What I expected: Pretty much what I got.
What I got: An introductory episode explaining the interesting concept of SAO.
In the future, an mmo called Sword Art Online comes out where players can control their avatars using their minds in a feel-real virtual world, though the players can’t move their physical bodies while playing. Our main character Kirito was one of the 1000 beta testers for SAO, but on the first day of SAO’s official release, Kirito re-enters SAO to discover that the logout option has been eliminated, trapping all the players inside SAO with no way of contacting the physical world. The only way to escape is to clear the game, 100 levels of a castle filled with monsters with a mini boss at the end of each level. Kill the final boss at the 100th floor, and you can leave. P.S. Die in the game, and you die in real life.
There’s no doubt that this is an interesting concept, but I have to say that it feels a little… prompty, and that could be because everything in the synopsis is literally told to us in this first episode. I already knew the synopsis going in, so it was kind of boring to bear through the creator explaining everything to the players, but I understand it needs to be done. The only thing I didn’t know was that the creator would make everyone’s avatars look like their real life selves, which I think is really creative, and hopefully we’ll get to see some more effects of that. Will the less-attractive players find it harder to be accepted into a party? Will the cute girls be adored even more now that players know that really is how cute they look?
The background art was all great, though I wish the style of the mmo was a bit better. Neither the design of the smaller buildings in the Town of Beginnings nor the players’ outfits were very interesting, which makes the mmo seem kind of lame when we’re so used to (real life) video games with fantastic graphics. Still, I can overlook it. I just hope we’ll see some really cool monster (and mini boss~) designs later on.
I’m genuinely very skeptical about how SAO is handling its concept. I know that SAO and Accel World have the same writer, and though I haven’t watched Accel World (I know, it’s a sin), I know that losing in the game in Accel World just means you can never play the game again or something, which is far less serious than the threat of death looming in SAO’s background. Sure, the players freaked out when the creator explained that they’re fighting for their lives, but in general, SAO’s art style doesn’t fit the darker side of it at all. They also clearly chose not to take a dark turn with the directing. Imagine how much darker it would have been if, as the creator talks about the 200 deaths, we see the dark figure of the creator as he speaks to the players in SAO in his shadowed room (like L from Death Note), and then we get shown a montage of the actual victims and their family members crying by their bedsides… Instead, the most we get to see of the real world is a mother and a daughter crying. This, plus what I’ve seen from the pvs, make me feel like SAO isn’t facing the darker part of its story, so I don’t expect the anime to ever go very far in that direction. It’s a real shame.
I also had a lot of questions, which isn’t a bad thing unless the anime never addresses them. First of all, what everyone’s been wondering: How are the players supposed to eat or use the bathroom if they can’t move their real bodies? Kirito said it took him months to reach just Level 8, so all the players will need life support for a long time. What will the government do about this? Will hackers be hired to code a logout option into the system? Before I watched this episode, the only question I had was, “Why would the creator trap all those people like that?” and that got explained away with “Because I can and I wanted to.” (not in those exact words) That was lame. Hopefully my new questions will get better explanations.
Episode rating: 6.5 / 10 (fine – good)
Review status: Episodic