Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sword Art Online

Not too long ago while browsing Netflix I noticed an anime I'd never heard of before: Sword Art Online. I'm not generally one to start watching anime randomly since, honestly, I find most of it to be inane, formulaic, and/or filled with "fan service."

However, for whatever reason I went ahead and watched Sword Art Online all the way through. Short review: it's not a great anime, and it's certainly very shallow. Except when it suddenly isn't. For a more in-depth review, read on.


Sword Art Online is the name of a MMO RPG in the future, the first to use a total immersion technology that directly affect the brain. In doing so, the user sees, feels, even tastes things in the digital world while their body lies motionless in the real world.

Ten thousand users sign onto the game on the first day, only to find out that their log out option is missing form their menus. The game takes a dark turn as the creator of the game appears and reveals that they are all trapped in the game. Any attempt by someone in the real world to disconnect a user will result in that user's death. Likewise, if someone's HP reaches 0 in the game, that will likewise cause the user's real body to die.

The only way to escape from the game is to reach the end of the game and beat it.

The main character of the show was a beta tester for the game, which gives him a slight edge on many of the other players. However, his social awkwardness makes him a loner. Will the players succeed?


I had a few thoughts going into this show. The first was worry that the story would become too similar to a concept I have for a game/story but, luckily, the show went a completely different direction.

The second thought nearly made me stop watching after the first episode: are they really doing the "if you die in the game, you die for real" thing? Come on.

In fact, though, the trope serves its purpose: all of these people are stuck in the game and need to deal with living in a virtual world. And they end up doing so for two years.

All in all, the show is mostly wish fulfillment: the main character is an awkward guy that most people can't help but like anyway. His skill at video games finally comes in handy, making him one of the most powerful people in the virtual world. Also, girls seem to fall for him quickly, because of course they do.

The girls in the show possess every anime girl trope you can imagine: there's the fiery one, the "little sister" one, etc. At least the main character ends up choosing a girl quickly, preventing the show from becoming a harem anime.

Most of the girls end up in one fan service situation or another, but those moments are thankfully brief.

As far as the conflict goes, there's little tension most of the time despite the game's deadly mechanic. A few side characters die, but it soon becomes clear that any character you've grown attached to that's survived at least one episode is probably going to survive until the end.

The show's primary redeeming features are the occasional insight into the meaning of life, and how it relates to an online persona.

Sometimes the show will focus on a different character for a while, showing how different people are handling their entrapment in different ways. Most of the people the main character associates with are fighters, trying to get stronger and bring the game to an end. Many are focused on returning to their lives and feel the time slipping away while they waste their time in the game.

The main character, on the other hand, makes it a point to enjoy the world he's in, in addition to trying to get out. To him, a virtual life is still a life, and I believe that's true: the friends you make online are just as much your friends as the ones you know in person. An online social life is still a social life--the method does not diminish its value. I speak of that as someone whose online activity has lead directly to my current way of life, including where I live, my friends, my job, and my outlook on life.

Likewise, at some point they make the observation that people who spend their online time harassing others seem to believe that it's harmless, since it's "just virtual" or something. (This is later in the series, once they get out of the first game and start playing a less deadly fantasy game.) How you act online is reflective of yourself in real life, whether you realize it or not. Trolls are people who are literally spending a portion of their life causing grief to others, which is a really sad thing to think about.

It's been a while since I finished the show, so I can't recall all of the scenes that ended in interesting revelations, but they certainly game me something to think about regarding the meaning of a virtual world and online interactions. Suffice to say, though, that it was parts like that which kept me watching the show despite its otherwise fairly shallow story and fan service moments.


  1. They started the new season, Gun Gale, if your interested.

  2. Also I know your not big on anime, but if you decide you want to give some a try I'd be interested to see your opinion on these. I put the ones i think you'd most enjoy at the top and so on.

    "Hunter X Hunter" (my 2nd favorite anime, a dark story)(ongoing)
    "No Game No Life" (Probably the most interesting show I've watched in a long time)
    "Log Horizon"( Similar to Sword Art Online but goes in a different direction)
    "Akame ga Kill!" (Very new but I've can't recall a better 1st episode)(ongoing)
    "Hamatora" ( Really interesting)(ongoing)
    "Gintama" (A great source for humor; only or generation could understand, probbably yours more than mine.)
    "Guilty Crown" (A older anime i watched recently, I thoroughly enjoyed it)