Tag Archives: Reki Kawahara

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 005

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. Yen Press has released Volume 5 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

It’s time for the ‘real’ SAO–the third floor! Kirito and Asuna are hardly out the door when they stumble upon the start of the Elf War quest. When they decide to side with the elite dark elf Kizmel, they’re set on a path that will push them harder than ever before. But together, nothing can stop them…right?

The Review

A brand new arc begins as Kirito and Asuna step onto the third floor. To start, we have a sweeping change in cast. Except for Kirito and Asuna, everyone we’ve met thus far–Agil, The Rat, the Legend Braves–exits the stage, and new characters enter the story. However, these aren’t fellow players trapped in Kayaba’s death game. They’re NPCs.

NPCs of the Elf War quest to be exact. Unlike the rock smashing quest of the previous volume, this campaign lasts several floors and requires players to choose a side. Thus, our heroes align themselves with the dark elves and their female knight Kizmel. Our resident “beater” Kirito continues to guide newbie Asuna by explaining the quest’s general framework, but like so many other things in SAO, this quest has changed since the beta. For one, the NPCs’ AI has improved so drastically that their interactions are near indistinguishable from those of real people. For another, the script isn’t nearly as rigid as the beta’s. As such, Asuna regards Kizmel like an actual person and plunges them down a quest route that Kirito didn’t think possible.

Given that this is the “Elf War quest,” there are plenty of battle scenes. Along with elves, giant falcons and wolves dive into the fray, which makes for interesting action. However, this conflict has nothing to do with humans (i.e. the trapped SAO players). All the passion driving this drama belongs to the NPCs, and the creators dedicate an entire chapter to the dark elves’ backstory (which the players never actually witness). While Kizmel’s tale of loss is gripping, this history–as Kirito reminds Asuna’–isn’t real past events but a mere construct of the game.

This brings Progressive to an interesting point. Before, the players’ life and death struggle dominated the plot; now the story centers on characters who were never alive to begin with. While it does demonstrate how elaborate the SAO world is, having Kirito and Asuna get sucked into the NPCs’ story makes it feel as if the creators have run out of ideas for our hapless trapped humans and are falling back on pure fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy, Kizmel is, as Asuna aptly puts it, “most definitely a male-created fantasy.” Between her, her late sister Tinel, and Asuna, the creators have plenty of material for fanservice. The bathing tent scene in particular lays it on thick. While it does also include comedy at Kirito’s expense and unexpected relationship advice from Kizmel, it’s really just an excuse to show Asuna and Kizmel naked in a tub together.

Extras include the title page and table of contents in color and bonus illustrations.

In Summary

The human co-stars leave the stage and a lineup of NPCs take their place. In treating the NPC Kizmel as a real person, Kirito and Asuna get swept into her narrative of revenge. While it is an engaging tale, it also takes the attention away from the human players’ life-or-death dilemma, which leaves me, like Asuna, wondering how emotionally invested I should get with these elves.

First published at the Fandom Post.

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Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet Vol. 002

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. Yen Press has released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kirito has entered the new VRMMO Gun Gale Online in order to investigate the Death Gun incidents, only to discover his avatar is not exactly how he remembers it! He barely knows up from down in this new world, and he needs an ally. He may have found one in the mysterious female sniper Sinon, but she’s got an agenda of her own…

The Review

Volume 2 opens with an entire chapter devoted to Sinon’s real life, and unlike her online persona, Shino Asada can’t stand guns. In fact, a person mimicking a shooting motion is enough to give her a panic attack. Thus, one of GGO’s gutsiest players is ironically the target of bullies. As in the anime, the manga lays out her background and the incident that traumatized her. Yamada-sensei’s illustrations do an excellent job of conveying Shino’s panic attack and depicting the robbery that scarred her. By the end of the chapter, you can’t blame her for her phobia. In addition, the manga includes details not mentioned in the anime that add additional depth to her personal struggle (for instance, the fact that her mother had a damaged psyche even before the shooting incident).

Then the setting moves from real life to the world of GGO, where Kirito and Sinon cross paths for the first time. Although Volume 2 includes an explanation for why Kirito looks the way he does, it only makes his girly avatar that much more peculiar to me. In addition, Kirito chooses a sword as his primary GGO weapon, which strikes me as both improbable (this is the world of guns after all) and disappointing. Previous SAO titles have already established Kirito as a master swordsman; I really wanted to see him forced to handle a completely different skillset. At any rate, his avatar allows him to befriend Sinon (who doesn’t realize he is a guy), and the existence of a photon sword allows him to fight toe to toe with GGO’s best with minimal adjustment.

Kirito’s looks and sword aside, the story is a gripping one as the Bullet of Bullets competition begins. The manga reveals more internal thoughts than the anime, which helps make Kirito’s first brush with Death Gun more chilling. The narrative also draws intriguing parallels between Sinon’s and Kirito’s experiences and their efforts to deal with them in the virtual and real world.

The strength of the plot is matched by the strength of the artwork. Yamada-sensei’s depictions of gun battles and emotional turmoil deliver quite a punch although the bullet predictive lines take some getting used to. I should also mention that Phantom Bullet, like the other SAO manga series, lays on the fan service. Sinon/Shino isn’t nearly as busty as other SAO females, but Yamada-sensei uses every chance he can to get a panty shot in.

Extras include the title page printed in color, embedded notes about GGO, and a comment/illustration from series creator Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

Thanks to Kirito’s androgynous avatar, Sinon lends him a helping hand in getting acquainted with GGO. He quickly gets up to speed, perhaps too quickly for a game so unlike the previous ones he’s experienced. However, once the Bullet of Bullets begins, both he and Sinon must contend against past demons in an internal struggle that lays out all the vulnerabilities of two unparalleled fighters.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary Vol. 002

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. Yen Press has released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Asuna joins forces with the Sleeping Knights guild in their quest to defeat a major boss, but inwardly, she struggles with her ongoing attachment to the VRMMO game. When the time for battle arrives, will she be ready? And when Yuuki’s secret is revealed, what will the consequences be?

The Review

Asuna’s mom makes only a brief appearance at the beginning of this volume, as if to remind readers about Asuna’s horrible real life, and then the rest follows Asuna’s interaction with Yuuki’s six-person guild inside New Aincrad. No sooner have the Sleeping Knights explained their goal of having their names inscribed on the Monument of Swordsmen than Asuna is fighting alongside them.

As in Volume 1, the manga follows the anime storyline fairly closely. That means battle scenes make up the majority of these chapters. The fight sequences are occasionally difficult to follow, but one advantage the manga has over the anime is the Background Guide, which provides better understanding on player strategy and interaction within New Aincrad. With action driving the plot so quickly forward, readers don’t really get a chance to know the Sleeping Knights as individuals, with the obvious exception of Yuuki. I had trouble remembering the names of the five non-Yuuki Knights, and the only one who left any sort of impression was Siune, mainly because she pairs up with Asuna to provide backup support.

Collaborating with the Sleeping Knights brings out a different Asuna than we’ve seen in other groups. Within SAO, she was at the vanguard as one of her guild’s top fighters. The skills of the Sleeping Knights, however, far exceed hers so she can’t play the role of elite swordswoman. As such, even though Yuuki recruited Asuna based on her fighting skills, Asuna winds up as group strategist, guiding them past the hazards inside and out of the boss’ chamber, while Yuuki takes the flashy part of ultimate fighter.

Extras include embedded Background Guide notes, the title page in color, a bonus mini-manga about Asuna’s friends preparing food, afterword manga, and sketch from Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

If you like fight scenes and confrontations, you will get your fill as Asuna and the six Sleeping Knights strive to take down the 27th Floor Boss ahead of the other guilds. While Asuna does play a key role, Yuuki is the MVP of the battle. This volume focuses almost entirely on external challenges best faced with a sword, but as it closes, it looks like the struggles ahead are shifting toward the internal type.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary Vol. 001

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. Yen Press has released Volume 1 of the Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kirito and Sinon’s battle with Death Gun is over, but mere weeks later, something strange is afoot in the next-generation VRMMO ALfheim Online. A new duelist with a custom sword skill is defeating all comers–including Kirito! But when Asuna goes to face this duelist, she receives something she never expected: an invitation to an exclusive guild! But what is their aim? The Mother’s Rosario arc begins!

The Review

Mother’s Rosary, like Progressive, is an Asuna-centric series in the Sword Art Online franchise. This story, however, takes place well after Aincrad. In fact, it takes place after the events of GGO. As such, we see Asuna not as “The Flash” nor the damsel in distress at the top of the World Tree but as a teenage girl living life in the real world.

Unfortunately, despite all it took to get her out of SAO and then ALO, Asuna doesn’t return to a happily ever after. Certainly, she has Kirito’s devotion, but his love isn’t sufficient to erase her problems. Rather, another person’s lack of love threatens to negate the good in Asuna’s life.

Enter Asuna’s mom, otherwise known as the Queen of Tiger Moms. You’d think that she’d have sympathy for a daughter that got trapped in multiple life/death situations and narrowly avoided an arranged marriage to a creepy psychopath. But no. Rather, she acts as if the damage that their family’s company suffered on account of Sugou’s diabolical scheme (in Fairy Dance) is Asuna’s fault. While Mrs. Yuuki’s a bit extreme in her lack of empathy, her insistence on controlling every single aspect of Asuna’s life is bound to strike a chord with a lot of readers.

As such, New Aincrad, which is based off the virtual world that once held Asuna captive, becomes her place of escape. Even so, she can’t fully forget her problems, and the creators do a wonderful job at expressing her despair at the disparity between her real and online selves.

And that’s the situation when a mysterious new duelist arrives in New Aincrad. Enticing other players to fight with the prize of an eleven-hit original swordskill, Absolute Sword defeats all comers with ease. When even Kirito fails in his attempt, an intrigued Asuna decides to try the challenge herself.

Her reaction when she discovers Absolute Sword is a cute girl is a bit overdone; after all, Kirito passed for a “cute girl” in GGO. But then the narrative dives into the more important questions of why Absolute Sword is so strong and what she’s trying to accomplish. Absolute Sword quickly decides to include Asuna in her plans, and while those plans don’t require Asuna to put her life on the line, impossible is a pretty good descriptor for Absolute Sword’s goal.

By the way, the artwork is done by Tsubasa Haduki, who produced the Fairy Dance series. So if you liked Haduki-sensei’s fairy characters, you’ll see a lot more in Mother’s Rosary, although they’re now flying against an Aincrad backdrop.

Extras include embedded Background Guide notes, extra episode, afterward manga, and the title page and table of contents printed in color.

In Summary

The back cover touts SAO’s tagline: This might be a game, but it’s not something you play. However, this particular arc might be the closest to simply “playing” in the SAO franchise. There’s no “game of death,” no players forcibly trapped in a coma, no real world PK-ing. And that might just make this storyline the most relatable of the bunch. Asuna’s still showing some impressive swordplay, but as she embarks on a new ALO quest with new friends, her struggles are shaping up to be internal rather than external ones.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 004

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. Yen Press has released Volume 4 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

While Nezha attempts to atone for his misdeeds, the battle against Sword Art Online’s second-floor boss begins! Kirito’s uneasy alliance with the other front-runners seems to be holding, but what will happen when the floor boss corners them? Can Nezha rise to the occasion and seize a hero’s prize?

The Review

Asuna has been the star of Progressive, but in Volume 004, she leaves the stage for nearly two chapters as the story shifts to the fighters on the front line. While Kirito plays a big part in this section, it’s as much about Agil, Lind, and Kibaou as it is about our black swordsman.This is still early in SAO so the players are still figuring one another out, and it’s amusing to watch egos clash as they collaborate toward the common goal of defeating the Second Floor Boss.

Fortunately, lessons were learned in the previous boss fight, and it’s a very interesting moment when Kibaou, of all people, suggests to the entire raid party that they hear what Kirito has to say about the beta test version. Kirito does have the ”beater” stigma hovering over him, but he’s not the ostracized lone-wolf he was in the anime. Instead, most players realize what he has to offer and would rather have those skills working alongside them. As such, Kirito’s pretty much part of the team as the raid party opens the Boss’ door.

Unlike the first boss fight, this is new material, and the battle completely sucked me in. I don’t often categorize battles as “epic,” but I wouldn’t hesitate to call this one as such. It’s got several unexpected twists along the way, including Asuna’s grand return to the front line. The panels sometimes get a bit squished because so much is happening, but the illustrations do an excellent job of conveying action and emotion. And although heroics and desperation dominate in heat of battle, the creators manage to fit in appropriately funny bits and a romantic moment as well. While I could personally do without the gratuitous Asuna panty shots, this boss fight and its aftermath made me want to stand up and cheer.

Extras include the title page and table of contents in color and bonus illustration.

In Summary

I am truly impressed with how the creators wrap up the Level 2 arc in this volume. Great action, solid plot, excellent character development, and several surprises to keep things exciting. If the rest of the floors in SAO: Progressive are like this, then I’m in for the whole journey.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 003

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. Yen Press has released Volume 3 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Having reached the second floor of Aincrad, Asuna decides to have a player-controlled blacksmith upgrade her beloved sword, a rare Wind Fleuret – but when the unimaginable happens and the sword is shattered in the attempt, Kirito suspects foul play. Did the blacksmith really just happen to destroy an incredibly valuable item? And if not, is there any way to get it back? If there is a conspiracy of thieves, how can they be stopped before they spread too much mistrust? The game of death is bad enough already!

The Review

Progressive’s sister series Fairy Dance lays on the fanservice pretty thick, but with Asuna as the main character in Progressive I thought the mangaka would be more high-minded in those matters. Well, Volume 3 proved me wrong. Two tense scenes turn into panty-revealing moments for Asuna, and when Kirito has her materialize all her items, it’s practically a rain of lingerie. The series might as well be called Underwear Art Online. On top of that, the Rat spends as much time making lewd insinuations about Kirito’s intentions toward Asuna as she does providing game-relevant information. Perhaps this is to raise Asuna’s moe level for males, but as a female reader, I find it irritating to have those elements diminish Asuna’s dignity.

Moving on to the plot, both the SAO anime and the Aincrad manga painted Kirito as a lone wolf who, after the defeat of the Level 1 Boss, doesn’t really interact with Asuna until many levels later. However, the Progressive storyline depicts them as a kind of dynamic duo. They’re still only in Level 2, but they are widely perceived by the SAO community as an item. After Asuna’s Wind Fleuret shatters, they investigate the incident together, and they also continue teaming up in the dungeons.

Asuna is not your typical gamer, and thanks to flashbacks of her upbringing, we understand why she thinks and acts the way she does. At times, those differences give her an edge over Kirito, but for most of Volume 003, she’s the weaker partner. Kirito’s constantly helping and bailing her out and often winds up slapped for his efforts.

Volume 003 also brings recent cast addition Nezha to the forefront. When he first appeared in the middle of Volume 002, I considered him an insignificant extra. However, the mangaka very cleverly puts the blacksmith at the center of a mystery, and immediately thereafter involves him in an NPC quest with Asuna. Progressive takes a much closer look at the early trials of SAO than the other versions, and Nezha demonstrates the difficulties of a player handicapped by hardware issues, which is a compelling twist on the game of death.

Extras include the title page and table of contents in color and bonus illustration.

In Summary

Progressive ratchets up the fanservice in Volume 003. Fortunately, the increase of panty shots doesn’t signal the end of good writing. Asuna’s shattered sword leads to an intriguing mystery followed by the introduction of a devastating hardware-related predicament that wasn’t included in the Aincrad arc. In addition, Kirito/Asuna fans will be gratified to see the pair together more often than not despite Kirito’s decision to go solo.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 002

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. Yen Press has recently released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The party is shaken when their leader, Diavel, is struck down by the boss of the very first floor. Asuna and her teammates are confronted for the first time with the cruel reality of their situation: Sword Art Online is no mere game–death here is final. Their commander lost, the remaining fighters begin to lose heart and plan their retreat. But the fight must go on if they are to escape this game world, and in his dying moments, Diavel managed to convey his appointment for the next commander–Kirito!

The Review

As in the anime, the battle with the first floor boss ends with Diavel dead and Kirito dubbed a beater. However, Progressive puts its own spin on the fight. For one, Asuna takes more of a commanding role, showing hints of the guild leader she’s going to become. For another, the emotional aftermath is more complicated. Interestingly, sourpuss Kibaou, who started the beta/cheater/beater uproar against Kirito in the anime, winds up sympathizing with him in this scene. Kirito and Asuna still have a private conversation before Kirito goes off on his own, but Progressive’s version is more prolonged and has a distinct romantic tension to it.

Going into Chapter 008, it’s all completely new material. Both the Aincrad manga and the anime gloss over Floor 2, but we get to watch events progress gradually even as Asuna gradually improves. She’s not the only one having to sort herself out in the early days of SAO, though. Chapter 009 provides a glimpse of the beginnings of the guilds, and at this point, they’re a lot of fancy names and swagger and not much else.

Overall, the tone on Floor 2 is much lighter than I anticipated. Perhaps that’s because the only fight thus far is against a field boss that looks like a big bull. When the players take it on, they seem more concerned with who gets the glory of being on the front rather than the risk of a fatal hit. As such, it really does feel more like a “game” rather than the constant life/death struggle of Aincrad, especially when Asuna and Kirito compete to see who can take out the most windwasps for shortcake.

Asuna’s continued interactions with Kirito are also a surprise. The anime and Aincrad made it seem like the two didn’t cross paths again until Asuna had joined the Knights of the Blood, but in Progressive, they meet again days after clearing Level I. The two have a great rapport, and while Asuna is intrigued by Kirito, he’s obviously besotted by her. For those who were not so thrilled with the harem aspect of the SAO anime, this version of Asuna and Kirito’s early relationship might prove an enjoyable alternative.

Extras include the title page and table of contents in color, bonus illustration from artist Tomoya Haruno, and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

Progressive continues to deliver a strong storyline with artwork to match. In addition to showing Asuna’s development as a fighter, we also see players organizing the beginnings of the guilds as they proceed through Aincrad’s Floor 2. Interestingly, the plot includes more early interaction between Asuna and Kirito. Although that deviates somewhat from the beater/solo fighter persona Kirito had in the anime, Asuna/Kirito fans will probably enjoy seeing Kirito’s early attraction to Asuna.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 001

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. Yen Press has recently released Volume 1 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Yuuki Asuna was a top student who spent her days studying at cram school and preparing for her high school entrance exams–but that was before she borrowed her brother’s virtual reality game system and wound up trapped in Sword Art Online with ten thousand other frightened players. As time passes, Asuna fears what will become of her life outside the fantasy realm–the failure she might be seen as in the eyes of her peers and parents. Unwilling to wait on the sidelines for more experienced gamers to beat the game, Asuna employs her study habits to learn the mechanics of the game–and swordplay. Her swiftness impresses Kirito, a professional gamer who invites Asuna to join the best players on the front line. Is Asuna ready to swap class rankings for player rankings and join Kirito?

The Review

Sword Art Online: Progressive covers the same general territory as the Aincrad manga and the first season of the Sword Art Online anime. Instead of following Kirito’s perspective, however, it follows Asuna’s. While Kirito is enough of a gamer enthusiast to participate in the SAO beta test, SAO is Asuna’s first experience with gaming. As such, her journey is markedly different than Kirito’s even though they’re trapped in the same world.

The manga opens with a 16-page sequence that draws a picture of Asuna’s home life and then proceeds to the early days of Aincrad when the players had yet to clear Level 1. Unfamiliar with even RPG basics, Asuna quickly gets into trouble, and of course it’s Kirito to come to the rescue. Here, the manga deviates from the anime in that the pair meet and interact before Diavel’s call to defeat the Level 1 boss. However, Asuna’s less a weepy damsel in distress and more a determined competitor striving to get to the top of the game. As such, her jump from utter noob to frontline fighter, while remarkable, is believable.

Helping Asuna along is “The Rat,” an informant. She was not part of the anime cast, and, somewhat refreshingly, is a rare female who is not besotted with Kirito. In addition to providing Asuna with resources that unleash her fighting skills, the narrative strongly hints that The Rat, like Kirito, is a beta tester.

While Asuna is as far from a beta tester as can be, beta tester hate is interwoven into Progressive, and The Rat and Kirito show how those players are coping in Aincrad. Sometimes though, that prejudice seems overly forced. Kibaou, the beta tester hater in the Level 1 boss rating party, is even more outspoken than in the anime, and in the heat of the battle, he’s more dismayed about discovering a beta tester in the group than the deadly attack heading everyone’s way.

That aside, the storyline is strong and provides a fresh perspective over familiar territory. Also, of the three SAO manga I’ve read, I find Progressive’s artwork the best. Himura-sensei’s illustrations are clean with an excellent blending of details and tones. Her action sequences are easy to follow with a nice variety of CG and hand-drawn effects to convey impact. I should also mention that while they are not nearly as blatant as Fairy Dance, Himura-sensei does incorporate fan service elements, including a rather lengthy bathtub scene at Kirito’s quarters.

Extras include the first three pages in color and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

The SAO franchise for the most part follows Kirito’s perspective so Progressive will be a treat for Asuna fans. It doesn’t add much in terms of major Aincrad events, but it does fill in Asuna-centric details that weren’t in the anime or Sword Art Online: Aincrad. When you consider that Asuna entered SAO unfamiliar with even the basics of RPG party combat, her rise to the top of the Aincrad lineup is as extraordinary as Kirito’s solo feats, and I look forward to discovering more about her journey.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Aincrad

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…

The Review

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.

In Summary

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.