Story: Reki Kawahara
Translation: Stephen Paul
What They Say
One month after Akihiko Kayaba’s game of death began, the death toll continues to rise, two thousand players having already lost their lives to the ultra-difficult VRMMO world of Sword Art Online. On the day of the strategy meeting to plan out the first-floor boss battle, Kirito, a solo player who vows to fight alone to get stronger, runs into a rare, high-level female player. She gracefully dispatches powerful monsters with a single rapier that flashes like a shooting star in the night…
This volume contains three stories, including “Aria of a Starless Night,” which details how Kirito came to be called the Black Swordsman, and “Rondo of a Fragile Blade,” the tragic tale of a young blacksmith that takes place before the second-floor boss fight.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
This new start for the series jumps us back to shortly after the opening of the original novel, just a month after the game started, and before the first floor was cleared. On almost a whim, Kirito drags a cloaked woman (who is of course Asuna) out of the depths of the dungeon. It turns out she had hit a point where she had given up, and decided to simply fight in the dungeon until she was killed. However, Kirito ends up dragging her along to a meeting to plan for the fight against the first floor boss. Just under the amount for a full raid party shows up, and things seem promising as they have an inspiring leader named Diavel. However, an ugly argument rears its head, as a player named Kibaou tries to turn the crowd against the former beta testers, who failed to share information. However, this is countered by pointing out how information from them is distributed anonymously through the information dealer known as Argo the Rat, who gives away booklets. In the end, the discussion is shelved and the party seems set to take on the boss.
From there, Kirito starts to actually show Asuna some of the finer points of living in SAO. This includes the food, the housing arrangements, and even bathing (which ends in a rather unfortunate incident). Finally, the time comes for the boss fight, and things seem to actually go well, right up until the end. However, it turns out that the boss was tweaked since the beta, giving it access to skills that only Kirito can recognize. Though we learn that he wasn’t as nice of a guy as expected, this leads to Diavel’s unfortunate demise, forcing Kirito to take the reins. Not wanting the other beta testers to suffer further discrimination, Kirito decides to take the whole burden on himself and plays the villain, declaring himself an evil “beater.” Even so, the floor is cleared, and those close to him realize Kirito’s true intention.
For the second floor, Asuna falls prey to a mysterious “upgrading scheme.” Will Kirito be able to see through the trick and set things right? And just what motives lay hidden behind the trick? And finally, what shall happen in the intense battle with the second floor’s boss?
Put simply, THIS is the book that the Sword Art Online series needed, and it goes a long way to fixing the problems of the original novel. Most noticeably, the relationship between Asuna and Kirito is handled a lot better here, and their growing closer feels immensely more natural. More than that, though, we actually get to really see both people dealing with the game, and more of the game itself. It really is amazing how much this book manages to be what the original should have been. It’s simply two interesting stories that help draw you into the game, the world, and its characters, fleshing everything out in the process. Fans should absolutely be sure to give this a chance, and people looking into the series should definitely consider starting here (though unfortunately it doesn’t really deal with the start of the “game”, making it more of a supplement than a replacement). Hopefully the rest of this series can manage as well, as what’s here is easily the best realization of the SAO universe seen thus far.
Content Grade: A
Art Grade: N/A
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: March 24th, 2015