Review – Sword Art Online – Reki Kawahara

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Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #46. This light novel series and eventual, inevitable anime adaption has a recognizably large fanbase in both Japan and around the globe. With good reason.

Now, I’m not going to begin to justify myself when I shamelessly say that originally I saw this series as an anime, and have since then watched all of the first season and about 11 episodes of SAO 2, then stopped, complaining it was getting rather crummy. So when I realised I was missing an experience by not reading the light novels, I was quick to snap up the few copies of the series I could find. And, while the story and character development were exceptional in the anime (well, at least they were in the first 14 episodes), one thing I can say about the light novels is that the writing style is something completely mind-blowing. I mean, really, honestly astounding. I managed to scrounge up a copy of the first novel, eagerly finding a nice corner with an hour to kill and some fond memories to relive, and in one two-and-a-half hour sitting I was left hungering for more. One lightning-fast uber-speed-reading session was all it took and I was blown away. And it felt like I was only sitting there for 15 minutes.

This kind of style is something inspiring. Kawahara (is that his last name? Japanese surname-first name structure confuses me) manages to paint the picture of a world as vivid and visually inspiring as the anime adaptation while keeping the audience hooked on his every word. And, thanks to the fact I cannot speak nor read Japanese (always wanted to learn, along with Spanish) I have to give no small amount of credit to the translator, who is probably diligently transforming specific metaphors and references into ones which a western audience would understand (the lack of the use of honorifics caught me at first, because I read more manga than I should, but…).

A little needs to be mentioned about the plot of SAO, though I tread timidly into this area as I was first introduced to it by the more chronologically-accurate anime series. In a nutshell, new “full-dive” virtual reality has become the latest craze, and through the use of a fully immersive VR helmet that hacks into your nervous system and simulates actual feelings, you can literally live in the virtual world. But when a new MMO released for VR consoles overrides the safety mechanisms and ensures that when you die in the game, you die IRL, a lone swordsman begins his fight to the end of the game and his freedom. And so the first arc of SAO begins, which is wrapped up in the first book and followed with a bunch of short stories collected in a second volume which explain some smaller “side quests” the protagonist goes on throughout his time trapped in the game.

Reading SAO (one of the first light novel series I have read) has been an enlightening experience. I’m no stranger to translated novels, but the pace and turn of phrase this book has kept throughout the novels I have read is amazing. I tip my hat to both he author and the translator here, for the umpteenth time. Nice work.

SAO Volume 1 was published in 2009 by ASCII Media Works. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – Sword Art Online – Reki Kawahara