Review: The Isolator (Vol 1)

(art by Shimeji)
(art by Shimeji)

For general information on this series: The Isolator entry

This review is for the first volume of The Isolator by Reki Kawahara. The English edition was released by Yen Press in June 2015. The second volume will release in January 2016. So far, there are two volumes available in Japan.

Vol 1 -- The Biter
Vol 1 — The Biter

This was one of the two light novels covered in this sites’s summer reading program for July, and was chosen due to the timing of this book’s release. Also, I thought it sounded interesting.

The Isolator is a series by Reki Kawahara, who is famous for writing Sword Art Online and Accel World. He wrote a story online titled Absolute Solitude back when he was working on the original Sword Art Online web novel, but about a year ago he went back to rework the former into a light novel release that became what is now The Isolator.

I did not expect to like The Isolator as much as I did, because I wasn’t able to care for the author’s more popular works. But as it turned out, there was a lot that clicked with me in this one, and I think there is a case to be made for the author’s improvement in writing quality over the years. The story deals with a boy named Minoru, who seeks a life of solitude in response to a traumatic childhood experience that resulted in the deaths of his parents and sister. One day, an encounter with an alien energy grants his wish of closing himself off from the rest of the world, but in the form of a super power (i.e. a sort of barrier that surrounds him). As can perhaps be expected, Minoru gets caught up in the machinations of these alien forces and the people they have affected–including a dangerous man known as “The Biter.”

This is a story where the adventure aspects supplement the character arcs, rather than the other way around. Minoru is a protagonist I found easy to sympathize with, and I appreciated how time was taken to really develop his character and show how he is feeling. The tragedy of his youth has deeply affected the way he views the world and how he interacts with others. It’s not uncommon for YA stories (and anime, manga, etc) to feature orphan protagonists, but it’s rare for them to really examine how that can impact the character’s day-to-day life. I found all of this handled surprisingly well, and not reiterated to a point that its tone could feel like gratuitous angst.

Interestingly, the story also takes the time to give us the point of view of the Biter–an aspect of the novel that I feel makes it stand out even more. It’s rare to see things from the eyes of the antagonist, and I found it interesting to compare his general experience with Minoru’s. All in all, the book was written in a manner that supports its plot and themes quite nicely, and gives it a bit more weight than is typical of an action-oriented story.

There isn’t much I have to say in terms of negatives. There are some side characters (such as the girl on the cover) who don’t get as much development, but as this is only “volume 1″ I found it reasonable that more time be taken to establish the premise of the series. It’s one that I’m looking forward to reading more of, and I think fans of sci-fi and more reflective pieces really ought to give it a good look.

Cho’s Rating: Strongly Recommended

3 thoughts on “Review: The Isolator (Vol 1)

  1. thanks for the review :D
    I bought this one when it released but I wasn’t motivated to start it, the review on the back of the book was unclear and boring to me, they should hire you ;)
    I always thought that the girl on the cover is the main character but I guess I was wrong. I really like Kawahara’s writing style so I wouldn’t mind more novels from him (I read SAO too), but sometimes I just wonder how the heck he manages 4 LA series xD

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