[gallery link="file" columns="4" orderby="title"]
Chosen via a poll, I'm blogging Sword Art Online this season alongside Natsuyuki Rendezvous. Now initially I was sceptical about blogging this series and vowed to never promise to blog a series that got the most votes in a poll (moment of desperation) because I was aware that the anime would be based on a Light Novel written by the same author responsible for Accel World, an anime I just couldn't get into for a multitude of reasons. Imagine my surprise when this series' first episode becomes probably the second best one of the season, behind Natsuyuki Rendezvous.
Before going into the review, I'm going to disclose that I have never actually sat down and watched a full episode of .hack//Sign even though I was aware of the franchise, so I'm going to approach this anime with the experience of reading the Greed Island arc from Hunter x Hunter. So let's finally start the review.
The episode did well to explain the world setting and introducing us to the main charatcer Kirito. It was simple, yet effective and the explanations involving the game were easy enough to understand for anyone who isn't a MMORPG gamer which impressed me and straight away made me happy that this anime isn't going to turn into something that only gamers would enjoy. Unlike Hagure Yuusha no Estetica, which didn't make much sense to me because I couldn't figure out if it was set in a game world or just one world with the ability to dimension hop until I re-watched certain parts of the episode.
Now the setting itself is actually far more believable when it comes to fantasy battle anime, since the virtual world is controlled by someone(s) and so you can never guarantee your own safety and most of the time your at the mercy of others without realising it, and this was captured rather well when Klein (VA for Tiger & Bunny's Kaburagi Kotetsu makes me like him even more) tries to log out and the main antagonist of the series shows up. This wasn't the only aspect of the online world which was captured in the first episode; for one, Kirito's character is portrayed as someone who sees the virtual world as an escape from reality which is a character trait many are familiar with whether one has experienced it or not and it makes sense later on when he puts his survival over helping more of Kleins friends (he's not used to having friends). Another aspect of the virtual world which was shown in the episode was the anonymity of it which is uncovered straight away as characters are forced to be shown for who they really are, which then prompts some light humour involving guys who pretend to be girls and others who lie about their age - made me wonder if any other anibloggers might be lying about certain things.....
The ending did surprise me a little and is one of the reasons I became more interested in the series. The episode felt very serious and devoid of humour, not counting the little quip against those who lie about themselves online, so it shouldn't have come as much of a shock that the amount of death in this series is really high. We don't actually see the deaths but just the idea that so many people have already died makes Sword Art Online closer to the Greed Island arc from Hunter x Hunter. Also the knowledge that no one has cleared the first floor out of a hundred in the first month adds more gravity to the story and makes me take it more seriously.
To summarise: surprisingly enjoyable. With a story that surpassed my expectations and made me realise that fans of the Light Novel are right to be angry at people writing this series off, I'm happy that the series is more than just some online game setting. If not for the story, then A-1 Pictures' fantastic animation, which makes the world look that much better and adds to the potential of the series.