Ah, what a great anime series. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking at when I found this one but everyone kept posting about how great it was and how it was definitely the best anime this winter so I said “Hey sure, I’ll check it out.” Found a handy synopsis website, looked interesting so I ventured my way to the nearest hosting site to find out that just one episode had been released. Now, I’m sort of a skeptic so I was thinking there’s absolutely no way this series could already be a favorite with just one episode out so I searched around a little more to find the same thing on every site. After watching that single episode it was easy to see what everyone was raving about. To some, SAO may not seem all that great, it’s not eye candy and the setting while being really cool isn’t all that original. But, there’s still just something about it. If you’ve ever played an MMO and found yourself thinking “Hm, I wish this place was real and I was actually killing things and crafting my way through life” then boy is this the anime for you.
Like I said, the whole being trapped in a video game has kind of been done before but maybe not quite like this. It begins with the creator of Sword Art Online, a MMORPG using virtual reality gear called Nerve Gear, trapping over 10,000 players in his game. His challenge? Beat the game by fighting through all 100 levels and defeating the final boss…oh and don’t die cause then you’re screwed IRL. (In Real Life for you non-gamers) The main character, Kirito, decides to take the creator up on his challenge and since he was a beta tester he basically becomes the Hero of SAO. He’s joined by various other players and guilds all with the same goal in mind: survival and escape. The great thing about this story, ya know besides the sweet sword fights, epic struggle for survival and side of romance, is that the players act like real people stuck in a virtual world. Sure, Kirito and friends are moving the story along with their “We’re going to make it out of here” attitude, but a lot of the players that are left have simply stopped trying to escape and are making their own type of living. I understand that in a way that’s not really living but I’m pretty sure that if something like this really did happen, people wouldn’t be willing to risk their lives if they could “comfortably” live in a fake world with fake jobs and somewhat real relationships. Anyways, aside from the “realism” the story has other redeeming qualities that give it a pretty high score in my book.
The animation for this one is pretty good. It’s sort of normal during the normal parts but amps up for the fight scenes and especially for the boss battles. I really liked the animation for the sword attacks in particular. Again, if you’re a gamer you’ll really appreciate the subtleties and references to real RPG’s including some of the animations for various commands and actions in the game. The characters themselves are sort of plain, but the scenery in SAO is beautiful. Floating castles always suit my fancy.
Nothing too exciting and nothing too horrible. Opening/Endings were unimpressionable. Again again, I appreciated the “town music” for SAO towns and the “field music” for fields and the “battle music” for battles. It really brought the whole RPG feel together.
Kirito and Asuna are the main characters/heroes/love interests and I very much enjoyed them. Like I said before, everyone reacts to the world like a normal person would at least to being with which makes each character much more dynamic. The side characters added a lot to the whole RPG feel even though I could have gone without some of the sob stories that end up dying anyway…but I guess someone had to die to motivate the main character to be a hero and save the virtual world. The creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, is actually a very interesting person who isn’t really as crazy as he seems and his interactions with Kirito and the other SAO players were all pretty interesting. The guilds and their leaders were kind of boring and most of them were side stories used for motivation anyways. The big wig guild that runs the front lines is kind of cool, but I’ve never really been into the big names in RPGs so I’m a little biased. I like the idea of peon players making the difference instead of giant guilds that don’t know you’re name. ;)
All around a great series. It kind of drags a little here and there but overall I loved the story and the characters and I generally looked forward to each episode every week and I was quite sad when it was over. I’m hoping another season will be released but if not it does end on a good note and with plenty of a most vital ingredient for a good anime: closure.
Another time, another review.