Kirito and Asuna have arrived at the fifth floor of Aincrad. Upon arrival, the two set out to do some questing in the deep dungeon catacombs. While Asuna encountering her least favorite monster is a problem, it’s the not the biggest issue the two have to deal with.
When a rumor of a boss drop item capable of providing stat buffs to every guild member spreads, Kirito and his party must challenge the floor boss in order to prevent the two major guilds from engaging each other in an all-out war for the prized item.
The novel begins off with Asuna and Kirito having a mock duel with each other. However, Asuna calls off the fight despite being the one asking for a one on one fight or PvP match.
While the duel was concluded, it hints at the two major elements that are explored in this installment of SAO:Progressive. We are given a reminder of the antagonists from the previous volumes, which links the concept of PKing (Player Killing) and we are shown more of the companionship between Kirito and Asuna. In a death game that requires cooperation between individuals in order to escape, trust is necessary to have. And when danger quickly approaches, the relationship between the people closest to you are just that much more valuable.
In about two months, Asuna has grown a considerable amount from her previous suicidal self and her perspective shows that. There are various messages conveyed through her portion of the story and it is very expansive, exploring more of her personality and character.
Her resolve to get stronger and her will to survive go hand in hand. In order to survive the game of Sword Art Online, she’s going to have get more powerful. Not just to be able to live through the next day, but to reach a point where she doesn’t have to depend on Kirito all the time. Asuna is going to continue getting stronger for the sake of her new goal and reason to live: to stand on the same ground as Kirito as battle companions. So when she is dropped into a position where Kirito isn’t with her, the narrative shows us how weak she truely is. Asuna just wants to be freed from the game. She wants to release all those emotions of fear bottling up inside and cry like the fifteen-year old girl she is…but she can’t do that. Asuna has to contain those impulses in front of Kirito or she’ll never be able to catch up to him.
“She wanted to be liberated–and to have that be accepted, forgiven, and consoled.
But it wasn’t an option.”
That’s the way the novel builds up her character, but the conclusion for her portion of story doesn’t align with what the novel establishes in the end. Instead, the focus is shifted from Asuna’s growing independence from Kirito, to another big step in Kirito and Asuna’s relationship. While this makes sense thematically in the whole scheme of Sword Art Online and Kirito’s internal issues, it makes Asuna’s whole ordeal irrelevant.
Celebrating the New Year in Sword Art Online is a momentous event. It marks a point in time for the players that they will continue to survive in this death game in the new year. Fortunately, the members of the two guilds are going to host a celebration party, which will ultimately boost the morale for the players trying to beat the game. But for Kirito, the occasion serves as a reflection on the relationships he has created so far.
Being the reclusive gamer that Kirito is, he instinctively distances himself away from other people and the novel points out that problem. Kirito is slowly starting to change due to his continuous interaction with the people he has met so far. Surival is usually his top priority and he acts to that goal. So Kirito when he reluctantly accepts the position as the party leader for this volume, it drastically changes his perspective of seeing fellow players to his own teammates, going against his beliefs. He just can’t look out for himself, but also the friends who are willing to put their lives on the line for him, especially Asuna. She was the first step in the process in helping Kirito grow, and their relationship status is proof of that.
Aside from the beginning half, which focused on Asuna as a whole, the events in the latter half is very strightforward with many elements similar to previous volumes. For most of Kirito’s portion of the story, he discusses the situation at hand with his network of associates and starts to prepare for the fight.
Strategizing against the floor boss returns with Kirito acting as party leader, and the writing has definitely gotten stronger. In addition to Kirito’s logical perception and play by play commentary, the addition of having party members adds another level of thinking, as Kirito has to be extra careful to coordinate the party to prevent any casualties.
The characters in the illustrations have a softer design to them, making them look younger which reflects their age in the novel. Also, given the darker setting, the illustrations still convey the tone of the scene well.
The fourth volume continues Kirito and Asuna’s adventures into the many levels of Aincrad, with a focus on darker themes such as PK killing and the possibly dreadful future that awaits them. But in addition, the novel shows us the budding relationship status between Kirito and Asuna while bringing back familiar faces and introducing new elements to the world of Sword Art Online.
Rating: Recommended – Highly Recommended
Author: Reki Kawahara
Translator: Stephen Paul
English Publisher: Yen Press