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Looking for 25 episodes of awesome action and story? Look no further!
I know that a lot of the gamers who frequent GIO are not a huge fan of JRPGs, but I also know that there are a good number of die-hard fans of media from the Land of the Rising Sun, and I wanted to talk a bit today about an anime show that will knock your socks off (well, if you're into anime, and you wear socks). Most of us are familiar with MMORPGs like WoW, but the truth is that there are quite a few MMORPGs that are exclusive to Japan that are more anime-styled with 2D, big eyes, etc. Obviously this anime is not about an actual game that actually exists, but it does bring up some fairly interesting points about the digital world, the real world, and how we trivialize dying in games.
So, basically the synopsis is this- in the not-too-distant future, people have created video game peripheries that you wear like a helmet and your whole body is synchronized into the game. It's a bit like "The Matrix" actually- your real body stays lying in bed with the helmet on and your consciousness joins the game. The story begins with a new game called "Sword Art Online" being released to the public in limited numbers. It sells out quickly, and beyond a certain number of "beta testers" who were allowed to play the game before it was officially released, no one is sure what to expect. The game itself works a lot like your average hack-and-slash type of quest game. There is no magic, but there are items that you can use to heal and such. And the main items that you can use are swords and (less often) other melee weapons. As you increase your skills, you can do different sorts of attacks, etc, and it's quite fun indeed.
The story starts with our intrepid hero, Kirito, logging into the game, making a couple of new friends (although he ends up alone at the end of the episode), and then finding out that he can't log out. In fact, NO ONE can log out, and, after a cryptic "welcome" from the game designer explaining that if anyone tries to log out, dies in the game, or their families attempt to disconnect their headgear, it will kill them in the real world, everyone is basically left to let the news sink in. The game designer also strips away the anonymity of the characters- after the brief amount of time before the announcement, he forces all players to equip an item called "mirror," which basically changes their avatar to look exactly like themselves in the real world (and obviously, many of the female characters are male in the real world or less attractive, shorter, etc). The only way for the game to end, and for everyone to be released, is for someone to beat all 100 floors of the dungeon in the game, which will end the world and auto-force all people to log out safely.
Luckily for Kirito, he's a beta-tester, so he's had a trial run in the dungeon before the actual release, but as most MMORPGs do, he's been reset to level 1 and has no items, so beyond his familiarity with the quests, battle system and general surroundings, he has just as much of a chance of dying as everyone else.
What unfolds from this very soul-shaking beginning is a world where the strong fight to clear the highest level while those who have other skills become blacksmiths or make in-game food, or otherwise do various non-main-quest things in the world to cope with their situation.
And then he meets Asuna.
One of the things I loved the most about this show is that the relationship between Kirito and Asuna is not stilted, awkward nor does it feel rushed. Their affection for one another develops pretty naturally over time and unlike many other anime (which seems to flirt around and puts off simple kissing for the entire series until maybe the last episode), there is a good amount of physical affection between the two of them without it being too risque (which I found very refreshing, as most anime seems to treat kissing as basically the same thing as getting down and dirty).
Of course, the second half of the show involves a second MMORPG that involves magic, flying and the ability to log out (and player-killing is actually encouraged and merely given a handicap while waiting to respawn), but I'm not going to go into the nitty-gritty, because it basically ties together pretty well, and I don't want to spoil anything really important about the show.
This show doesn't pull any punches- deaths may not be gory (because it's a game), but a lot of characters, including characters you actually like, WILL die and you'll be upset by that fact because the characters are written in a very believable and human way.
If you're interested in watching Sword Art Online, you can watch it for free streaming on CrunchyRoll:
If you want to skip the ads, you can always subscribe for a small fee per month, but I highly recommend watching it either way. This is a heartfelt, well written show with eye-popping animation quality, and I think you'll be glad you spent the time to go on a journey with Kirito, Asuna and the many other interesting people they meet in Sword Art Online.
So, have you ever gotten "sucked" into an MMORPG?
Do you think that in the future, we might be able to full body scan ourselves into games? Will it be dangerous (hacking, etc) or simply part of future technology?
And finally, if you have any anime suggestions, I'm always looking out for good recommendations! Please make sure to leave them in the comments!