Review of Reki Kawahara’s SWORD ART ONLINE: PROGRESSIVE 008

Sword Art Online Progressive 8 by Reki Kawahara

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Do I have a pattern of moving from comics to light novels and back to “standard” fare? I haven’t noticed. Anyway, moving on)

When Kawahara-san set out to tackle the story of Aincrad from the beginning, I was convinced the story arcs would get repetitive. (Nothing against him. The other SAO titles have veered down varying paths, but – honestly, how did he plan to make SEVENTY-FIVE floors different?) Confront floor-level boss, defeat, move on. Obviously, there were a few random conflicts to iron out, based on the short stories that have appeared here and there, but how did he plan to make life trapped in a floating death sentence fascinating volume after volume? To say nothing of developing a relationship between two characters epitomizing “slow burn.”

I owe him an apology – and a lot more credit.

Granted, this volume only carries us through the seventh floor, but the intricacies of player interactions, side quests (how could I have neglected the all-important side quest to the RPG genre?), and emotional undercurrents have already opened numerous possibilities. No sooner does one question resolve than five more arise – each branching in different directions. Despite the confined location, thoughts range beyond the limits of Aincrad. And Kirito even ventures into tearing through the earliest mysteries behind the AI programming.

It’s easy to dismiss it as 20/20 hindsight (how many story arcs take place after these plotlines?), but it doesn’t feel that way. Kawahara-san remains true to the original characters in the moment of each volume. It’s a juggling act few writers would succeed with, especially when writing the arcs simultaneously. The mastery is admirable.

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