Title: Sword Art Online
Author: Kawahara Reki
Published: August 2009 
Genres: Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance

So these are basically add-ons to the first volume, which had the Aincrad arc of Kirito’s story. Here we have 4 side stories that occurred at different points in time while Kirito was in SAO. It’s not required reading to understand the story, but these characters do pop up at later times, so it would be a good idea to try them out. They’re not too long, so I’ve just put a few thoughts on each of the stories below.

1. The Black Swordsman

Here we follow the story of “Dragon Master” Scilica, a girl who has managed to befriend a beast, whom she names Fina and takes along as a familiar. When Fina’s life is lost in a solo battle, Scilica aims to restore its life by travelling to the 48th floor’s Hill of Memories, where a flower that can revive familiars grows. Because Scilica’s level isn’t high enough to fight safely on the 48th floor, Kirito offers to help her, but he has a hidden agenda of his own.

To put it bluntly, Scilica is the imouto type. Kirito even says himself that she looks like his sister. While I’m confident that she won’t be competition for Asuna (who is already technically his girlfriend) I can sense a harem forming, since it’s pretty clear that Scilica fancies him, and it’s not just because he revived Fina for her. In terms of her combat ability, it’s all very well using daggers to a high level but from my MMO experiences, they’re not the best of weapons.

Back in Volume 1, Kirito was surrounded by many other high level players like Heathcliff or Asuna so we never really saw the huge gap in power level between him and other people on lower floors. It’s how MMORPGs work I guess – he may be a good clearer on the front lines, but to people on a floor like the 48th, he’s so strong that his auto-healing heals faster than they can hit him.

2. Warmth of the Heart

Kirito is looking for a sword to accompany the one-handed Elucidator he carries, and visits the player-made weapon shop owned by a mace wielder named Lizbet. When Kirito challenges Lizbet to make the best sword she can for him, he is asked to accompany her on a quest to find a certain ingot only dropped by a white dragon on the 55th floor.

Remember that harem I mentioned? Well, it’s growing. The sad thing about this is that Lizbet knows Asuna is in love with Kirito, and decides not to break the two up and instead support them from afar, despite the feelings she has for him. Why is it that girls who form parties with Kirito always end up liking him afterwards?

If you’ve read the 1st volume, you’ll know that Kirito’s after a second sword so he can use Dual Blades, meaning that this was sometime before he encountered KoB and Heathcliff. We also got to read about the exact moment when SAO was disabled and everyone was returned to the real world – thank god Kayaba wasn’t lying and had every intention of returning their minds back to their bodies.

3. Morning Dew Girl

In the forests of Aincrad’s 22nd floor, there is a rumour that a ghost of a little girl has been seen wandering around. When Kirito and Asuna go to investigate, they find that the girl has no player cursor or HP bar, and can only remember her name – Yui.

After marriage, naturally kids would come next, but how would you go about doing that in SAO? Well, it’s possible with an AI of your very own! I’m sure Asuna’s motherly instincts were triggered after they had found Yui and she started calling her Mama, and it was the most heartbreaking thing ever to watch her kill the Lv 90 boss monster and then disappear as a result. What was such a high-level dungeon doing on the 1st floor anyway?

4. Red-Nosed Reindeer

Oh god, this was a sad one. Basically, one day (before he met Asuna) Kirito decided to help out a guild called the Black Cats of the Full Moon, and ended up joining, hiding his true level from them despite the guild leader Keita not approving of beaters. One day on a mission before they buy their guild house, the party runs into a trap, with Kirito not warning them as it would show his true level. They all end up dying, and when Keita hears about it, he commits suicide.

Just as Kayaba was telling the truth about letting everyone live if the game was cleared, he also meant it about people dying. If your brain is fried, no amount of in-game elixir will bring them back to life. And that’s really sad, because before Asuna, this guild were the only people Kirito ever bonded with, and everyone ended up dead. This was probably the main reason why Kirito became so cold and detached to most other people, since he’s afraid things like this will happen because of their level difference. Sachi doesn’t seem to blame him, but now Kirito has to live with the guilt that he’s contributed to the death of 5 players, all best friends IRL.