I’m new to Anime. Not totally new, I mean, I am old enough to have watched Battle of the Planets (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) back in the 80s.
Anyway, thrilling as that information is, it isn’t the point of this little article. No, the point of this is Sword Art Online. At present, I’ve just finished episode 14, pretty much the halfway point in Series 1. A worthy time to stop and take stock. And write about it.
What’s it all about?
On the launch day of a new MMO, which utilises the latest in immersive VR technology, it all goes wrong for the players. It isn’t a glitch, a bug, a coding error, it has been done on purpose. If the players remove their ‘Nervegear’ (the VR set) they die. If they are killed in the game, they die. The only way out is to finish the game, clear the levels. Once that is done, they are told (and I don’t know if that’s the truth, yet), they can go back to their own lives.
Now, with no choices in front of them, the players must live in the MMO world. I suspect there are some people who quite like the idea of being trapped in a game world, getting away from the pressures of modern life and fighting monsters all the time. Who wouldn’t want to face death daily, live life on the edge of the sword, knowing that one wrong move, one fight with a ‘mob’ too high a level might end your life good? Me, for one. It sounds damn scary. But, as it says at the beginning of this paragraph, the players have no choice.
Or so it seems at the start. As the series progress we start to see other players who’ve taken a different route to surviving in the game world. Blacksmiths, fishermen (people), shop owners for instance. And on the darker side, assassins, murderers (PK’s – player killers). The world becomes a living, breathing and very dangerous place through them.
And then we have our hero, Kirito. A young man (boy) who was a beta tester for the game. He knows some of the tips and tricks, but feels some guilt when the game ‘goes wrong’ and is, alongside others, blamed for the way things have turned out. He is an almost archetypal loner. He plays (lives) solo, developing his sword skill and level.
There are others he meets, recurring characters; Klein, whom he helps out at the beginning, Asuna a frightened girl at the beginning, but a deadly warrior soon after. The world really does seem ‘real’ to them.
Time moves quick in the series, thirteen episodes in and already two years have passed. Our hero has grown in skill and life on the ‘frontlines’ (the furthest levels up) is tough. Hang on, I know what you’re thinking, how have their real (the ones in the real world) bodies survived two years? Well, that has an answer and it’s just as well. There are many things like that in the first episodes. Little things where you (well, me anyway) think, ‘are they just making this up as they go?’ And they might have been, but at least they deliver some answers later on.
I am told, by a reliable source (thank you, H) that in Anime I should get used to a lot of teenage angst, unrequited love, and all the trappings of teenage life (I left those behind a long time ago). This series certainly has that, in the bucket load, though one episode had me shed a few tears at the end (soppy git that I am) so I wouldn't let that put you off.
What I did like was the game world. In particular, the action of guilds and the trouble with running them (normal rules of selfishness apply everywhere) and the fact that, apart from the crystals used to heal and teleport, there is no magic. Everything is defined by a player’s skill with a sword – the epitome of the Samurai spirit living on in an MMO world.