With their first event battle on the horizon, Kyouka begins preparing Mikami. The payoff is promising – a closed room in which winning players can practice in-game skills and methods without being bound by the rules of the game. Kyouko, who has become popular due to her athletic skills, plans to get ready by physically training. She reveals another theory to Mikami – that raising one’s strength and endurance in the real world improves their in-game avatar as well.
The day of the event comes with a twist: the only real rule of the game is to survive. When the game master first announces that the goal is to beat her, one of the nine participants immediately uses a skill, and is subsequently torn apart by mannequin-like creatures. If a player can survive until the game master ends the event, they will live. If they perform better than the rest, they will be the default MVP. If they manage to defeat her, they will be the true MVP.
The eight remaining quickly make an escape and debate what they should do now. In a game where the last player standing is the automatic winner, can they trust one another? And in a game where survival is key, can they really make it alone?
Even more importantly… can the game master’s promises for the conditions of victory be trusted…?
This was my favourite volume so far (I know, I know – I only had 3 to choose from). I’d argue that the concept of Not Lives definitely is a bit more on the horror side of things to begin with. The idea of “die in the game, die in real life” has shown up in a few horror stories, and while it paints itself as a little more of an action-fantasy, the background is always at least a little unsettling. Volume 3 is the first volume of Not Lives that is almost pure horror, and it does it so, so well.
Eight players with murky motivations are forced to team up with one another, but of course rifts and betrayals are inevitable. With a seemingly unbeatable entity able to watch their every move, and an army of mannequins hunting them down, the atmosphere quickly becomes thick with suspense and fear. There’s even another twist that gives the event probably its biggest horror element, but it’s so well done that I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read yet.
The relationship between Mikami and Kyouka is put on the backburner for this one. At the beginning, Mikami is dreaming of Kyouka, and they continue their comradery as they prepare for the event, but the main focus of volume 3 is definitely the game itself.
I do wish we’d gotten a little more insight into the characters during this battle. Most of the characters in the event are rather unimportant, but we do meet a new avatar who seems as if she will become important later on. The volume teases just a bit at her backstory, without ever really saying much. I expect she’ll show up again soon.
Volume 3 closes on a cliffhanger. Considering that volume 4 isn’t due out until December 27th, it’s going to be a long wait. If you haven’t started this series yet, but enjoyed the .hack// series, The World Ends with You, or similar “the game is real life” stories with a touch of drama, Not Lives should be a good one to pick up!
Look for volume 4 of Not Lives on December 27th!