Sword Art Online: Progressive, Vol. 6

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

There’s not nearly as much Kirito/Asuna shipping in this second volume of this two-parter, but that’s fine as I actually was getting into the game part for once. Kirito is dealing with things that puzzle him on several fronts. First, and pun intended, there are the puzzles, including the last boss being a nearly insoluble game of sudoku. Secondly, there are the changes from the beta, meaning Kirito can sometimes be caught doing the wrong thing. Thirdly, the player killers are messing things up by killing NPCs and forcing the game into a completely different direction. And lastly, and most importantly, the NPCs are simply far too complex and realistic to be explained by simple programming. It’s not just Kizmel anymore – we also meet a young girl and her mother whose backstory is too thought out and only makes sense if Aincrad’s inhabitants had been around long before the players were trapped there. All of this disturbs Kirito, a gamer who really doesn’t want to accept NPCs with their own agendas and emotions, more than Asuna, a non-gamer who simply accepts it for the most part.

We also meet another group of players, who are meant to seem sinister but in the end appear to be mostly innocent but easily tricked. They were part of the group trying to stay safe at the Town of Beginnings, but that’s a lot harder than it sounds when you need money for food and shelter. Again, it’s a reminder that a big reason that Kawahara is writing this expansion of this original series is to deal with all the things that he never did when it was just one short book. We also see the flip side of Kirito and Asuna bonding so much with Kizmel, which is that the bad guys can also bond with the NPC bad guys. In fact, one can argue that in this book the villains win for the most part, as the infiltrator of Lind and Kibaou’s groups gets away, and the fallen elf collects the keys that they had been trying to collect. Basically, each book is building on the next, and I’m sure we’ll see both Kizmel and the fallen elves again.

The funniest part of the book involves Kirito meeting an NPC sage who teaches him the meditation technique… which involves NOT eating the hamburg steak directly in front of him. The amusing thing is that, when Kirito tries to calm his mind by thinking about food, the sage rejects it, but when he reflects on his time in the game with Asuna, that’s perfectly OK. Asuna is still denying that she and Kirito are a couple when confronted, in a typical tsundere way, but there’s no question that she trusts and feels relaxed around him where she doesn’t with anyone else. And there’s also Kizmel, who seems to confidently be trying to work them into a threesome – I say confidently as she seems confident neither of them will go for it.

So we get a new floor next time around, but it may be a bit of a wait again, as I don’t think the 7th book is out in Japan yet. There’s a lot of open questions, though. Biggest of all – when did Saber Asuna change to Lancer Asuna?

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