If I told you that Sword Art Online crossed Tower of Druaga with dot Hack, what are the odds that you’ll go read it? Zero? Or zero?
Well, that would be a mistake. Sword Art Online (via Baka-Tsuki) is an enjoyable read. In a nutshell, it is part Tower of Druaga. No, no, don’t run away. The main setting is a huge 100 story tower that needs to be climbed, with each floor presenting unique challenges. Inside this tower resides the 10,000 poor individuals who shunned World of Warcraft for Star Trek Online. Err… Sword Art Online, an MMORPG that requires a Ghost in the Shell-ish interface to play. Unfortunately, these 10,000 souls are now trapped inside the game and can only escape via the 100th floor. Sword Art Online then follows the protagonist, Kirito, as he adventures in such a tower.
Now why am I enjoying this? It’s pure, high-intoxicating fluff. If you’re looking for a Tolkien adventure or Nishio Ishin’s sharp dialogues or Malcom Gladwell’s reflective prose, you’re not finding it here. You’re getting pulp fantasy, at possibly it’s near best. You got a heroic protagonist with all the predictable attributes: loner, tragic past, modest, hidden power, chix0r magnet. You got a cast of characters that aren’t remarkable for anything except their generic stereotypes– hey, it’s a hot-headed military type! I wonder if his hot-headedness is going to get him in trouble? Hey, it’s the good-natured friend type! Hey, it’s a tsundere!
(At this point, I wonder if it’s because I’ve gone past being jaded to the point where I enjoy this sort of stuff even more. Or is it because I’ve experience so much pulp Japanese culture through manga, anime, and video games that things would be weird without these stereotypes… and then I try hard to force these stereotypes in maybe unfair ways. Or maybe Kobe Bryant is just tsundere for Phil Jackson.)
Unlike Druaga or dot Hack, SAO isn’t convoluted. It’s a fairly straightforward attempt at a fantasy tower genre with some MMORPG trappings. If you understand HP, potions, greed, jealously, pride, and equipment, you’ll have a good sense of what’s going on.
SAO is a fast read without any dull moments, and even though it’s fairly predictable, it still throws a wrench once-in-a-while. One thing about the writing style… it relies a lot on cliffhangers that either get resolved too fast or too slow. Maybe the cliffhangers show up too much, but it does make it hard to put down the nook. If you’re into pulp fantasy with all the rainbows of stereotypical manga stereotypes present, SAO is worth checking out.