Diving into the world of Alfheim Online after two years of being trapped within the MMORPG Sword Art Online, Kirito found a world that challenged all he had learned during his two years trapped in the death game. Facing a ticking clock and numerous obstacles, Kirito struggles onward in hopes of rescuing Asuna.
Having defeated the Salamander general Eugene to prevent an all-out war between the races of Alfheim Online, Kirito races to the World Tree to rescue his lover Asuna. Accompanied by his companion Leafa, Kirito must now figure out how to unlock the secret of the World Tree before he is too late. However, Leafa and Kirito fall into Alfheim’s underworld Johtunheim and must escape if they have any hope of reaching the World Tree.
Author Reki Kawahara strengthened the main narrative by keeping a greater focus on the main storyline in this volume, and this was a significant improvement over the previous volume. The political maneuverings between the various races of Alfheim Online are gone, removing one of the most uninteresting elements of the previous volume and keeping to plot more focused. This also improved the pacing and the volume was able to maintain a strong sense of forward progression throughout. The conclusion to the volume is also very strong, creating a good moment of emotional payoff for those who have been following the series so far.
Sword Art Online Vol. 4 manages to deliver a good amount of action, including a few very exciting battle scenes. Kirito’s fight against the guardians of the World Tree was thrilling and was the best battle sequence this series has delivered so far. The choice to narrate the battle from Leafa’s perspective allowed for a better description of the events, making the battle much more exciting and easier to follow from the reader’s perspective.
Another aspect I enjoyed in this volume were a couple moments of self-reflection on Kirito’s part which really helped give him additional character depth. I thought the best of these moments occurred when Kirito reflected upon his reliance on the strength he had within Sword Art Online and whether he had truly wanted the game to end because he enjoyed his role as a hero. These explorations were engaging and provided an excellent expansion of Kirito’s character and helping the expel the perception he has of being an under characterized stand-in for the author.
While the political narrative present in the previous volume was thankfully dropped in Vol. 4, the same can’t be said for the subplot concerning Kirito’s sister Suguha. Again, too much time is devoted towards exploring her feelings towards her brother and these sequences fall flat, adding nothing to the main plot line. In addition, this storyline doesn’t receive any meaningful resolution and this is disappointing because it ultimately doesn’t go anywhere despite all the page-space devoted to it. Thankfully this does not affect the main plotline, but I have to question why Kawahara bothered to include this in the first place as the narrative could have been much stronger without it.
The treatment of Asuna’s character continues to be an issue in this volume as she is still reduced to being the damsel in distress and never really plays a meaningful role in the plot. In addition, there are a few uncomfortable scenes during her attempt to escape as well as the during the final battle which didn’t add anything to the main plot. While this might have been an attempt to make readers empathize more with Kirito’s drive to rescue her, these moments were unnecessary because we were already given more than enough reason to dislike the villain of the story.
Sword Art Online Vol. 4 builds upon the shaky foundations of Vol. 3 to deliver an enjoyable if not complete conclusion. The action sequences are exciting and the story provides good resolution to Kirito and Asuna’s storyline that fans of the series with enjoy. The unfortunate storytelling choices beginning in Vol. 3 still hurt this story but do not cripple it because of the more focused plot Kawahara presents. Fans of the series will still find plenty to enjoy here, even if it is not the series’ strongest offering.
Sword Art Online Vol. 4: Fairy Dance was published by Yen Press on April 21st, 2015. Authored by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by ABEC the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. The series has receive a two season anime adaption and volume 5 will be published in English on August 18th, 2015.
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*Copy provided for Taykobon by publisher.
Do you like this series? Check out our review of Vol. 5 here!
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