By Brigitte B
Everyone has that video game they wish could become the world for their existence. In such a reality, every objective is of any video game: to complete the mission and survive. To survive—this is the sole purpose for any game; to do whatever it takes to get to the end. Luckily, if one does not survive, they have the option to leave the game, or with fortunate instances, have a second chance. What if the option to leave the game was removed? What if second chances ceased to exist? What if that reality decided your fate? In a world where patrons and gamers alike come together to experience the ultimate gaming platform comes Sword Art Online: a VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massive Multimedia Roleplaying Game). On the day of Sword Art Online’s release, “Kirito”, a seemingly normal adolescent boy logs onto the game by putting on an apparatus called Nervegear. Nervegear is the virtual reality helmet which bridges each player’s 5 senses and conscious mind into the simulator of the game. The first class technology created by Kayaba Akihiko became wildly popular and sold all 10,000 copies available all around the world. Expecting to have a normal course run, Kirito—and the rest of the patrons—have no idea what the game and the Nervegear have in store for them.From special items to guilds to glory, the science fiction and gaming format created for Sword Art Online was especially impressive. Players in the virtual reality were literally immersed into a world where they were equipped with skill and artillery which proved quite valuable for their quest. Our SAO hero Kirito was just like every other gamer: just a patron wanting to experience the popular game. With prior knowledge of how the game works, his advantage becomes a curse frowned upon when the tide turns wildly in the virtual world. Strangers become friends. Friends become foes. Foes become your worst nightmare. This enthralling adventure centers around the young man whose will to survive is great; in his epic journey, his view on life is forever altered. Physically, emotionally, and morally, each stage defeated gives him greater purpose to fight for himself and the ones he encounters.
Sword Art Online becomes a battleground where the strong will survive, the weak shall perish, and the only way out is to win. Any other outcome bears great consequence–in the game and in reality.
In all honesty, judging by many thumbnails for SAO I had faith in the storyline but not so much the motion picture. The promotional photo with Kirito and Asuna’s back to back pose made them look no older than 12. This further proves the quote “Do not judge a book by its cover”! Boy was I wrong! From the moment Kirito entered the world of Sword Art, I veered in awe by the finished product of SAO.
The setting takes place on a floating castle referred to as Aincrad. The CG did not overpower the true nature of Aincrad when being showcased as being large and magnificent. Breathtaking scenery never failed to deliver on each level presented whether it be the peaceful forest on level 22 or the beautiful Arctic West Mountains of level 55. Aside from the praise towards the atmosphere created for the series, the animation stayed true to keeping the story strictly within the game. It is obvious that the SAO provide markers as to keeping the viewer informed its artificial production. With that being said, I found it extremely clever that ability to reach the menu appeared right in front of the players and manipulated the screen Tony Stark style. Also, whenever the players encountered SAO’s computer generated civilians and inanimate objects, message markers appeared like in any other RPG/MMORG game would. Most of all, the fight scenes were executed on a level much higher than my expectation. Fluidity from both gamers and creatures created an effect that would be from a real cut scene of a traditional Japanese RPG. The concept where “skill” is input into how much damage can be caused into an attack is also the format of a game.
Of course this rating is simply overreaching (12 out of 10…totally) but I have many good things to say about the OST. Growing up I enjoyed playing Final Fantasy, Command Mission (Mega man franchise), and my all-time favorite RPG (but seriously underrated) Enchanted Arms. Crossing Field sung by Lisa (the OP singer for Angel Beats and Fate Zero) has once again produced gold! I know it is cliché to say, but this anime’s opening theme really does apply to Kirito and Asuna’s relationship. The introduction to the song fading into Lisa singing does not seem much—but when translating the first stanza “I was never right for the hero kind of role. I admit I was a coward” refers to Kirito and his attitude towards life in general. Later on in the chorus, the song translates to “I’d like to thank you for lighting up the dark” I believe refers to both Asuna and Kirito. To Kirito, I believe that Asuna has given him a real purpose to fight and survive; referring to Asuna, I believe that the song is trying to show that Kirito has shone light to her disheartened soul due to the hopeless circumstance everyone is in. During downtime, there was always that song that indicated “safe zone” and interestingly enough, the song would only play when Kirito was in a village or town (in the game being a safe zone). The background music in RPGs that indicated “safe” would be a waltz rhythmic pattern. To recreate such a trend within the show reveals how much eye (or ear) for detail the producers have invested in. It is simply wonderful. In comparison to the safety music is always the epic battle scenes. As I listened to the OST for the battle scenes, the ‘Latin’ choral hymns (such as the OP for Umineko or Elfen Lied) also brought those memories of nostalgia indicating the show to being a game. That’s when you knew “OH, IT’S TIME TO FIGHT”. Alluding the idea that this battle hymn is an idea many RPGs in times of danger impressed me. The OST was truly a treat—not once did I hear a song lose the moment.
In as little as 13 episodes, this anime has done what very few can do: develop within a matter of five minutes. Many side characters that Kirito encounters have somehow engraved their mark onto his journey—and our minds. From Sword smiths to small children, Kirito has formed relationships that give him purpose to keep on fighting in order to protect friends-old and new. Also, another character appraisal I would love to rave on about is the Kirito x Asuna coupling. The relationship displayed by these two put tears of joy on my face and hope in my eyes. First off, I have heard mixed reviews on how people take Kirito’s development. A negative comments said that the story was garbage because our protagonist is a little too OP (over powered). Have you heard of Kenshin Himura?—your argument has become invalid. From that other person’s perspective I see where the review is coming from, but the development was his growth in purpose, not strength. Going through the game, Kirito encounters different players with different backgrounds as their role on SAO, thus, he must show sensitivity and respect in different ways. Kirito and Asuna’s was of course predictable—a leading man always needs his leading lady, but many animes go for the ‘tsunedere’ attitude (tsunedere=generally mean but nice to loved ones). Although Asuna attitude with Kirito varied, it was sweet how their feelings developed for each other. There are many negative comments stating “It’s been two weeks—by the way, I LOVE YOU! LET’S GET MARRIED AND MOVE TO THE 22nd FLOOR!” This simply was not the case—the two year gap of all the players being held captive gave was revealed through the changes each of the characters displayed (EXP points, knowledge of the game, guild hierarchy, etc.) With that being said, the relationship had developed over time. The blossoming emotions between our two love birds has made many people feel a part of the experience. Through rare found rabbit meat and the midst of a heated battle, their feelings for each other did not fail to grow. The moment when Kirito finally gave himself up to Asuna was a REAL game changer (no pun intended). Throughout the game, Kirito has held himself as a solo player on the front lines. Unfortunate events have led him to fear that his actions may actually endanger potential comrades. For Kirito to sacrifice himself to Asuna meant entrusting her wholly. His dedication to her heart and safety has left me in heap of hearty tears. Her survival was so important he was going to sacrifice his own life just so she could continue on—this was truly a large sacrifice. I know, I know, for love especially in anime this is expected of our valiant heroes—but in reality, his physical being’s state is more than heart aching. Without spoiling the end all I can say is this—“You go find her, you magnificent bastard!”
The only thing I would suggest changing is the thumbnail on Crunchyroll—and even then I would hate myself for wanting to change perfection. (I simply just want to hate my boss for making me watch this because I feel so much emotion—alas all I can do is thank him). By capturing the idea of an actual MMORPG, it has casted the direction of the animation into more of a personal RPG format which is much appreciated. The beautiful world of Arcadia, the articulate detail that bring these characters to life, and the wonderful music scores pertaining to RPG trends have really created a fruitful production. Lastly, the emotions that fill the heart with our dear Kirito with joy, sorrow, and hope also reflected the view of life to many viewers. It doesn’t take EXP points, ‘special skills’, or the strongest guild to develop advantages through trials and tribulations. To be equipped with perseverance, courage, and trust is just enough to survive any game—and eventually lead you to the top of the castle where your throne—and freedom—awaits.