Like most anime shows, (SAO) is based on a popular manga series targeting young adults, in this case written by Reki Kawahara. The story focuses on Kazuto Kirigaya, “Kirito” as he is known throughout the world of Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (VRMMORPG). Kirito is one of thousands of players who log-in to the virtual world of (SAO) via the Nervegear, a headset that channels the users all five senses in-game so that the player is able to take full control of their characters with their minds (think of like plugging yourself into the Matrix). In (SAO), players discover that they do not have the ability to log-out, and as a result, are stuck in the game.
After a period of confusion and concern, the game’s creator, Akihiko Kaybaya reveals himself to the worried players and explains to them that the only way to escape (SAO) is to reach Floor 100 and defeat the final boss (each Floor is about the size of small country). Furthermore, if the player dies in-game, they die in real life through a nerve sensor trigger in the Nervegear. Naturally, everyone begins to panic, and players begin dropping like flies as their friends and families are removing the Nervegear forcefully which sets off the sensor trigger, killing the wearers. Akihiko shows everyone in (SAO) news clips from various sources around the globe to prove that he is telling the truth. Before leaving the players to their own fate, he tells everyone that his goal in creating this experience is to act like a god, controlling a world of his own creation and all the lives within it. As Akihiko vanishes, Kiriko sets off alone to reach Floor 100 himself, having earned more experience and level growth months prior as one of the early Testers in Sword Art’s closed Beta.
Believing himself to possess a skill far above that of anyone else, Kiriko takes off to dungeons and cities to collect their loot and experience before anyone else. Along the way, he meets a random assortment of friends and allies that assist and hinder his progress, some being a part of factions or “guilds”, consisting of armies of mercenaries, knights, criminals, and murderers. As with most MMOs, (SAO) players will collect rare items, build skill-trees and grow levels with experience earned from defeating other players in duels, or monsters and villains during dungeon plundering. A HUD menu can be accessed by players in-game at anytime to influence their battle strategies or just to trade items. So players have even given up on the outside life and accepted living in Aincrad having earned a living selling goods or blacksmithing, or some other variety of trade. Kirito frequently visits several of his companions that assist his progression by giving him tips heard from around town, or assisting him in making unique or rare items. These bits of (SAO) truly help in bringing the game-aspect of the show to life, and relatable to anyone who’s a fan of MMORPGs. Oh yeah, there is also a major love story in here too.
In season 1, the show takes place over two worlds or arcs; the first being Aincrad, the world within Sword Art Online and the primary focus of present and future arcs to come (season 2 airs tomorrow, July 5). The second world arc takes place in Alfheim (ALO), where players are split into one of nine fairy character classes. Each class has a different skill set, while all classes have the ability to fly, thanks to the characters wings. In (ALO), the goal of the player is to build each skill, rather than level up, and make it to the top of the “World Tree”, where an alleged Royal City nests at the top. Upon the throne in the Royal City, is the King of Fairies, of whom is said to grant a special gift to the class of fairies that makes it up to him first.
Most of the anime shows I have come across over the years have focused on demons, supernatural and otherworldly powers, etc., but (SAO) is different in the sense that it takes place in the not so distant future (year 2022 to be exact), and unfolds an online world with endless possibilities. The primary characters are easy to get attached to, though there were a lot of moments intended to be heavy with emotion that I personally felt distant from due to a lack of character development. The story is intriguing enough to have kept me around to watch all 25 episodes of the first season in just under 3 days (each episode is 20+ minutes, I have no life), and likely to be enough to keep viewers and longtime anime fans entertained throughout. The cinematics are likely to be among the best part, with well-crafted visuals and artistry, add that to the love the characters in the show have towards their VRMMORP, you’ll likely be dying to live in the future where you can plug yourself into a computer and live in a virtual world yourself. My only gripe with the show is the attention on the love story, and this is only because it takes away from what could otherwise be more gaming references and fight scenes. The love story does not get in the way of the shows entertainment factor necessarily, though it would have been nice to see a bit more of the world of Aincrad while given the chance (hopefully we will get an MMORPG that lets players explore the vast world of Aincrad on their own). All-in-all, (SAO) is worth the watch, mainly because it’s a concept you don’t come across all too often. The voice work is quite good most of the time, adding to the overall satisfactory of the visuals. Though the love story wasn’t quite my cup ‘o tea, however I do recognize it’s importance to get the story moving along.
Sword Art Online (SAO) had it’s original english run of 25 episodes on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block from July 7, 2012-December 22, 2012. (SAO) Season 2 can be seen on Crunchyroll in Japanese starting tomorrow, July 5 with new episodes weekly for a total of 24 episodes. No word yet on when (SAO) Season 2 will be coming to North America, though it’s likely to be soon with such a fast-growing fan base.
Sword Art Online (SAO) Season 1 Trailer – Plot