Welcome vicers. I have finished the first half of Sword Art Online and want to take a moment to reflect on the series, the highs, the lows, and my hopes going into the second half of the season. Before I begin I just want to remind those reading that there will be spoilers ahead though I will try and minimize those.
Despite playing video games since I was 5 years old there have been several genres that do not fall within my wheelhouse. One of them is the MMORPG. Time commitments and financial constraits have prevented me from enjoying them in the past. However, even though I haven't played them I do enjoy the appeal of playing in a massive world with thousands of other players. Also the idea of not just playing a game but being part of one where all of your senses are completely immersed in the game is a great idea. I also have not watched the .hack series. So I went into this show with a curious sense of optimism. SAO is a show in which a new MMORPG has emerged and through the use of a new device called the NerveGear players are able to be completely immersed within the game. All goes well until the players realize that they cannot log out of the game. The game creator then notifies them that they are trapped in the game and the only way to escape is to beat the final boss. The protagonist is Kirito a solo player. He meets many people along the way including a girl named Asuna. Initially they are at odds with one another but slowly develop a close friendship eventually falling in love with each other. By the end of the first half of the show they manage to discover the secrets of the game including the final boss, and the motivations of the creator to do what he did and in the end they beat the game and escape.
As always I want to talk about the things I like before I lay my criticisms. My biggest compliment to the show is the animation and art style. This world is very well realized and is an absolute joy to look at. The simple idea that people can be transported to a world like that is very exciting. Even if the monster or boss design is not as unique as it could have been they are animated so well it more than makes up for it. The fight with the chimera in particular was really fun to watch. There are also some concepts that are interesting and I wish could have been expanded on further. Games like EVE Online have shown that virtual worlds can be intricate and that game contains entire corporations built by players and a very advanced economy system. In SAO the intricacies of guilds and their political and social complexities are teased but never really expanded upon which I found both interesting and disappointing.
Unfortunately I also had a lot of issues with the show. While it was fun to look at the story did not hold up. The first few episodes feel very chaotic with no through line other than the main character. Characters such as Sachi, Yui, and Liz are introduced and immediately removed or thrown to the side within one episode. I guess they exist to evolve Kirito and explain some of his reasons for being a solo character but despite this I still found him a rather simplistic character lacking any great deal of depth. It was fairly refreshing to see Asuna in a more empowered role rather than being a damsel in distress she is a very capable and confident woman which is refreshing. However, the chemistry and romance between the two was simple and predictable. This was disappointing given how much time the show devoted to their romance.
One great thing about games is that they offer escapism and allow us to become empowered characters in a fantastical world. If you could truly envelop your senses in that world would you return to reality? What if you were a high lord with a vast kingdom under your rule in a virtual world but a lowly employee at a company in the real world? Which life would you chose? As I grow older my expectations in the media I consume grows. While I still enjoy simple mindless entertainment I appreciate art that challenges my views and helps me to see the world in a deeper and better way. Maybe its not fair to level my own expectations as complaints against SAO. The show still has potential to grow and offer more than what it has showed me. Here's hoping it does.