The Isolator Vol. 1 - Light Novel Review

In the wake of a supernatural meteor shower which grants special powers to a select group of individuals, sci-fi action and teenage angst abound in the latest series from the author of Sword Art Online and Accel World!

"I’m looking for absolute solitude... that’s why my code name is Isolator"

The Lowdown:

After the tragic murder of his family, all Minoru Utusgi has wanted to do is disappear into complete and absolute solitude. After enduring eight years of anguish, everything changes when a supernatural orb falls from space and embeds itself in him, giving Minoru a path towards the realization of his wish. However, Minoru soon discovers that others have been given powers as well and that their goals are not nearly as harmless as his. Soon, Minoru finds himself drawn into a battle between those carrying the murderous “Ruby Eye” and must use his new found power to protect those he cares about.

Who Is It For?

The Isolator will appeal to those who enjoy sci-fi action series such as A Certain Magical Index, as well as fans of Kawahara’s other works.

How Was It?

The Isolator’s story doesn’t present anything particularly original or notable, but executes well upon its premise and delivers an enjoyable if somewhat familiar story. There certainly isn’t a shortage of stories which follow the typical “angsty high-school protagonist receives power and must figure out to use this to save his loved ones” plot line, but to The Isolator’s credit this narrative mold actually fits it quite well. I found this story’s sci-fi trappings to be quite interesting and well-developed enough to hold my interest throughout, even if I never really had to guess which direction the plot would pursue. In particular, I found the explanation provided about the nature of the powers given by the jet-eyes and ruby-eyes quite fitting, and enjoyed that it left the door wide open to many promising directions the plot could go in.

Without giving away anything, the powers given by the jet and ruby orbs were one of the most compelling parts of the story and actually helped to provide some good depth to a number of The Isolator’s characters. Protagonist Minoru Utsugi’s power is the ability to manifest an unbreakable shell around his body, which in the right hands would be an extremely powerful ability and would easily dispatch this story’s villian. However, Minoru still suffers from lingering trauma caused by the death of his parents, create a power mental block and preventing him from utilizing his powers in anything close to an effective manner. Because of this, The Isolator Vol. 1 never really presents its action sequences as a battle of sheer power but is more about Minoru’s mental battle to overcome his lack of confidence. This was a good decision because his ability is undeniably overpowered but this lack of confidence keeps him in check, preventing him from becoming the type of hero the protagonist of Kawahara’s other more famous work is routinely criticized for being. While this may become problematic in future volumes, I can’t deny that it worked well for the purposed of the plot in this volume and was a good narrative decision.

The Isolator Vol. 1 also benefited greatly from developing its villain to an uncommon degree compared to many of its genre peers. A significant amount of page-space is spent showing the perspective of this volume’s antagonist, The Biter. This was surprisingly well realized and was extremely effective in providing depth to his character, with the focus on his back-story providing a great sense of perspective of his character. Without this, The Biter would almost certainly have been nothing more than a one-dimensional cartoon villain but the work Kawahara puts in to developing him as a character adds a significant amount of emotional investment to Utsugi and The Biter’s conflict. This propped up the action scenes nicely, giving them more tension than they otherwise would have had if Minoru was forced to fight a more unremarkable adversary.

One of the biggest things I noticed in The Isolator was that the writing style was not nearly as refined as it could have been. As I was reading through the book, the pacing suffered because of Kawahara’s overbearing use of descriptors, making scenes drag on for longer than would have otherwise been necessary. It’s important to note that although The Isolator Vol. 1 was published in book format in 2014, like Sword Art Online it was originally posted online in 2004. This could explain why the writing style is not up to the level I’ve previously seen from Kawahara, and while this does not by any means cripple the book, it was something that I noticed as an issue especially during the first half. It’s also worth noting that this was not because of an awkward translation as Yen Press did a great job as usual with this aspect of the release.

Another aspect of The Isolator which could have been improved was the pacing, as it felt that certain sequences took up a disproportionately larger amount of space than they needed to. This affected the action scenes the most, as it really felt like Kawahara could have been more economical in his description of the events. In addition, the fight scenes are negatively impacted because the book doesn’t quite manage to sell that Minoru is in any actual danger due to the power of his ability. As I noted above, the emotional tension created by the character development The Biter receives helps to compensate for this problem, it would have been nice if there was a more of a convincing sense of danger to the protagonist that matched his description.

Final Thoughts

The Isolator Vol. 1 is an enjoyable sci-fi action story that manages to go beyond its distinctly familiar and formulaic set-up. While those looking for a different take on the genre won’t find it here, The Isolator undeniably executes well upon its premise because of the attention paid to its two main characters. The volume’s overall back-story supports this well, and the answers provided with regard to the powers characters are given opens the door on a number of promising directions the plot could take in future volumes. The Isolator Vol. 1 is well-worth reading and is another interesting series from Kawahara which will be sure to please fans of his other works.


The Isolator, Vol. 1
By Reki Kawahara

The Isolator: Realization of Absolute Solitude Vol. 1: The Biter was published by Yen Press on June 23rd, 2015. Authored by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by Shimeji, the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. First published in Japan on June 10th, 2014, two volumes have currently been released.

Verdict:

B

Date of Publication: June 23rd, 2015

Translator: Adair Trask

Author: Reki Kawahara

Publisher: Yen Press


Matt

Matt is a broke law student by day, broke law student by night, and one of the co-founders of Taykobon in his dwindling spare time. Although his favourite series tend to be shonen adventure series, he also has a soft spot for slice-of-life shojo romances. He enjoys following the manga industry, and is a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays in other nonexistent spare time. 

Favourite series: Bakuman

Favourite author: Io Sakisaka