Sword Art Online, Vol. 8: Early And Late

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

This is the second of two short-story collections in the SAO series, though two of the three stories aren’t so short. The Safe Haven Incident was written early enough to actually be used in the first season of the anime, though they sadly cut the funniest scene. Calibur (as in Excalibur) is more recent, and was adapted into the 2nd season. The final story here, The Day of Beginnings, was written specially for this book, and is also the darkest story in the book, showing off a scared, desperate Kirito and why he’s so insistent on being a solo player. All of the works are good, fleshing out this world further and giving fans a bit of a treat before we jump headlong into the next arc, which is ten whole volumes long.


The Safe Haven Incident is a murder mystery, though the murder and its investigation are probably the least interesting part of it. What is good is seeing Kirito and Asuna bond with each other immediately, almost despite themselves, and showing off the two of them seamlessly working together before they became a couple. (Kawahara apologizes to the reader for the continuity not matching the first two books precisely. Given that SAO: Progressive has kicked continuity in the groin and stolen its stuff, I think that’s the least he has to worry about.) We also see Laughing Coffin here, including some retroactive setup for the Phantom Bullet arc that we get as readers even if Kirito doesn’t. As always, a group of players who kill for fun are chilling. The best part of the story, though, bar none, is Kirito and Asuna’s talk with Heathcliff in a ramen restaurant. From Heathcliff’s deadpan hatred of the ramen (his asking “why is this restaurant even here?” is twice as funny after you know his secrets) to Asuna saying the ramen “felt lonely” and determined to figure out how to make soy sauce in Aincrad, it’s pure comedy gold, and it’s a crime the anime had to cut it.

Calibur is more lighthearted, even with a sort of apocalyptic deadline forced on the story. It takes place in Aflheim, so there’s no danger of actual player death, but there is a very real chance the game might ruin itself by starting Ragnarok. But mostly it’s an excuse to see the full cast all reunited one last time and working towards a common goal as a unit. Even Klein gets in on the action, and in fact it’s his samurai desire to help a lady in distress that accidentally ends up winning the day, though of course Klein does not get the girl. Oh, and more comedy cold, as Kirito’s immature pulling of Sinon’s tail (Kawahara tries not to state outright that the tail pull’s effect on its characters is arousing, but it’s somewhat obvious) results in her getting epic revenge later by taking advantage of the fact that every girl in the group is in love with Kirito.

The new story is last, but in terms of continuity it’s first, as it shows what Kirito did immediately after leaving Klein when the game first began. For all the times we’ve seen players complain about “beaters”, here we see they had a point – Kirito absolutely it trying to level up as fast as possible using knowledge only the beta players have, and that will adversely affect the area for other players. We also meet another player, Kopel, who contrasts with Kirito by trying to kill him to save his own skin, though Kirito is not as far from Kopel as he might like. As I said, this is a dark and sad story showing us how a somewhat antisocial young man becomes even more so in a game of death.

This isn’t a book to get if you haven’t read any of SAO before – there’s too much continuity, broken or otherwise, going on – but it’s a nice little addition to the series, and a bit of a breather after the drama of Mother’s Rosary. In the meantime, there’s another Progressive in October, and then in December SAO begins its epic arc: Alicization. Be afraid.

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