The story of players who have been trapped in a Virtual Reality MMORPG for two years, Sword Art Online has become immensely popular in the U.S. Released several years ago, the popularity of the anime has led to the U.S. publication of the light novel on which it was based and a subsequent manga adaptation, which is a mix of the light novel and the anime.
Sword Art Online: Aincrad is a large volume that covers events from the first light novel and the first half of season one. Aincrad begins in medias res as solo player Kirito and his partner Asuna, Vice Commander of the Knights of the Blood Oath guild, are fighting a top-level boss. After narrowly escaping death, Kirito recalls his very first day in Sword Art Online (SAO) when the game’s creator decided to take control, trapping 10,000 players inside a game turned lethal. The stakes are high: players who die in the game will die in real life as their virtual reality headgear short-circuits their brains. Readers follow Kirito as he battles monsters, teams up with Asuna, confronts his demons, and ultimately beats the game in a last-ditch effort. Like the novel, the manga is told from Kirito’s point of view, bringing a fresh perspective to those who have only seen the anime.
Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance picks up immediately after the ending of Aincrad. Even though Kirito has defeated the final boss in SAO, darkness still lurks: though he has awakened in the hospital, Asuna and many other players have not. Everyone is now obsessed with a new fantasy game called Alfheim Online (ALO), in which players can become fairies and even fly. When Kirito receives a picture from inside ALO of a girl who looks like Asuna imprisoned on top of the World’s Tree, he realizes that Asuna’s mind is still trapped in the game—and it was no accident.
Kirito enters the game, forms new allies, and uses his old skills to once again save Asuna, both inside the game and in real life. Unbeknownst to Kirito, his new ally Leafa is actually his sister, Suguha. Suguha has always had feelings for Kirito, and it wasn’t until their parents revealed that he is actually her cousin that she was able to accept these feelings. Though she in love with him, Leafa will do whatever it takes to reunite Kirito with Asuna. Unfortunately, while Asuna was a powerful heroine in Aincrad, she has an extremely passive role in the Fairy Dance arc.
Sword Art Online: Aincrad and Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance are illustrated by different artists. While the characters are instantly recognizable, full of emotion and energy, each artist contributes her own unique style. In Aincrad, Tamako Nakamura’s characters are rounder and cuter, while Tsubasa Haduki’s art in Fairy Dance more closely resembles the original character designs. In both cases, the detailed backgrounds add to the rich storyline, and the fighting sequences are done extremely well.
Packed with adventure, humor, action, and likable characters that are both strong and intelligent, Sword Art Online is a highly appealing series for teens. Though Fairy Dance includes some fan service that targets male readers, these books are bound to be popular with teen boys and girls alike. Sword Art Online: Aincrad and Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance will make solid additions to any library collection.
Sword Art Online: Aincrad ISBN: 9780316371230
by Reki Kawahara
Art by Tsubasa Haduki
Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance, Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780316407380
by Reki Kawahara
Art by Tamako Nakamura
Yen Press, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)