Story: Reki Kawahara
Translation: Stephen Paul
What They Say
Kirito has wound up in another mysterious fantasy world again. In this VRMMO-ish place, the first person he meets is the young boy Eugeo. Kirito can hardly believe Eugeo’s an NPC when seeing his rich emotions and thoughts and ends up heading to the capital, Centria.
Two years later, Kirito and Eugeo have become First Order initiates of the North Centria Imperial Discipline Sword Academy and have been taken under the wing of their seniors, Soltirina and Golgoth. As they train and learn, they do nothing but strive to become one of the highest keepers of peace and order in the human realm, the Integrity Knights.
Aiming to reach the center of the Axiom Church that controls the capital, the two break past numerous obstacles to try and become one of the elite Greater Master Swordsmen, a title that only
twelve people lay claim to in the whole academy!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
This time, we kick off in the real world with Asuna and company. It’s nice to see Asuna get to be in the lead role again, but perhaps somewhat understandably… this half of the book largely goes into a big old info dump. To start with, we see that they wussed out on the idea of Kirito’s physical body being dead, which could’ve led the series in some pretty crazy directions, but instead things just push more towards being able to reestablish the status quo when the time comes. Anyway, to a large degree, this section comes down to explaining Mr. Kikuoka’s true role in the series, as well as just what exactly Rath is up to. I will give the book that it keeps things flowing okay enough, and it’s a solid section, even if it isn’t filled to the brim with thrills. I do want to especially note, though, that it has a really effective scene going into the whole dilemma of digital clones and the implications of such an experiment, which I really have to give the books props for pulling off so well.
We then jump back into the digital world, and find Kirito and Eugeo preparing for the Zakkaria tournament. This is honestly the most eh section of the book, though it’s also mercifully the shortest. I suppose the biggest bit here is the reveal that Kirito has a tiny observer who’s been clinging to him, of which he’s unaware. At least for now, though, that’s fairly limited to tiny gags and the like, which is inoffensive but also not terribly exciting. Outside of that, it’s just a basic introduction to the swordsmanship of the world, which is just so-so and is handled far better later anyway.
For the final section of the book, we jump ahead once more to our heroes approaching the end of their first year in the Imperial Swordcraft Academy. The primary core here is to essentially drive in the way that the Underworld more or less runs on willpower, and I will give the book that it at least has the foresight to bring this up in a variety of ways, helping to kind of infuse this section with a theme. The core way that’s brought about is through Kirito’s elder disciple/mentor, Sortiliena Serlut. She actually has a light character arc here, as she’s been consistently unable to overcome the much more confident first ranked student, Volo Levantein. I will say the actual events themselves as they play out aren’t bad… but it is kind of lame that Kirito swoops in and beats Volo himself for the climax of this arc, rather than letting our hero actually step back into something of a support role for once. We do at least get to see Kirito get a new sword, though, and that’s pretty neat, especially as there are hints that it ties into the willpower system in a pretty neat way, through its roots in the Gigas Cedar. Oh, and I do need to mention one more thing: there’s a bit where Kirito is raising flowers, which once more ties back into the willpower thing. But… good lord, he ends up looking real pathetic when he kind of breaks down after some bullies mess them up. I’m sure it COULD be written and tweaked to work well, but as is, it’s just kind of sad.
So, this volume is fairly understandably something of a transitionary volume, and as a result it spends pretty much all its time setting things up. As a result, it’s of course a little on the slow side, but I will say that it actually doesn’t do all too bad with that considered. For example, the first half goes to a big old info dump, but it’s paced decently and actually has at least one really neat scene to prop it up. And then after that we get some more in-depth info on the workings and culture of the Underworld itself, which is okay enough. There are at least some neat ideas, as well as some thought put into tying things together with a proper theme, which is certainly appreciated. Though on the other hand, there are a few awkward choices that do undermine things a bit near the end, which is a shame. Ultimately, this volume isn’t going to blow you away, but that’s at least in part because its aims are more focused on setting the stage for what’s to come. In that light, I’d call it a success, and if you’ve been enjoying the series/arc so far, this will probably at least tide you over until things hopefully heat up a tad more next time around.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: N/A
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: 14+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: April 18th, 2017