Kirito and Asuna have now stepped inside the third level of Aincrad. There, they embark on a campaign quest where they meet Kizmel, a dark elf who is one of the main Non-Playable Characters fated to die in the quest. However, when Kirito’s actions prevents her from dying, the quest diverges from the original path of events unknown to Kirito. He very soon realizes that Kizmel isn’t just a simple NPC as during the beta test, but something more…
Welcome to the second volume of Sword Art Online Progressive. This time instead of two stories compressed into a large volume, we get one story about the same size of a regular light novel volume. The story in question is about Kirito’s and Asuna’s adventures on the third floor on Aincrad. The main concepts tacked in this addition are campaign quests and Aincrad’s game lore. “Concerto of Black and White”, as the chapter story is called, becomes very detailed and involved regarding the quests and Kizmel, but neglects the process of going through the dungeon and defeating the boss. This leads to the story to be very slow during various bits in the first part and unnaturally rushed at the end.
For those readers who really like the world of Aincrad, you’ll like the content in the first part. Kawahara takes this time to talk about the game lore in Aincrad using Kizmel and her campaign quest to create a backstory for the world. What makes this interesting is that Kirito brings together the differing world views of Sword Art Online, which was ignored in the original series. We have Kizmel who offers a perspective as an inhabitant of Aincrad, talking about her clan, and insights behind specific features such as why magic doesn’t exist in Sword Art Online. And next we have Kirito’s experience regarding the beta test and the actual game itself, where he would refer to the former as quest-giving NPCs and the latter as a game developer choice.
“The stage is set; it’s up for you to create the story now.”
Kizmel is another instance where a game element in SAO affects the main characters. We had a nice but brief touch on this by Asuna and her attachment with her weapon. However this time, a person is taken into consideration as an actual individual, not just data. Kizmel acts a guide for the two; acting as a temporary party member in battle and, most importantly, giving Kirito wisdom such as the importance of life, and to speak when the situation really matters.
The second half revolves around the increasing tension between the two guild parties, the Dragon Knight Brigade and the Aincrad Liberation Squad. While the issues with the two parties started in the first volume, the complications were not highlighted until this volume. A running theme with this subplot is how players in SAO act hostile towards each other all to achieve some higher goal. Kirito discusses the various motives and actions with each group through a spectator view, and this leads to him to take some responsibility to quell the situation; and yet at the same time, he makes very similar self-serving actions during other times.
And with the rivalry between the two parties, we also have the introduction of our first antagonistic character. We don’t know much about this mysterious person but he becomes the outlet for an one-on-one fight scene. Kawahara’s writing for the duel in the second half was well done, being very thorough with actions of both characters and structure of the sentences. During this portion, we get an analysis on how Kirito’s mind is perceiving the situation; taking into consideration his opponent’s movements, predicting future actions, and his own emotional state. Kawahara uses short statements to keep the pace and emotions, but he also adds in small descriptions to add more details.
The illustrations are crisp in linework, whether the scene is based on comedic effect or for a more serious atmosphere. The design for the newly introduced characters fit their personality very well, having Kizmel appear more regal and our shady antagonist mysterious and malevolent. The black and white illustrations in the light novel are heavily focused on scenes in dark areas, but the effective usage of darker shades of black make the features on the characters, monsters, and objects look clearer.
Sword Art Online Progressive: Volume 2 is continuing its steps to become a very good series. With original content separate from the original series, the story for this volume adds more characteristics to the world of the Sword Art Online, individual themes about relationships between people, and well-crafted action scenes. I would highly recommend this for anyone looking for an action-adventure series to pick up.
Rating: Highly Recommended
Author: Reki Kawahara
English Publisher: Yen Press