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.
Having established its premise and characters in the first book, the Paying to Win series goes about trying to tweak and fix a few things that weren’t as strong as they could be in the second. This involves a) introducing a new potential love interest who isn’t in middle school and Ichiro’s cousin, and is also able to be a little more critical of Ichiro’s callous lack of tact; b) have a flashback to show us how he managed to get so ridiculously leveled up before Asuha was able to join him, and also explain things like how he got a suit of armor that is literally a business suit. But most importantly, and most effectively, this second volume doubles down on showing you how obviously, knowingly, and teeth-grindingly irritating Ichiro is to everyone and everything around him, and the effect this has on both the secondary characters and the reader.
I cannot emphasize this enough: holy Mother of God, Ichiro is annoying. You will want to punch him in his cool, smug, self-satisfied face multiple times as you read this book. It’s far more clear in this second novel that it’s deliberate, and reader sympathy is meant to be with the young gamer and wannabe fashion maven Iris rather than him. He is the sort of character that, were he an antagonist or a villain, would receive the absolute best retribution possible, possibly while screaming “THIS CANNOT BE!!!”. Sadly, Ichiro is the hero, and the book’s whole purpose is that he really is this good at everything. Only King Kirihito was able to actually challenge him in the game, and since this is a flashback to the previous week, you know that he’s going to succeed at everything ridiculously easily here. That said, I liked his insistence that it doesn’t matter if Iris’ butterfly brooch is aesthetically good or not – he likes it, so therefore it’s fine.
Iris herself is a good character, far more developed than Asuha/Felecia, mostly as she gets to express everything the reader wants to. Every time Ichiro praises her creations, it sounds like he’s really calling them awful, simply due to how bluntly he speaks all the time. I liked the glimpses of her real-world life, and showing off how talented kids who are used to being the center of attention can get crushed when they go to a school that specializes in talented kids and realize other people are, in fact, better than they are. She also has a nice sense for biting retorts, as I’ve said. The author’s afterword says that webnovel readers have nicknamed her “the Evil God”, and I look forward to seeing why, though I can hazard a guess or two.
Other than Iris, the main reason to plow through this book despite Ichiro is the writing style – it’s funny and assured, and the narration has its own distinct voice, something I always enjoy. This is also due to the translation, of course, which is excellent – probably my favorite J-Novel Club translation to date in terms of noticing the quality (though Sera did get gendered at one point, which only serves to remind us how ridiculously difficult it is to avoid giving away gender in English). Recommended to anyone who loves seeing smug jackasses win effortlessly and be smug about it. Also, bonus points for having Voltron show up, only one volume after the SAO sentai team parody.