort of usurped the original first volume as being canonical – as well as the movie, which also gets referenced here. The line between canon versions of Sword Art Online is blurring. And given that, it’s no surprise that, despite the current death game-esque plot of Unital Ring, complete with a Death Collar of sorts for Kirito, we’re still heading back to the Underworld, which may be 200 or so years into the future but still manages to ask the important question: is *he* REALLY dead?

(Man, covers always spoil, huh? So much for my trying to be ambiguous…)

Kirito is having a bit of a rough time at the moment, though honestly compared to “I am in a coma” it’s going pretty well. In Unital Ring everyone seems to be trying to kill his party. Someone has apparently dived into the Underworld without authorization, which means there needs to be an investigation. And, most importantly, it’s Asuna’s birthday and he has to get just the right present. Frankly, he’s pretty much a dumbass about that, and it’s a good thing that Argo is back in his life to give him enough hints that he can do the right thing. Argo and Alice get to spend time with Kirito in Unital Ring this volume, as Argo has finally given in and ported her character in. Good thing too, as it turns out that it’s not just SAO, or ALO, or GGO, it’s lots of other virtual reality games. Meaning we also get GIANT INSECT BATTLES!

I suspect there may be some fans who are a bit grumpy about the supposed reveal towards the end of this book. That said, “Nobody dies in Bleach” is the phrase, not “nobody dies in SAO”. There have been important characters killed off. So I think we’re allowed to give the author a bit of rope here, especially as there’s no confirmation that it *is* who Kirito thinks it is. That said, I cannot help but be reminded of the separation of Alice Zuberg and Alice Synthesis Thirty and go “Hrrrm”. Aside from that, I continue to be amused, given his reputation as the all-powerful light novel hero, how much of this book shows Kirito being mocked or screwing up. I mean, yes, he does some cool things, but that’s mostly because his human strategy guide is back. Of course, he fares better than Asuna, who has an incredibly cool battle… recapped for us as it’s offscreen. Bleah.

This arc is settling in to be another long one, but at least it has the entire cast this time, so fans should be a bit more happy than Underworld. Till next time: d’awwww. sugar maple tree.

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