Every year, there seems to be a few shows that are creative and bound to be big within the anime community. 2011 brought us Deadman Wonderland and Steins;Gate, and 2012’s biggest name no doubt belongs to Sword Art Online. It is obvious the appeal comes from not only those who enjoy video games, but also for those who seem to have a completely second life on the Internet.
Spanning a total of 25 episodes, Sword Art Online takes place in a distant future where virtual reality gaming has been perfected. On the launch date of the Sword Art Online MMORPG, the creator of the game traps all of those who are logged-in inside the game, making it so they can’t log out and if they end up dying in the game, they die for real. If someone is able to defeat the final boss on the one-hundredth level, the game is beat and everyone left alive is freed.
Strictly speaking of the animation, this is a beautiful looking anime. Everything is bright and vibrant and each character model is unique and distinctive. The sword play, as well as the fight scenes, are well choreographed and can be pretty suspenseful at times. It’s obvious that they had a big budget for this show and Aniplex, along with A-1 Productions knew how to use their money in the right places.
While the premise of the show is certainly interesting, it does take it a while for Sword Art Online to get things going. The random adventures of our protagonist, Kazuto Kirigaya (who goes by his username Kirito, and shall thus be referred to for now on), while sometimes are interesting, become mundane. It isn’t until he finally meets up with our main heroine, Asuna, that things start to really get moving.
Something Sword Art Online should definitely earn praise for is writing a real, strong female character with Asuna. While she is very independent and is powerful, she is also vulnerable. Balancing the strength of a character’s heart with its fallbacks is what makes for a compelling character, someone we want to root for.
With Kirito, while he is a good enough guy, nothing about him seems compelling. He does find a reason to fight and to beat the game, but when he is alone, he is just a boring character. Another thing that was really bothering was that he was vastly over-powered in strength. Yes, it is said that he was a beta-tester for the game, which gave him time to understand the game before anyone else, but his strength is far greater to be deemed believable. To me, it’s much more interesting to see a hero go through trial and error instead of being so perfect in everything, it becomes close to remembering a Gary Stu.
While the first half of the show has some great moments and some compelling story telling, the second half of the show changes everything. Avoiding revealing any major spoilers forces me to be vague, but there is a change in the world of Sword Art Online that changes the stakes of the show, and not for the better. Also, Asuna is demoted from strong, kick-ass heroine to pathetic damsel in distress while Kirito is just annoying and still over-powered. Seriously, with a show based around video games, especially RPGs, they should have known that there is a big disdain for players that are basically in “God-mode”.
And while I said that I would avoid spoilers, there is something that must be said about episode 24. I have no idea what possessed the writers to take a complete left turn from what is expected, and goes in an unneeded, much darker tone. By the time the episode finished, I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. The level of crazy could only be compared to that of the finale of School Days (which is another discussion entirely).
Sword Art Online had a great and promising opening and was able to deliver on many things that made it an enjoyable watch. It is above par than most shonen that is released, especially those that are popular. It is definitely no surprise that the distribution company Aniplex USA has already picked up the show, and we’re likely to see it dubbed into English and have it play on Adult Swim’s Toonami. Until then, this is definitely one that doesn’t deserve all the hype from the fans, but is good enough to put in your streaming library. Sword Art Online gets six stars, out of ten.