I’ve always been fascinated with monsters. They follow a system of morality that isn’t the least bit concerned with human rights. Racism? Bigotry? Inequality? None of that registers to them. As far as monsters are concerned, all human lives are equally worthless.
So what if a human became a monster? Or what if they were given incentives to see the world the way a monster does?
Being the huge, sprawling franchise that it is, Sword Art Online has a bunch of spinoffs and side materials. Most of them aren’t worth getting into unless you’re a hardcore fan. But there are some gems that I recommend people try out even if they’re not big into SAO. They offer unique stories with their own appeal and delve more deeply into SAO’s virtual worlds than even the original series does.
Here are my favourites:
“What light novels should I read if I’m learning Japanese?” is one of the questions I most frequently get asked, especially by people who are visiting Japan and want to pick up some beginner-friendly light novels while they’re there.
Now that I’ve finally found the time to catch up with both the Alicization anime and read the latest light novel volume, I’ve been remembering what a fun series Sword Art Online is. Alicization is such a change of pace from previous seasons; it’s basically a Shonen Jump battle manga at this point, and I’m completely okay with that. Plus, the latest volume of the light novel starts a brand new arc, so despite the fact that this series has been running for years, diving into Sword Art Online has been a fresh experience lately.
Getting back into SAO like this reminds me how much Reki Kawahara has grown as an author over the years. As I pointed out in an Anime News Network editorial in 2017, Kawahara first began writing Sword Art Online in 2001. As a recap, a rough timeline of Kawahara’s career would go like this:
Sword Art Online volume 1 (written for the Dengeki Taisho) -> Submission is scrapped, gets posted online instead -> the rest of Sword Art Online is posted online, up until partway through Alicization -> Kawahara takes break to write Accel World volume 1 for the Dengeki Taisho -> Finishes off Alicization in 2008 -> Accel World volume 1 gets published, Kawahara writes new volumes -> Meanwhile, the SAO web novel is edited and republished by Dengeki Bunko.
…This means that Accel World is a newer work than Sword Art Online, but nobody really pays that much attention to Accel World (not even myself, tehehe). Even so, I’ve always thought it was unfair to judge what kind of author Kawahara is now based on what he wrote over 10 years ago. Although Kawahara began writing the Progressive reboot series in 2012, it’s only in the Unital Ring arc starting from volume 21 that the overarching story of Sword Art Online continues past the web novel. That’s why I went into volume 21 with a heightened sense of curiosity. Just what kind of author is Kawahara nowadays?
SPOILERS FOR SWORD ART ONLINE VOLUME 21 BELOW:
Like most anime fans, I only heard of Genki Kawamura after Your Name became a smash hit around the world. As one of the producers of Your Name, Kawamura is sometimes credited with making Makoto Shinkai’s infamously obtuse and sentimental style of film making accessible to mainstream audiences for the first time… although I don’t know how much influence Kawamura really had on the storytelling itself. Regardless, he’s a big personality in his own right, which is something you don’t often see with Japanese anime producers.
This is just a quick PSA to address a misconception that’s been floating around for the past few days.
In 2018, I had a New Year’s resolution: “Don’t fuck up.”
This was a difficult volume to get my head around. I’m writing this summary not just so that fans can get an idea about what happens, but so that I can sort out my feelings on it.
Re:ZERO was one of my favourite anime series of 2016. I remember being kind of skeptical about the series at first since it seemed like your cookie cutter isekai anime, but I ended up loving it by the end. It had some interesting things to say about the hero’s masculinity, and plus it had some of the most memorable side characters I’ve seen in this subgenre.
Now that the Memory Snow OVA is finally just around the corner, I found myself revisiting Re:ZERO and falling in love with it all over again. I read the first two volumes of the short story collection (短編集), which focus on the slice of life antics of Subaru and co. that occur between episodes 11 and 12, and was surprised at how much I liked it. I thought that most of my fondness for this series comes from the side characters, worldbuilding and the harrowing adventures, but somewhere along the line, Subaru and his friends have grown on me. At least, I wasn’t bored reading two volumes worth of stories about them where nothing much happens.
I’m not going to bother summarising what happens in the stories themselves, as those details don’t matter much to me. Some other dedicated fans have probably already summarised all the books anyway. What I am going to do is list some things I thought about as I was revisiting this series for the first time in two years. Spoilers for the anime to follow.