Title: Sword Art Online: Project Alicization Vol. 1
Author: Reki Kawahara
Release Date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Yen Press
As a longtime Sword Art Online fan, I saw the Alicization Arc as a way to revive the series that seemed to be always trying new things. With the light novel and anime of the arc readily available in the west, it’s about time that the manga adaptation made its debut. What we get in Sword Art Online: Project Alicization Vol. 1 introduces us to a much larger adventure. It’s one that Kirito has never experienced to date, but its characters and story beats manage to leave a lasting impression. However, in this first volume, we only get a taste of the mysteries this new digital world contains.
Sword Art Online: Project Alicization Vol. 1 begins with a strange scene of a young Kirito in a fantasy world assisting his friend Eugeo with his calling of cutting down a large tree that is constantly draining mana from the planet. However, this means that Eugeo will probably be doing this his entire life without making any real progress, but he is content with his responsibilities. Their friend Alice appears with lunch, and that’s when they come up with a plan to chase a legend.
In this world, there are rules put on the citizens that they have to follow. It creates an interesting dynamic within the narrative as this group goes against their collective programming and breaks the rules. I can’t help but wonder if Kirito being that has anything to do with their disobedience, but they manage to run off in search of legends even though they know the consequences if something goes wrong…and it does.
Given that this manga is riding on the backs of the anime and light novel, it has a lot to prove in its presentation and narrative. Sadly, the beginning is relatively fast-moving without really giving you a chance to invest yourself in this small group of friends. I wish an extra day were spent on the group just interacting as they would normally if only to give me time to prepare for the plot to rear its ugly head.
Sword Art Online: Project Alicization Vol. 1 goes hard with its themes of religion and hierarchy. The town is described in a way where everyone lives and dies without any real say about who they are or what they can be. Everyone is given a calling, and they will do that forever. Of course, Kirito looks for a loophole, but most of their ideas are pipe dreams.
The panels are excellent. I especially enjoyed the few panels that didn’t have any text and simply showed the trio on their adventure. The entire manga leads up to a heartbreaking conclusion with some intense scenes. Interestingly, you can almost hear Kirito’s voice coming out of the pages as he yells.
As for the text itself, there’s more than enough here to understand the foundation of this world, but you’re still left with the questions that the writers want you to have. Thankfully, they don’t make this highlight of the story and focuses on Kirito’s new fantasy world.
Sword Art Online: Project Alicization Vol. 1 is a decent beginning to a brand new adventure. If you are a fan of the series, I’m sure you appreciate more media to re-experience one of the best SAO arcs ever. However, I wish the pacing slowed down just a little to sell the friendship more outside of them just subtly dropping exposition of one another. There are so many fantastic elements of this manga that I’m looking forward to, and lucky for me, we’re off to a great start.
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