I can understand that for a lot of new viewers, Anime can feel a little…alienating. Without at least a rudimentary understanding of Japanese culture there is just too little to relate to, which leads to comments like ‘this is a bit slow’ or ‘what the hell is going on? Why is everyone throwing lightning at each other?!’
Yes, Anime has a bit of a stigma for being a bit OTT, but SAO has chewed its way out of that confinement. Being almost instantly relatable for western watchers it is slick, engaging and best of all, very funny. The series follows hard-core gamer/programmer Kirito as he dives into a new online role-playing game. With nods to various MMORPG ’s like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI the writer, Reki Kawahara has clearly had massive amounts of fun with typical gaming issues like levelling up and first time players. Needless to say, things get serious during the game’s launch resulting in its players being unable to ‘log out’ and having their brains scrambled if they die. They are stuck in this beautiful, fully immersive world.
In the early episodes of this series we can just sit back and enjoy the gaming world for what it is, the gamers among us can enjoy the nods to the nature of online gaming, with examples like killing Bores for hours on end to gain precious XP points and a first time gamer mistaking said Bore for a game Boss, haha…newb.
The writing of SAO is funny but at times also painfully poignant: ‘it may be a virtual world, but I feel more alive here’. A sad revelation that may be truer for some people than we would like to admit. The first seven episodes focus on gamers spending time in their new world and coming to terms with their confinement, some even preferring the Plato-existence to the real world. People just stop trying to get out.
Part 1 feels more like a selection of disjointed stories, with no real feeling of ‘something bigger’ that’s going to happen but the plots are engaging and thoroughly entertaining nonetheless. The Characterization, on the other hand, is what truly works in SAO, Kirito and co are characters you can truly invest in, making decisions you yourself can get behind and agree with instead of hurling your brew at the telly in frustration of idiotic decisions. Kirito himself is one to focus on, he is crisp, switched on and pragmatic. Not to mention he kicks serious amounts of ass, levelling up to superhuman levels without telling his comrades. No spoilers but I will say this…NEVER has it been so cool hear someone standing rattling off their XP Statistics and it probably won’t ever be again.
Manga UK's latest release is one not to miss out on, whether you are an Anime veteran or someone breaking the medium for the first time, both will enjoy equally. That’s what’s great about SAO. If part one is this enjoyable I can’t wait to see what’s coming…