Our look at the light novels of Sword Art Online continue! With Aincrad in the rear view mirror, it is now time to talk about the next arc in the series. It is one of the most controversial and debated arcs, one that I’ve said in the past I’ve quite enjoyed. But what about it in light novel form? Does it hold up? Or like Aincrad does it feel like a rough draft of a better story? After the cut let’s take a dive into volume 3 of Sword Art Online and the first half of the Fairy Dance arc!
One of the things that happen when you review the same story twice, regardless of whether it is in anime or light novel form. Is that you often find yourself coming back to points you already made, especially if your feelings regarding the story and characters don’t change that much. How much can you really say when you felt like you said everything before? Do we go over the same thing? Or would I just be trying to squeeze blood from a stone? That is the situation I find myself in when I look back at Fairy Dance, because my thoughts for this first half are really just the same.
I fucking love it.
Fairy Dance has probably been the most maligned of the story arcs of Sword Art Online. Partly because of the series rapid rise to superstardom, and the inevitable backlash and partly because of the content of said story. People take a look at things like Suguha’s love for her brother (who is actually her cousin) the creepiness of our new baddie Sugou, and Asuna being regulated to the sidelines and say “thanks, but now thanks.” There has been much said about the series, and most of it not good. When I looked at it from the anime, I went in with a fresh perspective and open mind and ended up not only enjoying it, but finding Fairy Dance one of the strongest arcs among the whole series.
The same can be said for the light novel, and the third volume which consists of the beginning to Asuna’s initial escape, is a enjoyable read that has already fixed many of the problems that plagued Aincrad. Instead of the rushed sense of pacing and absolute mess of a structure, Fairy Dance focuses itself on two separate, but deeply interlocked stories. There is a point A and a point B, and the arc is about getting from one to the other. There is little in the way of fat or filler, and everything feels like it has a place. Even better is the shared narrative focus between Suguha and Kirito, who allow greater insight to their drive and reasoning.
I’ve said this in my previous look, but Suguha remains the heart of Fairy Dance. While Kirito’s quest to save Asuna gives him the direct purpose he lacked in Aincrad, it is his sister (but actually his cousin) who wins the hears of the reader. The light novel takes us further into the mind of this fourteen year old girl, a teenager in the midst of puberty and wresting with deeply conflicting emotions. She is proud and haughty, but also someone who wants to be cherished. She is in love with Kazuto, but is also aware of the realities of life and even when the revelation that they aren’t technically related, she understands that future she wants with him may not be possible. Coupled with the fact that Asuna has taken her brother’s (but actually cousin’s) heart, much of the first volume is about her coming to terms with their relationship. In fact Suguha comes to accept how things are, only wishing that she has a piece of Kazuto for herself, if only as siblings.
So it is a gut punch when Suguha who tries her best to actually move on with her feelings, ends up falling for Kirito, not knowing he is actually Kazuto. Reading the text I truly felt for Suguha who really does try her best to take the mature and right choice and move on, to try and find her own love, only by a cruel twist of fate to end up falling for her brother (but actually her cousin) all over again. It is not fair, and the light novel drives that home with Suguha’s inner thoughts and struggles. By the time the volume ends, you can only hope that when the truth comes out that she’ll be able to find her own peace. You really want to root for her, because Suguha is a good girl, a good person who is only going through what every teenager does.
For the rest of the story, I want to hold off on Kirito’s arc until I read the fourth volume. What I can say though is that the third volume moves at a brisk pace, hitting all the same scenes that were in the anime, and adding a bit more depth when needed. It has been surprising to me to see how well the anime actually adapted this material and there was little I could find that could have been cut. The world of fairies is an interesting one, and the time spent explaining the lore and logics behind flight are information, but never overbearing to the reader. It is at heart a simpler, less ambitious story than Aincrad, but after seeing what happens when you don’t meet that ambition, Fairy Dance and Kawahara were extremely wise to play things a little closer to the book this time.
Sword Art Online’s third volume is a welcome return to form for the series, finally getting it on proper footing after the admirable mess that was the Aincrad novels. While I don’t think Kawahara has ‘arrived’ as a writer until Phantom Bullet. Fairy Dance’s first half shows us that he can stand on two feet and write a simple A to B story. You gotta walk before you can run, and what I’ve read so far does more than enough for that. Fairy Dance is a good arc, and I hope as we reach its conclusion that it will stick the landing it honestly deserves.