Greetings! Railgunfan75 here! One of the biggest news stories to come for us anime fans in recent months is the summer release of Sword Art Online II. The first Sword Art has proven to be divisive amongst us. Love it or hate it, SAO has certainly become a force to be reckoned with. Well, this time I am going to explore the series and let you know where I stand. So without further ado, here is my review of Sword Art Online!
I know many are familiar with the premise but for those who don’t know, here is what the series is about.
In the year 2022, gamers and the world are treated to a new form of technology- Nerve Gear. The device allows players to game like they have never before by being able to fully immerse themselves into game worlds using a form of virtual reality. The newest release is a game called Sword Art Online which is the first MMO style game to be released for the new technology. Ten thousand lucky players are able to purchase a copy of the game and immerse themselves in the game. Unfortunately the day of the game’s release, the players are shocked to discover that they are trapped in the game world unable to log out. It is soon revealed to the players by the game’s creator that the only way to escape the game alive is to clear the game. Also if they die in the game, the Nerve Gear will kill them in real life. The story follows Kirito, one of the players trapped in the game as he fights for survival and tries to escape the world he and many others find themselves trapped in.
Sword Art Online is certainly one of those series which everyone haves an opinion on. You either like it or you hate it. I personally enjoyed this series a lot. It was one of my early ventures into anime and is a reason why I kept watching this genre. Before I continue, I do acknowledge that the series is not perfection as some would claim and does have flaws which I will touch on in this review. However, I feel these flaws don’t hurt the series as much as many people claim. The first area which I will address is the characters.
In Sword Art Online, while there are many characters which have a role to play, the focus really stands on three characters: Kirito, Asuna, and Leafa. Kirito, the main protagonist receives the bulk of the screen time and is the center of the story. Kirito is a quiet loner character. One of the games beta testers, his previous experience in the realm of Sword Art Online gives him an upper hand verses many of the other players and helps him survive. While many players join guilds to help them survive, Kirito prefers to play through the game alone whenever possible. His reasons for this are revealed at a couple of different points throughout the story and are somewhat justifiable. While he puts on a tough exterior, he is actually a good person at heart and deeply cares about others and their well being. He is also an over powered bad ass who is levels above most of the opponents he faces in the early going. He certainly has many awesome moments because of this. As a whole Kirito is a cool main character. I appreciate the fact that he isn’t a whiny wimp who isn’t capable of doing anything for himself like characters in some other series. However, his personality doesn’t change or evolve too much throughout the series. Yes, he does become a bit softer throughout the series and you do see what he really is, but at the core he is the same character at the beginning of the series versus the end of the series. In addition he is just super powered for really no reason. A solid character overall, just don’t expect a profound change in his character.
One of the series two female leads, Asuna is probably the series best character. Asuna can be best described as the type of character that many people would dream of meeting in a gaming setting. Intelligent and strong, she is a character you don’t want to mess with. At first, Asuna is a complete noob to the game even needing help from Kirito in an early episode. She then evolves into someone which commands respect from those around her and even puts Kirito in his place from time to time. Despite this, she becomes the main love interest for Kirito and is a perfect complement to Kirito’s character. While Kirito is very quiet and reserved, Asuna possesses the energy and passion needed for such an adventure. Personality wise she is certainly one of the more interesting and complex characters of the series. Tough yet sensitive and caring, this contrast really makes her fun to watch. She is one of those characters which I wished had more screen time. My favorite episodes are one’s which involve her in all honesty. There are many good aspects to a strong character with Asuna and those aspects are shown. She is just underused in the plot. During the second half of the series, she is relegated to a supporting role which is a real shame. This is one of the main knocks against the series that many people have and I have a hard time disagreeing with them on that point. Sure the reason for this is to allow the series to shift focus, but when you have a great character it always becomes a hit to the gut to see their role reduced.
The lead in the second half of the series, Leafa is another one of the characters which I came to enjoy. Kirito’s cousin, she is Kirito’s guide basically throughout the second half of the series. What is really interesting about Leafa is that she is the one character which you get to see both sides of in terms of the real world and virtual world. This becomes interesting to explore as in many cases they are almost two completely different people. As Leafa, she is confident and a little snarky. As her real world self Sugaha, she is much more quiet and awkward. Here is where I will put in my two cents on the whole Sugaha and Kirito love thing. It’s not as bad as people make it out to be. First, she chooses not to act on her feelings and knows her feelings are wrong. So while those feelings are touched upon, nothing happens. Second it actually does add a dimension to the story of the second half where the individual who is helping the hero has a conflict of her own to deal with. I actually thought that she was a great character personally who didn’t deserve all of the negative comments which have been tossed out there. I will concede some points on this topic though. Did we need to Sugaha be in love with Kirito? No. We could have had some different element added in there. The relationship is awkward to watch and while it is certainly an intriguing element, it doesn’t add too much to the story. Also it really hurts Suguaha/Leafa as a character because they use that to define who she is. She could have been so much more instead of just another piece of Kirito’s harem.
As for the supporting cast, there are many fine and memorable characters who get featured throughout the series particularly in the first half. Since many of the characters only appear briefly, you won’t see a lot character development with them. That could be considered a slight knock but it is not a back breaker. There are too many supporting characters to touch on here plus half the fun is meeting some of these characters yourself.
The story is one area which has certainly generated a lot of controversy and has divided people. I will agree that the best portion of the story is the first half but the second half is quite entertaining as well. The themes and issues addressed in the series can be thought provoking at times and certainly had me thinking about what they were addressing. From mysteries to action sequences to quieter moments SAO really touches on a lot of different genres. One common knock against the show is that many people expected a series where they would focus heavily on MMO mechanics and gameplay. This is touched upon but I don’t believe that the intent was to be an MMO story. Instead the MMO is just a setting used to tell a story really about the human condition and how we adapt and handle certain situations. The MMO setting itself is quite an immersive world. It certainly reminds me of a typical fantasy setting. While it isn’t the most original idea, it is certainly done well. Could they have made the setting feel more like an MMO? Sure , but I don’t feel it ruins the series. Many have criticized the show for just being some sappy love story. Actually at the core that is really what is is. I personally don’t have a problem with it. The first half and the desperate nature of the scenario which they are in really helps to set up the second half. The love story in the first half really makes the second half that much more urgent. As a whole the story is quite entertaining and engrossing to watch. There are many bad ass action sequences which are certainly worth the price of admission. Particularly in the instances where the heroes are fighting a boss battle, there is no share of jaw dropping moments. The action sequences are certainly one of the series strengths and really adds to the entertainment factor.
If I were to criticize the story, there are a few things which I would point out. The first would be the series of episodes which really don’t contribute to the overall story where Kirito really ends up saving or helping different side characters. My knock against this is not the entertainment factor, the characters are great and the stories are emotional and thought provoking. However, it really disrupts the flow of the series. The center of the series is really on Kirito and Asuna and it takes away from that a bit. The second knock which also happens to be related to these episodes is the fact that the characters many of whom Kirito has just met all seem to fall in love in him. Some of this can be explained by the circumstances but it was a little off putting to repeatedly watch girls fall for our hero only for there to be a new girl introduced in the next episode. You also have Kirito himself. He is cool but just kind of boring. He rarely gets a challenge and just overcomes things with little effort. And finally, you have the decision in the second arc to basically take Asuna out of play and change her character around. She basically does nothing in the second half but sit and wait to get rescued. It is a real shame. These issues prevent the series from being something truly great and it is a shame.
One of the series extremely strong aspects is the animation. This series looks gorgeous. The backgrounds are breathtaking, the character designs are crisp and clean and the action sequences are really well done. Unlike some other shows, it was easy to follow the sequence of events in these portions of the series and they are jaw dropping to watch. Epic is certainly an appropriate word to describe these sequences. The series loses nothing when it switches to its quieter moments and those scenes where shows the daily life of the players are quite aesthetically pleasing to watch as well. The animation does a great job of both conveying a fantasy realm and the real world.
The series also gains high marks for its soundtrack. The soundtrack both in the series and standalone is a spectacular piece of work. It really fits the series well. From sweeping epic tracks during the battle sequences to medieval style lighter tunes during the quiet moments, the soundtrack does a great job of setting the mood and has many memorable tracks. The opening and closing theme songs are among my favorites for any anime series with the first opening “crossing field” by Lisa getting mention as one of my top anime theme songs. I have watched episodes in the both sub and dub and you can’t go wrong with either one. Nothing is lost whether you choose to watch the series in English or Japanese.
Sword Art Online is one of those series which while not perfect certainly can be entertaining. There are solid characters and awesome action sequences. Along side of that there is a great emotional story which also touches upon some thought provoking themes. The animation and sound are excellent and are among my favorites for any anime series. Are there flaws? Sure, but for me these flaws are balanced by the entertainment factor. That is the key with this series. It is an entertaining ride for sure and it certainly worth watching. I encourage those of you who have not checked out the series to check it out for yourself. Many people feel passionately about the series and I would encourage you to form your own opinion. I enjoyed this series and hope that you check it out. I personally enjoyed it and am looking forward to the new series later this summer.
This concludes my review for Sword Art Online.I do plan on doing my comparison article between Log Horizon and Sword Art Online int he near future. For my next anime review, I recently completed The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya so that will be my next review. Also more Weiss Schwarz content is on it’s way. So until next time, this is Railgunfan75 signing off and saying stay geeky my friends!