When I first heard about Sword Art Online I'll admit that I was a bit suspicious. There just wasn't a whole lot of appeal for a show that featured an MMORPG setting, and one that seemed like a revamp of the whole, .hack//SIGN phenom that seemed to seethe from the fandom not that many years ago. But then stranger things have happened in the world of anime, and this is one of those stories you have to see to believe.
As it happened, I stumbled upon SAO as part of an effort to bring some much needed life back to the Shohan USA message boards, and a member there posted about the show.
Now, don't get me wrong; I'd love nothing more than to sit down with a giant Dr Pepper, and watch every show that every fan says is a good one, but most of the time I'm already nipples-deep in several shows I'm keeping up with, and adding to the pot is grounds for pure insanity.
Well, since I didn't have anything I was keeping up with, as far as streams and new shows from Japan, I looked up the show to see that it wasn't far underway, probably about five to seven episodes at the time, and I grabbed up the first one, to give it a gander. And thus our story begins...
Well, anyway... the first thing I noticed when I watched this, was that it was created by the animation studio, A-1 Pictures; and if anyone who has read my blog for very long will know by now, that I am practically a groupie of that studio, and will worship almost any anime they make, with very few and far between exceptions. I mean, a 9-1 ratio of good and likable anime, that I enjoy is a hell of an average.
So, instantly the show had that going for it, but there was more to it than just being made by a favorite studio, it had an almost instant immersion that sucked my little pea-brain into it so deep, that I was compelled, compelled mind you, to go out and get a World of Warcraft account, and try my hand at the online MMORPG games.
How many anime can you say, actually inspired you to go buy something? Wait, I forget that I'm talking to the internet here; just scratch that.
So the opening of Sword Art Online was nothing amazing, until about the part where we learn that Kirito and the others that are in the new virtual reality game, are stuck there until they complete the game, and if they try to remove their helmets, special microwave emitters in the head-gear will fry their brains...
I have to admit; this was nothing like I was expecting, and it only got better as the show went on. In one instance, the characters are over 10,000 strong in a new MMORPG, and by the end of the first day, more than 2,000 were dead. And I'm not just talking about being dead in the game, they were dead in real life as well, because the head-gear would also kill them, if they died in the game.
This was good stuff, this was compelling entertainment, and I was hooked by the closing credit, not to say that it took that long to get me interested in it, but I was all but jumping up and down with my hands on my face going... "What the crap! What the crap! What the crap!" ( that wasn't me asking a question... it was redundant.)
So here was the deal, to survive the game, the creator—in the form of a giant gnarly red caped dude—gives them the task of clearing the entire game. That's exactly 100 floors, and what makes it seem more of a daunting task, the best Beta Testers were only able to get a fraction of that progress in the game before it went live, so beating the game seemed like more of a death sentence.
The next fourteen episodes seemed to leap-frog through the time line, often weeks and months, and eventually two years going by in the game. In that time, our main protagonist Kirito amassing a huge amount of stats in the game, and only occasionally partying up, and in this time, he meets interesting characters, and even begins to develop romantic involvement with kirito, and becomes our second protagonist in the show, and by the time the first ten episodes have passed, the show demands you chew your nails and wait in agony for a week until the next episode.
Now, I've read some reviews around the internet that have criticized the show for having sub-par writing(Anime News Network), but I have to cry foul on that; especially the part that matter-of-factly states that it's due to the writing that the show is getting little talking about on the message boards and such... but I have to wonder if the reviewer was just going by a few select boards, or just wanting to sound more pompous than necessary.
Sure there are a few places where the anime either lags, or speeds along too fast, but as a whole the show is damned near perfection from start to finish.
There are not that many shows that will have me welling up with tears, have me embracing a new style of gaming, and going on epic quests to find the light novels to pry a peek at the universe that was created, and what i can look forward too, all without spoiling myself too much.
This is the anime of the season, and it's probably the best thing that A-1 Pictures has produced since they started. And yes I realize that statement has an overwhelming amount of hype behind it, but I would like to go on record as saying that if there was one show that literally has a little bit of everything for everyone, without having to resort to lengthy dialogues, complicated sub-plots, and cerebral overtones, this is that anime.
I finished the first arc of Sword Art Online with tears in my eyes, with a mixture of sadness, happiness, and a sense of accomplishment. I enter this next arc with a fresh pair of eyes, as if I am now watching the show all over again, and I am sure this is going to be rewarding.
I give this 5 solid stars.