Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sword Art Online Review

Overall rating: 6.5 / 10

Sword Art Online anime, based on Reki Kawahara's light novel series of the same name, is one of the most hyped shows of the year 2012. Ranked third in the Blu-Ray sales in Japan (right after Nisemonogatari and the second season of Fate/Zero), and climbing to top50 in the MyAnimeList popularity rating - when SAO anime was airing, it was difficult to read /a/ without accidentally getting spoilers, because the Sword Art Online Threads were everywhere (most of those were full of haters). The main character Kazuto Kirigaya won the ISML 2012 exhibition tournament (I'm glad that at least Japan and Russia voted for Lelouch, lol). My expectations of SAO were particularly high, because of the another anime adaptation of Reki Kawahara's series - Accel World, which aired before SAO. AW anime impressed me very much and most people who read both series were saying that SAO is the better one (as of today, after reading the first four volumes of both series, I partially agree with that statement). Unfortunately, the SAO anime turned out to be much weaker. I surely liked it, but its flaws were obvious even without reading the original and overall impressions were not near as good as those of Accel World. I just didn't know at first who was at fault: Kawahara-san or A-1 Pictures. It turned out to be A-1 Pictures.

The floating castle Aincrad - the stage for the "Sword Art Online" Virtual Reality MMO RPG
Basically, they tried to squeeze too much material into 26 episodes. SAO anime covers the first four volumes of the light novel series, also it includes one side story from the 8th volume and the first chapter from the Sword Art Online Progressive as far as I know. While Accel World anime also covers the first four volumes of the novels and includes two side stories, it should be noted that the first volume of the Sword Art Online series are much longer and contains much more material than the Accel World's first volume. But what's more important, the two series differs entirely in both style and content. The pace which perfectly suits AW is too fast for SAO. Messed up composition aggravated it: the second volume of SAO, which solely consists of non-chronological side stories, was cut and inserted in the story in chronological order. As a result, the mood fluctuates widely and that ruins the impressions of the darker parts of the story. Of course, you can just assume that A-1 Pictures simply lacks the skills and competence being compared to Sunrise, and that SAO could have been much better even with all the content left intact.

The title "Sword Art Online" comes from the name of a virtual reality massive multiplayer online RPG, where the story takes place. The first volume of Sword Art Online ranobe series was written by Reki Kawahara in the year 2002. As far as I know, it was his first major work. To understand the very essence of SAO, let's look at Reki Kawahara's words, taken from the Author's Notes for "Fairy Dance", the 4th volume of the Sword Art Online series (thank Baka-Tsuki for the translation).

When I wrote the first volume of SAO, I found out that a RPG novel can't work without some kind of setting. Because, no matter how much of a life or death pinch the hero has in the game, the hero in the real world is not hurt the least.

An example of YGGR situation: 3 enemies, HP in the red zone, no tp - Hey, you're playing HC, not SC!
And so, Kawahara-san came up with a setting where death in game means death in real life. The author himself thought, that the story wouldn't be interesting and/or touching enough without that kind of plot device. Personally, I totally agree with that. The setting of "Death Game" is what makes SAO good. One hundred percent of story's emotional impact and atmosphere comes from that. To be precise, the way in which those setting was implemented is also important. I'm not sure if even Kawahara-san himself wholly understands all the nuances, that make his setting so strong (I explain why in the second part). But he definitely put the emphases in a right way. And unfortunately, that emphases were completely lost in the anime adaptation. When I was watching SAO for the first time, several ideas crossed my mind about what were left off screen. Some thoughts and scenes, which I imagined myself, impressed me far more than what was happening on the screen. When I started reading the novels, I was astonished, because many of those thoughts of mine had actually been listed by Kawahara Reki in his books. A-1 Pictures cut several meaningful scenes and even more character's unspoken thoughts in their anime adaptation, thus losing focus on what's important for the emotional perception. I would argue that even the original doesn't have enough focus on things and emotions that usually accompany someone's death (while death itself happens in the story pretty often). I suppose that Kawahara-san just didn't want to make his story too depressing. But if the original somehow lacks the touch, anime is just plain unrealistic in how "Death Game" is represented.

There is no blood in SAO: when you die, you just shatter into polygons and then get your brain fried
A few words about music. Please note, that at the moment only the first part of the Sword Art Online OST is released. The composer is famous Yuki Kajiura, whose previous work was Fate/Zero. Strangely enough, three of the four SAO OP & ED singers (namely Haruna Luna, Aoi Eir and LiSA) also previously worked on the Fate/Zero's glorious opening and ending songs. This time, however, I liked only Haruna Luna's song ("Overfly"). But the similarities don't end here. The main similarity is the soundtrack itself. Kajiura's last two works are practically indistinguishable in style. Take, for example, the song "Rule the Battlefield" from the Fate/Zero OST and "Survive the Swordland" from the Sword Art Online OST. Even the melodies are the same. Personally, I like both the F/Z's and SAO's soundtracks. However, I must also say that those two soundtracks are among the weakest of Kajiura's works. That's why I am particularly disappointed by their similarity. It's definitely not the style I would like her to continue working in. Still, SAO gave a nice addition to my Yuki Kajiura's music selection.

Continue to the second part (spoilers)

1 comment:

  1. Asuna Yuuki is a heroine and the partner of Kirito in the Sword Art Online series. Her original avatar in ALfheim Online, was as Fairy Queen, Titania. She wore a white outfit, with a white long skirt, tube top showing her belly, along with a red ribbon that goes around the top part of her top that comes together to make a bow. She goes barefoot, and wears a white strip around her ankles! This Asuna Yuuki cosplay costume looks like a long dress, and this is why I love it very much!