Light Novel Review: Sword Art Online – Progressive [Volume 1]

One month has passed since the death game known as Sword Art Online began. 2,000 players have already died and no one has cleared the first floor of the game. Kirito and Asuna are two players who desire to fight alone but with their first meeting, they get drawn to each other. The two individuals soon realize that they must work together in order to survive the deadly world of Aincrad-and the more immediate challenge, defeat the first boss of the game.

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Sword Art Online: Progressive is a retelling of the Aincrad Arc in the original series. Instead of skipping two years after the death game began, this volume takes place on the first and second levels of Sword Art Online. Now that the story of the Aincrad Arc was set in stone, knowing how it eventually ends, this retelling focuses more on the events, characters, the world, on each floor. This is very similar to the slower-paced adventure story like in One Piece or Pokemon, where the main character goes from area to area to achieve some ultimate goal. While the details get expanded, the actual progression of the overall plot takes a backseat.

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Throughout the volume, Kawahara takes extra effort to explain the various game mechanics and MMO elements of Sword Art Online. In the first half, the various tactics of fighting a boss was covered as a theme;  the whole process of switching out parties, checking the abilities of the boss, and planning defenses against status effects. Outside of battles, the game mechanics took precedence as they served as a vital part of the story. For example, the second arc explored the system behind upgrading weapons and Kawahara created a small type of mystery story out of it.

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While the actual game portion of Sword Art Online was expanded upon, something that was much needed from the original series, there were some moments where specific details came across as long and pointless. Over the course of the volume, the returning motif is the food portions, where Kirito and Asuna discuss their dinner. There are interesting points that this brings up; the idea of artificial satisfaction or the “emptiness of eating in this world” However, some portions rather are undesirable such as when Kirito describes the mathematical properties of a cake.

“One-third means I can eat…twenty-seven and a half cubic inches of cake!” – Kirito

While the game mechanics were discussed, previously known characters were also expanded. We got see some motives behind behaviors, the hidden perspectives of individuals, and the involvement of previously ignored characters. Upon finishing this volume, I’m convinced that almost every player in SAO has some malicious intent, either for superiority, money, or strength. Even Kirito himself suffers from this and having him explain the ways the game gets exploited shows a much darker side of the novel.

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Asuna is an vital character in Sword Art Online-or at least to Kirito- and I was enjoying her perspective of Aincrad and her solitude personality. It showed how strong she was by herself, giving us a bit of backstory of her life before she joined. However after the first half, she gets pushed to the side for Kirito to take the spotlight as her hero. I would much rather have her go on about how she describes the empty feeling of eating rather than her describing the enjoyment of having a bath. While both can be extended to accomplish some deeper themes, the former would have more of a connection to that ideal whereas the latter has more of a connection to a fanservice picture.

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The illustrations were made by abec, who also did the illustrations for the original series as well. There is an improvement from the original to Progressive; having better usages of black and gray colors,  more detailed backgrounds, and better facial structure. Most of the illustrations in this volume display the individuals in the novel, usually in a full body profile. Something to note about these character designs is that abec does a very good job showing the age of the person; the more lines on the face is expressed as older while Kirito and Asuna have less linework (being around age 14). abec also likes to use the effect of blurs to either highlight a figure or show off intensity, which I found was a nice touch in conjunction to the boss art.

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Sword Art Online: Progressive provides the details and specifics that the original did not expand on, as well as offering a more slower paced style story telling. These details are the primary appealing point for the series in general, including information of character motives, game mechanics and MMO elements. However, the detail can get a bit length as with most of Kawahara’s works, and Asuna is again neglected. Even with these faults, I would recommend this if you’re at least somewhat interested and I would highly recommended picking it up if you’re a fan of the series.

Rating: Recommended


Author: Reki Kawahara

Illustrator: abec

English Publisher: Yen Press

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