Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sword Art Online

I’m going to start the new year talking about Sword Art Online.  I picked this series up late last summer while surfing for something to watch.  I didn’t have high expectations for it, and was delighted to discover that I pretty quickly got hooked and thoroughly enjoyed the series, despite the abrupt change in the middle – or maybe because of it.

The premise of Sword Art Online isn’t new.  It’s about people trapped in a total immersion (“full dive”) online game with an awesome virtual reality (VR) setting.   The story begins with the new online game starting and after 10,000 people log on, they discover themselves unable to log off.  The kick is, the insane creator of the game has rigged it so that if you die in the game, you die for real since your headgear fries your brain in the real world.  The only way out of the game is to win it, and the game itself contains 100 levels, each with a boss monster that must be defeated.  And of course, the bosses get tougher the higher up you go.  The game relies on sword skills and involves no magic.

In that setting are the main characters, a boy with the online name of Kirito and a girl named Asuna.   Kirito was one of the 1000 beta-testers of Sword Art Online (SAO), so he has a bit of an edge, but he is also shunned by other players because of it.  He tends to be a loner, tackling bosses and demons by himself.  He and Asuna meet early on and then part, with Asuna becoming high up in one of the bigger guilds that work the game and clear levels as teams.   Along the way, Kirito and Asuna fall in love and marry each other in the game, living happily together.  They gain friends and helpers, including a small AI named Yui who they consider their child.

In the middle of the series, Kirito wins the game.   He and the remaining survivors have been trapped in the game for more than 2 years, and over 4000 of the original 10,000 have died during that time.  When Kirito wins the game, he and the other survivors are released from the game, except for 300 people who still appear to be in a coma, including Asuna.  Kirito visits her in the hospital daily while trying to recover his life, until friends he made in SAO send him a picture of Asuna taken inside a new game called Alfheim Online.  Kirito once again goes into a full immersion online game, to try to find Asuna and release her.  The new game uses sword skills and magic and the personal avatars of the players are elves.  They have the ability to fly in the game.  Kirito is helped in his quest by an online gamer named Leafa, who happens to be Kirito’s younger step-sister, Suguha, in real life (RL).  Suguha has a huge crush on her brother, but realizes he loves Asuna.   In the online game they are unaware of each other’s real world identities until late in the series.

Alfheim Online is set up in such a way as to be un-winnable, since it’s actually being used by another insane owner to do human experimentation on the 300 remaining SAO players.  The series ends with Kirito once again beating the game, releasing Asuna from being trapped online and being reunited with her in the real world and in the virtual world.  All the gamers live happily ever after, in VR and in RL.

As usual, I’ve left out all the characters but the main ones in discussing the series, so a lot happens that I haven’t mentioned.   Overall I liked this series.   The characters and plot line and setting were good, even though the plot wasn’t all that original.  The music was good, and the idea of being able to fly in the game in the second half of the series would have probably enticed even me into a game like that.  When the series shifted in midstream from one online game to the other I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I did like the happy ever after ending, although the second to the last episode was so dark as to be gruesome.  That could have been toned down a bit.  Even so, I’d say it’s worth watching.

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