Sword Art Online #1: Aincard is the first instalment of a Japanese seinen, science-fiction light novel series written by Reki Kawahara with illustrations from Abec. I picked up this book because I am a fan of the first season of the anime and I wanted to read the original source material.
Sword Art Online #1: Aincard takes place in the year 2022. Video gamers are super excited as Sword Art Online—a VRMMORPG, or Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game—finally debuts. It’s the first game that allows its players to take full advantage of the ultimate gaming technology called NerveGear. This technology allows players to completely immerse themselves into a realistic gaming experience. When the game officially goes live, all of that excitement mutates into fast-mounting terror as the players discover that the game has no “Log-Out” feature. Their bodies are held captive by the technology. Players have only two options: beat all one-hundred floors of the game in order to be released or play until you die. However, if you die in the game then you will die in real life.
There were so many things that completely swept me away with this introductory instalment. To be perfectly blunt, while I had moderate expectations for the quality, based on reviews that I have read from both book readers and anime watchers alike, I never really expected it to surpass them on the level that it did. SAO #1: Aincard had every quality that I was craving without actually knowing that these were things I had wanted to experience so badly.
I’m going to begin with the writing style. Akin to the Log Horizon light novels, SAO #1: Aincard is set-up very much like a traditional novel, with normal sized chapters (approximately ten to thirty pages versus the fifty to eighty pages that is more accustomed with the light novel medium), no awkward dialogue that is marked with dashes or choppy symbols, the dialogue interactions were interspersed with real descriptions on facial expressions/responses and the like, it was flowing and had a very natural progression to it, and much more. A large part of this—I suspect—is contributed to the translation as the novel also had one of the finest translations that I have read from this genre in a bloody long time. The English version really captured the essence and ambiance of the world, the tension and suspense, as well as the complexities of the characters and their plights so beautifully. I say this after having read Kawahara’s Accel World series in English, which didn’t feel nearly as true to the original Japanese versions, or as well-written as SAO did.
The world-building is extraordinary. We get a basic understanding of the technology during this scientifically advanced era in Japan, which isn’t so complicated as to feel surreal. With the latest advancements in virtual reality video gaming, I can legitimately see a full-body virtual experience becoming a very real thing in the near future. This connection between the settings and how it relates to the modern day created an eerie feeling as I read about what was happening to the people that fell victim to the VRMMORPG known as Sword Art Online. As someone who admires virtual reality and is looking forward to seeing how this will affect gaming in the future, the notion of getting neurologically “stuck” in a game of this magnitude is fucking eerie and extremely discomforting. When I read about the lush natural scenes within the game, the underdeveloped cities, the skill required to be able to obtain decent food, and even the deaths of many of the players—I felt myself being emotionally and psychologically enveloped into Aincard in ways that kept me tightly engrossed and contemplative.
Speaking of psychological, I found the examination of morality versus mortality to be very fascinating. I have read many books that explore what morality means to human beings when faced the very real and almost tangible fear of certain death, and every time (when it is written well, such as SAO #1: Aincard) it blows my bloody mind. Personally, I am terrified of dying. I can’t begin to fathom the sorts of things that death will make me do, if/when the time arrives. In the light novel when I read about people whose sole desire was to murder others just for kicks, it created a sense of haunting terror inside of me. But it also made me understand the horrible concept of freedom. There isn’t really a definitive punishment system for being a murderous asshole in the world of this video game because in a way the game itself is a severe fucking punishment. If you’re already being punished for being an innocent gamer, why not take advantage and do what would otherwise be frowned upon (or worse) outside of the pixeled confines of the digital world?
In addition to those major elements that I found to be most pleasant above all else, there are other minor things to take note of as well. The action is excellently gripping and was easy to picture within my mind. Since I had seen the anime already, I just applied the character designs from that to the individual characters in the book, which made the experience even more fluid. The romance is sweet and genuine without focusing on any insta-love mechanics or unnecessarily gratuitous scenes. The characters weren’t forgettable, even the side characters and super shortly introduced ones. The premise is vastly unique and felt wonderfully original to me. The pacing and progression of events matched perfectly with the writing style, atmosphere, and conflicts given.
Overall, I fucking loved this first instalment! Sword Art Online #1: Aincard is marvellous first volume to a light novel series, and quite possibly one of the best light novels that I have read in a long time. If you are in the market for light novels, or if you have been interested in trying out light novels but didn’t really know where to begin, I recommend that you give SAO a chance.
4.5 floors outta 5!
Thank you so much for visiting me today. Until next time, keep reading and keep otakuing. 💜
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