Reki Kawahara continues this superpowered journey with The Isolator 2: The Igniter. While he makes it clear that he wants this story to be a science battle story, seeing a bunch of science tossed around feels a bit odd, not necessarily in a bad way either. And me, someone who was never good in chemistry or anything with atoms and whatnot, just kind of nods along as a whole lot of science is tossed my way.
Anyway, The Isolator 2: The Igniter was released on February 10, 2015 (January 26, 2016, in the US) and is the second installment of the Isolator series.
Picking up after Minoru agreed to join the SFD, this volume focuses on introducing a slew of new characters and further developing the ones we’ve already met. We get a deeper look at the SFD and how they operate and even the “professor” who serves as the one managing this ragtag group of teens. But mainly, this volume aims to strengthen the bond between Minoru (Isolator) and Yumiko (Accelerator), and in that aspect, this volume accomplishes just that.
The plot follows Minoru as he starts getting acquainted with the home base of the SFD, a building hidden in a forest, masked by one of the higher-ups using his power. Due to being new, he has to learn the ropes and really prove himself to be a good fit for the team. At the same time, in a different location, a man by the name of Ayato Suka—code name: Igniter—murders someone by scorching him into a pile of ash. With his motives unknown and his power being a dangerous one, the SFD is keen on stopping him as soon as possible. Yumiko especially is after blood, seeking revenge on the Igniter and promising that she will kill him whenever she is given the chance.
Like with the last volume, the plot is pretty simple. It all revolves around finding the Igniter and stopping him. While the villain is the subtitle of this book, he is by far the weakest aspect of it as well. For the most part, this story flourishes in the character moments throughout. As the team comes together either to track down Igniter or just to hang around, those moments are when this story shines—which is par for the course when it comes to Reki Kawahara novels.
We do, however, get a deeper exploration of how the powers work. Although the way it’s achieved exactly is a mystery, every power has a way of manipulating atoms, which is a huge part of what this story entails. I’m no scientist so I can’t speak of how accurate a lot of the information here is, but at the very least, the way a lot of those powers are used, and how they work, is pretty interesting in its own right.
While it’s serviceable, the plot isn’t anything new, but because of it, the characters are what become the main focus, which is exactly where Kawahara’s strengths lie. This book especially accentuates that.
Since I mentioned it before, I’ll get him out of the way: Ayato Suka, the villain.
While I felt pretty indifferent about The Biter at the beginning of volume 1, by the end of it I could entirely sympathize with him as a person. I understood why he did what he did and made him feel almost tragic because of it. I ended up enjoying him as a villain and felt it really worked as the story wrapped up…but I can not say the same about The Igniter.
From the get-go, you somewhat understand what his goal is, and as the story progresses, that goal is firmly solidified…but the motive isn’t. While there is a motive, there isn’t enough there for this to truly feel like a fleshed-out character. At times it felt like you were missing entire chunks of information, and plenty of times I thought we would get the answers to some of that, but we never did. By the end, this villain felt flat and more pointlessly evil than he really should’ve been. All of that landed him to be the weakest part of this story.
Apart from that, however, It’s mostly positive.
This volume introduces a few new characters, each one with their own charm that makes them likable from the get-go, and mesh well with the rest of the team: Riri Isa (Code Name: Speculator), Olivier Saito (Code Name: Divider), Sanae Ikoma (Code Name: Shooter), and a small appearance of someone by the code name of Refractor. While we don’t get much about each character, we do get to see everyone’s power at play, which in turn gives you hints at what their underlying trauma might be. Each one moves the plot forward, either directly through actions that facilitate their search for Igniter or to serve Minoru’s character growth. Even with many characters being at play at once, it never feels like it bogs down the story.
But the main spotlight of this volume, as stated before, is the relationship between Yumiko and Minoru. After the rocky start to their relationship in the last volume, the threat of Igniter has forced Yumiko to be more open to Minoru from the start of this volume, revealing more about her as a person. Minoru, having to spend much of his time in the SFD with Yumiko, gets the most human interaction he’s had from someone who wasn’t family through her and even reveals tidbits of his own past to her. Through this show of vulnerability and trust, their bonds grow much stronger throughout the volume, which is a great development for Minoru’s character who is now moving past his more depressive state from volume one—but it’s not entirely gone, obviously.
All-in-all, while it is a stronger and more enjoyable volume than the first, the villain leaves much to be desired and even the final confrontation ends up being a bit anticlimactic in the action department. The pacing is also a bit rushed, and the story could’ve benefitted from holding onto scenes longer, but as usual, Kawahara makes it all up with great characters, and character moments, which is his greatest strength.
Overall Score: 8/10