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Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance 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: Fairy Dance 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 jumps into a new VRMMORPG called ALfheim Online (ALO) in search of Asuna, who still hasn’t regained consciousness. On his quest to find the World Tree and reach Asuna, he meets a sylph girl named Leafa. A veteran player experienced with the sword, Leafa recognizes that Kirito is motivated by serious circumstances and decides to help him. But…Leafa’s identity in the real world is Suguha Kirigaya–Kirito’s sister. And it’s the glimmer of her beloved brother she sees in Kirito that prompts her to lend him a hand. Now, despite the conflicting interests guiding them on, the pair set off on a journey to the World Tree!

The Review

Kirito starts off the journey to ALfheim to rescue Asuna, but along the way, he ends up being hero to Leafa and two entire Elven races. There’s plenty of action to be had with the conclusion of Volume 001′s bridge battle and a skyhigh duel with ALfheim’s strongest player. However, some movements are difficult to follow, and Haduki-sensei occasionally shows two simultaneous angles in the same panel, which can be confusing.

While ALfheim is not Aincrad, echoes of that other world show up in Kirito’s illusion magic monster and his dual-sword skill. Aincrad’s imprint on Kirito also shows up in other ways. During a real-world scene that wasn’t included in the anime, Kirito reflects on how his actual self seems more like a persona while Kirito the swordsman feels like his true self. Also, his real-life priority is finding and freeing Asuna from the grip of her nefarious fiancé, but the Salamander crisis causes him to detour from that goal as if actual lives were at stake.

Meanwhile, Fairy Dance’s harem quality continues full-steam. As the manga progresses, Leafa seems less one of the “Great Five Sylphs” and more a starstruck Kirito fangirl. At the conclusion of the Kirito/Eugene duel, the heads of the Sylphs and Cait Siths (both female) start pressing their bodies against Kirito, and Leafa barges in to break it up. Fortunately, the female cast regains some dignity when Asuna takes the initiative to escape her cage. She may be the damsel in distress, but at least she’s showing the spunk that made her the vice commander of her guild in SAO.

Extras include the title page printed in color, background guide blurbs, a short afterword manga, and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

Kirito shows off the skills that made him Aincrad’s strongest player and quickly establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with in ALO. The manga’s fanservice tone also continues with every female character falling for Kirito. There are some somber moments of reflection and Asuna’s coma to provide character angst, but the ease with which Kirito maneuvers through ALfheim definitely makes Fairy Dance less intense than Aincrad.

First published at the Fandom Post.

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Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance 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: Fairy Dance manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  Sword Art Online: Aincrad, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kazuto Kirigaya (aka Kirito) has beaten Sword Art Online, a VRMMORPG that transformed into a literal game of death, and returned to the real world. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Asuna Yuuki (aka Asuna the Flash), the girl with whom Kirito fell in love in the virtual world of Aincrad but who has yet to awaken from her game-induced slumber. As his sister, Suguha, sadly looks on, Kazuto continues to visit Asuna in the hospital in the hope of finding answers. But when one day he meets a man claiming to be Asuna’s fiancé, Kazuto fears that Asuna may be lost to him forever… That is until a fellow survivor of SAO taken form the latest VRMMORPG sensation, ALfheim Online – a screenshot that features someone being held captive who looks entirely too much like Asuna! His hope renewed, Kirito dives headlong into an all-new virtual adventure, but can true love conquer the game?!

The Review

Unlike Sword Art Online: Aincrad, which was released in a single 375-page volume, Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance is being released in multiple volumes. For those familiar with the light novel or anime, the first volume of Fairy Dance covers the story up to when our heroes reach the underground lake before Lugru. As such, the 226-page Fairy Dance Volume 001 is only $13 versus Aincrad’s $20 cover price. In addition, Fairy Dance features a different mangaka for the artwork: Tsubasa Haduki. For those familiar with the TV series, Haduki-sensei’s illustrations are a close match to the anime, much closer than Nakamura-sensei’s in Aincrad.

Fairy Dance picks up where Aincrad left off. Kirito’s made it safely back to the real world, but of the surviving Aincrad players, three hundred have yet to awaken, and Asuna is one of them. Then Kirito receives a screenshot taken from within the latest VRMMORPG sensation, ALfheim Online – a screenshot of someone that looks strikingly like Asuna.

Sequels often have difficulty living up to the bar set by their predecessors, and Fairy Dance sadly falls several notches below Aincrad. Because Aincrad ended with Kirito beating Kayaba and his game, the continuation requires a new game and a new challenge. However, ALfheim Online, although it does have nefarious underpinnings, isn’t nearly as gripping as the you-die-in-the-game-you-die-for-real Aincrad world. As for the stakes, they’re much more personal for Kirito, but they render Asuna helpless. With Asuna literally immobile, Kawahara-sensei introduces Kirito’s cousin Suguha to be the new active female lead.

Suguha has a pleasant enough personality, but she’s difficult to relate to, mainly because of the massive squick factor. She’s got a huge crush on Kirito despite the fact that they’ve been raised as siblings, and up until the SAO incident, she believed Kirito was actually her brother. While I can see how a new romantic element would spice up the story, Kawahara-sensei could have done without the incest element. In addition, Haduki-sensei lays on the fanservice rather thick, and Suguha is the primary subject. Perhaps this is to appeal to a more shonen audience, but it’s ridiculous how her super-ample breasts look ready to pop out of her clothes in almost every scene.

Kawahara-sensei’s new villain Sugou is also lacking. In Aincrad, Kayaba was larger-than-life, an opponent as epic as the virtual world he created, and the Heathcliff/Kayaba connection was a wonderful twist. Sugou, on the other hand, is more of a garden-variety mad scientist bad guy. He is thoroughly disgusting and conniving but very much a stereotype. Despite his lack of character depth, Sugou does serve to act as Kirito’s adversary with the advantage in both the real and virtual worlds.

Extras include the title page printed in color, story summary, background guide blurbs, and closing remarks from the creators.

In Summary

While some Kirito/Asuna fans may enjoy seeing Kirito diving into the virtual world of ALfheim to rescue Asuna, I’m not particularly thrilled to see “The Flash” reduced to a damsel in distress. I’m even less thrilled with Kirito’s new female companion in ALfheim and the incestuous overtones of her obsession with him. Squick factor aside, the world of ALfheim, despite its fairy wings and magic spells, is very much a fluffy shadow of Aincrad. While SAO fans will see the return of some of their favorite characters in Fairy Dance, they shouldn’t expect the same level of intensity and drama in Sword Art Online: Aincrad.

First published at the Fandom Post.