After a mysterious player calling himself “Death Gun” claims responsibility for real-world deaths, Kirito dives into the new virtual reality game “Gun Gale Online” to investigate in this manga adaption of the hit light novel series Sword Art Online.
One year after escaping from the death game Sword Art Online, Kirito and Asuna have managed to move on with their lives. After the release of Akihiko Kayaba’s “seed” program, many more virtual reality MMOs have popped up including the popular shooter Gun Gale Online (“GGO”). After one of the top players in the game mysteriously dies, rumours spread that a shadowy figure known as “Death Gun” is responsible and capable of killing people from within the game. Hoping to prove that the rumour is false, the Japanese government asks Kirito to log in to GGO and investigate.
Sword Art Online Phantom Bullet Vol. 1 is undeniably a little bit of a slow starter as sets up its story. Although we get plenty of action in the second half of the volume, its first half is definitely on the slower side that is focused on setting the stage and providing context for the major conflicts. About half of the first chapter is devoted to recapping Kirito and Asuna’s journey through Aincrad for new readers. This turned out to be a surprisingly engaging revisiting of the story which nailed all of the emotional highlights of that series without wasting too much time. It was also extremely well drawn (much more so than that story-arc’s actual manga adaption), portraying several of the bigger moments with a wonderful amount of detail. The rest of the volume’s first half was devoted to setting up the bigger murder mystery at hand, and although the premise is interesting the segment drags on for too long with an abundance of uninterrupted dialogue.
Thankfully, the second half of the volume is full of action as the focus shifts to following the sniper Sinon as her raiding party takes on an enemy convoy in GGO. This scene is well done, showcasing all of the main mechanics of GGO in a manner that doesn’t require much exposition. We see immediately how different a world GGO is compared to the settings of Aincrad and Alfheim Online, and this reinforced nicely the considerably darker tone this story takes to complement the central murder mystery.
The battle itself is appropriately paced, creating a visual showcase that is exciting and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Although we don’t to see much of Sinon’s character, I enjoyed the portrayal of her character as I felt that the way her body language was portrayed conveyed her icy approach to the game. We never really get the feeling that she is in too much danger during this scene, but it is still thrilling because of a couple of the set-piece moments (especially one where she launches herself off a building to make a shot) really convey the thrill of playing in a virtual-reality type game and the release it provides its users from the constraints of every-day life.
Mangaka Koutarou Yamada’s artwork is perhaps the one aspect of this volume that stood out, giving this volume more punch than it otherwise would have had. Character facial expression are done well, and I enjoyed the occasional use of close-ups to emphasize the emotional states of these characters. In particular, I thought these were used well to subtly characterize Sinon without relying purely on dialogue, with close-up shots getting across her cold determination effectively. The artwork as a whole conveyed a wonderful sense of detail that really came through in this volume’s action scenes, as the speed and motion these characters move with is well portrayed. Although this volume doesn’t have quite as many action scenes to make use of this, I can’t wait to see how Yamada’s skills will be put to use as the story-line really gets going.
Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet Vol. 1 is a competent start to the series that will please those already invested in this franchise. It’s a little bit slow to get going and doesn’t fully establish the story, but the action scene taking up the second half of the volume is exciting and well-drawn. Although those who have watched the anime and read the light novels likely won’t find anything new here, this volume is worth picking up for those wishing to experience this story again.
Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet Vol. 1 was published by Yen Press on January 26th, 2016 and translated by Stephen Paul. Authored by Koutarou Yamada and based on the original story created by Reki Kawahara, the series is currently ongoing in Kadokawa’s Dengeki Bunko Magazine. Volume 2 is scheduled to be released in English on April 26th, 2016.
Check out all of our other Sword Art Online reviews!:
Main Sword Art Online Series Light Novels:
Vol. 1, Vol. 3, Vol. 4, Vol. 5, Vol. 6
Sword Art Online Progressive Manga: Vol. 1, Vol.2, Vol. 3
Sword Art Online Progressive Light Novel: Vol. 1 , Vol. 2, Vol. 3
Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet (Manga): Vol. 1
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