Anime Review: Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online has finally drawn to a close (barring the possibility of more adaptations), and perhaps that’s a good thing. The first arc was fairly intriguing and, as a gamer, I certainly enjoyed the idea of a virtual reality MMO, but by time the ALfheim arc ended, I can honestly say it’s not that great (inb4 fanboy rage). But then, I can say that about a lot of things, can’t I? After all, I’m not an easy gal to impress. If I don’t feel anxious as I wait for the next episode to air, something is wrong; and in this case, I went weeks without watching SAO. In fact, if it weren’t for my boyfriend finally deciding he’d watch subbed anime with me, I may not have even bothered picking it up again.
SAO began strongly enough. We watch as Kirito is thrown into a world he can’t escape, with ten thousand others; a virtual world where death in the game means death in real life (which is vaguely reminiscent of the movie Stay Alive, without the horror elements, of course). In order to escape the game, players must clear the 100th floor of the floating castle, Aincrad — a feat which the creator of the game meant to make impossible via his excessive abuse of power. The characters we’re introduced to along this journey might be interesting, if they lasted more than a few episodes. At first, the episodes made sense and followed along at a decent speed… and then, they began to leap forward. I understand the limited amount of space that can be covered via film, but really? Perhaps I should read the light novels for a better grasp of why they chose to move forward as they did (I do plan to read them, by the way).
Then, there is Asuna. A pretty little thing who, in the first arc makes a formidable opponent for all. As vice captain of the Knights of the Blood Oath (which is led by Heathcliff, also known as Kayaba Akihiko — the man responsible for Sword Art Online), Asuna stands as a bastion of hope for other players. After all, it is the guild she represents that guides the strongest players toward the top of the castle. (The moment she was introduced, I knew she’d be Kirito’s love interest; a plot like that tends to be too obvious and too predictable for my taste.. Nevertheless, once Yui is introduced and the three become a “family,” I admittedly felt a small attachment to them.)
After a brief vacation, and the ensuing “death” of Yui, our heroes return to the front line in order to clear the game. Naturally, a lot of lives are lost during the final battle — including Asuna and Kirito; however, our hero takes on spirit from, finishes the final fight in a god-modely way, and reverses both his and Asuna’s death. (After all, the heroes can’t die, right?) What follows is the destruction of Aincrad and Sword Art Online and the waking of most of the survivors from SAO. The key word is most.
Sword Art Online slides effortlessly into the next arc, quickly revealing what happened to the remaining players from the game — including Asuna whom, unlike Kirito, did not wake after the destruction of Aincrad. What follows is episode after episode of Kirito saving the “damsel in distress,” whether it be Asuna under the guise of the Fairy Queen Titania, or his overly-friendly sister. Aside from rescuing Asuna from Sugou’s grimey paws, there’s really nothing entertaining about ALfheim. Or maybe I’m supposed to be held rapt by such a simple, over-played part? To be honest, the second arc follows the darkest fairy tales to a tee — including the near rape of the damsel in distress, which is stopped by her Prince Charming.
One thing I did find amusing (again, I must remind you I’m a rather sick-minded individual sometimes) is what Sugou was doing with those who survived SAO, but didn’t wake up. Sugou is certainly a twisted man. You have to be, to try and develop a method by which you can inflict physical pain on a person via use of a mental control system like the Nerve Gear. I found it even more exciting that his little experiment worked — as we see after Kirito hacks Heathcliff’s account and sets Sugou’s pain tolerance to zero before fighting him. Oh, and after defeating Sugou, Akihiko’s conscience shows up and gives Kirito a World Seed, which is basically open source coding for more games. Because, you know… ALfheim and Sword Art Online didn’t leave a bad enough taste in everyone’s mouth.
And that’s… really that. There’s nothing more intricate — the sole purpose of ALfheim is to save Asuna. The couple hundred survivors that are rescued because ALfheim is shut down are minor players in the game — in fact, they’re only shown twice and mentioned at most what? Two, three times? Although, if you pay attention, the two survivors that it shows embracing are the same two men who were romancing each other under the guise that one was female and the other was attractive during the first episode of SAO, when the Gamemaster changed everyone’s avatars to reflect their real appearance.
(Also, did anyone else notice that Kirito actually looked older at the beginning of the anime than he does toward the end, despite the fact that two years have passed?)