The year is 2022 and gamers rejoice as Sword Art Online, the first VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), is released out into the public. Players are able to fully immerse themselves in the game due to a device called the NerveGear. Upon playing, the players soon realize that one important function of the game is missing; a log-out button. Trapped in the virtual world of Aincrad, the Game Maker has given them a mission to conquer all one hundred floors of the game to regain freedom. If they are unable to complete the objective and die, the NerveGear will destroy their brain.
Game Over means certain death, both in the virtual world and the real world…
As one of Reki Kawahara’s first works, Sword Art Online: Aincrad serves as the foundation for the series. It’s the premise that propelled its popularity, creating two anime adaptations, other written spin-offs, manga counterparts, and even games. But as interesting as the main premise may be, there are a lot of problems the volume has internally that really raise the question of whether or not this series’ positives can make up its negitives.
“This might be a game, but it’s something you play.” – Akihiko Kayaba
Sword Art Online took about two years to complete, and the series could have worked like a long running shounen where it followed our main characters through every level of the game, leading up to a climax at the end. However, this story doesn’t do that. This 245 page light novel covers the entire two years, which results in lots of time-skips. For example, the first three chapters covers the events that lead up to the event where the players realized that they were trapped in the game, and then the next chapter summarizes the last two years to bring us to the present. This cuts out any sort of development from our characters to get to know them better. Instead, we only get to see the result of their experience in the world of Aincrad. Additionally, it nulls the effect of any flashback moment our main character talks about, using information from a summary and the protagonist’s own bias perspective on the topic.
There’s a lot of interesting details that the world of Aincrad presents, such as MMORPG elements or the differences between reality and the virtual world, but despite having a such large range of concepts to talk about, the volume doesn’t stay on a single topic to develop it further. In most cases, the main character, Kirito discusses the subject for about a paragraph before moving on to a different topic or dialogue with another character.
The story is told from the perspective of Kirito, a solo player who is one of the front-line swordsman, working to beat all one hundred floors of Aincrad. He is the translator for us to understand what is happening in the world, and most of the details about Sword Art Online come from him. The problem is that we only know that visual image of him. We don’t actually know a lot about who Kirito is, except for his solitude personality on the inside and his infatuation with Asuna, his partner. Even the relationship between our two main character was very vague, again only going from prior knowledge summed up in a chapter. There are a couple of nice interactions from the characters but the content is very brief.
The writing is very direct in its prose, often telling the story in a very literal sense. However if I can praise the writing in any sense, it would have to be in its action scenes. Kawahara uses very short statements to convey the action, and with it, it holds a sense of urgency and emotion to the words.
The illustrations were drawn by abec and he does a good job displaying the emotions on the characters. This is best shown during the actions scenes as the picture displays the expressions in the eyes and on the face. As for the character design, his talent lies with drawing older individuals while his drawing of the main characters could use more refinement.
Sword Art Online: Aincrad has a fascinating premise, tacking the concept of virtual reality and the online world. However, that doesn’t make up for the plot structure problems, the lack of characterization, and overall average writing style. I don’t recommend this book, but if you are at least intrigued by the prompt on the back, take a look.
Rating: Not Recommended
Afterword: And then read Progressive. It’s a better book overall.
Author: Reki Kawahara
English Publisher: Yen Press