****THERE WILL BE SPOILERS OF BOOK ONE****
With .hack//Another Birth #2//Mutation by Miu Kawasaki we have the second book in the four book novelization of the four part video game. In this second book, Akira's quest is continuing directly after volume one has ended. In book one, Akira rejects her younger brother's offer to play in the online The World, which is an immersive virtual MMORPG, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, however, when after Fumikazu lapses into a coma, Akira becomes determined to find out why.
Akira dons her brother's FMD, or the front mounted display goggles that will allow you to explore and play in The World. To do so she has to become a character in this fantasy world, and so she becomes the warrior and avatar BlackRose, a Heavy Blade. During one of her first visits she meets Kite, a Twin Blade newbie, and like BlackRose, Kite is looking for the reason as to why some people who play in The World are lapsing into comas, as his playing partner Orca was struck down.
As she continues playing she will meet series regulars like Chimney (a Blademaster), Nova (a Heavy Blade), Natsume (a Twin Blade), Mistral (a Wavemaster), Balmung, and Mia, a half cat/half human illegal hybrid who seems to know more about what is going on than she should.
While exploring The World, BlackRose and Kite power up their characters, and while doing so find out that The World is being corrupted by unknown hackers. They also realize that to save it, and find out what is behind the players comas, Kite and BlackRose have to defeat a series of increasingly difficult monsters that appear in various levels of the game. They also find themselves on a quest to save Aura, an ethereal figure that keeps popping up, often before a fight of one of these monsters in The World. The mystery of Aura soon becomes one of who is Aura, a real character in The World, or just a ghost in the machine?
They also end up having to run intel assignments for Lio, a merchant-system administrator, or NPC, which is a type of game cop, all to find out who these mysterious hackers are, as the corruption that they are causing in The World is becoming worse, and is spreading. However, after fighting Innes during an investigative run, Kite and BlackRose decide to cut their ties with Lio.
They are also looking for information dealing with "The Fragment", the original version of The World, and how the epigraph danjinshi epic poem "Epitaph of Twilight" by Emma Weilant fits into all of this. Then after a fight with Cubia, the mysterious Helba appears to inform them that they must stay on track, and that rescuing Aura is important.
And through all of this we also explore Akira's real world. Akira earns her place on the first line of her school's tennis team, which is unusual for a freshman, which had caused her to be bullied by jealous upper classmen in the first book, and in this novel the bullying continues, it gets worse. And meanwhile, Akira's family, because of Fumikazu's coma, continues to fall apart. She will also meet upperclassman Hagiya, who wants to date her, despite her not wanting anything to do with him. And then Akira's real life and her game world start to intersect, as BlackRose and Mistral meet in the real world. She also finds that things that are happing in The World might be affecting things that are happening in the real world.
Again, the good things are that Kawasaki, or at least translator Duane Johnson, keeps things moving at a good clip with some good clean prose that makes for some easy reading. And Kawasaki again does a good job in making Akira a rounded person, as her life in The World and in the real world become more fleshed out. Despite that we only meet him in his Kite persona, Kite also becomes a little more rounded, as does Mistral. Sadly, the rest of the characters that make up this novel are little more than furniture that Kawasaki uses to populate the landscape of her novel.
A thing that this novel suffers from is the same thing that most novelizations usually suffer from, and that is that we will never know from the text alone what any of the series characters look like. Thankfully, this book, as do all of the novels in this series, has a two page character gallery and profile of the novel's major characters so that we can see what they look like. This novel is also profusely illustrated by Waka and Tomcat of CyberConnect2, so we can visualize what The World and the characters that populate it look like. This also a series that would benefit from including in each book a glossary, as those who aren't familiar with the game could at least read this book. But, it doesn't and those who aren't familiar with the games, mangas, or the animés will be lost, and should stay away. I WAS a fan of the animés, but, never having played the game, much was lost on me, but then, I am not familiar with astrophysics, and I can enjoy space opera, so . . . Anyway, I enjoyed this novel because I was familiar with this world, and this book contains a history of this alternate world where The World game exists, and that helps, as does a several page character file of character designs that is in each book. In the end however, this is a book that I give four stars to because fans of .hack will like it, but those who are unfamiliar with anything .hack should just stay away. And just remember, you can't read just one of these and understand what is going on, you have read them as a set.
For this site I have also reviewed the following books in this series:
1.) .hack//: Another Birth, Vol. 1 (v. 1)
2.) .hack// Another Birth Volume 2//Mutation_ (v. 2)
3.) .hack// Another Birth Volume 3 (v. 3): Outbreak_
4.) .hack// Another Birth Volume 4 (v. 4): Quarantine_