[Review] Sword Art Online episode 3; Oil and Water

This is a new idea to you, isn’t it?

If you read my episode 2 rant about how SAO wasn’t taking the darker side of its concept very seriously, you probably watched Sachi talk to Kirito about how scared she was in this episode and thought something like, “Finally, this’ll get that goth to stfu!” I gotta say, I am pretty happy that after the 20-so minutes of ridiculous last week, SAO has finally taken a step back and went “Hey, maybe people could actually be scared of dying.” But I’m not done ranting yet.

Last week we got an episode partly centered on some very idealistic action, and this week we get an entire episode addressing fears connected with being in a life-or-death situation. While I do approve that SAO addressed that, here’s the thing: SAO’s concept has action involved in it for sure, but also a darker side. I would rather get episodes that have both action and realistic concerns rather than one episode for this, then one episode for the other. You know, sometimes it’s best to find a middle ground rather than have this oil-and-water situation going on. Episode 1, which did have both, was pretty good, and I wish they’d go back to that.

 

I haven’t read the light novel, but I think the adaptation failed again, because Sachi’s potential as a character seemed squashed. Sachi was a sad character with a lot of emotion, yet I wasn’t able to feel very sad in this episode. Everything moved too fast. Seriously, shame on you, animation studio adapting SAO. You cannot, you just cannot, introduce a character to do a near-monologue that’s longer than her prior screentime, kill her before the audience has had enough time to be attached to her, and then expect the big tragic ending scene to be as sad as it was supposed to be. If Sachi’s character had been fleshed out for an episode more, I most likely would have cried during when she sang to Kirito from the grave, but with this rushed episode, I at most felt sympathy. I admire what they were aiming for, but that scene just didn’t quite reach it for me.

Still, I liked this episode a lot more than last week’s. Other thoughts… The video game artwork/monster designs were very cool in this episode – with the exception of Nicholas’s major derp face, which is one of those things that you either love or hate. It was nice to see Klein again, who’s gotten a much cooler outfit since the last time we saw him. He’ll definitely be back.

Episode rating: 6 / 10 ( “fine;” it was actually good overall, but I’m taking off a point for rushing Sachi’s character)

Also, these two look alike.

Left: the information broker from this episode.
Right: Smellerbee from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

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[Review] Sword Art Online episode 2 (hate rant warning)

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)

[First Impressions] Sword Art Online episode 1

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 truth hurts.

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.

See what I mean?

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