Anime Reporter logs in and levels up for Sword Art Online (Part One), the first seven episodes of the anime based on Reki Kawahara’s (who also wrote the manga Accel World) light novel of the same name.
Sword Art Online begins in the year 2022 when the Nerve Gear virtual reality helmet launches its very first MMORPG bearing the same name as the anime. On the launch date for the full immersion virtual reality video game, only 10,000 copies are issued, making the incredibly exclusive game instantly popular. A short time into playing, some players discover that the Logout button seems to have disappeared from their menus and a horrifying announcement soon follows. A mad genius has programmed the game to be impossible to leave and the Nerve Gear helmets will fry the brains of anyone who might have their helmet physically removed without logging out. There is only way to escape back into reality; win the game. Completing all 100 levels, defeating bosses and amassing weapons along the way, will allow a player to leave relatively intact. Dying at any point throughout the game will also cause the helmet to fry more than a few brain cells, making the threat of death all too real.
The series focuses on the exploits of Kirito (voiced by Code Geass: Boukoku no Akito’s Yoshitsugu Matsuoka in Japanese and Blue Exorcist’s Bryce Papenbrook in English), one of the original beta testers for the game who uses his existing knowledge of levels and monsters to quickly level up and give himself a fighting chance. As the death toll mounts ever higher, new players begin to resent betas for their superior knowledge and their selfish tactics. Kirito chooses to fight alone rather than face the resentment and suspicion of others and quickly grows into a powerful force, advancing levels quickly on his own. Despite his solitary nature, Kirito frequently goes out of his way to help other players less talented or knowledgeable than himself and soon garners the respect and admiration of others who christen him the Black Swordsman.
While Kirito helps those around him, there are others who play the game with a vicious bloodlust, stealing and killing other players without regard for the consequences and all the while every player is focused on clearing the 100th level and making their way home.
The world of SOA is designed to be modern and reminiscent of today’s video games and in that respect it performs admirably, presenting beautiful and varied landscapes and myriad creatures as well as several concepts such as levelling up and creating guilds which fans of MMORPGs will be familiar with. Characters, weapons and attacks are designed sleekly and action scenes are intense without being overly violent.
In terms of supporting characters, SOA is a fantastic commentary on the online mentalities of today, from awkward noob players to hardcore strategists and from the trusting and naive to darker and more sinister personalities. One feature introduced after the players were trapped inside was to remove their avatars and force them to play with their own real appearances, forcing them to play as themselves rather than a hulking or glamorous idol to hide behind.
Sword Art Online moves the story very quickly, with months often passing between individual episodes and allowing the development of characters and their abilities to be seen at an early stage. This is particularly effective in that it allows viewers to bypass the awkward drama of players coming to terms with their predicament and speeds up the action to a point where anyone who hasn’t accepted their fate is either dead or still wandering around back on level one. Similarly, supporting characters may come and go from one episode to the next without feeling hurried or improperly fleshed out. It’s worth noting that the series protagonist is one of the few in anime to be entirely capable, intelligent and sensible without any unhealthy obsessions or temper issues and the result is a character which is a true pleasure to see advance and interact with his simulated environment.
SOA is a quick-paced delight to watch which manages to bring fantasy battles and intense characters into a contemporary setting familiar to many. This is one to watch whether familiar with MMORPGs or not and maybe for those who are unsure if they even like anime. Gripping and enjoyable, this is great storytelling.
Sword Art Online Part One (episodes 1-7 ) is available on DVD and Bluray from Manga Entertainment.
For more information see the official Twitter page (Manga Entertainment): https://twitter.com/MangaUK
The Sword Art Online Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SwordArtOnlineUSA
The Sword Art Online Website: http://www.swordart-onlineusa.com/
and be sure to check back for Anime Reporter’s take on Sword Art Online Part 02, coming up in the future!
76% -New High Score!
Sword Art Online is a fantastically refreshing new anime series. Our advice; start watching it now, thank us later.