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Sword Art Online Vol.#06 – Phantom Bullet Novel Review

5 min read

Sword Art Online Volume 6 Novel CoverShowdown during the Bullet of Bullets!

Creative Staff
Story: Reki Kawahara
Art: abec
Translation: Stephen Paul

What They Say
In an effort to discover the truth behind Death Gun, Kirito has entered the Bullet of Bullets tournament in Gun Gale Online,” and both he and Sinon the sniper girl have made it to the finals, and the reality of what they discover is stranger than anything they could’ve prepared for. Lives are on the line once again as Sinon is forced to face her own past–but can Death Gun’s bizarre rampage be stopped in time?

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The volume kicks off, not with a bang but with a crapton of thinly veiled recap and setup. It’s not the worst thing ever, but the book spends far too long seemingly more or less assuming that you for some godforsaken reason skipped the last entry but picked this one up, which seems fairly unnecessary. It may be upwards of a tenth of the total length spent on this, and the only real “event” here is Sinon unthinkingly telling Kyouji to “wait for her” until after the tournament, not realizing the underlying context of that statement. Anyway, eventually Kirito and Sinon meet up, and she lays out the basics of the tournament, as well as giving him three names that she doesn’t recognize, which he believes must contain Death Gun.

With all of that out of the way, the meat of the volume finally starts as the tournament’s finals kick off. And almost immediately, Kirito meets up with Sinon while checking out one of the suspects, a player known as Pale Rider. He seems like a good candidate with some real strength behind him, and he actually quickly takes down Sinon’s old “pal” Dyne. Though he of course turns out to be a red herring, the real Death Gun actually appears and takes out Pale Rider before our heroes’ eyes, despite their efforts. As it turns out, he possesses some serious sniping skills in addition to his true deadly weapon, as well as real prowess in general. Anyway, as his gun kicks Pale Rider out of the game immediately, there’s no longer any doubt that he’s for real, and Sinon ends up getting pulled into the loop as well. Which is a bit of a shame as it means we don’t get to see Sinon and Kirito as competitors at all this volume, but it’s not the end of the world as the last volume more or less wrapped up that thread anyway.

Thinking they’ve got a plan down, the pair head into the city area of the battlefield in the hopes of taking out Death Gun with their alliance. But, of course, it turns out that they once more hit another red herring. Thanks to an insanely broken invisibility item that was apparently thus far unheard of in the game, Death Gun manages to sneak up on Sinon and pins her down. Just as he’s about to murder her, Kirito swoops in and snatches her up, but she ends up in a complete mental breakdown from the incident. Even so, they just barely manage to get away in a tense chase scene that’s one of the volume’s highlights in terms of action, with a nice mix of both mental and situational pressure.

While they’re in hiding and licking their wounds, after some emotional bonding, Kirito finally hits on Death Gun’s murder method. And to not give too much away, it’s both interesting and also just a tad disappointing at the same time. It ultimately more or less works out and is kind of intriguing, but there’s also some definite plot contrivances to come together fully. In particular, the way that the screens work in GGO’s registration process seem particularly dumb and set up that way solely so the plot can function, but it’s not the end of the world. Still, the book does at least think on most of this and does a decent enough job of handwaving away the issues, assuming you don’t try to think on it too deeply. And it also has a really nice creepy factor to it, which fits great with the character of Death Gun and the overall feel of the book.

From there, we get the climax of the book in our heroes’ final showdown with Death Gun. It really does hit all the right notes, and fortunately balances things well so that Kirito isn’t the only one who gets a chance to shine. It’s absolutely the highlight of the volume and is masterfully pieced together in a way that’s sure to keep readers glued to the page. And after that, we get a not at all unexpected additional finale back in the real world. It loses a good bit of impact simply because the end of the Fairy Dance arc also did something very similar, but it’s still plenty tense and full of great moments. Though it does rely on a rather extreme example of the “saved by a miraculous happenstance” trope, which is a tad irksome and feels just a little cheap. And finally, we get an epilogue to wrap things up nice and neat, complete with some solid emotional beats that feel well deserved, especially for Sinon.

In Summary
This volume is ultimately a tad weaker than the last one, but it’s still a first class entry in the series that’s sure to please. That isn’t to say it’s without its issues, though. To start off with, the beginning of the book is laden with some serious recap that goes far beyond what’s necessary, which drags things down for a while. It’s also worth noting that despite the set-up, the book’s surprisingly weak when it comes to action for the most part. The two main encounters with Death Gun are both great and top notch, which to be fair is plenty. But even though the setting’s a big elite tournament, pretty much every other fight featured is brief and a little on the bland side. As the first book felt like it nailed that aspect from start to end, this definitely feels like a bit of a step down, which is a shame. Oh, and the secret behind Death Gun’s ability has some cool elements to it, but also feels a little conceptually rough in spots, unfortunately. Outside of that, though, this volume is still a ton of fun and a great read. In particular, Sinon’s character gets some great growth and depth here, to the degree that she ends up easily the most developed female cast member in the series yet. And as she gets (mercifully) little push towards shipping her with Kirito, she stands well on her own, rather than through her relationship to the main character. All in all, even if it isn’t perfect, this is still an entertaining and enjoyable read that’s certain to entertain, so be sure to give it a shot.

Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: N/A
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B+

Age Rating: 14+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: December 15th, 2015
MSRP: $13.00