Call me an anime hater, a emo gothic… darkness lover or whatever, but I was really fricking disappointed to see that SAO isn’t even close to handling its concept to full potential. Yes, it is because there weren’t enough dark aspects shown, which there should have been more of. Hear me out.
In other action animes, we usually assume the characters would manage through their huge fights one way or another, and we’re usually not worried that the characters would die. Heck, the characters aren’t even worried they’ll die most of the time, because they’re trained and they trust in their abilities. No one panics before a fight, nobody ditches the team in a moment of selfishness, no one backs down from a risky battle… no one does anything other than charge on with their swords high with perfect morals and no worry about death.
Sword Art Online took that path right down to heroic, inspirational final words. Is that necessarily wrong? No, but there is one big difference that sets SAO apart that I almost forgot about in this episode. The characters in SAO are not slaying monsters out of justice or some other idea bigger than themselves; they are fighting for survival, and for SAO to be handled like a typical heroic anime despite that makes me pissed.
Two thousand players have already died. Sure, people screamed when they were told dying in the game means real death, but now when they’re going up against a boss, nobody gets scared? Nobody considers the idea that hey, maybe it’s better to just live in the game and give up trying to beat it since that seems beyond impossible? Why is every single person here a perfect hero?
There is a character that died trying to get some bonus item, and he died with encouraging words and a smile on his face. Are you kidding me? If I were that character, my final words would be “I shouldn’t have tried to take the bonus!” followed by every single cuss word I know. That guy was as average as you and me. Every single character is as average as you and me (unless you’re not actually as average as I assume, in which case it’d just be me). They were normal people trying out a new game, then suddenly BOOM, they’re fighting for their lives, and nobody was equipped with the mental fortitude that it takes to do that. However, when you watch this episode, you really don’t feel any of that, which is my issue with SAO.
Now I feel like I need to take a step back. This is not a bad anime; I was just extremely disappointed that it has neglected a large part of what made its concept so interesting: the threat of death. Regardless, I am still curious to find out how they beat this nearly impossible game, but my hype has lowered considerably.
To finish off the review on a better note, here’s something that I did like about the episode: the rift between the new players and the beta testers, which was realistic and very well carried out. Know what, if SAO can address at least one serious issue each episode, then I can bear through its overly-optimistic mood.
Episode rating: 5 / 10 (Average)