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[Video Review Ep1-2] Sword Art Online: Real Life’s Overrated

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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!

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  1. Kal

    February 24, 2013

    Hmmm I guess I’ll check this show out!

  2. Ryu Sheng

    February 25, 2013

    I had a totaly different view to you TBH. I found the lead characters to be terrible, flat, 1 dimensional, and no explanations given for their personality. Kirito is a perfect example of this, his odd personality is never properly explained, and the throw away explanation of it just leaves you with a WTF since it changes what happened in previous episodes.

    Then there’s the pacing, again it’s way off on the series so by the half way point when certain events happen again your left with a WTF feeling. Then it changes track all over again and heads off on a new tangent which is even worse.

    The best way of handling this series would have been to have a full 25 eps for the first arc, which would have alowed for better character development and smoother pacing. Then a second 25eps for the second arc, which would have allowed for the changes of stuff to be better explained and then explored.

    It WAS a good anime, but the hype surrounding it, and the problems it has soured it for me and a lot of others. Without all the hype it probably would have been the great anime that the hype tried to build it as. Though TBH i still thing Ragnarok the Animation was a better MMO series :D
    Ryu Sheng recently posted…In My Dreams – Fire Investigator NanaseMy Profile

    • finallyanime

      February 27, 2013

      Yeah, quite right. As it was just an impression, that’s what it seemed like to me from what I got, dont know if you’re referencing the whole show or the first bit. But I guess either way, it fell a little flat. Kirito essentially “dying,” which I thought was kind of cool, but getting an unexplained reprieve. Like I remember it said something about 12(?) seconds you get after you technically die before the nervegear “fries” the user, but I think it was longer than that. It was quite mixed and the particle effects were meh, the actual fighting was terrible, worse than DBZs recycled animations in the sense that nothing was new and it moreso the concept of what was happening bringing the excitement.

      There was indeed a lot of hype and I was amped to see it for sure, but upon hindsight, when we got to the 2-episode filler of them finding that AI who thought it was a real kid who I INSTANTLY knew wasn’t, I started to lose (most) interest. I hate cliches and that was a huge sin. Trying to add emotional tugging just for the sake of emotion tugging. Maybe I’ll make a remark post on it later since the season’s been way over for it..

      I try to keep current with shows and don’t usually like reviewing older stuff, but i guess we’ll see.

  3. NyNy

    March 2, 2013

    An interesting view! I’m still gonna check out the anime when I can have some time!

    By the way, I have my own blog which focuses on Asian culture and entertainment such as video games [rest edited out for sake of first comment w/URL]

    • finallyanime

      March 3, 2013

      Definitely, I’ll check it out. Thanks for the view and I’ll check out your site. Next time although, I’d recommend leaving out URL in your comment, because I can just click on your comment. It’s kind of bad form :/ I mean I’m ok w/it for now, but others don’t usually like it and it sets up spam markers.

      But I’ll check your site out!:)

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