Sword Art Online – 01
「剣の世界」 (Ken no Sekai)
“The World of Swords”
Before we begin, I’d like to quickly mention that I am a huge fan of the light novels. Despite this, I will try to keep any mention of the novels themselves to a minimum, though it’s inevitable that some comparison will crop up in looking at how well the anime adapts the original material. In addition, I am (and always have been) a huge fan of the MMORPG genre and have played an unworldly number over the years so hopefully my knowledge in that area might help to shed some light on any exposition left out of the anime adaption!
To quickly summarise (for those who may be on the fence about watching the series at all and haven’t seen the episode yet, otherwise skip this paragraph), on the launch day of the eponymous MMORPG Sword Art Online, Kirito (Matsuoka Yoshitsugu) meets and befriends Klein (Hirata Hiroaki, whose slightly comic typecasting is perfect for Klein) to whom he teaches the basics of how to play the game. After a while, it becomes apparent that there’s no way to log out of the game and the entire population is summoned to the town square. There Kayaba Akihiko (Yamadera Kouichi) informs the players that death in the game world is equivalent to death in the real world, they can’t be forcibly extracted from the game via removal of the NerveGear either. With this out of the way, he grants each player a Mirror which replaces their in-game character with their true appearance before leaving to allow the panic to settle in. In order to avoid competing with other players for resources, Kirito elects to move to the next town while Klein decides to remain behind to meet up with friends from a previous game.
Even before the first episode aired, some people had been dismissing SAO as nothing more than an inferior rip-off of .hack//SIGN based on the fact that it’s set within a videogame world in which people are unable to log out. It doesn’t seem to matter that these superficial similarities are pretty much the only similarities between the two. So let me ask you something (disclaimer: the following does not represent my own opinion on the series in question) – does this mean Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is an inferior rip-off of Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha because both feature Magical Girls and some measure of suffering? Just because SAO is the first noteworthy anime to use the MMORPG setting since does not mean that the setting is the exclusive province of the .hack franchise. It’s also worth noting that both series were originally written in the same year. I suppose to some this may be even more of a reason to cry ‘inferior knockoff!’ along with the inclusion of Kajiura Yuki as the composer (a little more on her in a bit), but regardless of what may be apparent on the surface, both are very different underneath.
The explanations of game mechanics, in addition to the workings of the NerveGear, were handled pretty well in my view. There are many ways they could’ve gone about it including the dreaded ‘tell don’t show,’ yet in this instance far more time was spent showing us how things work. Though much of Kirito’s explanations on Sword Arts themselves were done through words, we had the added benefit of actually watching how they were executed (it also helps that the explanations were relatively succinct). Not only did this prove an entertaining way to be introduced to the workings of the world, but also one that managed to convey all the essential knowledge without needing to break context.
When a story is set entirely within a game world, it can be hard to give things a sense of urgency and danger. Why should I care if a protagonist is about to die and respawn? Lose precious items/experience he worked hard to earn? Sure, these things might seem disastrous to the player at the time, but they have far less (read: no) impact on us, the viewers. This is actually one of the things that bothers me about Accel World (both series having been written by Kawahara Reki) – at the end of the day, the only thing at risk should Haru lose is the ability to play the game. For that reason I can never fully empathise when people act like losing will bring about the end of the world. There are actually very few ways to create a serious sense of danger within a game world. .hack took the coma route – a legitimate risk if you think about neural interfacing. SAO, on the other hand, goes further down the dark path and picks death. ‘People die if they are killed…’ (Okay I admit I just wanted to quote that and it has no real bearing on anything.) To die in the game world means to lose your life in the real world. Now that is something to despair over! Especially when you take into consideration how frequently people die in MMORPGs – it’s just another part of the game that everyone faces at some point.
Leading up to the first episode’s premiere, I heard a lot of muttering about how bright and colourful so many of the shots appeared given the dark threat looming over the world. I personally felt that the art style worked well for the episode. It is, after all, a video game world – why should the atmosphere change to reflect the darker side rather than remain as bright and vibrant as it was originally designed to be? That’s not to say that the art is all that way either – during the discovery of the users’ inability to log out, the world darkened due to overcast clouds, and the global warning messages completely changed the atmosphere during Kayaba’s speech. So far (though one episode is not much to go on), the anime has been grim when it needed to be grim and bright otherwise. Along with the smooth combat animation (and the blessed absence of voiced attacks), I can only commend the artwork!
Every time Kajiura is mentioned, the similarity of her music as a whole is brought up. It was mentioned in both our retrospective podcasts and I even brought it up for my first Madoka Magica OST post. It’s not something that can be denied, but neither is it something unique to Kajiura. Sakimoto Hitoshi, Sakuraba Motoi and Hamauzu Masashi (most notably in Binbougami ga!) are all composers who have had this criticism levelled at them at some point in time. I have to admit that while the music has been good so far, it hasn’t broken her usual mould. There’s still plenty of time though, and given how music is something that’s directly referenced in the novels (it is a game world after all) it would be nice to see her crank out some RPG tracks similar to those she wrote for .hack//SIGN.
tl;dr: @MoombaDS – Living in an RPG world… how bad could it be? Well… maybe if you disregard the ‘death’ part…. #SAO
- I spy a BBC News article there! I wonder how many others are familiar?
- ‘You’re a guy?!‘ I was slightly concerned about how they’d handle the switch to true appearances – if everyone in anime is a bishie anyway, how bad could it be? Fortunately A-1 exceeded my expectations brilliantly!
- I understand that Kirito’s bleeding finger is to emphasise the fact that these are now their real bodies… but if everything beyond their face was generated from measurements taken during calibration, why would he retain the cut on his finger?
- Kirito mentioned that resources are limited – I can’t remember if this was exactly what was said in the original, but given the evidence that monsters respawn, this isn’t entirely true. Rather it would be better to say that the rate at which you earn these resources is limited by how fast monsters respawn and how many people are competing over them.
- This week, the OP was used as the ED!
OP: 「crossing field」 by LiSA
Watch the OP!: Streaming ▼
Note: Since this is an adaption, I’d like to ask people who are already familiar with the material (myself included) to refrain from posting spoilers in the comments as much as possible. If you absolutely must, the spoiler tags are your friends!