Sword Art Online Vol. 6: Phantom Bullet - Light Novel Review

Entering the Bullet of Bullets tournament with the sniper Sinon, Kirito feverishly hunts down Death Gun to stop him from killing more victims. In order to do so, he’ll have to confront his lingering guilt from his time trapped in Sword Art Online.

The Lowdown

After dueling Sinon to a draw in the preliminary round of the Bullet of Bullets, Kirito prepares for the tournament’s finals with doubt weighing heavily on his mind from his confrontation with Death Gun. Meanwhile, Sinon enters into the final round steeling her mind in hopes of finally gaining the strength by beating Kirito. However, much to her chagrin she quickly finds herself teaming up with the troublesome swordsman after Death Gun appears to claim another victim as Shino’s real-life weakness threatens to dislodge her cool facade as Sinon. Together, the two chase after Death Gun into the forgotten city, hoping to stop him once and for all.

How Was It?

Kirito and Sinon’s effort to solve the mystery of Death Gun’s murders takes them into the final round of the Bullet of Bullets, concluding this arc in an exciting and fulfilling manner. I found the story to be well-paced with the cat and mouse chase between Kirito, Sinon and Death Gun working effectively throughout the majority of the story to maintain the tension level. With the major world-building accomplished in the previous volume, it was quite satisfying that we got more or less constant plot progression for almost the entire volume. The final reveal to the Death Gun mystery worked fairly well, and while the realization felt a little bit on the convenient side it made sense within the context of the plot. I wasn’t blown away, but I wasn’t underwhelmed either, and in my view Kawahara managed to wrap up this plot line in an effective manner.

While Kirito and Sinon’s pursuit of Death Gun throughout the volume was exciting, I found Shino’s internal battle to get stronger and conquer her self-doubt to be the single most compelling arc. I enjoyed her character growth throughout the volume, with her point-of-view chapters illustrating her mental battle in a compelling manner without overstating her struggles. I also felt that Kirito’s personal guilt over his time in Sword Art Online was better fleshed out in this volume and more in line with the way his character had been developed up to this point in the series. I still feel like this could have been done better as the context established doesn’t seem to support his feelings quite as well as Sinon’s history does, even if it does make Kirito’s relationship with Death Gun make more sense.

While Kirito’s story didn’t have nearly the impact on me that Sinon’s arc did, I enjoyed the interplay between the two as they grew internally through their interactions with each other, with Kirito’s own self-realization playing an important role in this. However, Shino’s personal struggle remained the highlight of this volume and I thought it was wrapped up in an emotionally effective and satisfying manner before culminating in a great scene at the end of the book. Some might find it a little bit cheesy, but I felt that it hit all of the right notes and perfectly hammered home to her the growth she had experienced throughout the story in a moment of enjoyable catharsis.

The action scenes in this volume continued to thrill, fitting in with the plot effectively and doing a great job taking advantage of the setting well. I particularly enjoyed how Sinon’s character arc fit into the action scenes, as they illustrated her transition from self-doubt to a sense of acceptance while she and Kirito fight Death Gun. This was integrated especially well during action scenes from Sinon’s point of view as we get a first hand look at her mental struggle which did a great job providing some context to the events, creating a strong contrast between her doubt in an earlier scene versus her later resolve. I thought the final confrontation between our duo and Death Gun was well done, utilizing their talents well in an excitingly dramatic display. However, without spoiling anything the true climax of the book stood out not for its action but in how well it conveyed a distinct sense of terror that linked in well to previous events.

Making a return from the previous volume were continued switches between point-of-view characters, alternating between Kirito and Sinon as well as Asuna on the outside. The switches in perspective between Kirito and Sinon were enjoyable, giving different looks at the action which I thought kept things fresh while developing their characters. However, I felt that the scenes focusing on Asuna and her friends bogged down the narrative a tad, with not a whole else going on beyond them sitting in a room and worrying about Kirito for no clear reason. These scenes were thankfully short and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, but they weren’t used nearly as effectively as they could have been.

Final Thoughts

Kirito and Sinon’s fight against Death Gun ends in an exciting and conclusive fashion, and while some of the final reveals feel a little too convenient, the plot still hits the right narrative notes satisfyingly. The action is exciting and well paced, taking advantage of GGO’s setting in a great way. Most of all, Kawahara does a great job creating an emotionally fulfilling end to Shino’s character arc that resonates nicely and feels properly earned. Coming in at a beefy 300 pages, this is the best volume in the series so far and I’m excited to see where the series takes these characters next.


Sword Art Online Vol. 6: Phantom Bullet was published by Yen Press on December 15th, 2015. Authored by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by ABEC the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. The series has received a two season anime adaption and volume 7 will be published in English on April 21st, 2016.

Verdict:

A

Date of Publication: December 15th, 2015

Translator: Stephen Paul

Author: Reki Kawahara

Publisher: Yen Press