|Overall||Art||Animation||Character Design||Music||Series Story||Episode Story||Reviewer|
Sword Art Online
If I'm lucky, there will be a show in each season whose episodes are over before I know it, and that I eagerly await the next one. SAO is that show this season. Similarities with Accel World are to be expected, both series are based on light novels by Reki Kawahara. The original SAO novel included a fair amount of technical explanation of the game's rules and techniques, but I think the anime producers wisely left most of them out in favor of concentrating on the stories about the player's interactions (unlike the Accel World anime). Although the stories are chronologically disjointed -- the entire "game" of SAO lasts over two years -- the common theme running through them is the way being stuck in the game changes various people's behavior in different ways. While some use the game environment to escape society's restrictions and indulge their inner daemons, others find their humanity becoming their anchor in the struggle to survive. The hero, Kirito, evolves from one extreme to the other during the course of the game. The original premise of SAO is far-fetched and difficult to accept, it always seemed to me like external forces would have ended the virtual prison shortly after it was revealed rather than allowing the game's creator to continue to become essentially a mass-murderer. But if you can exercise a "willing suspension of disbelief" the resulting stories are a delight.
Last updated Tuesday, September 04 2012. Created Tuesday, September 04 2012.
Sword Art Online
(All episodes watched):|
An anime about a super sophisticated online role playing game? As I watched episode one I thought that that sounded interesting. Sort of like Accel World. But please be more about the effect that the game has on it's player(s), not just a retelling of whatever story comes together as the game is played once. My wish seemed to be granted when Kirito and Klein notice that for some reason they cannot log out and leave the game. This was looking pretty cool at around the halfway point, with interesting bits like "eating food here only makes you think you're not hungry". The mention that there will be no magic in this game was unusual and welcome. The Game Master's explanation of what had happened seemed a little lame, however; I think it would have been far more believable if this was a relatively small problem affecting just a few people rather than a giant one affecting thousands. Apparently the designer of this eagerly awaited game has gone insane and designed a virtual reality trap which forces the players to actually fight for their lives. I say 'apparently' because little detail of his motivation is given to us, and I would like more. Surely the police will go looking for him, won't they? And the reaction of the people caught in this trap leaves something to be desired, as well. As happens all too often, the bulk of the people shrug off what ought to be a mind blowing revelation--it is too much trouble to animate lots of people in a state of confusion and fear. So, while it seemed to start well, I'm not sure what to make of this show at the end. On the bright side, Kirito and Klein seemed like likeable, interesting characters. Judging from the ED sequence, lots of others will be forthcoming, with nice animation as well. At the end, I guess I'm back to the original question: will this be more about how the characters deal with their ordeal, which would intigue me, or how they slash and hack their way out of the trap, which seems less interesting. Only time will tell.
After episode two, I'm guessing that this will be about a 50-50 mix of engaging psychology and simple action. The fights will be fairly cool, it seems, with neat animation. Mentions of concepts like 'switching' show that some knowledge of MMORPGs is being employed here, which is interesting. I think it was a good idea to combine swordsmanship and RPGaming; you can identify better with the characters when there are familiar gaming aspects. Kirito's comment that "Some people would just rather play villains" was neat. It tells us a little about the psychology of playing these games. I became a little confused at the end--was Kirito bluffing or serious when he made certain claims? Has he taken a vow to make another player's dying wish come true? What exactly is a 'beater', and why is it even worse than a beta tester? Whatever the case may be, Sword looks like fun even if it doesn't live up to all of my expectations.
Episode three made we wonder if I had missed an episode 2.5, because suddenly Kirito joins up with an all-new (IIRC) group. It felt as if I was supposed to already know these people. What happened to the new characters which he met in episode two? The story drifts along in a dreamlike manner, leaping from event to event which take place months apart. Something fairly moving happens, but it seems like more of a prologue than part of the main plot. And still nobody mentions things like whether anybody in the real world is trying to undo the computerized deathtrap that they are in. Why risk your life fighting when for all you know the deadly virtual reality might be safely shut down at any moment? I guess I feel that the most intriguing element of Sword is the virtual trap that the characters are caught in, not how they play the game to get out of it. I'd love to learn something about what's being done in the real world about this. Still, I enjoy the show. Episode four had a kind of fun little story, though it seemed to end abruptly. The fact that killing anybody in the game would also kill them in real life handicaps Kirito, and limits what he can do.
The way this series continually jumps back and forth between different storylines confuses me. Episode five begins what will be at least a two episode mystery arc: someone has been murdered, in a manner which ought to be impossible by the rules of SAO as Kirito and his companions understand them. Like a detective, Kirito attempts to figure out who is responsible. This change of mode was fun and interesting. Unfortunately, the solution to the case didn't seem to make much sense--I didn't understand the logic behind figuring out who was responsible. Bits and pieces of evidence seemed to be flung at us in a helter-skelter manner which only confused me. Basically, the unsolved mystery was more fun than the solution. I liked episode seven, where Kirito goes on a little expedition with a cute female swordsmith. He ought to turn away from the brusque Asuna and embrace this girl who has feelings for him, IMO. Romance will play a significant role in the plot, no doubt. Surely this series will be at least 24 episodes long, since an episode like this doesn't really move us any closer to 'winning' the game and breaking out of the SAO world--although there's no guarantee that we will get a complete story in the end.
As of episode eight I haven't noticed any major shift in Kirito's personality as the game goes on, now in it's third year. This seems like more of an episodic series to me, that is, one where the episodes are fun but don't have all that much to do with each other. Will the swordsmith girl from the last episode ever be back? Is Kirito still being ignored and distrusted because he was a Beta tester, or was that issue forgotten long ago? I lose track of the long-term plot due to the episodic nature of the show. Come to think of it, will they ever get out of this virtual world and back to the normal one? That question hadn't occured to me much, because what went on within SAO was fun enough by itself. I see this will be a 24-26 episode series.
Episode 14 really made me sit up and take notice. After getting used to Kirito and Asuna taking on various challenges within SAO and (not surprisingly) defeating them, all of a sudden something which I had assumed would never happen really does happen. That implies that this show is daring to take a more difficult but potentially more rewarding route to its conclusion. The second half of the show apparently won't be in the same setting as the first, as they manage to break out of their virtual reality, at least for a while. This is what I had been hoping for all along, and my interest in this series has been reinvigorated as a result
One thing I don't understand is, wasn't a certain character declared officially dead by the SAO system--yet somehow he/she resurrected? How did that happen? Episode 15 makes me think that maybe we're just shifting to another virtual reality because the writer got tired of the first one. The problem Kirito runs into back in the real world was a little corny and difficult to take seriously, but whatever. It gets the job done of setting things up for the second half of the series. Fortunately some intriguing twists are added in episode 17, namely the identity of the fairy girl that Kirito teams up with and how the real world problem regarding Asuna and her arranged fiancee has carried over into this second virtual reality. It seems that the plot of this second half is simpler and therefore easier to understand and enjoy: Kirito is trying to find Asuna. So far, he hasn't gotten distracted by little quests which he must go on to win the game, no, he knows what matters and is cutting to the chase. I definitely like this second-half plot better than the first half. Things get awkward when Kirito realizes that the elf girl who has been acting as his guide is someone he knows in the real world.
I thought episode 24, which includes the climactic fight between Kirito and the villain, was pretty neat. Kirito basically overpowers the programming of the game through sheer willpower--sort of like mind over matter, but more like mind over virtual reality. It made much more sense to me that the climax of the first half of the series. Maybe he did pretty much the same thing back then (something like 'you can't declare me dead, because I'm not going to play by your rules'!), but it was confusing then and I didn't 'get' it. Of course it was never claimed that getting killed in fairy-land would also kill you in real life, so maybe that's why this second arc conclusion made more sense. I thought that this was the final episode, and was pleased with the conclusion, until a preview of yet another one appeared at the very end. What happens is that Kirito deals with the villain Suguo in the real world, then reunites with Asuna. I was surprised to realize that this is the first time they have both met in real life while both are conscious. The conclusions was stirring but also kind of illogical to me; everyone seems to take an attitude of 'OK, now that all that is done, let's go win the game we were playing!'. You would think that a lot of people would swear that they would never touch another game even remotely like SAO for as long as they lived, but apparently not. The impression of SAO that I'm left with is of a fun show with good characters and an interesting premise, just kind of difficult to follow especially during the first half. No doubt that's why I liked the second half better.
Last updated Sunday, February 17 2013. Created Thursday, July 12 2012.
|Official Japanese Series Web Site||http://www.swordart-online.net/|