I’m admittedly a fan of Sword Art Online (at least Episode 1… after that, well, that’s a story for another day.) I’m not usually into the things that blow up in mainstream and SAO definitely had it’s 5 seconds of fame and then some. It has haters and super fans that continue to battle it out but all in all, it’s simply a decent-average anime. The novels are pretty good and the anime seemed to fairly closely follow the books themselves. All in all, it’s good. Not the most amazing, life-changing thing I’ve ever experienced but still good. Enjoyable.
I think part of what attracted me to it was the MMO aspect. I’ve long been an MMORPG fan and the idea of VMMO is interesting. The idea of a bunch of MMO nerds getting trapped inside their game and having to literally fight for their lives and beat the game to survive was something that interested me. The anime isn’t without its fair share of misogynistic anime tropes but the fan service is minimal (at least in Episode 1). It does have a romance theme to it (not something I usually get into) but I think it made sense given the story. All in all, I enjoy it. I do wish we had seen more of some of the other stories but SAO is about Kirito and Asuna. Everyone else is intended to be side characters. That doesn’t mean it’s the end for them, however.
On a recent trip to NYC, I stopped in Midtown comics and picked up the first two volumes of Girls’ Ops. I’d known of their existence for awhile but feared it would just be fan service or the creators trying to drag out the success of SAO as far and as long as they could. After flipping through a few pages waiting for the person I was there with to finish shopping, I settled on bringing them home with me and read the entire first volume on the train ride back from the city.
Now that I’ve finished them both and we’re waiting for the release of the third volume next month, how about a review? I’ll try to keep this spoiler-free so I won’t reveal anything from the plot that you wouldn’t see in the synopsis.
The ladies of Sword Art Online – Liz, Silica, and Leafa – go on their own grand adventure in a VRMMO without Kirito (sort of). If you’re wondering, that’s actually Kuro/Lux there on the cover in the background, looking very much like a previous hero. We’ll get to that later.
So Kawahara Reki, the writer of Sword Art Online, is well known for dumping his heroines. We don’t see much of Asuna after Aincrad arc, or Leafa after ALO, or Sinon with GGO. Lisbeth and Silica, seemingly fun and strong female characters, aren’t given much attention in the light novels either. Asuna does make a comeback in Mother’s Rosario and also with SAO Progressive (I’ve yet to read in entirety) but what about the other girls?
Well, now we have an answer to that. This manga is dedicated to the girls and completing their story after SAO. It’s hard to place an exact timeline on these, at least from the first two volumes but it’s definitely after most of the events of the light novels has passed. It’s after the events of SAO as there are references to survivors, and they are now in ALO. It attempts, albeit quickly, to address the issues of Full Dive video games, friends, grief, survivor’s guilt and more. In fact, the entire plot is centered around this as our trio – Leafa, Lisbeth, and Silica – are returning to a VMMO and trying to forget the pain of the past. The story gives us the impression that they are the exception to the rule and that most SAO survivors do not return to these types of games (I mean, duh, would you?)
However, the girls dive back in ALO for some fun, attempting a famed-impossible “Angel’s Quest” and this is when we are introduced to a new character, Lux, who first appears to them looking a whole lot like their old friend, Kirito. Lux might be my favorite character from this manga. She’s more complicated and complex than any of the other characters and she shows her issues with people, life, and surviving SAO in ways that most of the characters from the novels don’t.
One thing that I really like about Girls’ Ops is how they split the time between the virtual world and the real world. We didn’t see this in SAO because they were trapped inside the game. They did what they did because they were forced to. Here, we see the girls choose to play the game, choose to participate in a quest, and we also see them help guide Lux through her struggle of feeling like she has to save everyone as they are reminded that here, if you die, you don’t die in real life.
We also see the balance of their game avatars and who they are in their real lives, how the bonds they form in the game help them grow stronger in the real world, and how the four become great friends. I really think it speaks volumes to how people can meet online, in video games, but form lifelong bonds. Game friends do sometimes become real friends. There’s something about this idea that I connect with and I enjoy how the manga shows it.
All in all: it’s light-hearted fun while also delving into some of the psychological wounds the survivors of SAO are dealing with. One way this is shown is when Lux has to decide if she wants to port her character data from SAO to the new game. Will the memories of that avatar be too much to bear or will she overcome her grief and learn to love that part of who she was in spite of her survivor’s guilt? These are definitely interesting topics to explore.
That said, it’s not an entirely heavy manga. The girls go to school, they go to the beach, they talk boys… all the typical stuff you’d expect. All in all, the story is decent. It has held my interest enough that I want to see volume 3. (Hurry up November!)
The cover art is nice on both volumes. The front is colorful and highlights the girls, with the second volume adding Lux to the cover in a more predominant manner. The back cover is clean and contains chibi-style avatars of the girls along with the typical synopsis. On Vol 1 they exclaim, “Yay! It’s our turn now!” and on Vol 2, they say, “It’s still our turn. Yay!” The art throughout is clean, honorifics are used, the text reads smoothly, and sound effects are left in their original format but translated in the English versions.
It works well as a spin-off and for fans who want more of just the girls, or just want to dive into anything Sword Art Online, I think you’ll like it. If you’re looking for deep reading, this might not be your style. If you want to dive deeper into ALO and also focus on some of the darker elements and themes that continue in the SAO world, this has potential. I think it calls for a review of Vol 3 in November.
Original Story: Reki Kawahara
Art: Neko Nekobyou
Character Design: abec
Translation: Stephen Paul