Demons’ Crest, Vol. 1

By Reki Kawahara and Yukiko Horiguchi. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by James balzer.

I had heard, for some reason, that this was Reki Kawahara wanting to do something different, and if you look at this book superficially, you might laugh. It’s about a bunch of folks who get trapped in a gaming environment where they can actually be killed, and most of the battles and technical talk is straight from the gamer handbook. And we also have eye/ear tech that bonds with your body and is used by absolutely everyone in the real world, as this takes place about 10 years in the future. Fans of SAO and Accel World must be going hrm. And yes, it does feel sort of like an author of romance fics featuring the same couple deciding to do something different by doing a Pirate AU of that exact couple, but I do think this has a few things that really do make it different. First of all, these are 11 and 12-year-olds, meaning for once being immature jerks is actually not only tolerable but expected. Secondly, it’s clear that what Kawahara REALLY wanted to write is a Death Game. (Yes, yes, SAO, but…)

The kids of Yukihana Elementary School are excited. They get to try out a brand new, still in testing virtual reality game that feels just like real life!… well, mostly. They’re still working on smell and taste. We follow Yuuma Ashihara and his twin Sawa, as well as their childhood friend Nagi and Yuum’s best friend Kenji as they try to capture monsters, card-captor style, and defeat dungeon bosses. Then suddenly Yuuma finds himself back in the VR capsule… and when he gets out of it, he finds the class idol, Sumika, stumbling towards him, with her face blank except for a row of ravenous teeth and holding a severed arm, presumably of a classmate. Now he has to join up with his sister and best friend (childhood friend is missing) to try to figure out what’s going on and survive.

This does do some things well. The romance is kept to a 12-year-old level, which is a bit of a relief, frankly, especially as the body count starts to get higher. The action scenes are as good as you’d expect for this author. I admit I was a little annoyed with Sawa clearly putting off telling her twin brother (and the reader) what really happeneed till the cliffhanger ending, as it felt forced. There’s also a guy in here… I forget what his name in the book is, because I just called him “Monoma Neito” as soon as I read him, and anyone who’s read My Hero Academia will do the same. Only, unlike Monoma, this guy looks to be actually evil. Lastly, I did enjoy the fact that folks think about what will happen if they do escape this. The monsters are not all game-only, some are classmates or adults turned into monsters, and I don’t think “I killed them because it was a death game” will fly if they get back to reality and have to explain things.

Still, reality looks a long way away. Fortunately, there is a 2nd volume coming soon, which hopefully features Sawa actually talking. Till then, for fans of ‘trapped in a game’, death games, or this author.