Having escaped the deadly Sword Art Online (SAO) game world, Asuna and Kirito are now enjoying a new virtual reality game, ALfheim Online. In this fantasy world, Asuna can forget her scary past and demanding mother to relax with friends. They still go into battle sometimes, and Kirito plays a very powerful character, just like he did in SAO. So when Asuna hears that a mysterious new duelist called the Absolute Sword is accepting challenges—and has already defeated Kirito!—she has to see for herself.
The duelist isn’t what Asuna expects: she’s a cheerful, friendly girl, but when Asuna challenges her, the Absolute Sword strikes with speed and technique that seems almost impossible. Though Asuna’s in-game character isn’t as strong as Kirito’s, her tactics impress the duelist, who introduces Asuna to her guild. Although the players in the guild are already incredibly powerful, they need a strategist like Asuna to help them conquer an in-game achievement; it’s a goal they’re determined to reach, but they get cagey when they’re asked why it’s so important. Is this really just about the game, or is something bigger going on?
It’s helpful to be familiar with the Sword Art Online universe before reading this series, though it’s probably not necessary. Fans will recognize Kirito, Asuna, and other characters, and they’ll know about the devastating past that is only vaguely and occasionally referenced here. Those who have also read Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance will be caught up on the rules of ALfheim Online and experiences the characters have had since SAO ended.
While other series in the franchise focus on Kirito, such as Sword Art Online: Aincrad and Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance, this one follows Asuna, her life outside the game, and her insecurities in her relationship with Kirito. With her kindness and clever strategic mind, Asuna is sympathetic and fun to root for. Her bravery and curiosity make Asuna the ideal person to investigate the mystery of Absolute Sword and her powerful, secretive guild.
The elegant, expressive art will be especially familiar to readers of the Fairy Dance arc since the same illustrator drew that series. Like Fairy Dance, this manga focuses on the characters over the backgrounds and uses visual cues like floating menus and health bars to portray the characters’ in-game experiences. Unlike Fairy Dance, this series does not use its female characters for fanservice (panty shots, shower scenes, women throwing themselves at Kirito, etc.). Instead, as in Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops, readers are treated to a variety of active, interesting female characters who aren’t highly sexualized.
There is some mild, in-game violence as characters battle virtual monsters and other players. There’s also emotional conflict: as Asuna’s mother pushes her to switch schools and find a “suitable” marriage match, Asuna worries that if she shares her fears with Kirito, he might think less of her. Simultaneously, Asuna wants to get to know her new friends in the guild, but they’re clearly hiding something and won’t let her get too close.
With heart, humor, and action, this series will appeal to fans of video games and fantasy battles. If they aren’t already familiar with Sword Art Online, they might do well to pick up one of the earlier series first or skim a summary of previous stories online. Returning readers will especially enjoy seeing Asuna, a staple character since the beginning of the series, star in an arc of her own.
Sword Art Online: Mother’s Rosary, vols. 1-2
by Reki Kawahara
Art by Tsubasa Haduki
vol 1 ISBN: 9780316270335
vol 2 ISBN: 9780316272353
Yen Press, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: Teen