It’s the year 2022 and gaming has hit new heights. A new, highly awaited virtual reality massively multiplayer online role paying game (I’ll refer to it as MMORPG so save my fingers the chore to type it), has hit the market, known as Sword Art Online. The first 10,000 lucky players to log into the beta version of SAO soon realise, well, there not as lucky as they think. They soon discover that they’re trapped in the game, and the only way out is to beat each boss that occupies 100 floors of a building, which holds a self-contained world in itself, and defeat the game’s final boss. Oh and what makes even more interesting I hear you say? If they die in the game, the VR helmet that they wear in the real world in order to play the game will fry their brain, instantly killing them in real life too. Shit…just…got…real.
Now we have the plot covered lets get straight to the point. In it’s release in 2012 SAO faced a range of reactions. Some Anime fans jumped with giddiness at the potential the series had. It contained all the elements of action, emotion and a range of differencing characters that were interesting enough to want us see them develop, that all good Anime’s have. The fact that SAO based itself on a pastime that has become increasingly popular over the past few decades, gamers found the show extremely relatable, and I’m sure more people than just myself think that it’ll be pretty darn cool to live in the world of a MMORPG.
Of course, like every mainstream hit, comes the nay-sayers. Much like it’s ‘cool’ to hate on Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian, SAO suffered from the same approach the public take on those two celebrities. SAO was HUGE when it first introduced itself to the world, so the people who hated on the show felt like it was their stand against the big production companies churning out material that was made just to sell follow up products, perhaps sacrificing the quality of the content to do so.
So here’s my question; is Sword Art Online the best show ever? Or are the haters right with there being no substance behind the style? After recently completing the first season here is my answer. My answer is…I just don’t know. I know what you’re thinking, “man the guy writing this article is so lame”. But let me explain why, after watching the first season, I’m still undecided.
“This show is just a massive glorification of the gaming industry, feeding their need just to earn big bucks”.
This is one of several claims made by the nay-sayers. In a way they’re correct, the show is aimed to a large target audience to instantly satisfied their interest, but is that really a bad thing? Every Anime, TV show, movie, game are all made to meet our expectation of what it’s like in a point of view of someone who we can’t be in our real life. It would be awesome to be a vampire, a professional ice hockey player, having a note book who kills every name I write in there, to be a pirate exploring the vast seas, but I can’t. Escapism is a huge part of why we watch anything and to be able to bring a daily duty or an interest such as gaming, portraying it in a different light and asking a question that many have wondered before, SAO is more entertaining and curious in it’s approach than thinking it’s a lazy way to draw in big audiences.
“Slow down! Mighty lord Thor, just SLOW DOOOOOWN!”
SAO has been criticised of having predictable writing, but in all honestly I think that this has been a concept that bandwagon haters have quickly jumped upon. The show establishes itself in the very first episode. You die in the game, you die in real life. You have 100 floors to clear and the final boss. You do that, you’re free and you live. Characters are killed off before we get the chance to fully explore them, and who honestly guessed that we would come across the final boss 30 floors ealier than we were supposed to? Kirito sets himself and fellow gamers free half way through the season, making Sword Art Online almost a forgotten well just after 15 or so episodes in.
Yes, this does make SAO a lot less predictable than the Anime gets credit for, but wanting to be a show that keeps you guessing, in a way, spoiled it a little. With such a good set up of a universe that could offer so much, I felt a little cheated with the fast paced development of the story and characters. I respect the writers for mixing things up trying to set SAO apart from all other Anime shows before it, but sometimes too much change can be a bad thing. After the first couple of episodes I was looking forward to seeing Kirito develop, to witness his level go from a novice to a sword master, building his strength to face and defeat the ultimate boss. Within a handful of episodes he was already at level 40, far more superior than a lot of the other players we’re introduced to.
It’s a huge shame that more episodes warn’t dedicated to exploring not only Kirito’s back story (which later in the first season find out a little more) but the characters that inhabit this virtual world. It feels like we witness the character die not long after we are introduced to them. This made it really hard to get emotionally invested in them and I found myself not really caring as much as I should have when their unfortunately fate met them.
“Tell me one thing, why should I care about our male protagonist Kirito?”
To be honest, I don’t really know. We are often shown the positive qualities of Kirito, a genius at video games, brave, caring, but there are a limited amount of weaknesses to help balance it out. It almost feels as if he is too perfect for us to relate to him. Before entering the second virtual world of fairies, we get a glimpse of Kirito losing to his sister at kendo in the real life, suggesting that he isn’t as strong of a person in the real world than he is in the game. However this is the only indication we get of Kirito feeling completely human.
I would argue that the the kindness and support he shows to fellow players in the virtual reality helps a lot in wanting to cheer on our main protagonist and I did find myself feeling like I really wanted him to succeed later on in the series.
“The evil emperor Suguo is way over-the-top and is, as well as Asuna, anime cliché’s.”
We aren’t introduced to Sugou until Kirito clears Sword Art Online and is by the bed of Asuna (Kirito’s love interest) as she hasn’t awoken since being set free from virtual reality. Within a minute Suguo is evil, proclaiming how Asuna is all his and Kirito needs to step back. Yawn. We have seen this in every anime, TV show, movie, way too many times. Enter our next MMORPG known as Alfheim Online, where Sugou’s attitude becomes a lot more acceptable that the cheesy approach we see in the real world. Here’s a villain that has great power within a virtual environment, so uses it to abuse other people and just act like a complete douche.
The continuing story that consists throughout both virtual realities we witness in season one of SAO is the love connection between Kirito and Asuna. I agree with the fact that it follows many other plot structures where the guy meets the girl, she suspects every action he takes at first, he saves/helps her when in need, they fall in love, she gets held captive, and he makes it his main priority to save her so they can be together. Sure we’ve seen this a billion and one times, but I didn’t get the sense that I was bored watching it take place throughout SAO. I found it a lot more intriguing in the first half, as the diversity of the two characters provided in intriguing relationship between two very different gamers when in the virtual reality. Once entering the second half when she is held captain in a gian looking bird cage, it did seems a little too familiar of a scenario.
Once the final episode of season one had completed I still didn’t know what to think. There were many things about the show (which were addressed above) that I found pretty annoying, but there was something about it that made me want to continue to watch. I really wish that the show dedicated the whole season in the virtual reality of Sword Art Online, and then introduce a new gaming world in the second season rather than half way through the first. SAO is an anime that has divided a lot of opinions and is one of those shows that you quite rankly have to sit down, pick up a slice of pizza and watch it yourself to see exactly how you feel.