Sword Art Online has easily become one of the top grossing anime shows today. It focuses on love, friendship, bravery, and tons of visually striking action scenes. This anime is unique with the premise that it takes place within a world of virtual reality, a VRMMORPG called Sword Art Online. The main protagonist; Kazuto Kirigaya is revealed as a beta tester who has some knowledge of the game components and its creators before the game went live. The first scene of the anime gives you an idea of what it would be like to be a part of what they call a “FullDive” system. With headgear, called Nerve Gear, you are transported through the eyes of Kazuto into this world. If there is one thing this anime does well, it’s that it gives you the sense of what a perfect VRMMORPG would be like. The plot is dispensed throughout the first story arc, defeating Aincrad, as if you were part of the game. Filler episodes serve purpose and show what it would be like to go on side missions in your own favorite RPG game. This element sets the show apart from so many and gives it a new-age idealistic world (aside from the idea that if you die in the game you die in real life). However, the idea of death and love is what gives the show substance. Death is real within SAO, and is given meaning. The show slowly progresses into a love story between our two main Kazuto (or Kirito in the game) and Asuna Yuuki.
During the first season, we progress through the first two story arcs of the series; Sword Art Online and Alfheim Online. There are so many emotional ties during these first story arcs and some pretty awesome fight scenes. Below are some of the most memorable moments from the first season:
Nothing beats that defining moment when Akihiko Kayaba announces that everyone has just been trapped within the game, as players quickly figure out they cannot sign out from the game menu. The despair shown in this scene by the players shows a strong emotional connection and you find yourself fearing for these characters. Also, this moment sets the plot into place for the overall first story arc.
Kirito and Asuna (who has not revealed herself yet) team up to fight the boss on the 1st floor of Aincrad. Asuna soon reveals herself during this battle, Kirito earns his Coat of Midnight, and he is revealed to be a beta tester or “beater” as everyone called him. This is also where we see Kirito make the defining decision to continue finishing the game on his own, and dissolves his party with Asuna.
That moment when we get a look into a deeper side of Sword Art Online. When we see Kirito’s backstory of losing Sachi, which gives more understanding into the depth of his character qualities and why he feels like he must protect everyone he meets. This episode also shows a darker side of the show, where death is the evident theme, and these characters are fighting for their lives.
This moment may seem trivial in the grand scheme of the show, however there is a reason it is one of the most memorable moments for me. Fast-forward in time, Asuna has become Vice Commander of the Knights of the Blood Oath, and Kirito has spent his time leveling up and moving forward in the quest to defeat Aincrad. Asuna finds Kirito relaxing under a tree and scolds him for wasting time while everyone is off trying to defeat battles. She then lays down with him, and quickly falls asleep beside him. This is the moment where you first see Asuna and Kirito spend a significant moment together. Kirito helps her understand, that even though they are in a virtual world, and every day people are living in a world that is not their own, they are still living. In this scene, we see that they both have the capacity to hope, even when the situation looks hopeless, and the ability to appreciate the “here and now”.
SAO is known for having some pretty intense and stunning battle scenes, however, the battle with the boss on the 74th Floor stands above the rest. This battle is where Kirito is forced to use “Starburst Stream” which is his infamous Dual Blade combo attack. Once we see Kirito use his secret learned ability, the battle scenes progressively get better from there.
If you are at the point in the show where you’re emotionally invested into the characters, then the moment when Yui (Asuna and Kirito’s virtual daughter) is deleted after the system flagged her for interfering in the game, is heart-wrenching to watch. Even though Yui is only artificial intelligence, she develops feelings, and projects those feelings of love towards Asuna and Kirito which gives an overwhelming reaction when she is lost to them, leaving only her heart as an item.
After an intense battle on the 75th Floor, Heathcliff is revealed as Akihiko Kayaba, which was completely shocking, to say the least. A half dead Kirito defeats Kayaba after Asuna sacrifices herself so that he can save everyone still trapped in the game. Kirito basically comes back from the dead and Kayaba is finally defeated, and the game is cleared.
This, by far, may be one of my most memorable moments of SAO. Kirito is suspended above Aincrad on a clear platform where he and Asuna run towards each other. Kayaba appears, and gives a speech that almost makes you understand his point of view, although it seems he knows he has lost his way. Kirito and Asuna then sit and watch Aincrad fall apart, along with their cabin in the woods which held so many fond memories for them. This moment felt as if there were a calm completeness to this first story arc. The images of the crumbling world beautifully breaking into pieces gave the scene purpose and meaning.
At this point, the second story arc transpires, and Kirito is on a mission to find Asuna in Alfheim Online (ALO), and bring her back to the real world. This story line plays through another type of MMORPG game, where you can choose the kind of character you want to be, much like our own RPG games.
Kirito has fought through Alfheim Online to reach the top of the World Tree, and Yui calls out for Asuna. She answers and finally the two of them embrace, followed shortly by Kirito. This is a moment we have been waiting for since Yui disappeared, and it brought the closure we so desperately wished for.
After Kayaba comes to Kirito in his time of need and helps him defeat Oberon (which helps us hate him a little bit less), he gives Kirito “The World Seed”, which is a device that can revive VRMMO games if he so chooses, and create the world Kayaba had always envisioned.
Finally, the moment we have all been waiting for. Kazuto rushes to the hospital after logging out of ALO to meet Asuna whom has also been logged out. Kazuto bursts into the room and Asuna, still in bed, turns to face him and smiles. This is when we know their pain and suffering are finally over. The two embrace and there is a sense of accomplishment for the two of them.
In the last few moments, Kirito shares a moment with his friends, all that had suffered with him through the past two years. They all fly off into the distance, showing another new Aincrad and foreshadowing new adventures to come. It was a fantastic way to end the first season and second story arc and gave a sense of friendship and comradery, which has been a recurrent theme throughout the storyline.
Sword Art Online has since then been an anime that most can’t stop talking about. The artwork is stunning, and the plot is unique. It is easy to lose yourself in the world, just as these characters had lost themselves in a world of virtual reality, but had built real emotional ties to the people they had met along the way. This is what makes the show so relatable, and one of my personal favorite anime to date.