Yes, it’s done! We finished our work on it! The legendary web novel that accrued over 6.5 million views on a personal site has now been brought to English!
From merely the description, Sword Art Online is a novel that’s easy to pass and ignore. Its premise is ridiculous yet hardly original. Its characters are very cliche. Its plot and character development are relatively simple and utilize some very common tropes. Its art and character designs remind one of Ragnarok Online. Everything about it screams generic scifi/fantasy written for gamers by a gamer. Yet despite all that, Reki Kawahara’s work is a piece of art that leaves any reader with the slighest MMO experience doubtless of SAO’s popularity and why he is the grand prize winner of the 2008 Dengeki Novel Prize. The truth is a simple one, easily discernible once you flip past the first few pages:
His storytelling style is simply intoxicating
Jason of blog好き once compared the premise of SAO to a merge of Dot Hack and Tower of Druaga. Yes, it’s about 10,000 hardcore gamers who were trapped inside a virtual reality MMORPG and cannot exit until they climb to the top of an 100 story tower and defeat its final boss. Unlike the gamer’s dream, death within this Matrix also meant death in real life — no saves, no respawns. It’s quite the ridiculous premise: a deadly experiment prepared by the game’s mad scientist creator that trapped 10,000 unwillingly souls as its subjects.
We follow the adventures of yet another generic main character, a lone wolf with a tragic past, who meets up with the number one bishoujo gamer of within SAO — and what, she’s in love with the main but is being slightly tsundere about it? All for a reason that seemed to have dropped out of some cheap visual novel? Is this the next self-insertable moe story or something? Well, that might be part of SAO’s appeal—
But I’m reminded yet again that there is a value to stereotypes and tropes — their unoriginality makes them easy to understand, easy to sympathize with, easy to get in character.
This is where Kawahara-sensei’s writing comes in. Without any unnecessary verbosity, his precisely detailed descriptions paints every frame of the story vividly within the reader’s mind. We’re quickly tossed into a straightforward main story with minimum expositionary delay. With simple concepts, events, and characters, it’s easy to fall in line with the main leads, think his thoughts and feel his emotions. Combine this with Kawahara’s attention to detail and the story’s first-person perspective which describes to us exactly what the main character sees, hears, feels, and does, we quickly get in sync with him. As a result, everything that happens gains a sense of personal attachment, be it his guilt as a sole survivor, his desire for alone time with his beloved, or his confusion regarding the real-world versus game-world issues. Finally, add some icing on the cake through Kawahara’s excellent use of foreshadowing, a few well-placed cliffhangers, and several brilliantly told melodrama scenes, and we have one addicting and highly enjoyable novel.
[ 茨乃 ]
Matter of fact, Kawahara’s writing is the reason I ended up working on the project — I wanted to keep as few of those vivid descriptions from being lost in translation as possible.
As I mentioned, the first volume has finished translation and editing at Baka-Tsuki, which covers all of the main story within the first SAO game (PDF)(Backup) . The second volume, which we’re moving directly into, will feature four short stories that happens before the first volume to further shape the SAO world, its mechanics, its inhabitants, and our lead characters; the main story will then continue in volume 3 in another game.
In the long run though, SAO might become another game-like novel series (like ZnT), except where Kirito picks up party members while hopping between different MMOs.