Sword Art Online is an anime based on a fantasy MMO that utilitises the newest Virtual gaming technology to create a truly immersive experience where the players complete senses are transferred to the virtual world. Kirito is the lead character in SAO and was a member of the Beta testing of the game. During his first day he finds out that everyone is stuck in the game, unable to exit and if they die in-game, they die in real life. The only way out is to battle to the top of the floating castle, Aincrad and defeat the final boss. To get through the 100 floors of Aincrad the 10,000 people stuck in the game break off into guilds.
SAO is set in a created world, spanning multiple environments and other-worldy places. The animators use this to full effect, using the floating castle, tundras, jungles, dungeons, deserts, fields and other scenery to bring life to the world. Elements of MMO are also introduced into the animation; Heads-up displays, floating menus and chat boxes help the viewer remember that the players are in a game. The animation used for the combat scenes is free flowing and void of the bright energy explosions typically used in this type of anime, making these scenes easily watchable. The art direction has also stayed true to the graphic novel which is always a plus.
The opening and closing themes for SAO stay true to the content and are dynamic enough to capture the varied range of plot in the anime. It’s not too heavy indicating an action show, or too light indicating a drama, but is somewhere in between. The backing tracks during the anime complement whats happening on screen and help capture the varied nature of the show.
SAO is an interesting take on VR. Where it could have focused on all action all the time, it instead took a step back, and analysed how real human beings would act in the given situation. This leads to certain episodes being entirely about conflict resolution, romance, combat, forming guilds or in one strange turn of events, raising a child. The first half of the season follows this sporadic trend, as the characters deal with life in a video-game, while at the same time trying to level up to be strong enough to take on the castle. The second half follows a different trend, with the characters joining a different MMO with a single purpose that is followed the whole time. The first half of SAO is spectacular and the show could have ended on the 14th episode and it would have been perfect. The second arc of the series is in a different MMO, ALfheim Online, when 300 of the SAO players don’t wake up and our found in the ALfheim world. This half of the season is not as strong as the first but is worth watching solely for the finale.
4.5/5 First Half, 3/5 Second Half
SAO provides a down to earth, realistic approach at getting stuck in a video game. Where the show could have gone with a fantastical, dead-pan, unbending, action focused premise it has gone with a human one, making SAO a relatable, dramatic and engaging anime.
Agree, disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Watch full episodes at http://www.crunchyroll.com