This is review number one hundred and thirty five. It’s part of the Summer 2012 lineup and it’s the most talked about anime of the year. Seriously, it’s crazy how hyped this anime is. It’s Sword Art Online and it’s a twenty five episode anime about people playing an MMORPG game and being unable to log out. Let’s read on.
Attention Players, Welcome to my world. My name is Kayaba Akihiko. As of this moment, I am the sole person controlling this world. I’m sure you’ve also noticed that the log out button is missing from the main menu. This is not a defect in the game. It is a feature of Sword Art Online.
You cannot log out of SAO yourself and no one on the outside can shut down of remove the Nerve Gear. Should this be attempted, the transmitter inside the Nerve Gear will emit a powerful microwave destroying your brain and thus ending your life. I hope you will relax and attempt to clear the game. But I want you to remember this clearly, there is no longer a method to revive someone in the game. If your HP drops to zero, your avatar will be lost forever and simultaneously, the Nerve Gear will destroy your brain.
There is only one means of escape. Complete the game. If you make your way through the dungeon and defeat the floor boss, then you may advance to the next level. Defeat the final boss on the 100th floor and you will clear the game. Right now, you’re probably wondering “why?” Why would Kayaba Akihiko develop SAO and the Nerve Gear to do all this? My goal has already been achieved. I created Sword Art Online for one reason: to create this world and intervene in it. It’s now complete.
This ends the official tutorial of the Sword Art Online launch. Good luck, players.
Taking the Pants Off
This was the most overhyped anime of the year. Long before it came out, people were already gushing over the anime. It just sounds pretty good. It’s an anime about MMORPG games. It just easily clicked with the anime fandom because more than half play games. The response became mixed though halfway through the airing. Something went wrong and I’ve been dying to know what it was. I review anime after they stop airing and it was certainly torture blocking all the spoilers and talks about the anime. It’s so big though that even facebook started crunching out meme of the show with goddamn spoilers and I just went on a media blackout until the anime stopped airing. So, what’s the verdict? Is the anime really deserved of its bloated hype? Why the reaction was suddenly mixed? There are a couple of reasons but I think the biggest culprit is the fact that expectations aren’t met.
If you read the story portion of this blog (see above) then you’d find the premise to be pretty sweet. A bunch of people trapped inside an RPG game where if they die, they die and the only way to leave is for people to clear the game. It’s certainly an exciting premise and the first episode really had a strong impact. I had chills down my spine that I only experience when the anime feels epic. I had chills for both Guilty Crown and Aquarion Evol too, and (despite what others think) I really enjoyed both anime. Sword Art Online set me up for something amazing. After the first episode, I was expecting our hero, Kirito, to set out on an epic grinding journey where he fights monsters and then level up. I was expecting a progression where we see Kirito and a bunch of other characters, climb up each of the 100 floor and then be surprised by the strong monsters. Throughout the journey, I was hoping to see some bonds formed and some sad goodbyes because of the deadly stipulation of the game. It really writes itself and I still think the anime should’ve gone in this direction.
It doesn’t. It was loose in its story telling and its pacing is inconsistent. Let me talk about the first half of the anime. It had a lot of moments going on that you really can’t enjoy the anime. The problem is that in the span of ten episodes (yes, I counted), the story had three plot points established and it inconsistently shifts between them. It had a plot point about Kirito fighting some monster in a dungeon but then it would shift to laidback episodes where Kirito and another character would explore the functions of SAO. There are episodes about fishing, cooking and other forms of activities where the story would introduce a new character. The story would also cram in a plot point about Kirito and his relationship to the female lead, Asuna. The expectations built up by the first episode weren’t met by the rest of the anime. It promised something better than what the anime offered. The problem was the pacing. It was all over the place and it jumped all over during the time where you are still figuring out the story of the anime. With three different plot points spread across the first half, I had a hard time making sense of it all.
The first half is actually where the anime laid the ground work for the rest of the series. It just featured bits and pieces of what the anime is actually about. Take it for what it’s worth. It had time to focus on Kirito’s adventure in SAO where he meet different people and soon form bonds with them. It also had time to focus on Kirito’s personal growth where the stipulation of the game about people dying is reinforced and he experienced firsthand what it feels to lose someone. It also had time to focus on Kirito’s relationship with Asuna. The anime just worked around the premise but the actual story isn’t fully revealed until you reach the second half.
The anime is certainly unique. I give props for being original. Even though I was setup to enjoy an anime where Kirito fights every floor and transform into a hero, the anime had some surprises I certainly enjoyed. I think this was the reason why the reception got mixed mid-way to its airing. People were expecting something more RPG than an anime about RPG. I would probably be banging my head on a wall if I saw this while it was airing. The inconsistent pacing and rushed events certainly ruined it a bit for me. The only reason I kept pressing on was because I wanted to see how the second half would stack up.
The second half certainly made up for the lackluster feel of the first half. The story was revealed and I finally understood what the anime was about. Again, I give props for being unique and it’s actually something I was excited about. The second half also featured the thing I was expecting to see when I first watched the anime, Kirito’s adventure in SAO. It was the heavily featured in the anime and all the groundwork the first half did was certainly utilized perfectly in the second half. We finally have a story where Kirito tried to become the hero and save the day.
The second half also featured a villain. He’s a much more impressive villain than the one before him. In the first half, the creator of SAO just trapped the players in the game and he never appeared again. He didn’t do anything dastardly nor did he do anything underhanded to the characters. The second villain was doing all these things and it certainly crawled through my skin. I love a good effective villain and he was just so cowardly yet arrogant that I wanted to see the day Kirito kicks his ass.
The pacing of the anime was fixed in the second half. It no longer jumped from one plot point to another. These plot points where balanced and supported each other. They were incorporated smoothly into the story and their conclusion actually tied the whole experience together. It was certainly a rollercoaster ride watching this anime. It had some ups and down but I think the overall experience was pretty nice.
The one thing I truly enjoyed about the anime was that it was able to create a very engaging backdrop for SAO. The anime really felt like an MMORPG with the way the characters interact and the way some RPG terms are slipped into the dialogues. The funny part is that it feels like second nature to people who play RPGs. Seeing blacksmiths, fishing for monsters, collecting rare items that monsters drop and PK-ers are something common only in RPGs but the anime was able to incorporate it to the story. The engaging MMORPG environment of the anime really made me wish the anime was more about killing monsters. Of course, the idea of a NerveGear was also pretty sweet. Virtual Reality MMORPG has a nice ring to it and it must feel like a bad ass owning one of those NerveGears. The idea of being in the game and actually touching the items in the game is something every gamer wishes to be true.
The game aspect of the anime does get technical at times but it’s something very familiar for RPG gamers. Stats, loots and other terms like that are thrown in the anime but they never complicate the story. This was the only thing I think SAO did better than Accel World.
The characters in the anime are pretty good. They play their part well but only two characters were truly fleshed out. Kirito started out as this guy seeking for human contact and the anime was able to follow his development very closely. Experiencing the anguish of losing someone he cared for, relying on other people and finally becoming someone people depended on was nicely displayed by the anime. You truly felt Kirito’s transformation despite the inconsistent pacing. The other character was Asuna. The pretty girl in SAO didn’t really do much. She was pivotal to the story though and her relationship with Kirito was one of the things I certainly watched intensely in the anime.
The rest of the characters don’t really have much. It also complicated the first half because the ones you think Kirito would join up with to grind the floors of the game isn’t actually that important in the anime. There were a lot of characters introduced in the first half that you never saw again in the second half. The funny part is that the ones you think aren’t important are actually pivotal to the plot. It certainly got confusing especially since you expected some characters to hang around for much longer. I blame the pacing. The second half did have a much steady character introduction and you were able to separate the important ones to the side characters.
I certainly had a nice experience with this anime. The hype was really intense and the growing hatred towards it was also pretty memorable. There’s not a lot of anime that had the frenzy SAO did so it was interesting to see how the anime lived up to the hype.
Sight and Sound
The character design is pretty good. The RPG appeal of the anime was utilized to make each character interesting. Despite the ordinary faces and body types, the outfits the characters have make them stand out and it brings forth their charm. There’s nothing flashy in the anime though, or maybe the RPG outfit was also second nature to me. They have medieval type clothing like the ones you see in typical RPGs. Boots, armors, and some slightly modified clothes to suit their fighting look. There is also a wide range of weapons which is also pretty nice. There are rapiers, double handed swords and other blades.
The MMORPG environment of the anime is also pretty amazing. There are some scenic shots in the anime that truly felt like you’re playing a game and the towns also gave a RPG look. I love how characters use the menu screen and how objects vanish when they used up. It was so detailed that I wished I was also stuck in the game fighting for my life. Dying in an RPG game sounds pretty cool, right?
The monsters also had a nice look to them. There’s not a lot featured in the anime so the ones that truly stood out was the Bosses. They were freaking huge and threatening. The have some fierce look to them and again, it ties in to the RPG nature of the anime.
The animation in the anime is pretty amazing. The fight scenes are really incredible and I admittedly was caught up in some of them. I was jumping out of my seat because they were so exciting to watch. It was fast but it’s very easy to follow. The movements were smooth and I love how the characters flashily avoid a strike by an enemy. The boss fights are also outstanding because the way the characters gang up on a huge boss also gives a nice nod to playing RPGs. It was really fun to watch and the way the camera moves also adds awesome to the scenes.
The anime had two OP. The first one is “crossing field” by LiSA. It’s a very nice song that nicely captured the Shounen appeal of the anime. The chorus of the song is very catchy and LiSA’s voice is certainly pleasant to listen to. The OP sequence features the two main characters and some flashy fight scenes with some monsters. The second OP is “INNOCENCE” by Aoi Eir. This was a more light hearted song compared to the first one but it still sounds pretty good. The OP sequence summarized the story of the second but there were no major spoilers. It featured the story smartly and it introduced the new characters.
The anime also had two ED songs. The first one is “Yume Sekai” by Haruka Tomatsu. She voiced Asuna and I’ve always been a fan of hers. She has a nice clear voice and she nicely featured it in this song. The Ed sequence featured the two main characters in still poses with the credits rolling up while the scene is scrolling down. The second ED song is “Overfly” by Luna Haruna. She’s fairly new and the only other anime she ever worked with was Fate Stay Night. With that being said, I really loved the song. It was very nice and it had a nice romantic vibe to it. Luna’s voice is also very nice especially in the chorus. The ED sequence features Kirito’s cousin. She was in the second half so I’ll just stop there.
7/10 “The pacing certainly ruined the experience but I think the second half made up for it.”
It’s a nice anime. If you love the idea of an anime about RPG games then this anime will surely appeal to you.