Read or Die

Review of Reki Kawahara’s SWORD ART ONLINE: UNITAL RING II

Sword Art Online 23 (light novel): Unital Ring II by Reki Kawahara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I started on this newest arc in the SAO world, I wondered where Kawahara-san planned to take things. Was there anywhere in the MMORPG world he hadn’t explored yet? The first volume didn’t suggest anything particularly groundbreaking; removing the threat of death made it a less harrowing version of the original. But now you start seeing that glimpse into the worldbuilding aspect of certain games. And it’s growing clearer.

The only difference is a lack of tension. The stakes in the other story arcs hinged (literally) on life or death. Now, it’s little more than intrigue. The loss of gear, of course, weighs heavily on the mind of any gamer, but no one’s setting their life on the line. It shaves the impact of the battles down, taking away the suspense you’ve come to expect in the past. One hopes the cliffhanger meeting at the end will introduce some critical information in the next volume.

Of course, the genuine saving grace of this book was the reintroduction of Argo. Throughout the previous arcs (exempting Progressive, of course), her absence left readers wondering over her fate in the original Aincrad. Her presence is curiously absent from the first book, resigned to occasional appearances in anthology collections. Her waltz into the real world adds the needed question marks the book otherwise lacks. (To say nothing of resurrecting a beloved character)

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