World of Swords
Sword Art Online was the most anticipated title of Spring 2012 to me, for I love the light novels to bits. However, I was careful to set my expectations adequately low since I first put my eyes on the character designs, which look really awful compared to the novels. And while I remain true to that claim (Seriously, couldn’t they have hired a better character designer? Someone who knew how to copy would have sufficed.), this first episode didn’t disappoint me in any way, as it was completely faithful to the original work.
Novel comparisons aside, the episode did its job as an introduction to the SAO world, the first complete virtual reality environment ever created, and a much awaited release among MMORPG lovers. The protagonist, Kirigaya Kazuto (Kirito), who had been one of the 1000 people selected for beta testing, enters the Sword Art Online as soon as the server is first put online, as do most of the other players who stood in line for long hours (or even days) to get their copy of the game. There, he is called over by Klein, a player who noticed Kirito’s fluid and experienced movements within the game and asks him to teach him about the game mechanics. They have their share of fun fighting a boar and it ends with a nice conversation at sunset, in which Kirito says something I’ve thought of countless times: “This may be a virtual world, but I feel more alive here than I do in the real world.”
Soon after, Klein gets tries to logout to pick up the pizza he had ordered in the real world, and that’s when they discover the lack of a logout button. As it would be the obvious reaction, they think it must be a bug. Kirito is still uneasy about it, though, since not only does the game master not answer, delaying the issue or attending simply to the players who seeked help with the issue would badly damage the games reputation. Especially since it’s both the first day SAO is online and the first experiment with a MMORPG using the Nerve Gear technology.
Their doubt grows, but it isn’t long until it is clarified by Kayaba Akihiko, the game creator himself, who teleports everyone to the big plaza in Starting City, to announce that the lack of a logout button was an intended feature, he has total control over the game sever and, as the creator of the Nerve Gear, said hardware can be signaled to fry the users brains, which will happen if one of the following conditions is met: someone from the real world tries to remove the Nerve Gear; the Nerve Gear’s power is cut; they die in the game. On top of that, the only way to log out safely and survive is to clear the game. If at least one person climbs to the 100th floor and defeats the final boos, everyone who’s still alive will be safely logged out. The thing is, from Kirito’s previous scene with Klein and the boar, we can conclude SAO is harder than most online RPGs, and let’s be honest, dying is part of the gaming experience, it’ll always eventually happen and all gamers know that. That’s why it is so scary for everyone. Those who believed it at first, that is. Not that Kayaba left much room for doubt, showing all those news from the real world to prove the truth of his words.
The change to real-life appearance that followed the shocking revelation was actually really amusing. I thought it wouldn’t be too easy to pull off, but it was truly great, specially with how they showed that couple from the very beginning. Because of that, the scene that featured them was even more hilarious.
I believe such change was intended to make the players more conscious that their own life is at stake, as it is harder to believe you’ll be killed when you see yourself in a body that is not yours.
Kirito is one of the first to accept the truth, and leaves the plaza as soon as possible, understanding that to survive in SAO, one will have to raise their level as quick as they can and that as other players come to realize that, the monsters in the area will respawn slower than they’re killed, making it a rather disadvantageous option to stay in Starting City. He offers his help to Klein, who he’d just befriended, but the later considers important to help his more inexperienced friends out of that dim situation. Kirito know he can’t protect them on the way to the next village, so he ends up going alone. I have to give props to A1 Pictures for portraying character emotions quite well here.
Another noteworthy thing in SAO is Kirito himself. Sometimes it just feels good to have a main character who isn’t a left-loathing wimp nor a stuck-up arrogant guy, nor a hot-headed brat. He’s just a guy. A smart individual who’s calm, socially awkward and loves games. He also happens to be very good at them, by the way, as we’ll certainly come to see.
As for the visual departments, SAO isn’t lacking in them either. The portrayed scenario is just as I imagined Aincrad. A beautiful and colorful fantasy world. The contrast between the bright setting and the dark premise is something that really works when played well, and I hope this ends up being the case. The background music is also quite good, as Kajiura discarded the more passive style she used for Fate/Zero (which still had a great OST, imo) and went for the world-building tracks she excels so much at. The OP (used as ending) was also pretty good, not only the song itself, but the visuals, which made me hope for good battle animation in a time to come.
Overall, I really loved the first episode of this adaptation, right from the scene where they used the news rather than an awkward internal monologue to explain the history of SAO until the very end when they make the time skip. I loved how they did that after the OP and with the memorial as background. I hope they keep up this level of quality to the adaptation, as if they do, I’ll probably be able to overlook the awful character designs and enjoy seeing the story I love animated.