Sword Art Online, Vol. 4: Fairy Dance

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

So yeah, I know a lot of people were taking bets to see when I would stop being a raving fanboy about this series. This is not to say that there weren’t parts of this novel I greatly enjoyed, but there’s simply a lot of things wrong with the climax of the book, and they take away from a suspension of disbelief that has already been in danger of snapping since SAO began. I am rather happy that things are resolved, everyone’s back in the real world, and if this weren’t a franchise I’d be mostly satisfied with the ending here, but… your villains need work, Kawahara-san.


Let’s start with what I liked. The first 60 pages or so were completely skipped in the manga adaptation I read, and are a terrific look at Kirito and Leafa’s similarities and differences, where choosing to save a monster from being attacked by another monster, and later on defending it from a party trying to kill it, even if it means losing all forward progress, is greatly rewarded. It’s just a nice sequence that shows why people still want to play these games even after the deathtrap that was SAO, and really shows off Leafa’s compassion. She’s only human, though, and still a teenager – her relationship with Recon is not one of equals, and I think she needs to sit the boy down and tell him she’s not going to be returning his feelings.

The whole Suguha falls for Kazuto/Kirito plotline was handled better than I thought given that its existence is enough to provoke a groan these days – I remind myself it was originally written as a web story around 2004-2005, when “pseudo-incest” was not overwhelming the market like it is now. Her anguish on discovering Kirito’s true identity is very well written, as is the duel that eventually follows. I also liked the epilogue set in the “SAO survivors” school, which not only gets to see our lead couple be extremely cute, but also gives us cameos of the rest of the cast, particularly Lisbeth adn Silica, who it was great to see.

All right, let’s talk Sugou, and by extension his conspirators, who we see in the form of slavering tentacle insects. First off, there was no reason to include those guys in that form for any reason other than to titillate a certain segment of fandom which is not remotely me. I’ve hated it in the manga, and hate it here, though thankfully there aren’t explicit illustrations. Secondly, Sugou is insane, and thus dull – you’re just waiting for him to get his just desserts, and the fact that he’s so over the top means there’s no real suspense that he’ll achieve anything. But probably the thing that irritated me most was the “return” of Kayaba as a ghost in the machine, who gives Kirito magical GM powers to finally be the godlike cheat character everyone accuses him of being. It’s a deus ex machina of the worst kind, and comes out of nowhere. I also think that the writing was a bit too sympathetic towards a man who murdered thousands of people for a thought experiment. Kazuto thinking he was similar to both Kayaba AND Sugou also didn’t help.

So not as good as the first couple of books, but hey, it’s finished, and I’m still invested in the franchise. Next time we’ll meet a new heroine, a new gameworld, and Kirito will get in touch with his feminine side.

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