Sword Art Online is an anime about the world of virtual gaming in the year 2022. Akihiko Kayaba, the developer of the Nerve Gear (the equipment used by the player to enter the virtual world), has released a highly anticipated game, "Sword Art Online". The show is told from the point of view of "Kirito" (his chosen in-game name). Kirito was one of the lucky 1000 players to be chosen for the beta testing for Sword Art Online, so he already knows his way around. What he wasn't expecting, however, was for Kayaba to appear and announce to all the players that they cannot log out. Instead, they are stuck in the game until all 100 bosses are defeated. Until then, the Nerve Gear will fry each person's brain if the equipment is removed. Also, die in the game, die in real life. Although Kirito is a "solo" player, he does team up with Asuna, another strong player (and of course, his love interest), quite a lot. Together, they make an unstoppable duo.
So if that description wasn't enough to convince you, here are ten reasons why you should watch it!
1. Virtual Reality
The portrayal of virtual reality in this show is honestly beautiful. The Nerve Gear (a helmet), which basically serves as the console, uses microwaves to connect to the player's brain, thus giving the player the ability to move their in-game body. So, pop the Nerve Gear on, start the game, and you're in a whole new body. Now, normally, if you died in-game, your character would just regenerate in a new spot. No pain felt, no harm done. Of course, this isn't the case in SAO (Sword Art Online).
Consider the possibilities! Actually running around, exploring a whole new world, fighting bosses, treasure hunting, using spells and magic...the list goes on.
2. The (eerily) Realistic Portrayal of Human Nature
Because this game is literally a fight to the death, most people trapped in Sword Art tend to shy away from any type of violence. The dynamics of society begin to lean towards survival the way we know it; some people join the military and fight on the front lines, and the rest of the population stands back and builds a life for themselves while they can. Oftentimes, the only thing that keeps Kirito and Asuna motivated to continue fighting is the thought that they are fighting for all of those in the game that cannot fight for themselves. After all, consider the facts: there are many people playing this game who do not have the strength to fight. Their only intention upon logging in to SAO was to play a game...you know, for fun. Imagine attending a paintball fight only to find out the guns are filled with bullets and not paintballs. Kind of takes the fun out of it.
And on the subject of death, let's talk about the mentally unstable. There are those in SAO who kill people. There are also murdering guilds, like the Laughing Coffin. If it were any other game, this wouldn't be such a big deal. People wouldn't actually be getting killed. But in SAO, you die in the game, you die in real life. And because it's easy to kill someone (there's no mess, no body to deal with) there is usually zero remorse. It's like that movie The Purge; given the opportunity and with zero consequences, humans may or may not begin to kill each other. It's truly terrifying to consider. But it's damn good TV.
3. The Sappy Love Story
I know, I know, why does every anime have to have some kind of cheesy romance plot? Because it's realistic, you jerks. Seriously. If you were trapped for two years fighting for your survival, side by side with a strong, attractive man or woman, wouldn't you start to fall in love? It goes right back to human nature. It would begin as companionate love; two people experiencing the same life-changing events, synchronizing combat techniques, having only each other to entertain and take care of. Then it would blossom into something much more than that. How can you go back from something so disturbing, so frightening, without maintaining the relationships you built while you were there? It's only human to fall in love with someone who has seen you at your worst and still chooses to stick around.
4. The Avatar
Akihiko Kayaba is a sick man. But he's also brilliant. Hear me out! I'm not condoning what he did. I'm just saying the man is a genius. Not only did he develop the Nerve Gear and the program that controls whether the players live or die, but he really got in to the mental aspect of it. When Kayaba makes his announcement to the players of SAO, one of the first things to happen is the stripping of their customized avatars. Suddenly, everyone looks exactly like they do in the real world. With some players, like Kirito, this doesn't make a huge difference--he only made himself look slightly older. But with others, it made all the difference in the world. You can choose your gender, age, body type; whatever you want. So having that taken away and revealing your true self has a major impact on your confidence. Imagine playing the game with an avatar that was seven feet tall and three hundred pounds; then you are forced to play out the game as your own five-foot-five one-hundred-twenty pound self. Not the most intimidating. Plus, you lose all that potential strength. Kayaba truly wanted the players of SAO to battle for their survival. He couldn't create that in real life, so he forced it on the people in the virtual world.
5. The Boss Fights
Of course, another genius creation of Kayaba would be the multiple bosses that need to be defeated in order for the players to escape SAO. He announces there are one hundred bosses to be defeated, one per floor in his creation, the Aincrad Arc. The players must first find the lair of the boss, and then team up to beat it. A lot of these monsters have surprises in store, however, and occasionally it's too late by the time they're realized. Kirito and Asuna must learn what they can about these boss fights to improve their skills for the next boss, to defeat the game and survive.
6. Making Friends
Kirito and Asuna could not fight this fight on their own. They need friends. Luckily, they have plenty of wonderful people by their side, willing to do whatever they can, even die, just to make sure they survive. Kirito meets Klein right at the beginning, before they even realize that they cannot log out of SAO. Klein is a strong, yet lighthearted, guy who always has so much confidence in Kirito. Agil is another friend of Kirito's. He runs a shop in Aincrad, but also fights on the front lines when he's needed. Lisbeth is a friend of Asuna's, a blacksmith. She soon becomes Kirito's exclusive blacksmith. Silica is a spunky "beast-tamer" with a small dragon named Pina whom Kirito helps her save. Kirito's love for Silica stems from her similarity to his little sister in the real world. Without these wonderful friends they've gained, they could not have made it through many battles. It's important in a good story line to have friends in multiple places; otherwise, you probably wouldn't get very far at all. These characters also provide good comic relief, which is always necessary in a dark plot. Not only that, but these are real people too, just like Asuna and Kirito. We see their struggles and pain, and we root for them as well. Personally, Klein is one of my favorite characters. He has a very legitimate personality as a geeky gamer in his twenties, but still has a head on his shoulder and wants to kick ass and log out.
7. The Black Swordsman and The Flash
Who are the Black Swordsman and the Flash? Why, Kirito and Asuna, of course! These are badass nicknames they've earned in-game for their incomparable skills and power-leveling. Kirito is a dual-wielder (sorry, bit of a spoiler, but also sort of not), a skill unique to him. Mostly he doesn't use this skill, because other players will see it and get angry that they can't have that skill as well. In a fight to the death, being unable to attain a certain skill becomes more than just a petty annoyance. Kirito fights with heavy, durable weapons, and perfects his techniques by training tirelessly. He's extremely fast, but not as fast as Asuna (aka The Flash, or "Lightning Flash" in the English dub). Her speed is unlike any other player's. Her small size and strong sword-fighting skills make her the perfect companion to Kirito's surprise attacks. These two are legend within SAO, and for good reason. Watching them fight is beautiful and incredible. They are truly the perfect match.
8. Plot Holes? What Plot Holes?
So what are those bodies in the real world up to? Akihiko Kayaba doesn't want everyone dying of thirst within the week, so he made sure to make his plans public in the real world as well. He even instructed people not to remove the Nerve Gear from their loved ones. Asuna mentions at one point how a lot of players went offline, sort of into a coma, for a bit while their bodies were being moved to the hospital. Kirito mentions how the Nerve Gear has an internal battery, so even if the device was unplugged, it would remain logged in. And so all the people in SAO are being kept alive in hospitals in the real world. In one particularly emotional scene, Asuna and Kirito discuss how they wish they could just stay in SAO together; but then Asuna reminds Kirito that their real bodies will not survive very long on life support in the real world, and they need to continue fighting if they want to live.
9. Always a Cliffhanger
Warning: this series is highly addictive. Every episode leaves you wanting more. I'm finished with season one and I'm frothing at the mouth waiting for season two! I am currently re-watching it with Zach, since he's never seen it before, and we can't ever just watch one episode at a time. He always wants to watch more. When we're not watching it, we'll start to discuss it. Zach will tell me what he thinks will happen next, or he will ask me a question to help him fill in the blanks. It's a really good show, and watching it with a friend or significant other makes it even better!
10. Life After Sword Art Online
I won't go into much detail here, other than to tell you that yes, there is life after SAO. And no, virtual reality is not banned. It still exists. More and more games will be released for virtual reality consoles. That's all I'm going to say. You'll have to watch to find out more!
Season one of Sword Art Online is available on Netflix right now! If you haven't already watched it, please start now!
Have you already watched it (or read the manga)? Tell us what you think!
*Teaser image source