Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet Vol. 002

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kirito has entered the new VRMMO Gun Gale Online in order to investigate the Death Gun incidents, only to discover his avatar is not exactly how he remembers it! He barely knows up from down in this new world, and he needs an ally. He may have found one in the mysterious female sniper Sinon, but she’s got an agenda of her own…

The Review

Volume 2 opens with an entire chapter devoted to Sinon’s real life, and unlike her online persona, Shino Asada can’t stand guns. In fact, a person mimicking a shooting motion is enough to give her a panic attack. Thus, one of GGO’s gutsiest players is ironically the target of bullies. As in the anime, the manga lays out her background and the incident that traumatized her. Yamada-sensei’s illustrations do an excellent job of conveying Shino’s panic attack and depicting the robbery that scarred her. By the end of the chapter, you can’t blame her for her phobia. In addition, the manga includes details not mentioned in the anime that add additional depth to her personal struggle (for instance, the fact that her mother had a damaged psyche even before the shooting incident).

Then the setting moves from real life to the world of GGO, where Kirito and Sinon cross paths for the first time. Although Volume 2 includes an explanation for why Kirito looks the way he does, it only makes his girly avatar that much more peculiar to me. In addition, Kirito chooses a sword as his primary GGO weapon, which strikes me as both improbable (this is the world of guns after all) and disappointing. Previous SAO titles have already established Kirito as a master swordsman; I really wanted to see him forced to handle a completely different skillset. At any rate, his avatar allows him to befriend Sinon (who doesn’t realize he is a guy), and the existence of a photon sword allows him to fight toe to toe with GGO’s best with minimal adjustment.

Kirito’s looks and sword aside, the story is a gripping one as the Bullet of Bullets competition begins. The manga reveals more internal thoughts than the anime, which helps make Kirito’s first brush with Death Gun more chilling. The narrative also draws intriguing parallels between Sinon’s and Kirito’s experiences and their efforts to deal with them in the virtual and real world.

The strength of the plot is matched by the strength of the artwork. Yamada-sensei’s depictions of gun battles and emotional turmoil deliver quite a punch although the bullet predictive lines take some getting used to. I should also mention that Phantom Bullet, like the other SAO manga series, lays on the fan service. Sinon/Shino isn’t nearly as busty as other SAO females, but Yamada-sensei uses every chance he can to get a panty shot in.

Extras include the title page printed in color, embedded notes about GGO, and a comment/illustration from series creator Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

Thanks to Kirito’s androgynous avatar, Sinon lends him a helping hand in getting acquainted with GGO. He quickly gets up to speed, perhaps too quickly for a game so unlike the previous ones he’s experienced. However, once the Bullet of Bullets begins, both he and Sinon must contend against past demons in an internal struggle that lays out all the vulnerabilities of two unparalleled fighters.

First published at the Fandom Post.


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