Kazuto Kirigaya is one of thousands who were trapped for two years in the virtual reality game Sword Art Online. SAO wouldn’t let its players log out and, if you died in the game, you died in real life. The only escape was for someone to beat the game, releasing all the players. As his character Kirito, Kazuto did just that, and now he’s back in the real world with his little sister, Suguha.
But not everyone was released from the game: Kazuto’s love, Asuna, lies unresponsive in a hospital bed, her virtual reality helmet still on—if someone tried to remove your helmet while you were inside SAO, it would zap your brain and kill you, so Asuna’s family is taking no chances. Meanwhile, a skeezy businessman seeks to marry her, even though she’s effectively in a coma. The man is especially dangerous because he controls the company that owns SAO’s servers, where Asuna’s mind is presumably still trapped. Soon, Kazuto discovers that the same company has released a new game, ALfheim Online, which has strong parallels to SAO, and a screenshot taken in the game shows a girl who strikingly resembles Asuna.
Kazuto has to know if Asuna is somewhere inside ALfheim Online, so he dives back into virtual reality and soon makes a friend, Leafa. Kazuto doesn’t know that Leafa is played by his sister, Suguha, and she doesn’t know that Kirito is played by her brother. To complicate things further, while Kazuto was stuck in SAO, Suguha’s parents revealed that he’s actually her cousin, not her brother, and Suguha proceeded to fall in love with him. But maybe she can snap out of that, now that she seems to be falling for this Kirito guy… In the meantime, Asuna is indeed trapped in ALfheim Online—held prisoner by the businessman who wants to marry her—and she’s also trying to escape.
Though focused on Kazuto, this series includes the perspectives of Suguha and Asuna. The villain is a cackling caricature of evil, so it’s easy to root for Kazuto and friends in opposing him. The story mixes real-life situations—like Kazuto visiting Asuna in the hospital and Suguha’s angst over her love for her adopted brother—with in-game action, full of fantastic battles, magic, and scheming fairies.
The art is crisp, detailed, and richly shaded. While we get glimpses of the fantasy world of ALfheim Online, the emphasis is on its characters rather than its backdrops. Characters are distinctive and much attention is given to faces, hairstyles, and costumes. Most look youthful and attractive, which makes sense in the game, since they’re all avatars chosen by the players. There’s a lot of in-game battle, but it’s all completely bloodless; characters who die in ALfheim Online simply dissolve and then reappear back at their starting points. They face enough penalties that in-game death is unpleasant, but it’s nothing compared to SAO.
There’s a fair amount of fanservice in the portrayals of female characters, including panty shots and huge, prominent, physics-defying boobs. Despite being written as young and shy, Suguha is constantly sexualized visually. For instance, she takes a shower and we see a panel featuring her breasts (without visible nipples) before we get one showing her face. She falls asleep next to Kazuto and awakes with her top coming unbuttoned and her lingerie-clad boobs on display. A creator’s note at the end of volume two reads, “Can’t beat those hot little sisters!” Asuna, meanwhile, has gone from the formidable fighter of the SAO series to a prisoner who insists that Kirito will rescue her. Her captor keeps her in a cage, periodically visiting to gloat and threaten that if she doesn’t give in to him sexually, he may decide to “take [her] by force.” Asuna still has a strong will and eventually enacts a clever escape, but by the second volume’s end, she’s been recaptured.
Nevertheless, fans of the earlier Sword Art Online manga series will be interested to follow Kirito and Asuna as their stories continue. For those new to SAO, the first volume of Fairy Dance summarizes what happened in the previous series, so this storyline is still accessible.
Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance, vols. 1-2
by Reki Kawahara
Art by Tsubasa Haduki
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780316407380
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780316336550
Yen Press, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: Teen