Based on a series of light novels written by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by abec, Sword Art Online is also the name of a Virtual Reality Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Game (VRMMORPG) where the players are injected into the virtual world of Aincrad.
The year is 2022 and only 10,000 copies of Sword Art Online are made available for purchase. Upon donning the NerveGear virtual reality helmet, Kirito becomes immersed in Aincrad. Another player, Klein, approaches Kirito eager to improve his sword skills. Learning that once in the game from the creator Kayaba Akihiko, no-one can log out; There’s also an additional caveat: if you die in the game, you die in life. Kirito resolves to finish all 100 levels and defeat the final boss so that he can return to the real world. While Kirito is regarded as a solo player, he does pair up with various other guilds and players to spread his knowledge and help build his skills.
Sword Art Online takes place in a medieval environment – physical weapons such as swords, lances and maces are used; there’s no magic. With a variety of classes (e.g. swordsman and beast tamers), the show emulates a true MMORPG. Elements of on-screen displays are visible to every player – menus, icons, information screens. In battle, each attack subtracts a player’s hit points (HP) which is represented by a bar that changes colour based on the number of HP remaining; if it reaches zero, the player dies in game and in life thanks to the technology encased in the virtual reality helmet. Once an enemy is defeated, the player is awarded experience points (EXP) and any items the creature was carrying.
The art is very detailed, with beautifully rendered fields, forests and towns. The falling snow in Floor 35 and darkened sky mirrors a cold winter’s eve; even the light flakes that gather around the fallen regeneration item appears authentic. The character design is brilliant – the outfits, uniforms, armor, and weaponry are elaborately styled. Kirito’s wardrobe evolves as the game progresses and is never stagnant like so many other series. A lot of effort went into making Sword Art Online as engrossing as possible.
Kirito is voiced by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka who has also appeared in The Idolmaster, Black Rock Shooter and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Haruka Tomatsu voices Asuna, Kirito’s counterpart, and interestingly enough, sings the closing song, Dream World. Klein’s vocals are provided by Hiroaki Hirata, a seasoned actor who has also starred in such titles as Digimon, Tiger & Bunny, Saiyuki, and Air Gear.
J-Pop artist LiSA performs the upbeat opening theme Crossing Fields while Dream World is sung by Haruka Tomatsu during the end credits. They’re both pretty catchy tunes.
At the time of writing, fourteen episodes of Sword Art Online have been broadcast since beginning in July 2012. Subtitled versions of the series can be streamed online through Crunchyroll.