Released in the summer of 2012, Sword Art Online was an anime based off a light novel series that received critcal acclaim for it’s portrayal of it’s chosen subject matter. Taking familiar elements from series like .hack, SAO gained a pretty big following in the states and in Japan.
It is November 6th, 2022; the VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality MMORPG) known as “Sword Art Online” has been released around the world, with only 10,000 copies being released, with each one selling out. A young boy named Kazuto Kirigaya, who beta tested the game, puts on a “NerveGear” (the helmet used to log in to the game), and enters the virtual land of Aincrad, under the alias Kirito. While in the “Town of Beginning”, he meets another player named Klein, a novice, who asks him to teach him the basics of the gameplay system. Kirito accepts and teaches him the basics of combat in a field outside of town and helps Klein kill a wild boar; he later decides to go home for a bit to eat a pizza, but he and Kirito both realize…they can’t log out.
They return to the center of town, where they and all of the other players have gathered under mysterious circumstances. They all begin to wonder and speculate why they can’t log out, most chalking it up to a bug in the programming. Soon after, the sky above them turns red and what looks like blood begins to seep from the sky, forming into a mysterious hooded figure hovering above the town.
The figure states that it is Akihiko Kayaba, creator of SAO, and tells the players that the reason that they can’t log out is not a bug, but because he intentionally removed the Log Out option, trapping them inside the game. He then goes on to explain that removing the
NerveGear will result in the person dying instantly, and that the only way they can escape the game is to clear all 100 floors of Aincrad. But, as always, there is a catch; if they die in the game, they die in real life. He proves this fact by telling everyone that 213 people have already died; and that the media has already gotten wind of the situation and has released names of the deceased.
This comes to the shock of well, EVERYONE, and as parting gift, Kayaba gives everyone a mirror that destroys their avatars and reveals their real life appearance (this does lead to a humorous scene where a girl and guy who were coupled together in the game are revealed to both be men). He disappears, and everyone starts to panic as Kirito takes Klein and runs to an alleyway. He tells him that he is heading to the next village and asks Klein to come with him. However, Klien declines, as he is looking for the friends he came into the game with and tells Kirito to go on without him; Kirito reluctantly agrees and tells his new friend to message him if he needs anymore help. Kirito then begins running toward the next town, and defeats a wolf as he resolves to survive and win the game.
After the intro/ending (for some reason in the 1st episode they put the opening as the ending), a board is shown with all of the trapped players names as a voice narrates that within the 1st month, 2000 people have died; and the 1st floor has yet to be cleared.
SAO hits you in the face from the get go. The stakes are set up early, and it becomes all the more real as more and more people drop each day.
The animation is well done, and while the characters are nice and varied; the environments will take your breath away with how well and how beautifully they are detailed.While this series doesn’t have an english dub as of yet (fingers crossed), it doesn’t hurt to watch it with subs as this is still quite an enjoyable opening episode.