This is the second volume for Sword Art Online. Again I must say that all the "problems" of the haters have to do with the way the story was adapted to TV, and the anachronistic nature of the two volumes. Thus, this is my second Defense of SAO. (To read the first click here) As before I will examine plot, characters and polish while responding to common critiques.
This volume takes the form of four short stories set before Kirito clears the game. As I said in my review of the first volume, three of them occur before the main narrative of the first volume. This means that they form the earliest episodes, and because they are stand alone short stories, they are disconnected from each other and the main plot of volume 1 other than the fact that they are all within the grand narrative of the Aincrad Death Game. Thus they look like filler in the anime, but they have a specific purpose.
The first volume is all about the elite. It's focused on the clearers who are in the latest dungeon, fighting the latest bosses and pushing the frontier closer and closer to the top of the castle. This is only a couple hundred people out of thousands trapped in the game. This second volume is focused on the middle grade players, who build new lives for themselves inside the game while waiting for the clearers to free everyone, as well as the bottom rung players, who are too scared to leave the Town of Beginnings.
There is also a difference in perspective. Kirito was a first person narrator in the first volume, but here, he only takes that role in one story. Silica, Lisbeth and Asuna are the viewpoint characters in the other three. This doesn't translate well into the anime and so these episodes lose a lot of substance.
Given this set up, there is no ending within the book but the plots themselves are closed well.
I have a feeling that the misunderstandings produced by this volume are responsible for a lot of the hate towards Kirito as a Mary Sue. He is an elite clearer that is hanging out with players of substantially lower levels. All of these stories take place away from the frontier. This is why Kirito is so much more powerful than everyone else. The anime doesn't frame this appropriately and so Kirito appears unfairly high in level. In fact, Kirito talks about how unfair the level based system is during the first story (this line is included in the anime but it's an easily missed thing). Anyone reading this volume for fantastic and suspense filled fight scenes is going to be disappointed. Kirito is here to provide a contrast with the middle grade and low grade players in order to give the reader perspective.
Silica gets the short end of the stick in regards to adaption. She is the supporting protagonist in her story, she gets a lot more development and she shows her true power. She does not get either of those in the anime. In regards to her status as part of Kirito's "harem", it's understandable that she would get something of a crush. After the rescue in the dungeon, giving her high grade equipment, and then helping her revive her familiar, all without asking for anything in return and after a period of prolonged loneliness, a young person is naturally going to think favorably towards him.
Lisbeth is a first person narrator in her story. We get her past and motivations here as well as a great deal more personality development when they are missing in the anime adaption. Her progress from selling crude weapons on the street and living out of an inn to owning her own shop and being highly regarded among weapon smiths didn't make the cut. In regards to her status as part of Kirito's "harem", it's a minor thing. Asuna appears in this story before Kirito does and their friendship with each other is established first. Lisbeth picks up on her crush and when she finds out it's on Kirito, she has a brief period of anguish and then goes into Shipper on Deck mode. Furthermore, I get the feeling that death game induced loneliness is a bigger part here than one more notch in Kirito's belt. It just looks like the later in the anime because it couldn't preserve the first person narration.
Asuna herself is the viewpoint for the third story and she gets more development here as well. There's her backstory before the game and as well as the first day and her rise to her current spot in the Knights of Blood. This story is the only truly romantic one of the stories because it is with the only real couple, and during their Honeymoon to boot.
Finally, Kirito is the viewpoint again for the fourth story. This is about his days with the Full Moon Blackcats. I imagine that any complaint a hater could bring against him about this incident, he would agree with. Yes their deaths were his fault, yes a high level player shouldn't have been messing around with them, yes he was a horrible person for showing off (when he was truly keeping them alive and making them stronger) etc. This is Kirito's darkest moment. He outright states that he doesn't expect to survive fighting Nicolas the Renegade and is basically committing suicide by boss fight; he's choosing this particularly boss in the hopes of reviving at least one person. Again, you don't get this in the anime because of adaption compression.
Like the first, no spelling or grammar problems. The artwork continues to look good as well.
Trickster Eric Novels gives Sword Art Online Volume 2: Aincard 2 an A+
Click here for the next book review (which was a review request): Amanda Moonstone 1 The Missing Prince
Click here for the previous book review (which was a review request): Shadow of the Raven