Sword Art Online (2012)

Fairy Dance – Episode 15 – 25

Welcome to ALfheim Online.

Sword Art Online is the anime adaptation of Reki Kawahara’s top selling Japanese light novel series, which later — due to mass popularity — was developed into an eight part, equally sought out, manga compilation. Produced by A-1 Pictures and published by Aniplex, Sword Art Online is directed by Tomohiko Ito and closely follows spirited ‘lone wolf’ protagonist Kirito — whose real name is Kirigaya Kazuto — on his perilous and profound adventures in the VRMMORPG — short for Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game — an exhaustive online virtual reality universe.

... come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away ...
… come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away …

The second story arc in Sword Art Online (SAO) Fairy Dance kicks-starts right where Aincrad left off. With the fearless Kirito completing and exiting the SAO game, freeing the majority of living players, who were trapped inside this virtual environment — against their will — for over two years; though the devastating SAO saga, along with its impact on society and the game’s participants, is still far from over. Some three hundred gamers, including Kirito’s sweetheart Yuuki Asuna — who is in a coma and is being held in a local hospital — are still trapped inside the NerveGear attached to their brains, having failed to awaken when Kirito finished the game. Attempting to adjust to life after SAO, the anime begins two months after Kirito defeated Heathcliff — the leader of the Knights of the Blood — whose real identity was Kayaba Akihiko, the development director and Game Master of Sword Art Online and also the designer of the NerveGear.

Living with cousin and adoptive sister — though raised along with Kazuto as his actual sister — the sweet, charcoal-haired accomplished Kendo practitioner — following in her grandfather’s wishes — 15-year-old Kirigaya Suguha, Kazuto is achingly dealing with the repercussions of being sealed in SAO for several years, having missed out on real life maturity, while longing to be reunited with the love of his life, Asuna, whom he married inside SAO.

All the while, RECTO Inc.’s — the company owned by CEO Yuuki Shouzou, who happens to be the father of Asuna — FullDrive Technology Division, led by greedy entrepreneur Sugou Nobuyuki, takes charge of the Sword Art Online servers after Argus — the corporation that produced the world’s first VRMMORPG, Sword Art Online and the NerveGear — went bankrupt due to the calamitous SAO incident. While visiting Asuna in hospital, Kazuto uncovers some devastating news; he learns that Sugou plans to marry Asuna, whilst still in a coma and possibly against her will — having been selected by Asuna’s father to be adopted into their family. Upon meeting, Sugou almost immediately forbids Kazuto to ever see or speak to Asuna again, revealing that he was the one keeping her alive through the NerveGear.

Exhausted after a long day of gaming
Exhausted after a long day of gaming

Hearing that Asuna had been spotted in a virtual game called ALfheim Online (ALO) — a fairy-based VRMMORPG and successor to Sword Art Online — Kazuto decides to dive back into the world of online gaming and embarks on yet another quest. With the help of blonde, green-eyed Leafa, a Sylph warrior from one of ALfheim’s homeland fairy races, Kazuto — known as Kirito inside the virtual space — must rush to the World Tree, ALfheim’s centre — as the goal of the game is to reach the tree’s top — where Asuna is supposedly being help captive and rescue her from her doomed fate in both the real and virtual world.

Those who enjoyed the Aincrad arc will certainly find plenty to marvel at in Fairy Dance, as the bright dexterous designs, crafty animation and deep-rooted character work are much the same, or improved upon, in this next chapter of Sword Art Online. The world of ALfheim, the realm of the fairies — where much of the adventure takes place — is rich with artistry, as the wondrous designs and locations — magical nature inspired architecture, expanses and meadows — are highly inventive and gratifyingly captivating.

The virtual reality world of ALfheim is tremendously lavish and detailed in history and heritage, comprehensively constructed with immersive mythology. The astounding ALfheim is a continent surrounded by water and is divided into nine large fairy territories that border the central area of the land, the Alne Plateau. In the centre of it all, rests a very large tree called the World Tree — known as Yggdrasil — a beautifully grand, organic, castle-like structure that is unreachable by fairy flight; it is said that the first fairy race to reach the legendary city, floating above Yggdrasil, and have an audience with the Fairy King Oberon — who resides there — would be reborn into true fairies.

Just hangin' around!
Just hangin’ around!

When it comes to characters, Fairy Dance introduces audiences to an array of fresh players — both protagonists and antagonists — along with the return of some greatly admired individuals who won over audience’s hearts in the first entry, having reconditioned avatars while in the fairy-inspired universe. The fanciful designs of the ALfheim players — which resemble winged, pointy-eared elves or fairies — is distinctively different from those in Aincrad, but share a curious, off-beat similarity — viewers will still undoubtedly know that they’re watching Sword Art Online, even though the characters have been slightly redesigned. The most distinctive of the newly introduced characters is the adoringly admirable Kirigaya Suguha, whose online avatar in ALfheim is Leafa, and swiftly establishes a romantic liking toward Kirito, utterly oblivious that he is, in fact, her cousin and adopted brother, Kirigaya Kazuto.

Audiences also become acquainted with several of the fairy tribes such as the green winged Sylphs, which happens to be Leafa’s tribe. Here, viewers meet dagger expert and skilled user of dark magic in combat, Recon, whose real name is Nagata Shinichi and is a friend/ classmate of Suguha’s in the real world and a mentor/ partner to her in ALO — after she asks him to teach her how to play VRMMORPGs. We are also introduced to the unusual looking Cait Sith tribe, whose members are blessed with cat-like ears and tails that, despite not being an appendages native to humans, send feeling to the brain by an unknown mechanism — this tribe is the only race capable of taming monsters and using them for battle. The Cait Sith tribe are friends with the Sylphs and are often teaming up with them or are in some sort of amicable alliance.

'Didn't someone say that Galadriel would be joining us?'
‘Didn’t someone say that Galadriel would be joining us?’

The Fairy Dance arc is far more action packed when compared to Aincrad, with enthralling in-flight battle sequences and intense combat scenes. Fairy Dance is, to some degree, much more exhaustive and far-reaching than its predecessor, as where the first arc merely ‘skimmed the surface’ of the two years players spent in SAO, Fairy Dance basically ‘leaves no stone unturned’ so to speak, exploring the narrative to its absolute potential. This story arc is also slightly darker, tonally, and is considerably more violent than the first, with main antagonist — being much more distinctive this second time around — the twisted Fairy King Oberon — who is the ALfheim avatar of Sugou Nobuyuki — kidnapping some three hundred players from SAO and secretly conducting experiments within ALO, attempting to manipulate the human psyche using the comatose players as guinea pigs; in Oberon, audiences are given a well-written, believable villain to loathe.

There is also an interesting love triangle shaped between Leafa, Kirito and Asuna, with Leafa developing a romantic attachment toward Kirito — having had a crush on her cousin in the real world and attempting to overcome the crush on Kazuto through Kirito, who coincidentally happens to be the same person. Being totally unaware of Kirito’s strong feelings toward Asuna, more anxiety is brought to the surface through Leafa and Kirito’s partnership, and makes for some compelling story telling.

While Fairy Dance is filled with unexpected narrative twists and clever plotting, it does have its fair share of shortcomings. The major letdown of this arc is in its use of protagonist Asuna, who becomes somewhat of a damsel in distress, reducing the strong female lead that was set up Aincrad, to nothing more than a quest ‘item’ for the male hero, Kirito, who is ‘hunting’ to rescue her. The social commentary and urgency of the first part, which many perceived as one of Sword Art Online’s defining elements, is rather lacking, with players now being able to exit the ALO world at any given moment.

Asuna is running out of gaming Tolkiens!
Asuna is running out of gaming Tolkiens!

Personally enjoying this second chapter slightly more than the first, Fairy Dance is a pleasing conclusion — that’s fierce, tender, touching and showcases a variety of remarkable story telling techniques — to the Sword Art Online saga, neatly wrapping-up the narrative set up in the original outing with a robustly satisfying denouement — though there’s a subtle hint that Kirito’s travels into virtual realities may not be over quite yet.

Those who enjoyed the Aincrad arc certainly need look no further — though, being privy to the happenings that took place during the prior arc does allow viewers to follow the complexities of the storyline presented in this follow-up somewhat easier — while individuals who may be looking for some intellectually driven adventure can do much worse, as when it comes to crafty action/ science-fiction anime, Fairy Dance delivers on almost all accounts.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Sword Art Online is released through Madman Entertainment Australia