Table of Contents
- Summary (no spoilers)
- Story Commentary (spoilers)
- Character Analysis (very few spoilers)
- Fan art
I’m going to be reviewing the first half of this show because obviously the second half promises to be different.
No, there is nothing about a Dodge Ram engine in this show. I just put that title up because it’s random.
The story takes place in a Massive Multiplayer Online game called Sword Art Online (SAO) (ソードアートオンライン). The clincher is that everyone is stuck in a real death match, unable to leave unless they win the game, and only able to use swords to defend themselves.
Even if you never read the credits or heard anything about this story before watching, you should find it as obvious as I did that it is written by a guy. He pretty much writes into this story everything he as a guy wants. It has everything from action to porn, mystery to romance, and naturally the quest to save everyone in the world. The result is that at times it can be a very shallow adventure, or rather, almost too episodic. At the same time (now that I’ve insulted the idea, I need to say something positive), I do like the fact that SAO has random arcs rather than dragging on a long, repetitive story (as many anime do, as though there was nothing to do in life but fight). It makes more sense to see reality as a collage of random events and experiences. The unfortunate thing is that, with each arc, you feel a slight dissatisfaction with it when your done but you crave for the next one as much as you did the one you just finished.
I didn’t read the light novel, but I’m going to comment anyways. Let’s start at the very beginning, where the author tries to explain everything.
It seems the author spent a weekend in a room and tried to take into account all of the ways that would mess up his scenario and allow players to get out of the world without having to fight their way to the final boss. Key point one: Electrocution occurs to anyone whose game computer helmet thingy is taken off. How the machine is suppose to know that, I don’t know. Key point two: The helmet is battery powered so that people can’t just unplug it and have the helmet turn off. Key point three: Shutting down the game servers means instant electrocution for the users. Final key point: The main designer of the game goes into hiding so that no one can catch him and force him to shut down the game. I have a problem with all this: How on earth did the supposed game creator get people to make this for him? Someone doesn’t just sit down in their garage and build all the hardware and software necessary to fry thousands of people, so he had to have help.
Relationships in this story are quick and not well detailed. We get snippets of details with the Black Cats, indicating alot of time was spent by Kirito with them, but alot of time is brushed over quick. The results are Kirito’s seemingly fast relationships, particularly with Sachi and Asuna.
There are too many characters to comment on, so I’m just going to talk about the memorable ones.
Kazuto Kirigaya (“Kirito”)
I’m going to be rather generous with the character of Kirito (real name is Kazuto Kirigaya). While I don’t know the author’s true intentions for his main hero’s character, obvious flaws aside, I will go out on a limb venture to say he is a nice guy. (That being said, you now know about the slant in this character analysis.)
Our (not so) dashing hero is everything the author himself wants to be: a boy but with an unusually mature personality. He’s a hero and a leader and yet a rogue. He’s one of the most skilled characters in a game where life is on the line. He’s a dependable friend, pleasant to be with, and possessing a very gentle demeanor. When he does yell, it’s only in an intense fight. And of course, he gets lots of cool stuff.
The game is like life, and people even make the mistake of thinking marriage is possible. Death is as harsh of a reality as it is outside the game. In effect, the author creates his own world that people are locked in because here he can make his otherwise weak character out to be a professional, an expert, a nearly invincible hero.
The maturity of Kirito shows in the way he carries himself. First, he’s no pervert since he possesses a natural sense shame that deters him from looking at inappropriate times at girls or at least feeling embarrassed for doing so (but I’m sure you’ve seen the meme [link?]). Nevertheless, he’s a boy all the way. The second point of maturity is how Kirito handles confrontation. He is almost never the aggressor, but at the same time, he doesn’t turn down a fight. His reaction to confrontation is always a calm, stern look with a frown. I have yet to notice him calling anyone a name or cussing.
A refreshing aspect of the story is that Kirito and Asuna are respected as equals. Both of them are highly-skilled, courageous, and neither has a speech impediment. Kirito isn’t made out to be a domineering male or the sole defender – Asuna can take of herself just fine without him, and he thus respects her.
We’re coming up the girl’s section. Mostly, if you just skip the pictures, you’ll get a good idea of what each of these characters is like without having to read so much as a word of what I’ve said about them.
Asuna Yuuki (“Asuna”)
The heroine. She isn’t weak… or too naive… but she’s nothing unique to the anime world. Mature? Meh. Teenager – definitely, but not annoying. In the end, she’s the appropriate match for the main character.
Keiko Ayano (“Silica”)
For a Japanese person, she definitely sounds older than she looks (and that’s probably a surprise to those of you who are new to anime). Her character is simple: she’s a child, probably about 13. I need say no more. The usage of her in the story is… What was the point? Nothing overall – just a side arc (i.e. story filler) and about thirty seconds of fanservice. I’ll admit she’s cute – nothing to drool over – but a relatively unimportant side character.
A mature, genius child AI character, instilled with realistic emotion and the ability to generate fluidic sentences because somehow people still think all this is possible in real-time (Not on modern servers, I can tell you that).
You’re going to hear all over the internet that Yui is a copy of Aura from .hack except here. No, she is not a copy. Yes, there are similarities between .hack’s Aura and SAO’s Yui (MMO world artificial intelligence characters that just so happen to interact with the main characters), and while it’s not necessarily coincidental, I would vouch for SAO’s author by stating that having an awesome AI is cool and I wish there were more of them in stories. Oh, by the way, she’s coming back – educated guess. Remember, the story is written as a guy’s dream pretty much. Furthermore, allow me to point out some differences between Aura and Yui.
• Aura was almost like a goddess over the .hack world (some would say she is because of the legends associated with the game, although Aura herself even rejected that title). Yui is just some human-emotion-observer AI who can be deleted. Aura cannot be deleted (or at least not so easily, so far as I know). Furthermore, Aura’s purpose in the world was different – it was a matter of security from bugs. Yui’s purpose was an arc in the story and to give Kirito and Asuna a child without them needed to get to know each other “in the Biblical sense” or having the hassle of raising a child in such a hellish world.
• Yui is humanistic. Aura never cried (or not that I know of) and showed very little sign of emotion except in a few random instances, whereas Yui had the main characters convinced she was originally human.
• Yui wants to step in when people need her. Aura on the other hand seems to disappear (for whatever reason) when she’s needed most.
There definitely are some similarities between Yui and Aura, and for the sake of fairness, I present them here.
• First, Yui and Aura are both artificial intelligence beings and both are young girls dressed in white (although Aura actually ages). Despite this being a very probable future implementation of legitimate game AIs and despite this being fairly weak evidence for equating Yui with Aura, I imagine this is where most .hack fans are seeing the connection.
• Second, Yui and Aura are, at times, prisoners of the worlds in which they live. They are prisoners in different ways. While SAO allows Yui to act as an immortal object and be resurrected as it were, Aura needs a backup copy to be re-installed by CCCorp. if she gets removed from the game. Game rule differences aside, both AIs lack the power necessary for saving their world, the people in it, and themselves. Hence, they become prisoners.
Ryotaro Tsuboi (“Klein”)
Now that the girls are out of the way (sorry Kirito, but you’re girly enough for the GGO!!!), we get to the real guys.
Klein is Kirito’s first legitimate friend. It’s nice that he isn’t an instant party member for the rest of the story – he has his own life. And yet, halfway through the show, he’s the only other male in the story with decent character development. He turned out to be a fairly likeable guy (though a typical male) – friendly, reliable, backing up his friends in a fight.
Andrew Gilbert Mills (“Agil”)
Two things: 1) How did he become a blacksmith in the game? and 2) That’s a nice goatee for his face. He wasn’t in the show often enough to get a clear cut idea of his character, but he seems like a tough yet likeable guy. You’ll have to read the light novel to know more about him.
Akihiko Kayaba (“Heathcliff”)
The not-so-beloved creator of the world. To say any more about him would be spoilers, particularly since he’s not seen very often. The only serious encounter had with him reveals him to be a delusional inventor. I guess all those years in a cubicle programming might get to your head? *rolling eyes here*
Most people might ask “Why’d you do it?” I might ask… well okay, I’d ask that too, but I’d also ask how he got away with it.
This is why I watch. First, anime takes alot of work to make, and I think people would appreciate the work more if they knew what it was like trying to do it themselves. SAO is a professionally-made anime, so this was no walk in the park.
In short, it was beautiful. The scenery was excellent. I noticed some usage of 3D, but the animators did a nice job of maintaining the 2D, cartoon/animation feel that Japanese people watch this kind of stuff for. As I heard from a Kyoto director via Youtube video, 3D doesn’t sell well in Japan – people just aren’t interested in that look, and I can understand why – it’s annoying and tends to make you aware that you are watching a film rather than allowing you to be enveloped by the world as though you were looking through a window into another universe. The 3D animation in SAO, though well done, was definitely noticeable, and that’s something animators are constantly trying to improve (they are getting better, let me tell you that), but until then, we have the awkward appearance of paper models standing in front of pop-out backgrounds. Sounds like a birthday card from Wal-Mart instead of Hallmark.
The animation had, in the taken-out-of-context words of Steve Irwin, “Beauuuutiful calarashun” (beautiful coloration). Some anime utilize dull, soft tones for colors, but for the pleasant stuff like this animators utilize a vivid, brilliant palette for painting both the characters and the world. Of course, I can say this about dozens of anime, including the stuff for .hack.
It’s half-decent, but for action scenes, they oversimplified things way too much. Sure, it made things easier to draw, but it’s harder to enjoy and appreciate the action scenes when everything is a close up or black and white.
In short – it was average.
As is common, the opening and ending songs were pop music. The opening to the first half of the season is “Crossing Field” by LiSA, and the ending to the first half is “Yume Sekai” (夢世界 = ゆめ せかい = “Dream World”) by the same artist. These songs didn’t really enhance the story or establish an interesting atmosphere, although they are great songs on their own.
Music within the film was nothing distracting, nothing scary, and did its part in enhancing the film. There is some soft, easy-going music during times of leisure, but other than that, the rest of the musical selection isn’t really memorable (with the exception of one background song that sounds like it’s celebrating a valiant or triumphant moment). I can’t decide if that last bit is primarily because either the volume of the music is so low or if none of the melodies are striking or unusually chipper.
Themes: 5/10 – Didn’t really enhance the show, but they are great songs.
Background: 4/10 – Nothing special.
Edit: Apologies for the broken links. Imageshack costs money now, so images will be down until relocated.
The characters in the above image are Jude Mathis and Milla Maxwell from the video game Tales of Xillia. It appears the creators of Sword Art Online could have easily ripped the design of Kirito from Jude (apart from clothing and a minor chain in chin bone structure), and, though that’s obviously not the case for Asuna and Milla, it’s ironic to see another orange-blond haired female co-starring in a video game.
Currently, my collection here consists of DeviantArt drawings and pixiv images. If the images appear, it means I got around to uploading them somewhere and linking to them here.
Mostly, the art is of the main characters. I have yet to find someone who sat down and did a decent job of Aincrad itself. *sigh*
My apologies for broken links. Images will be down until relocated.
^ “rifa” – Suguha Kirigaya – Kirito’s “sister” for awhile. She doesn’t play SAO, but she is mentioned in the story. The image above is her avatar in Alfheim online.
^funny, there’s a pleasant JPop song by ELISA that goes by that title, but it’s for the anime To Aru Kagaku no Railgun.
A good place to start looking for more images is in the pixiv dictionary entry.
I recommend also checking out works by Yuuki Tatsuya (たつや ゆうき) on their blog: http://studiosdt.jp
They have done a few professional SAO works. For example: http://studiosdt.jp/bin/uki116.jpg (which you can find at http://studiosdt.jp/archives/566) and which you will often see gets tossed around the internet and posted by various people.