Seriously…after watching the MMO-inspired Sword Art Online (or SAO for short) all I can mutter is “it sucks”……THAT I HAVE WAIT! Initially, when I glanced at the title, “Sword Art Online,” I couldn’t help but think back to the days of .hack//SIGN on Adult Swim. I never understood what the hell was going on, or why a false command prompt was up half the time while people talked to themselves for entire episodes. Granted, I never actually kept up with t, but one could argue a good anime is one you can get into near the middle and (generally) understand after a couple episodes. That’s just a generalization of course, but even so, the .hack series was more bland than Old Country Buffet’s food.
Moving on, I don’t have much leisure to read entire books since anime, tech, and game articles take up most my time, but this new show reminds of a book called, Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. The plot revolves around a believable protagonist, Wade, who lives in a world where almost everything happens via OASIS, a virtual world where everything from education and entertainment take place. Though by day he chokes down cereal on a meal to meal basis, by night he roams OASIS as a high-level badass, looking for 3 extremely well-hidden Easter eggs promised to grant unfathomable power. But he needs to hurry, because if he doesn’t, he could end up in serious trouble, jail, or death. It’s a truly phenomenal story which could be described as The Matrix meets Summer Wars anime, meets Tron.
Sword Art Online doesn’t start out as a terribly enthralling show action-wise, but certainly picks up and has your full attention after the first 10 minutes. In place of naked girls rampaging about leaving pools of blood in their wake, this show gets it’s energy from a contagious charisma exuded from the main character, Kirito. Ok, before I get too ahead of myself, a little background for those who don’t know, MMO stands for massively multiplayer online, a genre that’s significantly picked up over the past couple years since 2007. PSO, or Phantasy Star Online by Sega was the first major online game bring players together. A while after was Final Fantasy 11, then the infamous WoW, or World of Warcraft. WoW’s gotten so popular, once controversial show, South Park even made an extremely successful episode about it. MMO players used to be characterized as fat man in their late 20s, sitting at the computer with no life, but times have changed. Casual players play them as well as hardcore players, and for the most part, everyone who plays has a life outside the game.
In fact, this is where SAO grabs the viewer by the collar: the concept of life — both in real and virtual life. As I was saying earlier, Kirito, the baby-faced protagonist has waited a long time to play the long-anticipated Sword Art Online and gets to use a device dubbed “Nerve Gear” to interpret all brain signals and make you and your actions real in a simulated world. Think the matrix, but without the gigantic jack-in spear in your head. But don’t be fooled, simulation probably isn’t the best term to describe the world because things go horribly wrong. Players aren’t allowed to log out, unless they clear the ENTIRE game. A number of games take hours to complete, but MMOS in their entirety can take months on initial playthrough. Additionally, if the Nerve Gear is forced off, the player dies…in real life. Oh, and if they die ONCE in the game, they die in real life too. Before this transpires, Kirito meets newbie Klein to show him the ropes. He leaves a bit later, so we’re not sure he returns, though it’s assumed he will.
Episode 2 opens up with a meeting regarding how to beat the first level. In order to clear the game, everyone must clear all floors of a gigantic tower so they devise a strategy to move forward in the game. And along the way, he meets a girl who seems to be a solo player like him. Interesting thing: Kirito is a kind, but introverted character who’s considered a solo player. Solo players usually play by themselves either because 1) they don’t want to share experience with others 2) depend on someone else and potentially fail 3) worry about trying to hare rare drops. It seems Kirito actually is neither of them, and is just interested in worrying about himself. It’s understandable. Though not weak or cocky, he’s aware of what he can do and what he can’t. A very logical mind. I won’t divulge what happens in the end, if anyone dies, or even if they defeat the boss, but it ends with Kirito looking really cool.
The thing I truly enjoy about this show is the plausibility. The way you can see this being somewhat realistic if not almost completely realistic. I’m not saying I’m a realist, because it couldn’t be further from the truth, but I sincerely enjoy shows with realistic elements reflecting real life problems. In this instance, the problem is that of life. How will you survive? Of course, being a gamer myself, I found myself laughing a lot at the terminology and relating to Kirito since I’m a lot like him. I usually like playing with a solid group of 2-3 players, but still liked seeing the show through the eyes of the main character.
The pacing seems to be just right for this series, gently building up, giving you a chance to get acclimated with the evolving cast, then giving you the proverbial cherry about halfway through, while the action gently ramps up with it. Nothing mind-blowing has happened yet in the animation department for action sequences, but it still does a good job at holding your attention with nice particle effects. The animation itself isn’t that bad either. Certainly not bad, but not quite up to par with a Fate/Zero or Stein’s;Gate. On the originality front, .hack// has gone there already, but not like this show. To be honest, I’m having a hard time thinking of an anime with such dire online-related consequences except perhaps Summer Wars. So the concept itself isn’t entirely new, but executes it very well. It’s always hard to get good character development down in the first two episodes unless development’s the focus, but SAO splits it down the middle: half the episode focused on the characters, then the other half focused on the task or problem at hand.
Overall, my impressions don’t drive me to think it’s a show of the same caliber of say a Durarara!!, Stein’s;Gate, or Nise/Bakemonogatari, or other classics, but definitely deserves the attention of anyone who likes sci-fi, video-games, or anime in general. For an overall score, I personally give it a 7.8/10, and subjectively give it a 7/10. The development is good along with a palpable tension to keep things interesting, but if you ABSOLUTELY HATE anything relating to video games, you might not enjoy it. Whether you want something to pass the time from week to week, or need to fill that void while waiting for any of the upcoming blockbuster games to be released, Sword Art Online is something I’d recommend watching.
What do YOU think!? If you’ve seen it, do you think it’s fun? If you haven’t, does it seem worth it? Let me know!