Sword Art Online: Progressive Manga, Vol. 1

By Reki Kawahara, abec, and Kiseki Himura. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks, serialized in the magazine Dengeki G’s. Released in North America by Yen Press.

These days fandom is used to seeing multiple tie-ins and spinoffs of popular franchises, and SAO is no exception. That said, usually they’re more along the lines of a cute 4-koma thing, or a side story following other characters (such as Girls’ Ops, which we’ll see in May.) This is an odd duck, though: it’s the author rewriting the series after he realizes he wanted to stay in his world a bit longer. SAO was originally a series of online web novels, and the main light novel adaptation is essentially a straight reworking of those. Here, though, Kawahara goes back into Aincrad proper and gives us a closer look at its early days… while also sort of retconning our lead couple into having been meant from each other from the day they met.


Fans of the anime may be very familiar with some of the material seen in this first manga volume, as it was made around the same time and many things were taken from it to use in the adaptations, such as the presence of Argo the informant, and much of Asuna’s somewhat suicidal attitude at the start. The main reason to read this, though, is that it’s mostly from Asuna’s point of view, with Kirito as the mysterious stranger who may have ulterior motives. We see a nightmare where she flashes back to her life in the real world before the game, and also her poor relationship with her mother, things that never really came out in the main series till the seventh book. And the reaction when Asuna speaks up at a strategy meeting from all the guys in the game reminds readers what women in Aincrad have to deal with all the time – and why Asuna is cloaked most of this volume. (The manga, of course, also features a long, lingering nude bath scene for Asuna – this is still a product made for its known market.)

While this is a reboot of sorts, I’d argue that it only works really well if you’re familiar with the source material. Asuna is a LOT more tsundere in this volume, as the creators lampshade, and while we see her obvious skills, she lacks the confidence and poise of the Asuna we know. Likewise, we know what Kirito is likely thinking in these early meetings, with all its discussion of “let’s find the beta testers and get our revenge’, as we saw his thought processes in the original SAO – without that, he would be something of a flat character. This is meant to complement, not replace, the original. It’s not perfect – the leader of the group planning to take out the boss of the first floor is a very flat character, and his death is signposted from the moment we meet him. And some of Kirito and Asuna’s interaction at the start falls into the standard comedy romance tropes – oh no, I just walked in on you in the bath! – which just made me sigh.

I suspect, like the main series, that I’ll be enjoying it even more once I read the light novel in March – note I had to add ‘manga’ to the header to differentiate in advance. For manga readers who enjoy SAO and would like to see a book from Asuna’s POV, this is a deent start, and I look forward to more.

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