Welcome to Anime.com
Navigation
Naruto
Spice and Wolf
Fullmetal Alchemist
Gurren Lagann
Haruhi Suzumiya
Dragonball
xxxHolic
Black Butler
Evangelion
Inuyasha
Gosick
Karin
Lucky Star
Death Note
AzuManga Daioh
Bleach
Cowboy Bebop
Gundam
Sgt. Frog
 checkout the anime.cm guide to anime wallpapers
Custom Search
Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online
Anime Review

Playing an MMORPG can be a lot of fun, however, sometimes you have to wonder if it's really the best use of your time. So you got to level 74: great, but maybe you should have studied a little harder for an upcoming test instead. So you beat a vicious boss and got a rare item; that's nice, but maybe you could have spent the same amount of time doing some more work on The Great American Novel? Getting really into an MMORPG basically creates a giant time vampire that robs you of sleep and other useful pastimes.

This is not so in Sword Art Online, a world where skill in online RPGs is literally a matter of life and death, and it makes the anime an interesting beast; part cautionary tale about the dangers of humanity becoming too deeply entrenched in virtual worlds, part gamer wish fulfillment about living in a world where being good at a game is your ticket to being a real-life hero. Sometimes, we felt the wish-fulfillment element clashed with the darkness of the virtual world of Aincrad, but in general, it's a compelling tale about a near-future world that's easy to imagine.

Sword Art OnlineIn SAOs world of 2022, virtual-reality video games are just coming into their own, and the highly anticipated Sword Art Online is the first MMORPG anticipated to take full advantage of the technology that allows players to truly immerse themselves in the online world. Kirito, a skilled player who played SAO night and day during the beta, is quick to jump back into Aincrad when the game officially launches. However, it isn't long after logging into the game that Kirito realizes something strange: he can't seem to log out. What he thought might be a simple release-day bug turns out to be a horrifying scheme to trap the players in a virtual world set to murder them.

If the story sounds familiar, there's a good reason; the .hack franchise has a very similar premise. It's actually hard to talk about SAO without mentioning .hack, which had angsty players yelling "I can't log out!" a decade beforehand. However, whereas the biggest criticism of the .hack//SIGN TV series was that it was slow, SAO seems to have gone in the opposite direction: this show moves like gangbusters. We were actually kind of shocked at how much time elapsed between each episode, particularly at the beginning.

Sword Art OnlineThe quick pacing is kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, it keeps the show interesting: if you don't like what's going on, wait ten minutes (or five.) Plus, those familiar with MMORPGs will probably be just as happy to be spared the adventures of Kirito and friends slogging through the early levels of the game, the better to get to the more interesting stuff faster. However, that speed comes at the cost of world-building, as many aspects of the play experience remain unclear. For example, we know that the game uses weapon-based attacks and no magic, but it's unclear if being good at the game entails just knowing what skills to use and when, or if there's some Matrix-like mental ability involved. When Asuna, the second lead after Kirito, is praised for being fast, we don't know how she manages to move and attack so much faster than the other players; apparently she just does it.

However, where the show shines is portraying how different people react to the challenge of being trapped within a game world. As an experienced beta player, Kirito has a huge advantage over the newbies who have never played the game before, but as players die all around him, he's weighed down with understandable survivor's guilt. Some players resent the beta players for not working with the newbies to keep as many of them alive as possible, while others are happy for whatever knowledge the beta players are willing to share. We thought it was a pretty realistic breakdown of how people would react in such a situation, from scapegoating and mob mentality at one end of the spectrum to remarkable displays of altruism.

Sword Art OnlineKirito is a typical anime protagonist in many respects, but to his credit, he does work hard to try to save other players and grows from the experience. A lot of the side characters are fairly flat (which may be just as well, since this show has no qualms about killing them off), but we liked Klein, the level-headed player Kirito crosses paths with early in the game through sheer luck who proves important later on. We found Asuna to be a bit of a cypher, but she has her fans.

Kirito also happens to be wickedly overpowered, but for once, this actually makes sense: in a game where depleting your HP means death, being ridiculously overleveled is the way to go. This also may go a ways towards explaining Kiritos mysterious popularity with the ladies of Aincrad: if we were level 9 in the harsh world of SAO, we would probably try really hard to stick to the level 50 guy like glue.

SAO does such a good job of invoking the world of an MMORPG that many times while watching it, we felt like pausing the video to go play an MMORPG ourselves. Just like a game, it's addictive, even if it sometimes seems to grip you against your better judgment. Writing runs the gamut, with the some episodes being quite strong and some others descending into cliche; its hard to say whether the writing is good one way or the other because its so varied.

Sword Art OnlineVisuals are usually nice and occasionally stellar, with attractive character designs and detailed backdrops. Music is provided by Yuki Kajiura, who also provided the soundtrack for, believe it or not, hack//SIGN. At the risk of seemingly comparing the shows too much, the music in SAO is fine but we preferred Kajiuras work on .hack.

While we may not be afraid of being trapped in a virtual MMMORPG and forced to play through a really long story mode or die trying (or maybe just a little), SAO does manage to tap into some real fears for the future. Will we all be playing virtual reality games in the future, games where we can not only see, but taste and smell our environment, where were so immersed in the experience that the real world completely loses its luster? Can people form real bonds inside a world where absolutely everything is fake? We found SAO to be a worthwhile endeavor for provoking some interesting questions, and the never-stop-for-a-minute plot was fun. There are definitely far worse worlds to be trapped inside, although unlike Kirito, our visit to Aincrad was purely optional.

Reviewed by Karen Gellender, October 2012

Below: Scenes from Sword Art Online.

a screen capture from Sword Art Online

a screen capture from Sword Art Online

a screen capture from Sword Art Online

a screen capture from Sword Art Online

a screen capture from Sword Art Online

a screen capture from Sword Art Online

a screen capture from Sword Art Online

a screen capture from Sword Art Online

a screen capture from Sword Art Online



Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online Website Links:


Sword Art Online Official Anime website (Japanese)

Sword Art Online Wiki (fan-created Wikia)

Sword Art Online (TV) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia

Wikipedia entry for Sword Art Online


Below: Promotional illustrations for Sword Art Online.

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online






Anime.com:
Homepage | Anime.com Sitemap | The Anime.com Anime Wallpaper Guide

© 2009 Anime.com, Inc. | Website Editor: Brian Cirulnick | Website Design by Very Memorable Design