It’s not hard to stumble across Sword Art Online when talking about recent anime hits. Based on a series of successful light novels, the anime told the story of thousands of people trapped within a video game. What the anime didn’t do however is tell this tale from the first floor of Aincrad up, although the original light novels didn’t either so it can hardly be faulted. That said, one of the more interesting aspects of Sword Art Online has always been the world of Aincrad and thus the Progressive series of novels are here to answer a lot of our questions and tell a brand new tale.
Sword Art Online: Progressive kicks off a month after everyone gets trapped within Aincrad, the story once again focuses on Kirito but because in the original novels Kirito plays solo until getting closer to Asuna much later in the story, author Reki Kawahara has bent his own story a bit and changed things. In Sword Art Online: Progressive Kirito and Asuna get to know one another and get closer a lot quicker than in the original Sword Art Online novel. In the back of the first volume in the authors notes Reki comments about how conflicted he was between changing his original story a bit and just giving Kirito a different character to be close to, but in the end he feels Asuna is the only one who can truly stand by his side in this game of death. It just so happens that this is the best choice that Reki could have made as it gives so much more meaning to the relationship the two eventually build up.
In a lot of ways this feels like what the original Sword Art Online series always should have been. Yes, writing about taking down Aincrad bit by bit is probably going to take a very long time as even by the end of first volume (which is easily as big as two standard light novels), we’ve only just hit the third floor, but it’s clear Reki has many more stories to tell about this world and I for one am more taken with Progressive than I was the original books. The first half of Progressive largely retreads old ground, covering the first boss battle and Kirito not being able to fit into the group of front line players because of being classed a Beater, but it also gives us a new introduction for Asuna and a smaller subplot to hold your interest even if you know the start of the Sword Art Online story really well. The second half of the book takes place on the second floor of Aincrad and focuses both on the completion of this floor as well as a subplot based around a weapon smith seemingly stealing weapons for money. It’s the little things that begin to give the world and its characters a lot more life, especially when it’s covering problems that you’d have expected to see in this world and previously never did.
Having said the above though, sadly Sword Art Online: Progressive is not really written for newcomers to the series. Being set a month after the beginning of the game means it doesn’t explain in great detail what happened on the first day when the players became trapped in this world. I’m sure it’s in the interest of readers who have already come from the original books or the anime series who don’t need a recap of all the events again, but without the knowledge new readers just aren’t going to be able to get into the series. It’s not a massive problem considering all of this can be fixed by reading the very first volume of the Sword Art Online series, but it’s definitely worth a mention anyways.
Progressive has a lot going for it in terms of characters and its setting though. Both Kirito and Asuna are better written than they were in the original books and even just within the first book some new characters are introduced whom are all extremely interesting. It has long been said that the problem with Sword Art Online was that Kirito was over powerful and you could never really see why, but Progressive shows his progress through the game and how he becomes who he is in the original novels and the anime series that we’re all so fond of. It truly makes the book a joy to read, especially when we have so many more floors of Aincrad to explore. This is of course a double edged sword as while exploring more of Aincrad is going to be brilliant it’s also going to take us a large number of novels to actually get through…
Alike the original Sword Art Online light novel series YenPress are publishing the series in English under theirYenOn print. The translations hold strong and have been done really well. The release also has a number of colour pages at the beginning which are a joy to flip through. The first volume is available now with the second volume being released in June.