Sword Art Online Volume 4

“As the poet said, ‘Only God can make a tree’, probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” – Woody Allen

The fourth and final release of SAO sees the conclusion of the “ALfheim” story, set in a virtual world in which people play flying fairies and are attempting to climb a huge tree in the centre of the world.

At the end of the third release, Kirito and Leafa uncovered a surprise attack launched by one group of fairies called the Salamanders, as they planned to prevent an alliance between the Sylphs and the Cait Siths. The attack however has been orchestrated by someone inside the Sylphs. Kirito and Leafa go off to prevent this, and later Kirito continues in his quest of freeing his love Asuna by climbing the top of the World Tree.

Meanwhile, Asuna manages to escape from her birdcage-like prison for a brief period and discovers that her captor, Sugou Nobuyuki, has been conducting illegal experiments on the three hundred or so people who did not wake up after “Sword Art Online” had ended. She finds some evidence before being recaptured, which she drops from the top of the World Tree for Kirito to find.

This collection of episodes makes the best of what started off as a lacklustre storyline. The “ALfheim” arc is weaker than the original “Sword Art Online” one. Kirito learns some things that shock him, and he faces trouble, both in the game and in real life. There are some things which Asuna finds terrifying too, and may well put viewers off as well. When she is snooping around and learning about all the horrible experiments that have been carried out, she is spotted by two people in the guise of purple, gooey slugs – with tentacles. As there is no sex it doesn’t quite venture into tentacle rape (more like tentacle groping), but it is disturbing, especially considering Asuna’s age.

Concerning extras, the textless opening and closing are included, as well as some online clips as used in the Sword Art Offline feature. But there is little else beside that. There is not even any scene selection. You press skip on your remote control, and you end up in the next episode.

If you consider this to be a disappointing ending to a series which has been rather hyped up, do not worry. This is not the end of the series. First of all, a film was released last New Year called the Extra Edition, which, while featuring mostly old footage, also features some stuff that is new. But following that, there is a new series being made, Sword Art Online II, and the next part of the story, the “Gun Gale Online” arc, is believed to the best of all the SAO stories. Hopefully this new series, which begins later this year, should be an improvement.

6 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. His debut book, CLAMPdown, about the manga collective CLAMP, is available now. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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