Sword Art Online (LN) Volume 1 Review

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So a few years ago there was a certain series that took the world by storm, and I mean by God did this series reach unimaginable popularity. In just under a year, maybe even less than a month SAO is now as popular as DBZ. Anime fans, Light Novel fans, heck even people that never even watched anime before were all flocking to this series, and it is now one of the most recognizable stories out there.

I’ll tell you right now, when your a fan of SAO they will fight you and let you know that this is the greatest series ever to have been made. Comments have escalated from “SAO is best” to “You ***** you don’t know *** SAO is the *** and all the other shows you watch are ****!!!”

Okay, so maybe not that exactly, but the point I was trying to put in was the fact that the fans feel so strongly about this series. It’s one of those you either hate it or love it, and allow wars to spam the internet, and to be honest it’s because of this that made me not want to watch or even read SAO for the longest time. Then, after SAO was quieting down and after a few years I found the anime on Netflix, I said why not and started to watch it. Frankly, I have mixed feelings for the anime, but that’s a review for another time, because one of the things that every Light Novel reader says is that the LN are better than the anime. And with Yen Press adding their Light Novel section, Yen On, and releasing SAO I got curious and picked up the first volume, and you know what? They were right. I found the Light novel to be much more enjoyable than the anime.

Don’t get me wrong, the things I hated about the anime are in the Light Novel too, but there’s something about Reki Kawahara’s style that makes it more tolerable. Kawahara may not be a great writer, but it’s definitely apparent from this that he at least has talent, and potential.

Before diving too deep into this review I want to share what Kawahara has stated about Sword Art Online. He says that it’s his first novel, in the afterword he states that when reviewing it to being published he came across too many mistakes to list, and he has also gone on record saying that he wasn’t an mmorpg expert, basically but not quite a noob. And it’s the culmination of all of these points where I think SAO suffers from the most, because as a first novel this is incredibly ambitious.

Back to the review; for those few living under a rock, or being a heroic soul and avoiding all that SAO stands for, this series is about a bunch of people who use a virtual helmet to transport their consciousness into an mmorpg (vmmorpg). Upon the first day that the game is up and running a mysterious man tells everyone that they are now trapped in the game, and if you die in the game you die in real life. People panic, some commit suicide in the game, and wouldn’t you know it that they started dying in real life.

The main character is Kirito, who at the beginning was helping a guy raise his level, Klein. Immediately I liked these two characters, they had great chemistry, and their dynamics had so much potential, but because Kirito didn’t want to meet Klein’s friends they go different ways, and thus we don’t see Klein until a good portion into the book.

Right off the bat Kawahara made a mistake, because after separating with Klein, Kirito becomes not one of, but THE most powerful person in the game who keeps the “I’m so alone” persona even thought people actually go out of their way to try and be friends with him, heck even Klein tries to convince him every time he sees him. And you know what Kirito’s response is? “Because I’m a beater” (Beta Cheater, the Beta’s abandoned the regular players and took all the good stuff while everyone was acting like a chicken with it’s head cut off). This type of character isn’t supposed to be A) this early in the story, and B) unlikable because there is no tension or reason to worry about him. The story, time and time again, shows Kirito being better than everyone else. While I understand how some people may relate to him, I found him to be boring, and more interesting as a side character to be honest. I think if Klein was the main character it would have been a much more compelling story, because he is the underdog, he works hard with his team so that they all, not just him, achieve their goal, and now that I’m writing this Klein is the hero archetype, and he’s rarely ever used.

This doesn’t just end there for the characters in the story, in fact I don’t think Kawahara did a very good job with most of the characters. You got Agil, the merchant, who doesn’t have too much of a personality. He acts like a typical shop keeper. Kuradeel, who is just plain old crazy for the sake of being crazy, and then you have Heathcliff, the leader of a guild that tries to complete the game so that they can get back to the real world. He’s portrayed as a badass, and that’s about it.

You also have Asuna, Kirito’s love interest, who was introduced as maybe the third strongest character in the world. She could hold her own, was an actual strong female character (SHOCKING!) until she fell in love with Kirito. I’m all for romance, I’m probably one of the few guys who is interested in reading a romance manga, or trying new romance anime, but the romance in SAO is so childish that everything that made Asuna a likable character to begin with was wiped out. She acted more like a damsel in distress who can’t control her heart whenever Kirito was around, and I swear her fighting  prowess decreased by the end.

The series really started to turn when Asuna was introduced. I’d say the first half of this Light Novel is exactly what you’d expect out of this story. It has fighting, cool monsters with interesting abilities. The basics, but not quite the understanding of mmorpg’s, and potential to be an entertaining series. Then, after a certain event that Kirito is not happy about, the series takes a turn for the romance. I don’t just mean that it’s introducing romance at this time, but the genre of this story literally went from Action/Adventure to Romance/Romance. Again, if this was done right it wouldn’t matter, but the fact that it spends a good third of the novel as this gooey gooey teen romantic Disney princess disorder, then it really turns your head as the story is going a complete 180 on it’s audience. I mean Kirito and Asuna just started liking each other, and it escalated to the point that they were talking about marriage, kids, and even hooking up in the real world. This all happens very close to each other in time, and like the Disney princess disorder where a girl meets a man and marries him in one day, it’s just not believable and totally takes me out of the story. I mean I would expect at most Kirito being “Hey Asuna, let’s do it!” not “Will you marry me”

Damnit, this is turning into a rant, but I have to address this. In my mind these are two completely different stories. We have the first half being in one story, but the second half feels like it belongs somewhere else, and the characters are not always acting how they should.

But there is hope! The art in this novel is fantastic, no, phenomenal. I actually stop reading just so I can stare at those gorgeous pages. I don’t know enough about art to really say why it’s amazing, but like Kawahara’s style, Abec, the artist, brings an extra layer to the story to make you keep reading.

Overall, Sword Art Online is a mess to say the least, but Kawahara’s style and Abec’s art were the main draws of this series that made me continue until the end. The characters start off well but it becomes infuriating with what wasted potential is done with them. The ideas are grand and have lots of potential, but it felt like Kawahara changed his mind about the story halfway through. It’s a quick read, and to my surprise I enjoyed it. The action scenes were written wonderfully, and the romance was eye rolling. For every good thing I can name a bad, but at the end of the day there is enough interest for me not to totally hate this volume, and go out and pick up volume two.

As for the popularity, I have absolutely no idea why it’s this popular. It’s one of the biggest puzzles this Earth has brought us, and I can’t even fathom to guess. If you do love this, and think I’m wrong about some of my points please leave a comment, because I would love to understand, debate, and talk about Sword Art Online Volume 1, the Light Novel.

C+

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