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:
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:
I’ll be moving to Japan next month. I haven’t decided how long I’ll be staying yet, but for now I’ll be starting a new job in Tokyo. If you’re in the area and want to meet up, feel free to send me a message.
I’ve never understood the hipster mentality. While it’s true that not all popular things are good, I don’t see the point of getting mad about the duds or attacking the fans for being mindless sheeple or whatever. Take Sword Art Online, for instance. This series has a laundry list of flaws but the Youtube reviews in particular blow them way out of proportion. What is it about SAO that inspires so much ire? I have no idea, since its narrative flaws exist in just about every mediocre anime ever. Even if I disliked the series, it’s just not worth the energy to rant about.
The above paragraph is fairly moot since I actually like SAO, and I wrote multiple articles this month apologising for it. On Anime News Network, I wrote a piece on Reki Kawahara’s career, arguing that he’s improved as an author over the years and that SAO is mostly the product of his amateur web novel author days. On Crunchyroll, I praised SAO‘s visuals and pointed out that the anime is a good adaptation of the novels, all things said and done.
All this SAO talk was in anticipation of the Ordinal Scale movie. I was particularly looking forward to it because I got the opportunity to write interview questions for the creators, and I knew beforehand just how much love and hard work had been poured into it. The film was a pure fanservice from start to finish, but let’s not interpret that in a negative light. I think iblessall put it best in his review of the movie:
…it was delightful to see Ordinal Scale speaking a language only those who care about this franchise—warts and all—can understand. In the moment when we see Starburst Stream unleashed once again or Yuuki’s spirit embracing Asuna as the Mother’s Rosario Sword Skill appears in a burst of purple lights, the film clearly, unavoidably asks but one thing of its audience: “Remember. Because if you remember how you felt when you watched Sword Art Online, this is for you.”
I’m sure that this film has its fair share of detractors, but Ordinal Scale was unquestioningly Sword Art Online at its best (to me, at least). Can we finally agree that SAO has its legitimate good points?
These monthly update posts are starting to get repetitive. I keep complaining about how I haven’t been doing much blogging lately and coming up with vapid excuses for my lack of activity. So I figured I might as well fess up now and admit that I’ve turned into a riajuu pig lately.
Somehow, after all these years of only loving my waifus, I have become interested in a 3D person. This month, I have been engaging heavily in filthy, degenerate behaviour. In other words, going on dates. Whenever I think about what I have become, I think that I should explode.
Long story short, I haven’t been doing much writing lately.
Reki Kawahara is well known for Sword Art Online and Accel World, but if you ask me, his best work is The Isolator, a sci-fi thriller and psychological drama series that only gets a new volume once a year. It’s based off a web novel Kawahara began writing in 2004, but he has rewritten the story heavily for its light novel release, and it is easily his most mature work.
2016 was the year anime and reality started to mix.
Until this year, I had been careful to keep my online identity (and, by extension, my anime fandom) separate from my real life. This was mostly for privacy reasons, although if I have to honest, it was also because I’m more confident expressing myself through writing than through speaking. I still don’t put pictures of myself online, and that’s probably for the best.
Eventually, however, I ended up identifying under my real name for Anime News Network and Crunchyroll, and I’ve met several internet friends in person throughout the year. The result? Nothing really changed. On hindsight, I realise that there was never a clear separation between “reality” and “online” in the first place.
2016 was the year I finished writing my honours thesis and graduated from university. The thesis, which drew heavily from my personal observations as a light novel fan translator, was called “Exploring Foreignisation/Domestication Post-Editing Strategies in Machine-Assisted Fan Translations of Japanese Web Novels” (what a mouthful!). Later this year, I published two articles based on my research on Anime News Network, explaining the basics of the subculture.
And now, for some inexplicable reason that I can’t quite fathom, I’m known to the fandom at large as… “the light novel blogger”.
It’s that time of the year again. In the 12 days leading up to Christmas, anime bloggers around the world write a post every day, reflecting on the year as a whole. It’s called the 12 Days of Anime Christmas, but for some strange reason, it doesn’t coincide with the actual 12 Days of Christmas at all. Oh well, don’t think too hard about it.
The usual format is to write about 12 moments in anime that stood out to you, but in most years, I don’t watch enough anime in order to come up with 12 distinct moments. However, because this year has been eventful in so many other ways, I can actually come up with a list of things that happened in the anime world that impacted my life in some way, for better or worse. This is the first year I can actually do the 12 Days of Anime properly. Huzzah!
So here we go. Let’s do this!
During my adventures on the Japanese web, I rarely see people say anything good about the recent trend towards isekai (“stuck in another world”) stories, particularly in light novels and web novels. The stories are frequently dismissed as shallow, masturbatory and full of cheap wish fulfillment. It’s overdone, they say. It’s trite and cliche. Stop adapting so many of these stories into anime.
Japanese readers have even come up with memes to make fun of the recent trends. 「俺TUEEEE」(“I’m so stroooooong”) basically means “Overpowered MC”. When a story is filled to the brim with all the various wish fulfillment tropes, it’s referred to as a narou-type work. Narou comes from Shousetsuka ni Narou! (“Let’s become a novelist!”), which is far and away the most popular website for posting amateur web novels. If you check out the top-ranked series, the vast majority are isekai stories where the MC does pretty much nothing to earn his 俺TUEEEE status.
The Japanese fandom is like the English fandom in the sense that the majority of internet commentary about this trend is snarky and negative, but a significant number of people are hooked on these stories nevertheless. There are plenty of netizens who attempt to explain the appeal of the narou genre, but because they’re clearly disdainful of it, their explanations occasionally seem condescending, even pathologising (e.g. “it’s a shallow power fantasy aimed at nerds who will never find a girlfriend!”) Nevertheless, there are bloggers who articulate why they like the narou genre quite thoughtfully, so I thought I’d focus on their perspectives in this post.
Because I cannot accept their points at face value, I’m going to respond to them critically in this post. However, I invite you to come to your own conclusions.