What would you do if you were stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG (that’s Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game for all of you who, like me, isn’t familiar with gaming lingo), unable to log out and came to find that dying in the game meant your demise in real life?
A pretty frightening thought isn’t it?
That is the basis of the anime, Sword Art Online: Aincrad (SAO: Aincrad). Set in the 2020s, gaming technology has made leaps and bounds, with virtual reality being all the rage. The most anticipated, one of a kind virtual reality game being Sword Art Online (SAO), a MMORPG set in the world of Aincrad, a fantastic place ruled by factions, sword-fights and mythical creatures. The aim of the game? Reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower, defeat the final boss and be set free (i.e. able to log out without further consequence).
As with most survival and fantasy themed stories, there is one hero who is destined to save the day, a heroine/damsel in distress with whom the hero falls in love with, and a whole load of supporting characters who provide comedic relief and heartfelt moments to the tale as well as being the driving force of the story, urging the hero to step up and prove his worth.
In SAO: Aincrad, that hero is Kazuto Kirigaya, better known as his MMORPG avatar, Kirito. We are introduced to Kirito right from the get go and quickly learn of his incredible skills within the game, which he gained from playing SAO previously at the beta testing stage. Believing himself to be the only one capable of defeating the game, Kirito chooses to play alone, instead of joining other players in a party, or team, something that SAO encourages. He believes that going at it alone will allow him to focus on his goal and not be led astray by other players.
In keeping with the stereotype, Kirito is a good, caring guy and is unable to turn away when others need help. Through helping others, he inevitably meets Asuna, another player who, for a girl, is as skilful as him. The banter between them comes naturally and it’s hard not to foresee and expect these two to eventually become a couple, as is the case in most genres of this nature.
What results is essentially a timeless and rather beautiful love story, with Kirito and Asuna joining forces and fighting in the frontlines together while defying the odds and supporting one another as they attempt to make their way through the many floors of the tower, making new friends and alliances as well as defeating bosses along the way. As an adult viewer, it’s incredible to see two teenagers take their love and commitment for each other seriously. In fact, there were moments where I was rather envious of their relationship. What girl wouldn’t want a guy to be completely devoted to her, fight for her, give his life for her and ask to be with her forever?
The concept of family is also portrayed in this anime through the character Yui, a little girl who becomes a crucial part of the story and an important character to both Kirito and Asuna. The emotional aspects of the Yui story arc was enough to tug at my heartstrings and I have to admit that the conclusion led to some tears.
The fight scenes in SAO: Aincrad are epic and with such incredible graphics, it made me feel as if I was in the game and certainly made me wish I was more competent in playing online multiplayer games. In a land of fantasy where anything goes, it is only natural for there to be incredibly strong and difficult boss creatures. Not only that, but the scenery and landscape in which these battle scenes are set add more to the ambiance of the looming battle. One of my favourite fight scenes is the one with the Skull Reaper, a strong, arachnid like creature that is creepy, cool and creates a real threat. The onslaught with the Skull Reaper depicts one of the best fight sequences in the anime and displays Kirito, Asuna and the rest of their team at their finest. It is also by far one of my favourite scenes because it further revealed a new threat, one that none of the characters would have thought likely and came as a complete shock (not to me though, I had an inkling early on).
Whilst epic sword-fights and emotional, heartfelt lovey-doveyness make up the bulk of SAO: Aincrad’s plot, there are also many moments of light hearted humour and feel good feelings. My particular favourites are the scenes of domestic bliss between Kirito and Asuna during their break from the frontlines. There’s even an episode centred on basking in the clean, peaceful outdoors while fishing and enjoying the day outdoors.
All in all, SAO: Aincrad quickly drew me in and left me wanting more. Thank goodness there’s a part two, titled SAO: Fairy Dance, which I will be writing up a review for shortly. With virtual reality headsets becoming available on the market next year, perhaps playing MMORPG games like SAO will be a reality (you see what I did there?).