Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. For those still wanting another dose of Aincrad, Asuna, and Kirito, Yen Press has recently released the SAO manga adaption, and you can read on for the review.
Back Cover Blurb
In the year 2022, gamers rejoice as Sword Art Online – a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) like no other – debuts, allowing players to take full advantage of the ultimate in gaming technology: NerveGear, a system that allows users to completely immerse themselves in a wholly realistic gaming experience. But when the game goes live, the elation of the players quickly turns to horror as they discover that, for all its amazing features, SAO is missing one of the most basic functions of any MMORPG – a log-out button. Now trapped in the virtual world of Aincrad, their bodies held captive by NerveGear in the real world, users are issued a chilling ultimatum: conquer all one hundred floors of Aincrad to regain your freedom. But in the warped world of SAO, “game over” means certain death – both virtual and real…
Sword Art Online: Aincrad is more expensive than your typical manga, but the price is justified. The 375 page book contains the entire series, all twelve chapters, and includes three Asuna/Kirito illustrations in color, making it worth the $20 cover price.
Those familiar with the SAO anime will recognize the character outfits and weapons right away. However, Nakamura-sensei adds her own style to the artwork. Kirito and Asuna have the same details as their anime counterparts, but their eyes and heads are bigger, which make them look a couple years younger. Nakamura-sensei’s use of screentones is sparse so drawings tend to have a flat look, and though plenty of speed lines are to be had, it’s difficult to discern what movements are taking place in the fight scenes. The manga narrative does provide more information about weapon attack patterns than the anime, but you can’t really tell what motions characterize a “Double Circular” or “Star Splash” attack.
Although the manga is inferior in the action department, it delivers a tighter, more cohesive story than the TV series. The first two chapters introduce the world of Aincrad and how its creator Kayaba traps ten thousand unsuspecting players on launch day. Parts of these initial chapters are text-heavy and a bit of a data dump. However, they do provide a glimpse of the initial chaos in Aincrad and how the first two thousand players died, which wasn’t included in the anime.
Then from Chapter 3 onward, the story focuses on Asuna and Kirito, starting with an S-ranked ragout rabbit dinner that leads to a romance between the lone dual sword wielder and the beautiful Knights of the Blood vice commander. Several minor storylines from the anime don’t take place in the manga. The anime characters Silica and Lisbeth aren’t included at all, and although Sachi of the Moonlit Black Cats plays a significant role, she only shows up in a flashback during a vulnerable moment between Asuna and Kirito. Personally, I prefer the manga version without the extra girls because those characters give the story a harem feel. With Kirito’s interactions with the opposite sex limited to Asuna, it makes the strength of their bond and “adoption” of Yui more believable.
While they don’t get nearly the attention lavished upon our lead couple, the other characters included in the manga have more personality than they do in the anime. For instance, burly Agil turns out to be one of those guys-using-female-characters-for-their-SAO-full-dive, and we get to see how he runs his business. The manga certainly provides a better understanding of Heathcliff and his duel with Kirito. When Kirito finally figures out the truth behind Heathcliff’s “Holy Protection,” you can easily follow the logic behind his reasoning.
If you’ve seen the SAO anime, the SAO manga won’t deliver any major surprises, but the book’s not a storyboard of the TV series. The manga adds details and rearranges events such that the struggle to defeat the game remains a major component, but the relationship between Kirito and Asuna is what drives everything forward. If you’ve seen the anime and wanted more Kirito/Asuna or Kirito/Asuna/Yui fluffiness, you might want to consider the manga. For those unfamiliar with SAO, you can certainly enjoy the manga without having seen the anime, but action fans should be warned that in addition to swords and battles come a healthy dose of SAO’s two best fighters playing house.
First published at the Fandom Post.