Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sword Art Online novel 15
Note For Anime-Only Viewers: this synopsis and review has massive spoilers for those who have not finished the second cour of the TV series version.
On the Ocean Turtle, a bit more than an hour has passed since Rath received Kirito's contact and the core team is now holed up in the innermost workings of the ship. They know Kirito has found Alice but can see that he is effectively inactive, so they decide to send someone in on an admin account to revive him. Meanwhile, the attackers, who are also after Alice, get the same idea when they realize that they can't safely penetrate Rath's defenses within their time limit, only their representatives opt to go in through accounts in the Dark Territory.
In Underworld, three months have passed since Administrator was struck down. Alice, who has taken to living in the woods near Rulid, is looking after a catatonic Kirito while the remaining Integrity Knights marshal their forces and attempt to train others to fend off an anticipated mass assault from the Dark Territory. She soon learns that, as much as she wants to distance herself, the danger is too great and the stakes are too high. The Dark Territory forces are gathering for a mass assault on the eastern gate of the human realms under the leadership of their recently-revived Emperor and she may be the only one powerful enough to hold the line.
Although Sword Art Online is, first and foremost, Kirito's story, it has on occasion shown that it can manage just fine with Kirito not being the viewpoint character and/or relegated to a supporting role for a time. This, however, is the first time that Kirito has been rendered incapable of even participating in the events of the story. It probably goes without saying that he's not going to remain that way, but this entire volume passes without him doing anything beyond just sitting around and drooling. Whether that's an improvement or not entirely depends on your view of Kirito as a character.
With Kirito effectively functioning as an object rather than a character, the viewpoint gets spread around more than it ever has before, with at least four different perspectives being addressed over the course of these events. One is effectively Asuna's, which allows the reader to understand what is going on with the Rath side of things. The second is one of the men on the assault team, a power player who has learned about Alice from a mole within Rath and wants her for himself. He allows us to see what the attackers are up to and later some of what's going on in the Dark Territory. The third perspective is that of a knight leader near the top of the Dark Territory's proverbial food chain, a figure who seemed quite reasonable but, sadly, will not be participating in the rest of the story. Through his eyes we get a picture of what the Dark Territory is really like. And the fourth and most important perspective is that of Alice herself, who is now effectively the story's lead protagonist.
Of these viewpoints, the power broker takes on the role of the story's new chief antagonist (even if the other major characters aren't aware of that yet), and to say that author Reki Kawahara went overboard in his characterization might be putting it mildly. He's a psychopath, a serial killer with blood on his hands since his childhood, and involved in a lot of shady business, and what he wants Alice for is anything but wholesome and not even purely practical. One of the mercenaries he's teamed with joins him in Underworld, but that guy is more of a thrill-seeker; the power broker is evil at least on a level with Suguo and certainly beyond Death Gun. By the end of the volume he hasn't done anything truly dastardly in Underworld yet, but that's probably just a matter of time.
The other key viewpoint is Alice's. She showed signs over the last two volumes of coming into her own as a character, and here she handles the burden of protagonist quite well. She's a young woman looking to find a balance between being an Integrity Knight and an ordinary person, while also seeking to have at least some renewed connection to a past that she was forcibly disconnected from. She's also looking after Kirito in his incapacitated state, though the story gives the impression that this is much more a sense of duty than love. He may have saved her life and identity and given her an expanded world view, but she also recognizes that he could be an important player against the Dark Territory if revived. The strain of her relationship with those in Rulid is portrayed starkly and effectively. Most importantly, while Kirito is in her world, her world doesn't depend on him. A few other characters who have popped up over the course of the last six volumes also make mostly-welcome return appearances, and I expect more as the story progresses.
The other major aspect of this volume is its dramatic expansion of the Underworld setting, both in terms of the map shown and the details made available about the Dark Territory. The latter is basically the uncontrolled side of the world as a foil to the controlled side, which makes it a vastly more chaotic affair with a much harsher “survival of the fittest” style of mentality. Though most of it is utterly standard fantasy fare, the views painted here of the “dark side” make it out to be an interesting place; if Kawahara considers doing some sides stories down the line about the Dark Territory, I'd be all for that.
With so much going on across so many viewpoints, the novel's 231 pages don't have time to advance the story much, but it still covers a lot of territory and at least finds a suitably dramatic ending point. As always, it opens with several glossy illustrations and the aforementioned map, has several black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout, and ends with a two-pages Afterword where Kawahara discusses his visit to Anime Expo around the time that Sword Art Online II was airing. He comments about how the story is now “rushing towards its climax,” and while that's still three volumes off, it does feel like things are moving more quickly now than before.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Expanded worldview, Alice proves capable of carrying the story
Full encyclopedia details about
Release information about
|discuss this in the forum (3 posts) ||