Anime Review: Sword Art Online

I’m not very good at keeping up with new anime – or even keeping up with the interminable Shonen Jump series that I’ve previously started! But when one of my favorite fan writers posted a story involving Sword Art Online, I knew I had to check it out – thankfully there’s such a thing now as Crunchyroll, so I didn’t have to go into any dark corners of the Internet to find an English subtitled version.

Going in with no knowledge of the series, I was thinking it would be primarily an action series with plenty of fanservice shots for the guys – but I should have known better; Vathara is big on character development, so that’s exactly what this series is exploring. What happens to people when the Luddites’ worst fears about advanced technology come true – and your mind can be kidnapped into a virtual world? How does that affect people’s mental states, and how do they respond? If those sorts of questions interest you, SAO is absolutely worth watching. There are action scenes and epic quests – though the romance that starts slowly at the beginning becomes the main plot driver in the second half.

I won’t talk much about the plot; the series is a little slow getting off the ground, but it hits a pretty good stride around episode 5. (If you’re not familiar with how MMORPGs work, you’ll probably find the first episodes more interesting as they’re introducing some of those concepts.) There’s a major plot twist that happens somewhere around episode 14, and things slow down again for an episode or two right after; keep watching! The end is absolutely worth it.

There’s one speech that Kirito (the main character) gives somewhere in the second half that struck me in particular – basically, to the effect of “It doesn’t matter that this is a game, what you do here in the virtual world affects you in the real world, too.” I wish I could find it again, but unfortunately I didn’t write down what episode it was and apparently nobody thought it was important enough to put on the internet where I could easily find it. (Perhaps if I rewatch this series with friends I’ll update this post with a link to the appropriate episode.) And it’s not in episode 18 where Kirito tells a party leader off for treating party members like equippable (shut up, that is totally a word) items. LOL

MINOR SPOILER AHEAD

Another aspect of this anime that I enjoyed, although it didn’t take up much of the plot, was that the main couple “adopts” an accidentally-generated sapient AI – as a matter of course. Without thinking twice. Yes, you’re our kid now, we’ll take care of you. (She “lives” in Kirito’s VR headset’s virtual memory, so she’s independent of the game servers.) Of course, having an AI as a child is probably the only way this couple is going to reproduce, since Kirito is apparently mentally pre-pubescent. (If you watch episode 10, you’ll understand what I mean. No wonder the Japanese have such low birthrates. You’re doing it wrong, guys!)

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