Director: Tomohiko Itou
Writer (of light novel): Kawahara Reiki
Animation Studios: A-1 Pictures
Version Watched: Subbed
I adore the idea of virtual reality gaming; there’s very little I wouldn’t give to be able to experience it first-hand. For now, however, I have to make do with fictional representations of it, and Sword Art Online is a series I’ve been looking forward to watching for a very long time. I was so excited to about it, in fact, that I set aside an entire day just so I could watch the series all in one go. While it wasn’t what I was expecting and certainly has some flaws, Sword Art Online definitely didn’t disappoint and I enjoyed pretty much every episode.
Sword Art Online is the newly released VRMMORPG, or Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, and as expected all 10,000 released copies logged on simultaneously for the grand opening. When it came to logging out, however, the highly anticipated game became something much more sinister. Trapped in virtual reality, the players are forced to come to terms with the fantastical world that is as deadly to their real-life selves as it is to their avatars. The only way out is to finish the game. Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya was in Sword Art Online’s beta test; he knows the starting areas like the backs of his hands. What he’s not so familiar with, however, is how to work with others to survive, and how to deal with the grief when they are killed. Is it still a game when your life is on the line?
What Sword Art Online is, exactly, is hard to describe. There’s some action that is well done when it features, some romance which is heart-warming to say the least and a pinch of comedy that shows up every now and then. All in all, it does a fair representation of what being stuck in an MMO would be like, showcasing a variety of believable emotions and reactions while never becoming bogged down in them and remaining entertaining throughout. Reminders that the characters are in fact stuck inside a game pop up reasonably often but don’t form a major focus of the series.
Sword Art Online is told in two parts, which is very controversial. On one hand it meant that the series could explore a second setting to give us more time with the characters and expand the plot, but on the other it meant that the conclusion of the first part was rushed and unexpected, and followed by a jarring lull in the action. Surprisingly enough, I found the pacing of the second portion to be a great deal more better than the first as it was much more focused, whereas the first half was more about the emotional exploration mentioned earlier and jumped to a new story nearly every episode. Having said that, the first fourteen episodes are a complete story in themselves and have a lot more impact the the later ones. Many people believe the series should have ended at that half-way mark, which is fair enough. What’s important to note, however, is that both parts of the story complement each other well and come together to form a compelling and entertaining experience.
As far as characters go Sword Art Online is a mixed bag. Whereas Kirito as a person is interesting, being kind and yet conflicted at the same time, when it comes to any action he’s just ridiculous. Right from the start of the anime he’s a pro that easily tears through anything in his way. There’s no question that he’s ever going to lose a fight because he just doesn’t and that takes a lot of potential excitement out of the show, not to mention the possibility of seeing him grow as the series progresses. While I would like to say SAO has a strong cast of characters, and I have no complaints about the characters themselves, most of them just don’t show up often enough to have any real impact. Aside from the three mains they really only have one episode each, whether that be spread over a number of encounters or used up all at once. Without risking any spoilers, it’s worth mentioning here that the second half of the series makes some terrible decisions in regards to its characters.
Sword Art Online is amazing to look at, especially when it comes to its backgrounds; if we ever do get virtual reality then this is what I hope it looks like. The character models and movements are also very well done, which is necessary in a show with so much combat. To be honest I can’t remember much about the music but the sound effects did a reasonably good job of reminding you that SAO is a video game, even if the same ones were repeated each episode. The voice acting is also very well done on all accounts.
Summary – Sword Art Online was a lot of fun to watch and succeeded in a lot of areas. However, the dramatic difference between the first and second halves, while not being bad as such, means that the earlier portion doesn’t get the attention it deserves while the second lags behind a little in terms of audience satisfaction. The series misses out on some good opportunities by having such a consistently unbeatable protagonist but I have no complaints about the characters themselves. For entertaining action and romance with a loose video game setting, you probably can’t do much better than Sword Art Online.
Score: 8.5/10 – Good