When it came to the anime I was one of those people in the minority that actually preferred the ALO arc over the SAO arc, and I always heard people claiming their case on why ALO is bad, but I never truly understood. Picking up this Light Novel I figured maybe I’ll get a little more insight into why people have such a hated passion towards it, but to my delight this volume just proves my point even more, and I’ll even say that I enjoyed this more than the anime adaptation.
While reading volume two I never noticed that Kawahara was experimenting with point of views. Some chapters would be in third person, while others would be in first, compared to the first volume that was all in first person, Kirito’s point of view, so it came as sort of a shock to read that volume three not only started off in third person, but it was focused on another character’s point of view. As I am a massive fan of third person I instantly clicked into this volume the fastest, because the story has better fluidity to it, but also because this volume really focuses on a character that wasn’t trapped in Aincrad, and that special point of view is something we haven’t seen before, so the main character herself felt very refreshing from all the gamers in the last two volumes.
What volume three achieves really well, that was left out of the other stories, are the backstories that characters are finally getting. You got some idea of who these characters were when they were trapped in Aincrad, but this is the first time that the story really delves on who these characters are, and really solidifies their motives for what’s to come. I didn’t get this in the first volume. For the first time I’m starting to feel like Kirito is becoming a character, and not only him. Suguha, Kirito’s sister, is the central focus of this arc and Kawahara does a nice job of fleshing her out too. We get to see through her eyes how these kids trapped in a video game affected everyone in the real world, and how Kirito’s situation actually changed Suguha. She hated video games, but then video games started to help her with her grief, and then she starts to really step into herself being an expert, or at least a more experienced player.
As much as I loved reading the third person point of view in this volume, I will say that it wasn’t third person all the time. The points of views switch between Suguha, third person, and Kirito, first person, which is jarring when I got used to reading one way and then had to keep flip flopping point of views. It really needed to either split the two point of views between Suguha and Kirito, but keeping them in either first person or third person for both. Or, it needed to just focus on one character. For me, I thought the Kirito sections were alright, but I didn’t feel like it was necessary. I was more interested in Suguha’s story, and felt her character had the most to gain from this volume.
That said, I do feel like Suguha’s character suffers from the same fate that Kawahara’s other female characters suffer; a bad romance subplot. For whatever reason every female in the SAO franchise has to go after Kirito’s package, and this time it’s his sister. If they actually did this in a good way then I wouldn’t be so distasteful towards it, but it really doesn’t help the story at all. It only makes a strong character look weak, and above all else it doesn’t even make sense. The way I read it Suguha’s thought process went like this “Kirito isn’t my brother? Adopted? That settles it, I need to bang him!” She literally never had romantic feelings for him, they had a good brother/sister relationship, and then all of a sudden she wants to bang him? It makes no sense, and every time that stupid subplot reared its ugly head was when the story went down in quality. Eye roll central.
Another aspect that I just hate about Suguha’s character is that she has a “friend” who introduced her to ALO. Every time he’s on the page he’s trying to help Suguha in any way he can, and you can tell how sincere he is, but for whatever reason Suguha just gives him the cold shoulder. Not even that, she’s sort of a dick to him. And in part it’s because she’s in love with her brother, but it’s difficult to read this when as a character Suguha is really great, and strong, but because of her hormonal hard on for Kirito, and just her awful personality towards this guy who only wants to be her friend, she comes off as sort of a dick.
Just like Aincrad, ALO has a villain, and this time he’s captured Asuna to be his wife against her will, and just like Aincrad the villain is very troubling. He has no presence, and only has one mode of speech; maniacal. Why does he need to be an over the top, disgusting person? Just to not like him? I don’t know, all I know is he’s a very irritating villain to read. He boasts how smart he is, but even a newbie would know about admin rights than putting up a number code lock on Asuna’s prison. It’s these little stupid mistakes that make me wonder if this guy is truly worthy to be a villain to these kids who’ve dedicated their lives to video games. Would he truly know more than them?
And speaking of confusing characters, but does Yui really need to be in this? Her only purpose in ALO is to be alive, and feed Kirito information. But what confuses me is that at the beginning of this volume it goes into detail on how smart Kirito actually is, and it kept bugging me that if Kirito did read the manual would he even need Yui? She’s just one of those ‘I’m here to be cute’ characters that doesn’t do anything for the story. In fact, her presence actually dumbs Kirito down at times.
And finally, still the most annoying character in this franchise, Kirito continues to be the embodiment of Deus Ex Machina. He has only one thing on his brain, and he’s one of those characters that sets out to do something without thinking, and without consequence. The fact that he needs to be this powerful is beyond me. It would have been more interesting if he had to start from scratch, but no, he needs to do things like create illusion magic that is actually tangible and never explained. He needs to be so strong that taking down the strongest guy will send an army of fifty warriors quaking in their boots. Kirito is by far the most annoying character I’ve ever had to read, and his motivations and skill levels are all over the place, and because of that he can just be God for now on, because why bother explaining anything about him? Like why do all the ladies want him? It makes no sense.
This volume has some of the same problems as the previous ones when it comes to character, but one of the strongest aspects I found this time around was the world building. Nothing in Aincrad made me feel excited, or worried for the characters. In part that was because they were either in houses or traveling, and there just wasn’t enough page count to really dive into the world, but in ALO Kawahara does a splendid job describing the world and creating a mythology for it. Not only that, but for the first time I truly feel like these characters are in a game, that they have to use certain motions to mimic game controls, that they have powers that have limits. ALO is just a really good creative world that I wish was explored more. The only negative, if you could call it that, would be the info dumps within the story. I, personally, don’t mind info dumps. However, whenever something new is introduced Kawahara does take his time to tell you everything about this new item, or character, or piece of world building in the next few paragraphs which takes you out of the story for just a bit before continuing where you left off earlier. This can either be a positive or a negative depending on who you are, but I will say that while I appreciate what’s being said, and explained, it does take me out of the flow of the story.
Overall, the beginning of the ALO arc suffers from some of the worst aspects of Aincrad, but in ways it’s improved greatly, showing that Kawahara is learning and evolving his storytelling. The world building is still one of my favorite aspects of this volume, and I thought there was more character depth and roundness to everyone in this installment, however, ALO still suffers from pointless romantic subplots, God Kirito, insane villains, and so on. The good news is that there’s more world building and good character present in this volume than the bad stuff, but it does make me worried about how the next volume will wrap this arc up. As it is, Sword Art Online volume three: Alfeim Online, is a great introduction to a creative world with interesting characters.