I have heard the line “I liked Sword Art Online until it stopped being Sword Art Online” so often. When I first watched the Fairy Dance storyline, I honestly could not see where people were coming from. I still can’t.
In my opinion, Fairy Dance is a better arc than Aincrad. I know that it sounds crazy or click-baity, but hear me out.
I’ll explain why Fairy Dance is a good arc, at least from my point of view.
Sword Art Online is a story about companionship and how it makes you stronger, it’s the entire message of the Aincrad arc. Fairy Dance consists of Kirito and Leafa teaming up in Alfheim Online to reach the World Tree.
When you think about it, neither of them could possibly solo the journey to the World Tree. Leafa needs Kirito’s extra strength and Kirito needs Leafa’s guidance.
Before you say something like “Maybe companionship is Aincrad’s theme, but you can’t say that companionship is Fairy Dance’s theme,” I have a rebuttal.
Answer this: What is Kirito’s goal in taking part in all of this?
The answer is: to get Asuna back to the real world. To be with Asuna again. I’ll admit, a little forced, but you can’t deny that Fairy Dance also puts large emphasis on companionship.
Now, because incest is gross, I will get this out of the way quickly. Suguha’s arc about being in love with her cousin also is an instance of the theme of companionship in this story arc. While Asuna also had one and it wasn’t incest, this story arc is a lot more interesting simply because Suguha isn’t a cardboard cutout, she is at least a wood cutout. And there is more struggle in her storyline and it ends with her accepting the fact that she will never be able to have her cousin love her like she wishes he did. I find that to be a lot more realistic than Asuna’s which is “true love forever” mushy-gushy nonsense. Not that I dislike mushy gushy nonsense. It’s that it needs to be between actual characters, not a cardboard cutout. That struggle that Suguha goes through makes her feel at least a little more realistic. A lot more gross, granted; but a lot more realistic.
Kirito’s romance with Asuna is pretty short in this story, yet it is a decent reason for the plot to move forward and makes it possible for Suguha’s arc to occur, which is lot better than all of the Asuna in Aincrad where she’s the worst type of tsundere and this is coming from a person who likes stereotypical tsunderes.
Now for the development of companionship in each of the stories, you can say that it is better in Aincrad because Kirito struggles with his lone-wolf emo self and finally gives in and accepts companionship. I will let you have that point but the mere existence of the second Aincrad novel kind of undermines that idea. I like to see it as a companion piece to the first, giving Kirito’s struggle with accepting companionship in a solo-player’s world a bit more spice. While there was the spectacular Red-Nosed Reindeer story in volume two, the fact that these small stories are out of order undermines the impact of Aincrad. You finish volume one and you go “wow, the novel really is better than the anime” and then you start reading volume two and you get emo Kirito again and different narrators and the creation of one of the worst “characters” I have ever seen.
So, if Aincrad was in order and had consistency between narrators and dropped the Yui storyline, Ii would actually say that Aincrad is better than Fairy Dance, but Kawahara did not do that, even though he easily could have because those stories were easily seven years old by the time the novel was actually published.
You may think it is petty of me to deduct points off of Aincrad for being out of order and yet still like Monogatari which is definitely written out of order, but it actually means something in Monogatari. Maybe Araragi didn’t understand what happened until he wrote the story. Maybe it was too difficult for him to try to relive the memories of that story. Or maybe he was just too lazy to write it. For SAO, it undermines the impact of volume one for no reason. And if you say “the anime is in order” I will not listen because the anime is a terrible adaptation of a bad piece of writing and I’d rather think about something that is bad than something that is terribly bad.
Finally we have the final battle.
No matter what you say, Fairy Dance’s final battle is better. My friend likes to think that the battle is “my admin powers are stronger” for the Fairy Dance part and in a basic sense he is right. But Fairy Dance’s final battle is climactic, despairing, you actually hate the villain this time, and it was that Kirito used something he learned on his journey to defeat Sugou. You may be asking “what do you mean” if you watched the anime. Kirito summoned Excalibur, which is a sword whose existence he learned of from Leafa. His companion. In Jotunheim. “What’s Jotunheim?” Read the novel.
Aincrad’s final battle was awesome in concept. The reveal that Heathcliff was Akihiko Kayaba was good, I will admit, but everything else is such a wasted opportunity that is pisses me off. Like I said, SAO is about companionship. So what is the final battle? Of course a fucking 1v1 battle in a room full of Kirito’s closest allies who could have easily helped him in a last second attempt, symbolizing Kirito’s growth as a character. And of course it ends with Kirito dying, coming back to life with no explanation, and winning because of bullshit, unexplained game mechanics. At least in Fairy Dance, it was clear that Kirito caught Sugou off guard and that was how he ended up winning. Kirito’s battle with Kayaba is a bullshit missed opportunity. Sugou’s battle was the lesser of two evils.
And the biggest point of Aincrad being better than Fairy Dance is bullshit. People claim that Fairy Dance has no tension, while you will die IRL if you die in SAO. Fairy Dance may not have you die, but saying there is no tension is just a lie. Untl Kirito actually reaches the World Tree, the novel makes it clear that if Kirito dies, he will have to restart the whole game all over again and without Leafa to help him, since he would respawn in Spriggan territory. The novels make this clear and remind the reader in the most crucial parts. There is tension in Fairy Dance.