Minoru Utsugi had a tragic childhood but it has made him want only one thing from life and that is solitude. However sometimes you don’t get what you want in the way you expect and when yours isn’t the only wish being granted all sorts of things can happen.
I’d kind of determined a long time ago I wasn’t going to read the Sword Art Online books. I enjoyed the anime and I’m not really one to chase down the source material of things with a handful of exceptions. Still, I was curious about this series by the same author so when the first book came on sale I grabbed it. Still, hardcover only makes for an interesting reading experience and removing the jacket of the book leaves you with one of the ugliest plain blue books ever (horrible shade and absolutely plain save the spin) so you are stuck having to keep the jacket on while trying to read, leaving the book slipping about or the jacket flapping and all and all I’m just not a fan of actually reading hard cover books. I get they are good for collecting and look good on shelves but the actual reading experience isn’t great (sorry, I’ll leave the rest of that rant for another time along with the bruise I got when I fell asleep reading this and dropped the book on my forehead).
So, this first book in the series, focusing on Minoru’s encounter with a guy who will end up being called The Biter is kind of hard to discuss without plot spoilers. Basically, Minoru had an encounter three months before the start of this story with something that may or may not have been real and since then he’s gotten a bit faster at running and noticed a few other changes. Turns out his encounter was real and he wasn’t the only one to have had such an encounter. Most of this book deals with Minoru coming to terms with the fact that he has a power and that it is going to make him a target and there’s a lot of set-up for future stories going on even while the story around Minoru and The Biter is beautifully concluded in a single volume.
I wish more series would do this. This book tells a complete story in itself and gives the reader a great resolution to that story. The fact that this story takes place within a grander narrative is fine. Now I can choose whether I want to learn more about that larger narrative or not. This story worked fine stand-alone but also made me interested in that ongoing story. Such a great introduction to a series and there is so much potential for what they could do with this story (granted I kind of feel this is heading down the cliché team super hero path but there isn’t anything wrong with that in the end).
I really enjoyed the way the powers were explained and how they are linked (seemingly) to the characters’ desires prior to their encounters. I also like that there’s a lot not yet explained about them and that leaves all sorts of possibilities going forward. If I was to criticise one thing it would probably be the whole ruby/jet binary opposition thing they seem to be setting up as that seems to be making the story a very clear-cut good vs evil story rather than one where we have to consider the human motivation. Unless of course the colours were attracted to the people in the first place based on their inner desires in which case that could end up being fairly interesting. Either way, I’m not going to discuss the plot any further because it will just spoil what is a fairly interesting story.
From a writing point of view, this is pretty well done. There is definitely a reliance on some cliché patterns with the main character having your standard entire family killed back story and then the attachment to the older ‘sister’ who took him in (setting up damsel in distress material). In the absence of a childhood friend there’s the runner from his school who attempts to befriend him and then serves much the same purpose that a childhood friend would. Basically outside of Minoru and the Biter no one else really gets any kind of depth or development as a character. There’s also this odd fixation on small scenes that reinforce Minoru’s character but seem to serve little other narrative purpose. For instance the scene in the convenience store where Minoru ends up giving a boy a few yen to make up the tax difference on a set of cards. There’s a lot of time put into that scene, and while there is a character purpose behind it, it also doesn’t seem enough to justify the words spent on it. However, for the most part the dialogue works well, the descriptions are sufficient, and the story flows along quite well most of the time.
One thing I would have liked is for The Biter to be more of a character. We do get the back story and we learn quite a bit about this character, including why he seems so far gone and crazy, but he really isn’t a particularly satisfying opponent given his own nature is pretty self-destructive in the first place. Admittedly, his power vs Minoru’s is a great way to show off Minoru’s capabilities and just how impressive his isolation is but it would have been nice to see a villain with a bit more wits about him and a little less self-indulgence. This is a minor complaint though in what is a pretty solid story.
All and all, I’m glad I picked this up and I will have a read of the second book. I’m not sure if I will enjoy where the story intends to go next but I’m definitely curious enough to give it a go and even if I don’t end up liking the second book, this first book is a good story as a stand alone.
If you’ve had a chance to read The Isolator I would love to know your thoughts on it.
If you’re interested in reading The Isolator Volume 1 it is available on the Book Depository.