Sword Art Online Re:Aincrad Volume 1 Review

Just before the Sword Art Online series received its first anime adaptation, Dengeki Bunko Magazine ran a manga adaptation of the Aincrad arc (the first story in the series) for two volumes between 2010-2012. Now over a decade later, that arc is receiving a new manga that serves as a reboot – but does it prove worth the read? Let’s take a look!

Our story begins in the year 2022 when the very first VRMMORPG game known as Sword Art Online is being released, much to the joy of our protagonist Kirito. Using the technological power of the NerveGear system, players can become completely immersed in the fantasy world to the point of feeling like they’re actually in the game. This is the most realistic gaming experience ever, one that Kirito has already gotten to enjoy thanks to being a beta tester for the game before launch.

Now that he’s back in the world of Aincrad, Kirito can’t wait to get started. He’s soon noticed by a newbie player, Klein, who approaches him for help and advice on getting started. While Kirito is a solo player who doesn’t particularly want to party up with anyone, he can’t find it in himself to turn down Klein and resolves to spend the afternoon teaching him the ropes. However, once their time together comes to an end and Klein moves to log out the two come to the horrible realisation that there is no log-out button to be found.

Shortly afterwards the creator of Sword Art Online, Akihiko Kayaba, appears to announce that the missing log-out button isn’t a bug, but instead a feature of the game. Every player currently in the game is trapped here until the boss on the 100th floor of Aincrad is defeated, and should anyone’s HP reach zero they will die both here in the game and back in the real world. This is the true definition of a death game, where there’s no escape and a danger of losing everything, but for Kirito this is the ultimate challenge and he won’t sit around doing nothing…

While Re:Aincrad is a faithful adaptation of the beginning of the Aincrad arc, it’s not long before it begins to diverge from the material we’re familiar with. We see Kirito run off on his way, leaving Klein behind and using his knowledge of the beta test to undertake quests that will give him a leg-up for the coming boss fights. This shows some important scenes that shape Kirito’s character going forward and make him further reluctant to party up after being hurt and taken advantage of by other players.

At the end of the volume, light novel illustrator abec talks about how this manga has the polish and benefit of coming after the various anime and other SAO projects, which I think is its true strength. If you’re well versed in the franchise then you may know of Sword Art Online: Progressive, a light novel series that acts as a total reboot to this arc, aiming to tell the story of conquering Aincrad floor by floor. It also gets Asuna and Kirito partnered up far earlier than the original work.

Now, Re:Aincrad certainly isn’t Progressive (which has its own manga too), but artist Kimi and compositionist Mito Sato are clearly taking cues from that alternate universe. This volume makes sure to spend some time developing Asuna (with some scenes told from her perspective) and also goes to the effort of introducing fan-favourite Argo a bit earlier. These small adjustments are sure to change the story in places as it goes on, but for a reboot, I think this makes it a far more interesting prospect for those overly familiar with Aincrad and hoping for something new. It’s not a bad starting point for those new to the franchise either, as being the first arc of SAO means you don’t need any prior knowledge to be able to jump aboard.

Perhaps most importantly, this is a big improvement on the original Aincrad manga. The original character designs are credited to abec, but the artwork generally looks like it has taken more inspiration from A-1’s anime than it has from the original light novels. Artist Kimi’s skills are suited to the many action scenes present in SAO and they manage to make them compelling to flip through. They also do a good job of handling the characters, capturing the sheer horror they feel when it becomes clear they’re trapped in this death game.

Of course, there are downsides to adapting Aincrad’s arc yet again, as it’s certainly the one we’ve seen the most in the expanded media. And now that the real world has caught up to what was once the far-flung future of 2022, the story doesn’t have the same mystical sci-fi punch it did before. The realism has been worn away and this won’t capture the audience’s interest as much as it would have done before. Not that I suppose it matters much given the heights of popularity the franchise has reached now.

Sword Art Online Re:Aincrad Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Stephen Paul with lettering by Viet Phuong Vu. Paul has worked on the original light novels as well as other SAO media, so this translation is polished and consistent with what we’re familiar with. The release also comes with a colour page, which is always a nice addition.

This series is ongoing in Japan with 3 volumes currently released there. Here in English, there doesn’t appear to be another volume scheduled for release yet, so I suspect it will be a while until we see another instalment. Still, I’m sure it will be worth the wait.

Overall, this reboot of Sword Art Online’s very first arc proves a worthwhile addition to the franchise. Whether you’re a total newcomer or simply looking to revisit the story this seems like it will be a perfectly fine way to do that. It’s never a bad thing to have more jumping-on points for a series as large as this one.

Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK. 

8 / 10


When she's not watching anime, reading manga or reviewing, Demelza can generally be found exploring some kind of fantasy world and chasing her dreams of being a hero.

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