During the January 3rd podcast of GEEK SOUL BROTHER LIVE!, Shumara mentioned that she wanted to get back into anime and manga in 2013. I took that as a personal goal as well, since it has been a while since I watched a decent anime series. The first one I chose to watch for the New Year was Sword Art Online; a series El Camino (yes, El Camino) recommended last year and has received more buzz in the US recently. It was a choice I’m glad I made.
As a RPG player (though I stay away from MMORPG’s due to my serious lack of self-control with these games), the premise of this show appealed to me. The series, which is based on the 11 volume light novel series by Reki Kawahara, begins in the year 2022 where FullDive technology (where a VR helmet uses a person’s five senses to transmit their consciousness into software for full interaction) is developed. This technology is fully utilized in the MMORPG called Sword Art Online, or SAO for short. 10,000 people log into the game on launch day and eventually realize they cannot log out. During the in-game launch festivities, the creator of Sword Art Online announces a terrifying fact: That no one will be allowed to log out of the game until the world’s 100 levels are cleared and if you die in the game, you die in the real world (with brain frying emitters in the VR helmets to ensure this). At the center of the story is a 14 year old boy who is named Kirito in the game; one of the 1,000 beta testers of the game who is now trapped with the others. In light of the developments, he resolves himself to become stronger in order to beat the game and free everyone from SAO. In his travels, he befriends a girl named Asuna, who he sees as his equal in skills and abilities. He eventually falls in love with and even marries her in-game. As a side note, never marry someone in a game (NPC or otherwise), as it will automatically cause you trouble with your significant other… something I learned first-hand while playing Skyrim.
I will say this right off the bat: The story telling is nowhere near as sophisticated as others in recent years, like Code Geass. Its simplistic storytelling clearly targets those in the teenager / early 20’s demographic. Despite this fact, the series definitely has heart. You easily sympathize with the characters overall plight of being trapped in this game for over a period of years. You also cannot help but care about the characters and their interactions with one another. You find yourself cheering for them during battles, and concerned if they are in trouble. You especially feel for Kirito, as he has taken it upon himself to win the game alone, so no one else dies during battles. He even voluntarily focuses the hatred of the beta testers, who many in the game distrust, onto himself. Its only when he partners with Asuna does he truly understand that he cannot beat the game by himself. The characters grow as the series goes on.
It is also worth noting the very stealthy, subtle and intelligent agenda the series presents to the audience: How MMO’s and, even further, social networking affect us as a society. The series does not shy away from issues that surround the era of living your life online. The situations that occur in the show kind of makes you reflect on how we use the internet and interact with one another. Not only do we experience Kirito’s interaction with other players, but more loaded scenarios also occur; from people desperately jumping to their “deaths” in the hopes of being disconnected to a husband killing his real life wife because she became a more confident person while they are playing the game together. It also deals with the relationships we make online and brings attention to the concept of whether or not what we do and how we interact with others is an extension of “reality”. Whether you just use Facebook and Twitter, participate on blogs or play games online, the series serves as a philosophical conversation of the current (and future) state of our society.
The show is not without faults, however. The fan service, including a pervy evil doctor and an attempted tentacle rape scene, as well as the whole “OMG, you’re my brother, but actually my cousin and I luvs you!!!1 ^_^” sub plot with Kirito’s sister tend to be highly distracting. Also, the latter half becomes a cliché “save the damsel in distress” storyline. However I do not mind this when you take into account what Kawahara does with the later volumes of the series, which I hope they turn into a season 3. If you can get past these issues, second half of the series is still quite enjoyable.
Overall, between the kinetic battles, character interactions and the intellectual component of the storyline, it is a series worth giving a chance. It is fun to watch and hard to put down once you get into it. I especially recommend it to those who enjoy any kind of RPG or MMO, since you will easily identify with the RPG aspect of the show. I’d just watch out for the boss on level 67… He is just a straight up asshole.
Sword Art Online currently appears on hulu.com and crunchyroll.com (subtitled only). Official site: http://www.swordart-onlineusa.com/