Paying to Win in a VRMMO, Vol. 6

By Blitz Kiva and Kuwashima Rein. Released in Japan as “VRMMO wo Kane no Chikara de Musou suru” by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

One benefit of reading light novels on my phone rather than in print is that there’s less tendency for me to look back at the color pages. These pages, seen in most light novels, are basically a preview of the book, showing various exciting scenes in color to whet the appetite. When done well, they do just that, and show off the drama, excitement, or humor within. Sometimes, though, they can actually be major spoilers, revealing the surprise climax before you’ve even started the book. Fortunately, by the time I got to said climax, I’d forgotten that I’d already read it in the color page the day before. Which is good, as the climax is brilliant, showing off the protagonist at their best, in a magnificent display of everything we love about her. Yes, that’s right, her. Ichiro may be the one Paying to Win, but in the end Iris gets the cover of this final volume, and rightly so.

This volume picks up right where the last one left off, and certainly has a nice little starting point: Ichiro is arrested. Of course he’s not guilty, but the problem is that announcing the guilty party would be problematic for many different reasons. As such, after posting bail, he and Airi (who has rushed to see him at the station due to, well, sheer outrage, I think) set about trying to figure out a way to fix this. It gradually becomes clear that there’s no quick and easy way to do that, and that it looks as if Ichiro is going to have to break his own “rules” he’s set for himself in order to do so. But fortunately, the people he has met in the game over the past few months are here to help him, as are a few of his friends outside the game. And there’s always Airi/Iris and her use of her sharp tongue, though for once it’s not the words that are as effective as simply, wonderful violence.

Not to spoil but there was a scene in this volume that had me cheering out loud. I’ve made no bones in prior reviews about how much I did NOT want to see Ichiro and Iris as a romantic pairing, and I got my wish. Rosemary, the AI from the prior volumes, is asking various “rivals” how they feel about Ichiro, and Iris comments that she sees him as “an enemy”, someone to show up and surpass. She also notes she’s not attracted to him. I love this because I feel Iris’ character is so much better when she has this goal in mind. She’s never been a tsundere, much as the narrative might have occasionally tries to shoehorn it in. She’s just determination in one small package. (Actually, there may be more rivals out to defeat Ichiro than there are rivals for his love – Megumi may have lucked out there.) Pay2Win ended up with precisely zero romantic pairings over the course of the book, and that was very refreshing, especially for this genre.

Aside form Iris’ violence at the finale, I must admit my favorite moment in the book was the use of a popular meme. It was first seen as part of a montage of players discussing Ichiro and how they felt about him, and was a very amusing gag – there’s always that one player who wants to speak in meme. Then it shows up again later, and I felt “Oh, no, he ruined it by trying to use it again. Minus five points.” But its use as the big villain reveal at the end of the book left me with my jaw dropped, as suddenly I went “Oh my goooooood, of COURSE.” Honestly, I’ve felt that way throughout the last couple volumes of this series. It started off unevenly, and got better as it went along. J-Novel Club has better written light novels, but there are few that have genuinely entertained me as much as Paying to Win in a VRMMO. Can we get that “Irish Sniper” web-only side-story as an extra?

Paying to Win in a VRMMO, Vol. 5

By Blitz Kiva and Kuwashima Rein. Released in Japan as “VRMMO wo Kane no Chikara de Musou suru” by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

This is more of an ensemble effort than any of the previous books. Pay2Win has added quite the large cast over the course of the series, and most of them are present and correct trying to take down whoever has stolen Ichiro’s account. (The mystery as to who has done this, by the way, is almost nil – it’s very obvious. That said, the mystery isn’t the point.) Everyone does what they do best – The Kirihitters try to look cool and fail miserably, Amesho gets her fanboys to valiantly sacrifice themselves hoping she’ll look their way, and Iris’ sharp tongue ends up being weaponized, as (to her chagrin) it’s generally agreed that her spiteful words are her defining trait. That said, the bulk of the characterization here goes to Sakurako/Kirschwasser, who is allowed to use “any means necessary” to defeat the fake, and Sera, who’s gender is finally made clear and who shows they are probably the savviest character in the series.

For all that the last Afterword mentioned that the publishers were uncomfortable with giving too much attention to Sakurako (she being explicitly over 25 and therefore “not a heroine”), but she does get quite a bit to do here. That said, most of it is comic relief. I’ve said before how I think Pay2Win works best when it’s funny, and that still applies, as Sakurako’s sudden access to unlimited amounts of money (and approval to use it from her boss) sets her on a slippery slope that ends up almost being a metaphor for addiction. It’s something that’s understandable for almost anyone who’s played a game – even I, casual that I am, know the terror of “just buy 3 hammers for $1.99 to get past that stupid Candy Crush level”. Here, of course, it’s taken up to 11, as you’d expect, and the fallout is hilarious and also painful – you feel sort of bad for her.

Then there’s Sera/King Kirihito, explicitly said to be female here. The afterword has a very interesting reveal, which is that in the webnovel version of VRMMO, Sera was male. I wonder if this too was changed at editorial request, though the author also says an audience vote was part of it. That said, there are a few lines in this book which suggest Sera sees themself as non-binary, and that suits me fine, so let’s go with that. Sera’s brilliancy at games extends to other arenas here, and I raised an eyebrow seeing them keep up with the American technobabble going on despite the fact that Sera speaks Japanese. Sera also understand the ways of the heart a bit better than Asuha does.

There’s only one volume of this series left, and it seems about the right place to end it. We need to see what’s going to happen with the suddenly doomed little startup that NaroFan is part of, and also hopefully resolve Iris’ design issues a bit, though the answer to that may be “sometimes things just don’t work out”. In any case, this continues to be a series that won’t wow anyone, but should make them smile. Also, Ichiro is perhaps at his least irritating in this book!

Paying to Win in a VRMMO, Vol. 4

By Blitz Kiva and Kuwashima Rein. Released in Japan as “VRMMO wo Kane no Chikara de Musou suru” by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

Despite the fact that everything I either wanted or predicted would happen in my previous reviews turned out to be wrong, this ended up being probably the strongest volume in this series to date. Once again Ichiro is somewhat sidelined, this time by design – both parties have asked him to stay out of their design battle, which he does. In addition, I had predicted doom if Nem ever met Iris in real life – and lo and behold, that happens right at the beginning of the book. It’s OK, though, because this book ends up being a bit of a character piece, looking deeply at the life of a rich woman with tremendous talent but few friends or social skills, and a bipolar teenager (she says so herself, I might add) with a lot of drive and slightly more friends and social skills, but far less talent and likely headed for burnout.

The parts devoted to Nem are quite good, if a tad predictable, and I appreciate that she has the self-restraint to crush Iris in the game rather than Airi Kakitsubata in real life. As for Iris, I’m starting to see why the author mentions fans after the first volume wondering where she was. She’s such a car wreck in action, with astounding highs and devastating lows, that everyone around her defines her mood swings as her most well-known trait. I also appreciated the narrative acknowledging that as she is, she likely doesn’t have what it takes to make it as a designer – that may change now that she’s friends with Megumi, but even Ichiro admits that she falls short on the talent side. (Speaking of design, I appreciate the detail that these books go into showing off the careers of Iris and Megumi and what goes into creating custom fashion – there’s a lot of little anecdotes that help the whole thing feel more realistic.) And best of all, Iris still isn’t remotely showing signs of falling for Ichiro. I love that she still regards him as really annoying more than anything else.

The battle itself is closer than you’d expect, but Nem is a newbie to the world of NaroFan, while Iris is more familiar with “how would a gamer react” rather than “how would a normal human react”, so she comes very close, though in order to do so she does end up humiliating Sakurako, whose new character ends up being exposed a bit too much for her comfort. (There are also a few lines where Iris mocks the “old” Megumi, and Megumi and Sakurako’s reactions make me wonder if the author was poking at his editors for saying that the light novel reader hates women over 25.) Even Felicia is getting development, showing that she’s ready to break away from her cousin and achieve great things on her own in the game, something which ironically finally garners praise from him that she’d long coveted.

As I said, the only one who seemed to stay exactly the same is Ichiro, though you might argue that for once he appreciated his tactlessness a bit more than usual. Still, the cliffhanger leading to the next book seems to indicate that we’ll see more of him in it. The series is only six volumes long, so I’m quite happy to see what happens next. I wasn’t even as irritated by Ichiro this time around as I normally am, although that could also be a flaw in the work, given who he is.