Backed into a corner after his wings are stolen, Haruyuki and Takumu suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of Seiji Nomi. Without his signature power, Haruyuki will have to find another way to rise above in this series from the author of Sword Art Online.
On the verge of defeating Seiji Nomi, Haruyuki and Takumu are shocked when Nomi is healed by their friend Chiyuri, allowing him to soundly defeat them. Reeling from this betrayal, Haruyuki and Takumu return to the real world to train further in using the Incarnate system without the assistance of Kuroyukihime, who is still on her class trip. After seeking out their friend Niko - otherwise known as the Red King - Takumu trains while Haruyuki races to solve the mystery of why Nomi doesn’t appear on their local duel network. Wanting to finish this fight before Kuroyukihime returns, Haruyuki and Takumu struggle onwards towards a final climactic duel with Nomi.
Volume 4 picks up immediately after the captivating cliffhanger Vol. 3 ended with as Haruyuki and Takumu are betrayed by their friend Chiyuri. Sensibly deciding they need to train to take on Nomi, they proceed to do just that over the course of the next 160 or so pages. Of course, things happen during this time period, but sadly this turns out to be a rather bland use of time. Going to the Red King Niko for help, Takumu and Harukyuki go their separate ways, as Takumu goes to train with the Incarnate system.
In the meantime, Haruyuki goes on a rather uninteresting quest to figure out the secret behind Nomi’s ability to hide from their local duel list. It doesn’t help that along for the ride is new character Blood Leopard, who turns out to be one of the most uninteresting characters so far thanks to her stoicism, adding nothing to the main story. Sadly, there is little character development or meaningful interaction here that actually progresses the story, meaning I could have almost skipped entire sections of pages without having lost much of anything in terms of the story. This wouldn’t be a grave sin if there was a sense of fun, or if interesting things were going on but this volume felt like it took itself far too seriously without anything to keep the tone lighter and the pace moving.
This is part of a broader issue that plagues this volume - it suffers from a severe case of overwriting, with too much talking and not enough actual doing. Haruyuki fills these pages feeling a number of emotions; believing in Chiyuri, hating Nomi, missing Kuroyukihime, but the emotions all feel relatively underdeveloped and repeated way more than they had the right to be. It would be one thing if it seemed like Haruyuki actually developed as a character through all of this, but the constant bombardment of the same emotions over and over had me tired by the end of this volume. This volume spent more time telling us how the characters felt rather than actually showing so, resorting to exposition to explicate the emotions each character was going through rather than actually conveying this through their actions. While Haruyuki does get a minor bit of character development, it’s hard not to feel like he goes through the exact same arc as in each other book, going from doubt, to slight confidence before miraculously pulling things together at the end.
Much like the earlier parts of the book, the final battle against Nomi suffers from an overabundance of description and silly dialogue. If I were to boil down to bullet point form what took place in the battle, the plot was actually quite good and fairly interesting. Although the action scenes were crisp and well-written, the overabundance of dialogue and explication killed any sense of momentum it might otherwise have had. I was slightly amazed at how many times both Nomi, Haruyuki and Takumu simply stood around yelling about each other about the power of friendship in the midst of battle, slowing the pacing down significantly.
Worse than that, it all came off as fairly silly given the simplicity of the arguments being made, with Haruyuki more or less telling him “you don’t know what friendship is!” and Nomi yelling back “ha ha I don’t need friends I’ll crush you anyways”. While I didn’t go in expecting significantly deep character motivations, I would have hoped for a little more though being put into this confrontation than that. I was somewhat disappointed when Nomi was more or less turned into a cartoon villain mad at the world. as it seemed like the story teased some interesting potential in exploring his backstory, but it rings hollow in the result. Similarly, we finally get some details about Takumu’s backstory that could have led to some character development but these are seeming neglected, leaving him just as flat throughout this volume as he has been in the series to date. In spite of all of this, the plot actually wraps up pretty well and in a satisfying manner that hit the right dramatic beats even if they were buried under the copious dialogue.
Thankfully the final chapter turns out to be the most enjoyable in the book with Kuroyukihime finally back in the picture again. This was a breathe of fresh air after the overly serious proceedings, as we finally got to see some character development and enjoyable interaction between these characters again. While I would never accuse Kuroyukihime by herself of being a particularly engaging character, Kawahara does a great job throwing her slightly off balance in this chapter, and the moments such as here where her composure cracks slightly are both telling and enjoyable to see. This chapter also does more to develop Haruyuki’s personality than the 220 pages before it precisely because doesn’t feel the need to bombard the reader at every turn with an explication of his feelings, and I hope that this becomes more of a trend again in future volumes.
Although I was fairly critical of this volume above, I still enjoying reading it and I believe this series is still worth reading. The problem is that this book could have easily been about 100 pages shorter and been better for it, with the final battle feeling way too drawn out. The first half of the book is not nearly interesting enough to justify how long it is, and the the execution just wasn’t there in the second half of the volume to keep things from feeling silly and drawn out. The characters were certainly not a highlight either, with Haruyuki, Takumu and Chiyuri only receiving very simplistic development and Nomi turning into a cartoon villain despite the opportunity for exploring his character more. Hopefully now that Kuroyukihime is back in the fold and this arc is over the series can return to a better sense of pacing as well as a lighter tone.
Accel World Vol. 4: Flight Toward A Blue Sky was published by Yen Press on July 21st, 2015. Authored by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by Hima the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. The series has received a one season anime adaption and volume 6 will be published in English on March 22nd, 2016.
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