Sword Art Online, Vol. 22: Kiss and Fly

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

After the cliffhanger for the last volume of SAO, a lot of people were anxious for the continuation, in particular wanting to see more of a heroine who’d only shown up in the Progressive series before now. Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Argo is here, and gets a supporting role at the start of the book. The bad news is that the role is in a short story, and indeed this is a short story collection, taking the various pieces Kawahara wrote as DVD/BD extras in Japan and stitching them together to make a book. This is not necessarily a bad thing – the first three stories are decent enough, and the final story I’d go so far as to call excellent. But I have to admit, starting a brand new arc, the first thing the creator has done that wasn’t published online… and then switching to the first short story collection since Vol 8? The reader cannot help being a bit bummed out.

The cover art cannot entirely escape Kirito – he’s there in the bottom left corner – but does show off the heroines of the various short stories (including one who should be a spoiler). In The Day Before, Kirito and Asuna go to buy the log cabin he’s had his eye on before getting married, but run into Argo, who’s got a big problem. In the Day After, Asuna is having trouble getting her avatar used to ALO – far more trouble than everyone else. Could she be… haunted? Rainbow Bridge is a sequel to an anime extra episode that showed off the cast in swimsuits – here they try to figure out why the quest they did was so unsatisfying. Finally, Sisters’ Prayer is a prequel to the 7th book, showing us how Yuuki, her sister, and a friend they meet who also has a terminal illness decide to start their own guild.

As with most short story collections, the quality varies. I love Argo, but she did not really have a lot to do here, and you get the sense Kawahara wrote her in as she was added to the anime episodes at the last minute. The Day After is better, benefiting from a lack of first-person Kirito and also tying up one of the loose ends of the series, showing us that Kirito’s first love is fine with Kirito’s current love. Rainbow Bridge is the slightest story in the book, but does give Leafa a chance to show off her Norse Mythology nerd-ness, and also allows for a cool action sequence. The best story is the last one, a bittersweet yet uplifting tale of Yuuki and her sister, playing in a “safe” VR game for terminal patients, finding out that there are better ways to live your life even if you can’t leave your hospital room, and helping another girl who wants to be in SAO with her friends so badly she is OK with dying to do so. It’s really fantastic.

So yes, this is definitely worth reading, and I enjoyed it. But it does not solve the growing need for the next volume of Unital Ring. That comes in the fall, alas.

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