Anime Spotlight: Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online is an anime series based on a light novel written by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by abec. The anime is produced by A-1 Pictures and is directed by Tomohiko Ito. The series aired on Japanese television from July 7-December 22, 2012. As of this writing, Aniplex of America holds the North American license for Sword Art Online.

Sword Art Online is set in the year 2022, and Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing has become commonplace. Sword Art Online, a highly anticipated game, is released on November 6, 2022. The game is used with NerveGear, a Virtual Reality helmet that stimulates a user’s five senses through their brain for them to experience and control their in-game characters with their mind.

At the beginning of the series, we meet Kirito. He was one of the 1,000 beta testers for the game, so he’s rather familiar with it.  Kirito meets up with Klein, a friendly newcomer to the game, and teaches Klein the basics of the game. Through this, they form a friendship.

Suddenly, a bell rings, and all the players are forced into a teleportation back to the main login area of the game. The game’s creator suddenly manifests himself, although his face is hidden. He has disabled the game’s logout button and presents a challenge to the players: in order to log out, players must reach the 100th floor and defeat the final boss. If their avatars die in the game, then the players die in real life. Also, if people in the real world try to remove the VR helmet, then the player will die in the real world.

As Kirito works his way through the game, he meets a girl named Asuna. Over time, the two of them fall in love. At one point, when they take a break from trying to clear the game, they meet a mysterious young girl named Yui. The three of them form a kind of family, and it’s discovered that Yui is an AI mental health and counseling program. By the end of the first half of Sword Art Online, Kirito and Asuna work together to defeat the final boss and free the remaining players from the world of the game.

When Kirito returns to the real world, he learns that 300 Sword Art Online players, including Asuna, have not awakened yet. While visiting Asuna in the hospital, he meets Nobuyuki Sugo, a young man who works for Asuna’s father’s company who is obsessed with Asuna. The second half of the series also introduces Suguha Kirigaya, Kirito’s “younger sister” who is his cousin and has feelings for him.

When one of Kirito’s Sword Art Online friends shows him a picture of someone who looks like Asuna in a new game called Alfheim Online, Kirito decides to enter this MMORPG to try to determine if it’s really Asuna and to save her if it is.

I first tried watching Sword Art Online when it was simulcasting on Crunchyroll back in 2012, but I gave up after watching the first episode. At the time, I just couldn’t use my willing suspension of disbelief to accept how these characters were trapped in the virtual game world, and I questioned quite a bit of it. I gave up on it after one episode.

Move ahead almost three years, and my family dumped cable and signed up for Netflix. My two older children had heard of Sword Art Online through their peers and decided they wanted to try it for themselves when they saw it was available on Netflix. My kids really liked the show, and they kept telling me that I needed to watch it and give it a chance. After they finished watching the series, I decided to give it a chance and try going into it using my willing suspension of disbelief when re-watching the first episode. Also, in the intervening years, I had watched both seasons of Log Horizon, so I had more familiarity with this kind of concept than I did when I tried watching Sword Art Online back in 2012.

After I made it past the first episode, I could see that Sword Art Online was a very well-written series. I really came to like both Kirito and Asuna, and I found myself looking forward to each episode to see what would happen to them and how they would grow as characters as the series progressed. Kirito changed the most, and he went from being the cocky kid who wanted to play solo at the beginning to the guy who comes to care about others in the game and does anything he can to protect his friends. By the end of the 25 episodes, Kirito has become rather humbled. Of course, finding love with Asuna really helped him to move in that direction.

In the second half of Sword Art Online, the character of Nobuyuki Sugo was depicted as such a slimeball that it was extremely easy to hate him. I admit that I wasn’t that sure about Suguha for a while, but she turns out to be important for Kirito’s character development.

In the end, I’m very glad that I gave Sword Art Online a second chance. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that I need to not judge anime series simply from one or two episodes. By not giving this series a chance when it first came out, I missed out on a fantastic series.

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