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.

Accel World: The Rivalry of White and Black

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

Last time I said that this volume would likely finally get to the fight with the White Legion, and that is technically true, but it takes almost 4/5 of the book for us to get to that point. If Sword Art Online’s biggest fault is that it doesn’t flesh out its world or characters enough, and that the pace is too breakneck, Accel World has the opposite problem: the worldbuilding is excellent, but at the expense of the pace, which leads to readers wanting to skin through things to finally get to the fights. There is a minor battle here between Silver Crow and a bottle of Isodine – sorry, Povidone-iodine, but even that feels rather shallow as Iodine Sterilizer feels like an expy of Ash Roller. It is, frankly, a relief that a big villain finally appears to take on our heroes towards the end – and indeed, he’s the biggest villain we’ve seen, towering over the landscape, and might be a little more terrifying if he wasn’t depicted in the illustrations as looking like a giant Snow Bunny.

(The fanservice covers we’ve seen lately are also starting to irritate me – the illustrator’s always had that issue, I know, but this one in particular promises an attention to little girls that the text thankfully does not have.)

The first chunk of the book deals with Nega Nebulus and Prominence uniting to form a single legion, as promised. There is a bit of grumbling on the red side, both from folks who are a bit annoyed given that Black Lotus is the one who killed their former leader and also by the aforementioned iodine bottle, who just really wants to fight Silver Crow. On the Nega Nebulus side we have Cyan Pile and Magenta Scissor, both of whom are feeling guilt over the part they’ve played in past events and are looking for a chance to repent. After this, we get a relatively fluffy chapter which has the twins we met a while back from the Blue legion discovering what they think is a spy… only for it to turn out to be Trilead Trioxide, who is meeting secretly with Crow and Lotus. Some good character work here, and also more “TRILEAD IS THE IMPERIAL PRINCE OF JAPAN!” without actually saying this out loud.

The best part of the book is the final section, which once again gives the chocolate trio some heavy lifting to do as they find themselves first on the scene of battle, and therefore being forced to face off against a foe much bigger than they can really handle – but they try their best. I also liked that by now everyone knows that Haruyuki’s big flaw is that he frets too much, and that he does so much better when he forgets how difficult this is supposed to be and just plunges right in. And I admit I laughed out loud at Magenta Scissor asking if Bel and Pile were going out, which is followed by Bell asking “huh, are we?”. What was one of the bigger plot points in early books has fallen so much by the wayside that half the main couple doesn’t even seem to care anymore, and it almost feels like Kawahara mocking himself (while, of course, keeping Chiyuri free to be part of the potential harem pile).

So things have inched forward to the point where we’re actually fighting, and there is yet another cliffhanger promising things will get worse for our heroes. Still, I admit that after reading most of Accel World 20 my overall feel was “GET ON WITH IT!”.