What is Sword Art Online?

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©2014 REKI KAWAHARA/PUBLISHED BY KADOKAWA CORPORATION ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO Ⅱ PROJECT

Here's the easiest way to explain it - it's basically The Matrix meets World of Warcraft, with a little bit of Kill Bill thrown in for good measure.

But even more importantly, Sword Art Online is the best anime you're not watching (unless you ARE watching it, in which case, YOU ALREADY KNOW AND LET'S TALK ABOUT IT).

 

Yeah, but what IS it?

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Based on a popular light novel series by Reki Kawahara, Sword Art Online takes place in the near-future of 2022, where virtual reality videogames have progressed to the point of being nearly indistinguishable from reality. The first major release is - you guessed it - Sword Art Online, a virtual reality MMORPG that requires the use of special equipment called 'Nerve Gear' (which simulates all five senses IN THE VIDEOGAME - think the Oculus Rift except seriously upgraded).

The main character of the show is Kazuto, (but his in-game avatar is named 'Kirito') who's one of the first players to log in to Sword Art Online. Once he and the rest of the initial players have logged in, they quickly discover there's no way to log out. The only way out - as explained by SAO creator Akihiko Kayaba - is to reach the 100th floor of the game's tower and defeat the end-game boss. Also, if you die in the game, you die in real life. Then begins the characters' two year journey, filled with love, heartache, and insane animated videogame battlin' madness. Luckily, Kirito meets with a fellow player named Asuna, and the two partner up and fall in love.

The cool thing is that the game world functions just like a normal MMORPG - with raids, guilds, quests, shops, and everything else you'd expect to find in a game, with the slight issue that it's all real and everything has actual consequences. It's every kid's dream - to be able to live inside a videogame - completely flipped on its head.

 

Oh wow - that all sounds cool, but isn't there a bunch to catch up on?

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The current run of Sword Art Online can be broken down into 3 parts, across over 35 episodes. But don't worry - we can simplify it for you.

 

Part 1 - Sword Art Online

Although the series is called Sword Art Online, the titular game only encompasses the first arc of the show. Kirito, Asuna, and the rest of the players find themselves trapped in the world of SAO, which puts them in an enormous floating tower known as Aincrad, with the instruction to get to the top floor and defeat the endgame boss, or die within the game. There are swords, twists, unexpected alliances, unexpected betrayals, and...more swords. So many swords, guys.

 

Part 2 - ALFheim Online

After getting out of SAO, Kirito finds that a few hundred players, including Asuna, are now trapped in ANOTHER virtual reality game, this one called ALFheim Online (and fairy-themed). Kirito jumps into the game to find out what's happened and rescue Asuna and the rest - where he loses the advantages he had in SAO. There, he'd been a beta tester and the greatest player ever. Here, he's a complete newbie, with no knowledge of the game or skills to speak of. Still, Kirito is able to traverse through the new game and find the person responsible for ALO - Nobuyuki Sugō, an employee of Asuna's father, who aimed to take over the company by making Asuna his wife in the real world.

The world of ALO brings a lot of new flavor to the series, and serves as a mission statement: this is not a show that will rest on its laurels - it will change the status quo and throw tons of new settings and characters into the mix to keep things fresh. Also? Even more sword fights.

 

Part 3 - Gun Gale Online

The Gun Gale Online arc opens Sword Art Online II - now that Kazuto has escaped both SAO and ALO, he's something of a legend. When a new virtual reality MMORPG takes Japan by storm, something strange happens - a series of mysterious deaths occurring in the real world that may be connected to the game. The government asks Kazuto to become Kirito again and find out what's happening. Teaming up with a sniper called Sinon, he enters the game and becomes Kirito once again - only this time, his avatar is female.

This story is still ongoing, so you should probably get watching if you want to know how it ends (hint: it's gonna be good).

 

I seriously don't have enough time and/or patience to watch THAT many episodes. Isn't there another option?

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You know what? There is. 

If you really want to skip the first season and jump right into Sword Art Online II, there's a 2-hourlong special episode called Sword Art Online: Extra Edition. It recaps the major events of the first season, reintroduces all of the major characters, and even adds a few things (so it works as a nice refresher for those who HAVE seen the first season). Still, we recommend you just watch that first season - it's only 35 episodes at around 24 minutes each. That's about 15 hours - you could easily watch that in a single weekend (and you'll be glad you did).

 

How do I know it's any good?

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How about some OFFICIAL TESTIMONIALS FROM DORKLY STAFF MEMBERS?

"If you only watch one anime this year, make it Sword Art Online. I mean, it's weird that you're limiting yourself to just one anime though. Are you caught up with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure? You should watch that too. And Kill la Kill, if you're not already watching it. So, you should at least be watching 3 different anime shows. But mainly Sword Art Online. It's my dream of having adventures INSIDE a videogame, plus my dream of getting to watch anime all the time."

Andrew Bridgman, Editor-in-Chief  / The Iron Manga

 

"You know how when you put on a new perfectly fitting shirt and it just feels nice? That's what Sword Art Online is. Plus awesome fight scenes. And video games. Basically that new shirt but ten times more epic. Basically, if your shirt had a cape and there was always a dramatic wind, that's what Sword Art Online would be if it were clothes."

Julia Lepetit, Head Illustrator / Anime of the State

 

"Videogames + swords x anime + love = Sword Art Online. It's great and insane and epic. Word of warning: that equation will NOT help you pass Calculus. Trust me."

Jake Young, Editorial Assistant / Kawaiian Punch

 

Sure, YOU say it's great - but what does EVERYONE ELSE SAY?

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That's fair. Let's see...

This is one of the best anime series I have seen, and trust me I have seen and read many other series. It is intense, humorous, sad, romantic, the complete package. It pulls at you heart sometimes or makes you giggle at times. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the rest of the episodes to come out.

ginkochan, 5 Stars

[I]t is the smartest anime I have seen in years--even including the recent Lupin III.

Richard Eisenberg, Kotaku.com

 

Sword Art Online remains an often fascinating, highly entertaining experience for fans of sci-fi-fantasy action, and Kirito and Asuna are utterly adorable together.

T.H.E.M Anime Reviews, 4 Stars

 

So swords seem like a pretty big deal in SAO, right?

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Hey! You're calling it SAO. I knew we'd get there.

A big part of the show is the amazing swords wielded by the various characters (which they then use to have ridiculously great sword fights all the time). Some of the coolest ones are:

 

Elucidator

This awesome looking sword is Kirito's main weapon in the world of SOA. It has some great durability and it super strong. Kirito gets it as a reward for defeating a boss on the 50th floor.

 

Dark Repulser

Kirito tries to find a sword as balanced and powerful as his other blade, the Elucidator but quickly finds out that the only way to accomplish this is with rare materials and a highly skilled blacksmith. After questing with Lisbeth, the top level blacksmith he needed, they get the material he needs and together they finish the weapon. This is Kirito's other sword that he uses with his Dual Wielding ability.

 

Lambent Light

This rapier is Asuna's final sword in Sword Art Online. It requires an almost maxed out level in One Handed Rapier skill and, combined with Asuna's extremely quick speed, earns her the nickname of "The Flash".

 

Holy Sword Excaliber

This weapon is the most powerful legendary weapon in ALfheim. It's only seen in battle during the last episode of ALO.

 

Black Iron Great Sword

This was Kirito's first weapon when he enters ALfheim. It almost as tall as Kirito is and, despite that many of the other players complain that it is too heavy, is the perfect weight for him.

 

Long Sword

The sword replaces Kirito's Black Iron Great Sword and is made with rare materials, just like the Dark Repulser. Also like that sword, the long sword is made by Lisbeth and it hailed as her greatest masterpiece. 

 

Alright - I'm curious. Where can I go to watch it?

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Finally.

The nice thing about anime these days is that there are a LOT more choices than "fuzzy VHS tapes of DBZ your friend loaned you that have 4 random episodes from the Frieza saga on 'em." There are a number of streaming options - Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Daisuki. Although if you're looking for a bunch of anime, your best bet is with Crunchyroll.  They've got a huge array of other anime programs (including JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, One Piece, and more), an enormous manga section, and a ton of live action Japanese shows - whereas Hulu only has a few other anime options, and Daisuki's offerings are pretty limited.

We'll make it even easier on you - Crunchyroll's offering a free 2 week trial subscription to their premium membership, so you can stream away in HD on whatever device you want, with no ads spoiling the mood. See? You can watch ALL of Sword Art Online (and whatever other anime shows you need to catch up on) and it won't even cost you any money.

Not sure how we could make this any simpler. Do you want us to come to your home and click the 'Play Episode' button for you? Because...that would be asking a lot of us, but we just really want you to watch this show, okay?

 

So...I guess I should watch it, huh?

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Seriously - it's one of the best anime programs airing right now, it costs you nothing, AND you can finally join in on the fandom fun. Plus, summer's over, so you don't have to feel guilty about sitting inside and binging on anime all day.

C'mon. Go to Crunchyroll now and get in on SAO.