Publisher: Yen Press
Publication Date: June 14, 2014
Sword Art Online began its life as a light novel written for a competition in 2001. Since then, SAO has exploded with over 16 million copies of its various adaptations sold to date! This series is so popular that I am wasting precious time by telling you how popular it is. Fairy Dance is the third manga adaptation and focuses on the ALfheim Online story arc. Chances are, you’re very familiar with this story from watching the anime. This particular story arc faced a good amount of criticism from initial reviews, with good reason. Asuna “The Flash” went from being a strong female lead in the original Sword Art Online to being a trophy on display in a bird cage on a branch of the World Tree in ALO. This is something that scholars everywhere can have tons of fun dissecting. Asuna could very well be a statement that women who are strong-willed in a traditional society will be silenced and metaphorically caged for their defiance of patriarchy. She could also represent a challenge to traditional ideas since Asuna refuses to be content with her arranged marriage even if she is not physically capable of rebelling.
The story in Fairy Dance 001 is pretty easy to grasp. Most of the surviving players from the killer virtual reality game have awoken and returned to society. Unfortunately, not everyone woke up. While Kazuto has been recovering and returning to normal life, Asuna remains trapped in her Nerve Gear. Kazuto receives some information from a tipster that Asuna might be trapped in ALO. While visiting Asuna in the hospital he encounters her fiancé, Nobuyuki Sugō, who has taken the minds of the trapped SAO players hostage for his illegal experiments. He intends to find a way to overwrite memory and sell the technology for big money. Sugō also hopes to use the technology on Asuna to erase her undying hatred for him. This knowledge motivates Kazuto to put on the Nerve Gear once more to try to rescue Asuna.
It seems to me that Asuna has become just another flawed female lead. She is strong, beautiful, and cunning, yet she is not truly free without the assistance of the man she was trying to help and protect throughout the first story arc. We see this story repeated over and over in manga and anime as far back as Sailor Moon. What makes the Fairy Dance arc more disturbing are the sexual implications between Asuna and her betrothed. Sugō feasts his eyes upon her and dangles her high above the rest of the gamers in Alfheim. She is supposed to be a reward for those who reach the top of the World Tree; however, Sugō has made the game impossible to beat. This knowledge makes him confident enough to call himself Oberon and his soon-to-be, Titania. If you’re a literature buff, you know that Obersn is the king of the fairies in Renaissance and Medieval literature. Additionally, the Fairy Dance arc loosely follows Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a vague sense because Oberon(Sugō) is trying to find a way to force Titania (Asuna) to fall in love with him.
Many people have had mixed opinions about this arc, including myself. I found it a bit painful to watch because it just drags on and doesn’t have the same energy or pace as the previous arc. Reading it; however, was a different experience. I didn’t find it painful at all and I was surprised at how quickly I finished the first volume. The writing in the manga is breezy and easy to follow without any of the unnecessary time fillers to be found in the anime counterpart. Unfortunately, the manga version doesn’t make the interactions between Oberon and Titania less awkward or creepy. Perhaps those scenes were supposed to be uncomfortable for readers and viewers because Oberon is threatening to take Titania sexually by force. I’m no prude and I’m not one for political correctness; it’s just frustrating to see Asuna in a powerless situation based solely upon her femininity and sexuality. I suppose we have to swallow the awkwardness and root for Kazuto as he attempts to scale the gigantic phallus in the middle of Alfheim. It is easy to forget that Kazuto, as Kirito, is trying to save 299 other players who did not wake up since Asuna is the main prize.
While Asuna takes a step back from being the powerful female lead she was in the previous arc, it would be an injustice not to mention her replacement – Kazuto’s biological cousin who is also his adopted sister. In an attempt to understand Kazuto’s interests, his cousin has taken up virtual reality games and has become completely addicted to ALO. As she falls in love with her cousin in the real world, unbeknownst to her, she encounters him again when he takes his Kirito persona to Alfheim. There, as Leafa, she vows to help Kirito make it to the neutral city at the base of the World Tree. Her relationship with her cousin in the virtual reality world is complex. She has more experience in Alfheim and almost becomes a mentor type character who helps Kirito learn about the basics of the fairy world. The women in this arc have interesting roles that keep the story fresh while Kirito continues his very bullish approach of “running and gunning.” Leafa is cautious and tactical while Kirito simply continues the player habits he developed in SAO. Together, they make a great team.
One feature I liked throughout this volume was the “background guide.” Every so often a rectangular box makes its way into the illustrations to provide useful information. Examples include informing readers of the origins of the names “Oberon” and “Titania.” Another box explains voluntary flight and how the original manga and anime depicted Kirito’s struggle with flying. I admire the author including information that was not drawn into the volume – to me, it lets me know that the author is aware of the original events and has chosen to remove scenes that keep the volume to a palatable length without taking away from the story.
The first volume of Fairy Dance is a nice addition to the SAO family because it follows the same plot as the anime, unlike other manga adaptations which may stray. This does have its pros and cons. On one hand, you get to savour the opportunity to read a manga version of the ALO arc without the fluff and filler found in the anime. On the other hand, if you’ve watched the anime you’re not really getting anything new in the first volume of Fairy Dance. I do think any hardcore Sword Art Online fan should check out the manga adaptation simply because I am a strong supporter of using my money to support anime and manga.
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**This item was provided for review.