Story/Art: Reki Kawahara/Kiseki Himura
Translation/Adaptation: Stephen Paul
What They Say
Having reached the second floor of Aincrad, Asuna decides to have a player-controlled blacksmith upgrade her beloved sword, a rare Wind Fleuret – but when the unimaginable happens and the sword is shattered in the attempt, Kirito suspects foul play. Did the blacksmith really just happen to destroy an incredibly valuable item? And if not, is there any way to get it back? If there is a conspiracy of thieves, how can they be stopped before they spread too much mistrust? The game of death is bad enough already!
Progressive’s sister series Fairy Dance lays on the fanservice pretty thick, but with Asuna as the main character in Progressive I thought the mangaka would be more high-minded in those matters. Well, Volume 3 proved me wrong. Two tense scenes turn into panty-revealing moments for Asuna, and when Kirito has her materialize all her items, it’s practically a rain of lingerie. The series might as well be called Underwear Art Online. On top of that, the Rat spends as much time making lewd insinuations about Kirito’s intentions toward Asuna as she does providing game-relevant information. Perhaps this is to raise Asuna’s moe level for males, but as a female reader, I find it irritating to have those elements diminish Asuna’s dignity.
Moving on to the plot, both the SAO anime and the Aincrad manga painted Kirito as a lone wolf who, after the defeat of the Level 1 Boss, doesn’t really interact with Asuna until many levels later. However, the Progressive storyline depicts them as a kind of dynamic duo. They’re still only in Level 2, but they are widely perceived by the SAO community as an item. After Asuna’s Wind Fleuret shatters, they investigate the incident together, and they also continue teaming up in the dungeons.
Asuna is not your typical gamer, and thanks to flashbacks of her upbringing, we understand why she thinks and acts the way she does. At times, those differences give her an edge over Kirito, but for most of Volume 003, she’s the weaker partner. Kirito’s constantly helping and bailing her out and often winds up slapped for his efforts.
Volume 003 also brings recent cast addition Nezha to the forefront. When he first appeared in the middle of Volume 002, I considered him an insignificant extra. However, the mangaka very cleverly puts the blacksmith at the center of a mystery, and immediately thereafter involves him in an NPC quest with Asuna. Progressive takes a much closer look at the early trials of SAO than the other versions, and Nezha demonstrates the difficulties of a player handicapped by hardware issues, which is a compelling twist on the game of death.
Extras include the title page and table of contents in color and bonus illustration.
Progressive ratchets up the fanservice in Volume 003. Fortunately, the increase of panty shots doesn’t signal the end of good writing. Asuna’s shattered sword leads to an intriguing mystery followed by the introduction of a devastating hardware-related predicament that wasn’t included in the Aincrad arc. In addition, Kirito/Asuna fans will be gratified to see the pair together more often than not despite Kirito’s decision to go solo.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: September 22nd, 2015