After I decided to separate this special into two parts, I have to admit that I felt a little anxious. I still feel so new to blogging, and I’m always worried about doing the wrong thing with my format and topics. After writing working on this second post though, I feel better about the decision. It has allowed me to spend a bit more time on a series that is one of my favorites, and certainly well deserving of a little more attention.
If you don’t know the name Sword Art Online, you are not probably not an anime watcher. It is an internationally acclaimed show, and ridiculously popular. Some may find that off-putting, but personally I think that there’s a good reason why people love it so much: it is good! ^-^ To be a bit more specific, SAO combines an amazing science fiction/fantasy world and premise with really thought-provoking human issues, and wonderful characters. There is so much heart in it; and clearly it has touched a lot of people. Certainly it’s one of my personal all-time favorite anime.
Naturally when I found out that SAO was actually based on a series of Light Novels, I was super excited. With very few exceptions, books are always better than their screen adaptations. ^-^ When I subsequently found out that they were being translated and officially released in the US, I stalked the shelves of my local bookstore and bought volume one as soon as I could get my hands on it. Currently I own the first four volumes, as well as the first volume of the SAO Progressive series. (Still on my TBR list) I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them.
It should be noted that there are two full story arcs contained within volumes 1 – 4. So although I will try to avoid spoilers, there will be a few that are automatically mentioned when moving from one part to the next. Not anything really big, or that would ruin your enjoyment of the books. I read them already knowing the whole story from the anime and still loved them… but I know some people are a bit pickier about such things. I will put both volumes for each arc together; so if you want absolutely no spoilers at all just skip the second set. ^-^
Sword Art Online: Aincrad (Volumes 1 & 2)
Author: Reki Kawahara
Published/By: Yen Press
Genre: Sci-Fi Fantasy
Thoughts: In the year 2022, MMOs are played using a revolutionary piece of technology called NerveGear; which allows the player to be fully immersed in the world of the game. Sword Art Online is a game that claims to take that immersion to the next level, and when it is released thousands of players rush online to explore this wondrous new world. The only problem is, they can’t log off. The panicked players are given only one way out: beat all one hundred levels of Aincrad… and do it knowing that any player whose hit-points fall to zero in-game will die in real life as well.
Volume 1 – This book is a first person narrative following Kirito, one of the players trapped in the world of Aincrad, as he battles to help beat the game. The story begins about two years after the start of the game, and the top players have already reached the 70th floor. We get a few flashbacks to earlier events, but for the most part there isn’t a lot said about what transpired in those two years. The story is mainly concerned with Kirito meeting leading lady (and consummate badass) Asuna, and how their relationship shapes them and gives them the strength to push forward to the end of the game. Despite being fairly short and to-the-point, it is actually a very moving story. Kawahara deals with some weighty issues, and does it well.
There is something so refreshing about Kirito’s character. He is strong and weak, compassionate, and after everything he has been through he still views Aincrad with this amazing sense of wonder. When his gaze lingers on Asuna he notes her beauty, but lingers on her strength and speed, her fierceness in battle. Through his eyes we see her as a multi-faceted person, and that is a pretty special thing. ^-^
Volume 2 – This book is actually a set of four short stories about different female characters, and takes place at various times before the ending of the first book. If I’m remembering correctly, they are all written in third person. These side stories are great, a couple are even a bit lighthearted and fun. Kirito is involved in every story, and it is wonderful to learn more about his character by seeing him through the eyes of other people. Not to mention, seeing the mark that each woman makes upon the person that Kirito becomes.
I really enjoyed all four tales, but I think that “The Girl In the Morning Dew” and “Red-Nosed Reindeer” are definitely my favorites. They are full of emotion, excellent characterization… and one of them has more Asuna, which is always a good thing! ^-^
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 stars (So much enjoyment!)
Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance (Volumes 3 & 4)
Author: Reki Kawahara
Published/By: Yen Press
Genre: Science Fiction Fantasy
Thoughts: Sword Art Online has been beaten. The freed players are going through rehab so they can get back to their normal lives, and for some SAO is already like a distant nightmare. Unfortunately, around three hundred players still haven’t woken up and no one can figure out why. Among these players is Kirito’s beloved Asuna. Unable to do anything about her state, he is crushed. Then one day an old friend shows Kirito a screen-shot taken in a new VRMMO called Alfheim Online. The picture seems to show Asuna sitting in a golden cage at the top of Alfheim’s massive World Tree… but how can that be? To find out, Kirito must don the very NerveGear that once held him captive within SAO and dive into this new world.
Volume 3 – In this book we are back in Kirito’s first person perspective as he desperately searches for Asuna within an amazing new online world. We also get first person perspectives from a new female lead named Leafa, a skilled and powerful player of Alfheim online, as well as some from Kirito’s younger sister Suguha.
Alfheim Online is a more typical fantasy game, involving magic and an amazing flight simulator. The descriptions are just beautiful. They really make me wish that it were a real game I could play myself. The characterization continues to be excellent as well, and watching Kirito discover the world of the game was a lot of fun. He is the same old Kirito, and can’t help enjoying himself, even though his situation is desperate. ^-^ Although we are mostly deprived of the badass Asuna, Leafa is also a strong, faceted character and makes a wonderful female lead in her place. I also think that Asuna as a captive comes off much stronger in the book than in the show.
I do have to say that I have never been a fan of the ‘sister in love with her brother’ plot line. Not at all. In this case, it’s made pretty obvious that Kirito doesn’t return her romantic feelings, so I am willing to give it a pass. I guess that, in its own strange way, it does provide a lot of growth/depth for Suguha’s character. Still don’t like it.
Volume 4 – This book picks up directly where the third one leaves off. Kirito and Leafa finally arrive at the World Tree, and a lot of emotional stuff goes down after they try to beat the dungeon and find out some heavy secrets. As I said before, this is one of the things I love so much about Sword Art Online as a series. Kawahara isn’t afraid to dig into difficult emotions, and he does it very well. There is a lot of good character growth, and the intensity definitely picks up in this volume. Especially near the end, the tone gets much darker. Our main villian is quite a sick psycho…
I will actually throw out a trigger warning for this one, on the subject of sexual assault. There is one scene near the end. It’s not super graphic, but it might be upsetting for some folk and probably requires some discussion when it comes to younger readers.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars (Though I think I’ve made it pretty obvious how much I like them. :D)
Came back and trimmed this a bit, because I feel like I got carried away. ^-^ Once again, thanks for bearing with my occasional fan-girlishness.
Also, I hope that you enjoyed this Light Novel special. The next Reading Journal will be in the normal, much shorter, format. I promise! Have an excellent week.