Episodes Watched: 4
Available on: Crunchyroll
Summary: Players are trapped in a new Virtual Reality MMORPG, and will die in real life if they are killed in-game. The story follows Kirito, a solo swordsman who strives to finish the game, which is the only way to release all the trapped players.
Sword Art Online (SAO) so far has been a bit of an enigma. While there are a slew of issues found throughout the series’ premise (more on that in a moment), they are balanced out by high production values and entertaining scenes.
It’s interesting to note that characters in this fantasy MMORPG are primarily weapons-based. This means there are no Mages or Wizards walking around, and action scenes are given a bit more weight. Other classic MMO bits are retained in this world, like owning pets and joining parties/guilds.
The series takes a turn for the strange when all players are forcibly teleported to the game’s starter town and are introduced to the creator of the game, Akihiko Koyaba, who informs them that not only are they unable to log out, but that if they die in the game, they will die in reality. The only way to survive is to beat all 100 levels of the game, which will in turn release all the surviving players. As a final bit of trolling, every player’s avatar will look exactly how they do in real life.
Granted, this premise is ridiculously implausible for a number of reasons. First off, limiting sales to 10,000 copies which would in no way cover the R&D costs, much less make a profit, and should have raised a red flag to consumers. Another issue raised is the state of the players’ real bodies (starvation, muscle atrophy, etc..) The final concern is the death rate. In the first episode, it is stated that 2,000 people died in the first month. The government would have stepped in after receiving reports of multiple deaths connected to the VR hardware (which the creator himself presented to the players during his introduction). The best way to enjoy this series is to boil all of these issues down to the basic premise: insane genius trolls 10,000 people into killing themselves in his MMO.
The concept of players being stuck in a game and their actions affecting their real bodies is far from new, but SAO presents itself in a far more entertaining way than similar series have attempted in the past (like .hack//SIGN).
The animation is solid and the character designs have a decent amount of detail. The action scenes are paced well, showcasing players’ struggle against a higher-level player or a boss. Instead of focusing on Kirito’s path to beating the game, there are a number of times when he helps out lower-leveled players, bringing a sense of humanity to the character. These interactions also help to flesh out the game’s world.
The music is classic Yuki Kajiura, pairing each scene with just the right tone, whether it is in the middle of a fight or a stroll through a town’s market. LiSA provides her signature voice to the opening theme.
Even with its flaws, this has been a very enjoyable series so far. I look forward to seeing how this story progress.