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Anime Review: Sword Art Online – Worth watching so far

Sword Art Online

Summary

Sword Art Online is an anime about an RPG MMO. If you don’t know what those acronyms mean, then stop reading. Actually, if you don’t’ know what RPG MMO means, I really got to wonder how you ended up at this blog. Maybe you need to check a browser setting, run a virus check, or adjust your mouse sensitivity, because you are in the wrong spot. If you are in the right spot, then you need to know that I’m probably going to say things about this series that could be considered spoilers. You can’t adjust your mouse to avoid that, but if you are afraid of spoilers, then walk away from the computer and call your mother. She worries about you.

Anyway, in Sword Art Online the players control the games through an immersive headset that cuts them off from the real world but allows them to control their player as if it was their real body. Only in this game something has gone wrong. Shortly after launch, the game wouldn’t let players log out. They are now trapped in the game while their real bodies are lying/sitting in the real world with the headset on. To up the ante, if the headset is taken off, they die. Also, if they are killed in the game, they die. The game creator doesn’t tell them why he did this, but the only way they can get out is to defeat the game.

The story mainly follows a player named Kirito as he wanders through the game. He was a beta player, so he knows the game better than most of the other players. He is also a loner, not affiliated with a group or guild. This is an important part of the story.

This review covers the first half of the first season.

The Good

I liked more about this series than I disliked. Maybe I’m predisposed to like something like this because I’m a constantly recovering and relapsing MMO addict. There are two things this series is doing so far that I like – it is giving me a character arc and it is giving me a variety.

Early on Kirito resists grouping up with anybody, then when he does it goes badly. He feels immense guilt about this, and resists doing so again. Then he meets a girl who he hits it off with, but she is kind of his opposite. She is a high ranking member of a large guild who are devoted to fighting on the front lines to defeat the game and free the players. At this point, the players have been trapped in the game for nearly two years. The story shifts from being about the game to being about their relationship and their relationship to their seemingly hopeless situation.

The other interesting thing the story is doing is variety. This could very easily be a series where the story is about dungeon delving, running quests, or fighting the big boss. While there are some episodes where this happens, there are also episodes that deal with how people are dealing and coping with their situation. People set up businesses, they become criminals, or they simply go fishing. This doesn’t sound like much, but it gives an anime about a game a very human feel.

The Bad

The art and animation is very average. Backgrounds a flat, not textured, and the color pallet is limited. The style is to animation what Calibri is to fonts – serviceable, sturdy, and won’t get in the way of anything else. The character design, creature design, and environment design all have this generic quality. Now I don’t demand that all anime be art – in fact when they try it most often fails, but I would like a little more wow when I watch.

The Other

There are some things that are just odd to me. This might be a reflection of culture differences, or just odd narrative choices. First, player loyalty to their guild is really important. The guild can dictate almost everything a player does. When players try to exercise freewill, it is viewed as an aberration and as the player being very disloyal. This drives several of the main plot points or character decisions in the first part of this series.

I like how they make game mechanics (health point bars, inventory, crafting skills) as being important. If you had to live like this, these ways of getting things done would be just as important in life as things like how to microwave a dinner, or drive a cars are in real life.

Final Verdict

I’m giving this series 3.5 out of 5 stars for the first part of the series. So far it has interesting characters involved in an interesting set of circumstances. They are managing to avoid the epidemic of endless angst meaningless inner monologs that is so common in anime (yes, I’m looking at you Attack On Titan). I’ve just got to the point where there is a major plot point and I’m very interested to see where they take the story from here.