Sword Art Online, Vol. 13: Alicization Dividing

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

As you might gather from the title, Kirito and Eugeo are divided throughout the book, as the cliffhanger from last time leaves Kirito and Alice hanging off the edge of the tower, and Eugeo needs to go on by himself to duel the last of the Integrity Knights there to stop them. This once again allows the author to alternate between third-person Eugeo POV and first-person Kirito POV. I’m not entirely certain if the hate-on fans have for Kirito is as omnipresent in Japan as it is here in the West, but I get the sense that Kawahara is playing with the reader a bit here. Eugeo is the straightforward, pure, noble type hero and Kirito is the snarky little cheater. Possible the funniest moment in the book is when Kirito wears Eugeo’s sword, and he and Alcie talk for a bit about how difficult using two swords actually is. Kirito doesn’t bring up his past as he feels embarrassed by it. Even Kirito is sick of Kirito. That said, Eugeo does not end up in a good place either.

As I said before, Kirito and Alice end up hanging off the tower by their swords, and have to find a way to climb up about twenty floors. This allows them to snark at each other, bond during fights, and of course for Kirito to tell Alice what’s really going on with the Integrity Knights. I will note that this scene should look fantastic when animated, though I suspect my fear of heights will mean I would never be able to watch it. I was most interested in how Kirito and the author are both telling the reader to think of Alice Zuberg, the little girl and childhood friend, as a separate person from Alice Synthesis Thirty, the Integrity Knight. Kirito knows that saving the former means killing the latter, and is feeling increasingly bad about that. More to the point, Eugeo is clearly there for Alice Zuberg… but Alice the Integrity Knight is obviously being set up as another of Kirito’s love interests.

Speaking of Eugeo, his fight against Bercouli was pretty awesome, and I was amused by the idea of a time-traveling sword slash. Eugeo gets the better of him in sort of a double suicide attack, but unfortunately is then found and brought to the administrator, whereupon he runs up against the necessity of the plot. Kirito and Eugeo are both great protagonists, but there can be only one Kirito in Sword Art Online. And come on, you know that the two friends were going to have to battle at some point. So yes, much as we’d like Eugeo to be strong and throw off the obvious brainwashing, he falls, and the cliffhanger shows that he is now an Integrity Knight with his memory removed. (Speaking of which, Alice, Eugeo and Kirito all have flashes of Kirito being present in their childhood – something Kirito clearly doesn’t recall now. I do wonder what’s going on there.)

So we’re all set up for friend vs. friend next time around. Will they finally be able to take down the Administrator? Well, possibly not, as we’re only now at the halfway point of the Alicization arc. One last thing: Kirito and Alice discovering the true nature of the Senators may in fact be the darkest, most horrifying scene Kawahara has ever written. Well done. I shuddered.

Sword Art Online, Vol. 12: Alicization Rising

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

Last time I mentioned that the regulars not named Kirito barely appeared in the book, and this time they don’t appear at all – even Asuna isn’t in it, as we spend our entire time in Underworld watching Kirito and Eugeo slowly make their way upward in order to stop our chief villain of this arc. It can be a bit frustrating, especially as Kawahara excels at introducing new characters who could conceivably be quite an interesting addition to the ensemble and then leaving them by the side of the road. Eugeo, at least, continues to play the second protagonist role admirably, and once again the narration of the book is divided, with first-person Kirito for the first half and third-person Eugeo for the second. The book, in fact, somewhat mirrors the last one – just as that ended with a pile of exposition after a series of cool fights, so this one begins with the exposition before we get to the fighting. Kirito even gives us a “for those of you just starting this series” intro.

My favorite part of the book was probably the two girls on the cover, Fizel and Linel. They’re introduced at a point where the ordinary reader would be very suspicious, which is why the cover fakeout is so clever – given that they flank Kirito, clearly they’re meant to be new allies that he picks up along the way. A heh. Perhaps not. That said, once their subplot is done they are tossed out of the way like everyone else, and I do wonder if we’ll ever see what becomes of them, particularly if Kirito wins the day, something that is still not entirely certain. The best fight scene in the book goes to an Integrity Knight named Fanatio, which has to be intentional as she certainly seems fanatical. She has a complex about being a feminine knight, both because she was treated as weak by other men before and also because Alice has just arrived and is pulling off being feminine and hella strong perfectly. Kirito, who points out that he’s had the crap kicked out of him by women in fights before, is all too happy to duel her and teach ehr the error of her ways. It’s not terrible, but I’m not sure it comes off the way he wants it to – there’s still a tinge of sexism here.

Of course, we knew that before we reached the top of the tower and the final villain we’d have to fight Alice again. And, as if proving Fanatio to be even more wrong, she proceeds to absolutely kick Kirito and Eugeo’s asses, at least until the obligatory cliffhanger. Given everything that we learn about the Integrity Knights in the early infodump, I am curious as to whether Kirito and Eugeo will be able to snap her out of it – I suspect that may take up a good deal of the next book. In the meantime, Sword Art Online continues to be exactly the sort of series you think it is. The highs still high, the frustrations still omnipresent. I’d still argue it’s well worth a read, unless you hate Kirito.

Also, I found it hilarious that Kirito points out he has now failed to graduate THREE times – from middle school (trapped in SAO), high school (being trapped here), and sword academy (for breaking the taboo index). It’s OK, Kirito, there’s always McRonald’s.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, Vol. 1

By Keiichi Sigsawa, Kouhaku Kuroboshi, and Tadadi Tamori, based on the series created by Reki Kawahara. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks, serialized in the magazine Dengeki Maoh. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Stephen Paul.

The Sword Art Onlione franchise has done a lot of worldbuilding over the course of the series, detailing no less than four different games/VR environments. Some are more popular than others, but I think Gun Gale Online struck a cord with a lot of gamers, as usually these sorts of novels concentrate on sword-based fantasy RPGs – as indeed Sword Art Online did for its first four volumes. So the idea of combining that sort of immersion with a game filled with all sorts of guns, rifles, and lightsaber–sorry, beam swords was incredibly appealing. As for the publisher, I imagine having a spinoff series that did not have to be overseen by Kawahara as much as the others was a plus – the number of regular SAO cast in this first volume is zero. So if you want to read about Gun Gale Online but hate Kirito, have I got a series for you.

This manga is, like a lot of Sword Art Online, based off of a novel. Unfortunately, the novel has not been licensed here as of yet. It’s by Keiichi Sigsawa, who some may know as the creator of Kino’s Journey. Our heroine is Karen, an incredibly tall girl who went to a women’s college to try to change her self-conscious self, but found when she got there that most of the other students already knew each other, and she’s still huge, so she’s mostly a social outcast again. She decides to try to forget about it by playing a VRMMO… but every one she tries gives her another tall avatar. As a last resort, she tries Gun Gale Online, and finds that – finally – she’s short and cute. Now she and her pink gun (OK, Bambi) can have as much tiny fun as they want! (I am reminded of Log Horizon, where Akatsuki originally played as a huge male assassin because “games allow you to be something you’re not”.

We see Llenn (her screen name) gradually getting used to the game with the help of another player, Pitohui, who is the very definition of “obviously evil”, not that this seems to register with Llenn. As she gets a gun and starts to go after other players, she begins to have a lot of fun – botjh because her small form is very good at this sort of thing and also because, well, it’s a game, and in a game, killing others can be fun. That said, this is SAO, so we know those sorts of feelings are always dangerous, especially when helped along by Pitohui, who seems to be trying to make Llenn into a tiny little killing machine. (There is a very disturbing scene in reality midway through the book, showing a young woman (I really hope it’s a young woman, she looks far too young) on top of a guy, sexing him up while also threatening him regarding the upcoming GGO match. It’s heavily suggested this is Pitohui in real life, and does not bode well for our heroine. It also feels oddly out of place.)

The rest of the book is gun battle fun, as Llenn gets a partner who seems taciturn and scary at first but eventually shows he’s a nice enough guy. Are they good enough to win a tournament even though there’s only two of them? Even if their opponents look to literally be JSDF? What is Pitohui scheming? And can we really get through an SAO spinoff without Kirito showing up at all? Find out in the next thrilling volume!