For fans of MMORPGs, RPGs, Romance, Video Game Fantasy.
We witness what seems to be just your average day for Kirito. We see news reports of some new MMO being released, with only 10,000 copies made and sold in record time. So our so far silent and depressive protagonist puts on some strange helmet, and the anime kicks off. Sword Art Online is whats called a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Gam) where players put on a typical sci-fi helmet and are transported into a virtual fantasy world. However, all is not as it seems and the thousands of players are thrust into a desperate struggle to stay alive.
We follow beta tester Kirito as he fights through the hellish nightmare of Sword Art Online. We become introduced to an array of characters who play major roles in Kirito's character development. One thing you must know when watching this show is that it is predominantly told in the form of story arcs. They may be a couple of episodes when they are focusing on a certain sub plot, and then there will be a time jump; a week, a month, 2 years....The story itself is relatively predictable but this doesn't take away from the fact that this is such a unique concept that has been rarely touched to such a brilliant extent. A story filled with danger, romance and adventure on such a large scale is truly enjoyable to watch.
My only problem with the story is that it is way too short. Like REALLY too short. Sure it's 24 episodes, but this really is a show they could have fleshed tremendously. I even wish they had filler episodes in this! We see Kirito go from level 20 to like 40 in the space of an episode. I wanted to see the hard grind he would have to do to reach that level, the dungeons, the quests etc. The story opens up such an immersive world that is expected from an MMO and it is unfortunately not brought to it's unblievable potential. But this doesn't take anything away from the enjoyment. As a fellow MMO player, I thoroughly enjoyed the little MMO quips, like realising a female character is actually being played by a dude, and the pain any RPG player has when he has to delete all his items. They gave this show a realistic and human element which will make any other MMO or RPG player instantly connect to this show.
The animation, colouring, scenery, just the general world itself, is breathtaking. The animators make a point of making the real world very dull and bland, but as soon as you jump into the virtual world, you are blown away by it's vibrant beauty and majesty. I have rarely seen a show and go "wow" just based on how it looks. And so it should! It's meant to be displaying a fantasy world, a world that you would want to go to, a place to escape the real world. Because after all, isn't that the reason we play video games? All in all, the animation quality is superb, giving each level it's own personality; like the snow level, flower level, beginners level. Each feels new and exciting. The fight scenes as well, even though as brief as some of them are, are seriously awesome.
Sound fit the show really well. The best way I can explain it is a sappier version of Gurren Lagann's opening Sorairo Days. Sappier isn't necassarily a bad thing, it's just the difference in genre. Gurren Lagann is an epic mecha anime, and this is a fantasy romance adventure. Of course it'll be sappy! But that's what it needs to be to fit the show, making the entire experience that much better.
I'll primarily review the main two protagonists:
As far as protagonists go, Kirito unfortunately lacks. He very obviously develops as a character, but he's a very standard, stoic character who tries to distance himself from everyone, even though he clearly cares about what happens to them. As the anime progresses, especially in the second section, he opens up a lot more which is nice to see. But sadly, he still isn't that interesting. Granted he has some truly awesome moments when he goes all out and goes mad, and in my opinion, that makes up for the lack of emotion we see from him. He is likable as far as protagonists go and I did care about what happens to him, but i just think he was lacking just that little thing that would have made him an awesome character.
The love interest of the show, and definitely an integral character who makes Kirito that much more interesting. Asuna is a chick who is awesome at what she does and its refreshing to see a strong female lead who isn't afraid to show her emotions, but does it in a way that you actually care about her, and not find her all whiney. When she really shines is when her and Kirito do eventually hook up because it's a couple that you fall in love with. Their quirkiness and shyness just makes every situation adorable and cute which is what you want to see after being in the world of Sword Art. I guarentee you'll find your eyes welling up more than once which is a great sign of a relationship prtrayed extremely well.
Subbed or Dubbed?
I actually think it is only available Subbed, and the manga/light novels are only in Japanese which is a shame, but nevertheless the voice acting is top notch. As expected, these voice actors deliver great performances.