Accel World: Kuroyukihime’s Confession

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

I suspect how much readers enjoy the first half of this book depends on how invested they are in awkward teen romance. Last time we ended with Kuroyukihime inviting Haruyuki over to spend the night at her place, and he ends up accepting here, though he’s not quite sure how long he’ll be staying. As it turns out, the answer is “all night”, and there’s also a bath scene involved, which, as with everything else about this series, gets 80 times more awkward when you remember they’re both 13-14. But they are pretty sweet dorks, and things don’t really go anywhere beyond “I am depressed and want to take comfort in you”. And, as it turns out, Kuroyukihime has a lot more to be concerned about than being caught in an Unlimited EK, as her friend Megumi, aka Orchid Oracle, seems to be held hostage by the enemy… which has caused her real-world self to fall into a coma. Can they rescue her? And can Haruyuki get yet another girl to fall for him without trying?

Yes, we can add another “don’t read this in public” volume cover to the pile. In any case, one of the more important things that comes up here is Kuroyukihime opens up to Haruyuki about the circumstances of her birth, and we finally, definitively put to rest the rumor that her parents are Kirito and Asuna. (I’m not sure why anyone ever found this acceptable, unless they like grim ‘n gritty.) In any case, we don’t get her name, or the names of her parents, but we do discover that Kuroyukihime was a “machine child”, incubated in an artificial womb. While the direct SAO connection isn’t happening, fans of the Alicization arc may recognize some of the discussion here about the nature of the soul. According to Kuroyukihime, her parents regard her as an experiment rather than a child – she even has a barcode on her neck to drive the point home. It’s pretty heavy.

The weaker part of the book is in the middle, when most of the cast gets together virtually to try to figure out how to fix the huge trap they’re in. This involves lots of banter, some jealousy, and a whole lot of talking, but essentially boils down to “no, we can’t do this, no we can’t do this, hey, why don’t we try this”, only over the course of 50 pages. Things pick up again when Haruyuki teams up with Rose Milady in order to rescue Orchid Oracle, her sister, from the clutches of the White Legion. This amounts to a bunch of cool battle scenes, and Kawahara is quite good at those. Haruyuki tries to do the whole “I’m not really good at anything I just have a lot of help” whining, which promptly gets smacked down. That makes me happy. More importantly, they actually succeed in both the rescue and waking Megumi up, meaning this volume does not leave us hanging. (Well, everyone’s still in the deathtrap, but…)

So a decent volume, with some much needed revelations, but the core issue here is still not resolved, so the arc continues. Recommended to those already reading the series.

Accel World: Sun God of Absolute Flame

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

In general, one step forward and two steps back is the Accel World way, so I will admit that when we finally got to the big villain reveal here I was half expecting that they had in fact sabotaged the video card that Chocolat Puppeter had, or altered the footage, or what have you. Fortunately, Kawahara still knows how much is too much and how much is just enough. This may come as a surprise to those of you who just read ten straight volumes of Sword Art Online: Alicization, but hey. But yes, the plan to reveal White Cosmos as the masterminds of all the bad things in Accel World is finally borne to fruition here. Of course, there’s just one slight problem with that, which is that in order to do so, all the major players in Brain Burst are gathered in one place. It’s the perfect time to do some culling. And White Cosmos is super powerful, even though, to my annoyance, Kuroyukihime’s sister did not show up for this big battle. Basically, expect deathtraps.

There are a lot of the things I like about Accel World here. The cast all get some cool things to do. Chocolat Puppeter gets to fulfill her role as the one with the evidence. Sky Raker and Silver Crow end up making a great flying team, and Fuko in general gets a lot to do in this book. There’s suggestions throughout that there was a lot of history in this game Haruyuki missed before he was given it, and while he knows a lot of it, he doesn’t know all of it. (In particular, every single player seems to think of themselves as Fuko’s rival.) Haruyuki’s “gosh, why am I so weak and bad” mindset is virtually absent here, mostly admittedly due to the fact that there’s no time to think in this book, but the ending is fantastic, with his realization that Kuroyukihime is in fact upset and depressed, and his overture of food to cheer her up is very sweet – that said, I doubt that the cliffhanger ending we see here is going further than snuggling.

Of course, this is still Accel World, so there are also several things I wasn’t too fond of here. I’m never going to love Hima’s oversexualized tweens artstyle, and the fact that the series seems determined to show the girls “naked” behind their avatars (while Haruyuki gets to keep his shirt) and the huge chests of some of them – the fanservice in this series is ludicrous to the point where it’s hard to read in public without getting arrested. And Kawahara admits this next one himself – we’re spending more time in the game, which is okay – I mean, it’s the subject of the series – but at the expense of the real lives of these characters, and he’s absolutely right – I do want to see the group all go to Haruyuki’s farm, or the elections, or all the things he set up that have been in stasis because of these endless fighting arcs. It can be grindingly exhausting.

That said, this problem may be solved very fast unless Silver Crow and Sky Raker can do something, as most of the rest of the good guys are in a nasty deathtrap that will be hard to escape. Fortunately, we get Vol. 23 soon, and let’s look at the cover art… (sighs, slaps forehead). Maybe we’ll get 23 soon.

Accel World: The Snow Sprite

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

Everyone has things they’re good and bad at, and realizing that is one of the best ways to stop being frustrated. To Reki Kawahara’s credit, I think he’s aware of his strengths. He writes good battle scenes. Especially these days, when he’s got years of experience that Sword Art Online (which, let’s remember, is mostly ported from his almost 20-year-old webnovel) does not. And this, the 21st volume of Accel World, finally gets to the big fight against White Cosmos that we’ve been waiting for for about a year now. As such, it should not be too surprising that this is one of the stronger volumes we’ve had in Accel World for some time. It also helps that, in among the action, which is exceedingly well-timed, there are also several plot beats that we’ve had hanging around for a while now that we actually get answers to. Not everything, of course – the reason White Cosmos are doing all this is left vague – but enough that the emotional payoff of the book is very satisfying.

We’ve spent a lot of time taking all sorts of precautions to make sure that Nega Nebulus are as prepared as possible to attack White Cosmos. It should therefore be no surprise to find that everything goes spectacularly wrong almost immediately. The group is forcibly taken to the Unlimited Neutral Field, then it’s transformed into a Hell Stage. 90% of the cast are caught in a “kill you over and over till you permanently die” trap, though fortunately no one permanently dies. Indeed, the biggest twist of the book is someone NOT dying. Sort of. In amongst this, Silver Crow and Lime bell are able to escape, but there are endless numbers of traps still waiting for them… heck, even the upper strata where Haruyuki can confab with Metatron proves to be attackable by our villains. How can they possibly win?

This isn’t all just fights, of course. The reason the fights work well in these books is the emotional beats we get along with them. Chocolat Puppeter helping to given everyone a leg to stand on, and also providing the best cliffhanger ever. Magenta Scissor, still in the throes of her heel face turn. Trilead Tetraoxide, outside the palace for the first time in the series, kicking a lot of ass. The villains are no less impressive. Kuroyukihime’s sister does not put in an appearance, of course, but we do get the snow sprite of the title, as well as a Rose Red to go with her, who proves a bit more noble than their counterparts. And there’s also the reveal on who the major power behind all these surprise moves is, why they’ve been coerced into doing it and who their parent is. It’s a great emotional climax.

So, well done, excellent book in the series. Next volume promises to be the equivalent of a Phoenix Wright trial, which could be very awesome.