All Ages of Geek The Isalator

The Isolator Volume 1 The Biter Review

Whenever you mention Sword Art Online, people all over (who are into anime at least) will have at least heard of the name. Fewer might recognize its sister series, and basically sequel, Accel World, but it still has some fans if you look hard enough.

The writer of both of these series, Reki Kawahara, is one of the most popular light novel authors full stop. But there’s one series by him that is not talked about as much and is overshadowed by Accel World and especially Sword Art Online.

That series is “The Isolator”.

Originally written in 2005, The Isolator was a web novel series Kawahara started while he was still writing SAO but was left on hiatus for years. It wasn’t until after he won the 2008 Dengeki Bunko Light Novel Competition and published both SAO and Accel World that he finally decided to publish The Isolator in 2014 (Published in English by YenPress in 2015).

Now, with that in mind, what is The Isolator about?

Teenagers, aliens, superpowers, and a touch of tragedy—that’s how I would describe it.

As for the official YenPress description, it’s as follows:

 Ever since a terrible childhood tragedy, Minoru Utsugi has wished for one thing: solitude. Years later, a bizarre encounter leaves a mysterious artifact in Minoru’s body that grants his wish–but that’s far from the end of his troubles. Others have been visited and given powers like Minoru’s, but their twisted desires are not so benign. When a murderous force threatens the people Minoru holds dear, will his newfound abilities be enough to stand in its way? And can there be a future for someone who craves eternal solitude above all else? The story of the Isolator begins here!

With that being said, how is The Isolator volume 1: The Biter?

Well, let’s get into it—

To start off, I have to mention the best aspect of this novel—the characters.

The MC for The Isolator, Minoru Utsugi, is probably the most well set up main character out of all three of Kawahara’s series. While Kirito and Haru aren’t bad by any means, Minoru pulls you in from the start and doesn’t let go for a moment.

Starting from his tragic backstory to how his depression makes it hard for him to live his day-to-day life is phenomenally done here and makes you care about his character all the way through. His internal monologues and awkward actions add to this, humanizing and making him relatable in a realistic way.

The prose is well done and truly conveys Minoru’s situation. Especially during the calmer scenes when it’s just him and his thoughts. Those scenes were some of my favorites throughout the book.

Minoru’s power is given in a similar way to how the duel avatars work in Accel World. An ability coming from something that the user truly desires. That, in my opinion, works great just from a character standpoint since it lets you dive into a part of any character you encounter without knowing a single thing about them.

For example, Minoru’s ability creates a forcefield around his entire body that blocks absolutely everything from passing through (Except light since he can still see). Knowing that he has trauma (and even without knowing that) anyone could assume what that could mean for the character as long as they know the requirements for getting a power.

The user’s desire.

This goes for the villains as well. In this case, singular villain.

So let’s get into The Biter.

The Biter serves as volume one’s antagonist. While at the beginning he seems like a rather standard villain, simply bad because they are bad, there are small crumbs of information throughout that hint at the fact that there is more to him than what is apparent at first glance.

As his name implies, Hikaru Takaesu—code name: The Biter—has an ability that lets him bite through practically anything—by basically turning into part shark…which is pretty cool honestly.

Although at first I didn’t enjoy his character too much, as I read I began to see more depth in him until it finally reaches a climax near the end of the volume. By the time I finished the volume, I’d found myself caring about the villain, in no small part due to Kawahara’s choice to write from the villain’s perspective as well as the protagonist’s.

Also, keeping in mind that the MC’s ability is to block anything from reaching him, Takaesu’s ability to bite through anything seems like an interesting first villain for the story.

Anyway, although the side characters don’t get as much put into them due to this volume being focused mainly on Minoru and introducing us to his situation, the time that is given to them gives you a good understanding of who they are and how they relate back to Minoru. Each character is used in a way that advances his character and represents a certain aspect of him that he either wants to protect or forget (And how both might not be as separated from each other as it might seem at first glance).

The main heroine, and the one who is on the cover of the book, is Yumiko Azu. For now, we know very little apart from her being a student, is a proficient fighter, and her power is to move extremely fast from one point to another to the point it seems like teleportation—her codename being: Accelerator.

As I mentioned before, with just that information you could infer what her desire might be, but I can imagine it will be touched upon in future volumes.

While she is on the cover, she doesn’t appear much. Apart from being serious about her job to get rid of red eyes—the villains of the story—and the kindness that she can possess under certain circumstances, there hasn’t been much there for her.

The plot in this book isn’t anything to write home about, but it works well for the story being told. It’s overall pretty simple, with the characters being the real highlight, but it sets up the world that can be expanded upon with the next volumes.

That, along with wishing there was more time to expand on his life before the “incident”, are really my only complaints about this volume.

If you’re like me and are someone who really loves character work above all else, then this book is fantastic in that regard. With a simple plot and amazing characters, this first volume is a pretty strong entry into Reki Kawahara’s repertoire. Especially considering it’s one of his lesser-known series.

 If it wasn’t obvious, I tried to include no spoilers because I feel this is a novel you have to check out for yourself–especially if you’re a Reki Kawahara fan.

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