Sword Art Online

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Official Blue-ray cover for episodes 1-7, Sword Art Online [1]

Sword Art Online (Japanese: ソードアート・オンライン) is the Japanese light novel series written by Japanese writer Reki Kawahara and its illustration drawn by Japanese illustrator abec. The first novel of the series was published on October 10th, 2012 and the series is on-going. Sword Art Online's increasing popularity with 30,000 novels sold during the first week of release, the following 2012 anime series was released. The story follows with the main protagonist, Kazuto "Kirito" Kirigaya as he navigates through various Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (VRMMORPGs). The series covers story which takes place in the year 2022 and follows Kirito's journey through a game entitled Sword Art Online. In it, the initial players are locked into the game and are killed if they are either unplugged from the equipment they use to run the game or die in the game. In order to be set free, players must beat all 100 floors of the game. While it is a popular series, critical reception has been more mixed, like the notion of sheer distinction between reality and virtual reality and the poor utilization of mass-distributed technology.

Plot Summary

Kirito, the main protagonist of SAO

In an alternate universe in the year 2022, a VRMMORPG called Sword Art Online is released. On the initial launch day, 10,000 players log on, including one under the username Kirito. Kirito encounters another player, Kline, and teaches him the basics of the system which Kirito has learned by participating in the beta test of the game. After Kline attempts to log out but fails because the button is missing, the game master and creator, Akihiko Kayaba, transports all players into the town square. Here he announces that all players are stuck in the game and can only escape by beating the game; if players are forcibly removed from the system or die in the game, they will be killed in real life by the equipment, called Nerve Gear, that they are using to play the game. The first 213 deaths of the game can be attributed to this scenario. Kayaba then uses data collected through the nerve gear to create accurate avatars for the users. The users are then released from the square and Kirito decides to play solo, using his knowledge from beta testing and past experience with VRMMORPGs to move on to the next town to find less scarce resources.

As the game progresses, players form guilds and parties. In order to defeat the first boss, Kirito joins a party with another character, Asuna Yūki, known in the game as Asuna. The group they are a part of uses information distributed by other beta testers, who are stigmatized as 'beaters' (a combination of beta and cheater) to find the boss. Together, the group defeats the boss, with the final strike coming from Kirito which earns him special gear to use in the game.

As the players progress, Kirito continues to play solo, battling on the 'front lines' with powerful guilds and assault teams, encountering Asuna later once when she is the second-in-command of a powerful guild, Knights of the Red Oath. They fight over the use of Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) as decoys for monsters. They later reconcile after Kirito watches over Asuna while she is asleep outside, protecting her from other members who would take advantage of her sleeping state by initialing a duel while she was unconscious.

Their friendship is later tested by a member of Asuna's guild who is prejudiced against beaters due to their initial advantages. A member of the Knights of the Blood Oath, tasked with protecting Asuna, attacks Kirito after finding out that they formed a party again and intend to battle together on the front lines outside of the guild. Kirito defeats the guard and he and Asuna head to the front lines, finding the boss. A guild from the lower floors appear, attempting to force Kirito to reveal the map data he's collected, but he releases the data willingly. The guild attempts to beat the boss, but are overpowered and Kirito saves them, beating the boss on his own.

The commander of the Knights of the Blood Oath challenges Kirito to a duel after his display of power and wins by secretly manipulating the game structure to allow him to move faster than Kirito. Kirito is forced to join the guild, and is nearly murdered by the member who he defeated earlier while participating in the guild's skills assessment. As a result, he and Asuna decide to get married in the game and take a break from fighting. During the break, they meet a young girl named Yui who has lost her memory. By looking for her origins, they discover that she is a fully developed Artificial Intelligence program designed to monitor and assist users with mental health issues. She is shut down by the system after saving Kirito and Asuna from a powerful monster.

Kirito and Asuna return to the front lines to participate in a boss battle. Fourteen players die in the effort, and while recovering, Kirito realizes that the commander of the Knights of the Blood Oath is really Kayaba. After confronting him, Kayaba offers Kirito the opportunity to fight him, betting that if Kirito wins, that Kayaba will release the remaining 6,000 players. Kirito is successful, though he and Asuna die in the process. Kayaba saves them though and the series ends with Kirito heading off to find Asuna in the offline world.


Light Novels

The first light novel volume of SAO

The series of Sword Art Online originated as light novels, a term that is referred to the type of fictional book that is mostly text-heavy with few illustrations printed throughout the book. The number of illustrations varies depending on the series, but generally it consists of 5-10 illustrations per novel. After Reki Kawahara's request for the publication of Sword Art Online got approved, he started working with illustrator abec on the light novel series and the first volume was published on April 10, 2009. and the total of 22 main volumes have been published as of April 9th, 2018.[2] Aside from the main volume series, Rei Kawahara also write the Sword Art Online: Progressive series which covers Kirito's adventures on the first few floors of Aincrad and the side stories that was not covered on the main volume series. The first volume of the progressive series was published on October 10, 2012 [3] and the total of five volumes have been published as of April 9th, 2018.[4]


The first announcement about the adaptation of Sword Art Online occurred at Dengeki Bunko Autumn Festival 2011, an annual anime event where major announcements of popular anime series and their showcases are made. Such adaptation was crucial for Rei Kawahara as it was his opportunity to not only adapt his first series into the anime display, but also his chance to adapt his other light novel series, Accel World.[5] The main producing companies include Aniplex[6] and the entire animation was done by A-1 Pictures [7]. The first release of the anime series consists of 24 episodes. The first 12 episodes of the first season of Sword Art Online consist of story that occurs within Aincrad environment, where a 100th-floored map is readily available for players to continue challenge themselves until they beat the boss monster on 100th floor. The latter 12 episodes draw conflicting story that Kirito goes through as he finally gets out of the SAO's virtual environment and tries to adapt himself to the real world.

Video Games

The screenshot of gamplay, Hollow Fragment
The announcement of the video game adaptation also occurred made during the Dengeki Bunko Autumn Festival 2011. The first Sword Art Online adaptation, titled Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment[8] was developed by Japanese entertainment companies PlayStation Portable[9] and Namco Bandai Games. [10] The story of Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment follows different storyline than that of the original light novel series. Instead of getting out of the virtual reality of SAO after beating Kayaba, a glitch causes Kirito and other players to remain in SAO and it also causes players from other VMMORPs to become stuck in SAO environment, ultimately drawing a storyline of cooperation between players of SAO and those from other games. 

Another game title that was developed by Namco Bandai Games, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment [11] was released for PS Vita[12] on April 24, 2014. The game takes place in the same storyline as Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment, but its newly added virtual field called "Hollow Area of Aincrad" differentiates Hollow Fragment from Infinity Moment in that players are prompted to explore a mysterious, undiscovered "Hollow Area" and receive virtual awards by defeating the final boss. The popularity of this game is evident as Namco Bandai Games have announced that Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment PS Vita title sold 145,000 copies just within the first week of the official launch.[13].


(from left to right)Kline, Sinon, Keiko Suguha, Kirito, Asuna, and Rika
  • Kazuto "Kirito" Kirigaya - The main protagonist, is a beta tester, plays solo on the front lines, married to Asuna in game, and defeats the creator, setting the surviving players free.
  • Asuna Yūki - Second in command for Knights of the Blood oath, married to Kirito in the game.
  • Akihiko Kayaba - Creator of Nerve Gear and Sword Art Online, disguised as the commander of the Knights of the Blood Oath.
  • Kline - Friend of Kirito and a leader of a guild himself. Plays on the front lines.
  • Agil - Merchant and friends with Kirito, helps Kirito and participates in boss raids.
  • Yui - an AI program, formally known as Mental Health Counseling Program, prototype 1. Treated like Kirito and Asuna's daughter.[14]
  • Sinon - Friend of Kirito and a solo player of Gun Gail Online
  • Suguha "Leafa" Kirigaya - Kirito's younger sister and the player of Albheim Online
  • Rika 'Lisbeth" Shinozaki - Kirito's friend and one of the group players of SAO
  • Keiko Ayano - Kirito's friend and one of the rare beast tamers.

Similar Works

Other works have explored similar material to Sword Art Online. Among other anime, shows like .hack//Sign, which explores identity formation through the main character who, unlike with Sword Art Online, is the only one trapped in a VRMMORPG.[15]

In film, movies such as The Matrix[16] and The Congress[17][18] explore VR worlds and implications related to their known and unknown usage.

In books, the 1993 novel Killobyte explores a VR game wherein two players with medical conditions are targeted by a hacker who traps them in the game for harassment which, through their methods, could lead to the players' death.[19] The 1964 novel Simulacron-3, also known as Counterfeit World, explores a world where a computer simulation of a world is used for market research and the inhabitants of said world are unaware of their purpose.[20]

Criticism and Reception

Critics of the series enjoy the art and animation as well as the music score while critiquing the writing and characterization choices. Theron Martin of Anime News Network notes how the anime's adaptation from the light novels provides drawbacks as the novels were written out of chronological order and the anime's use of such order leaves the viewer feeling as if Kirito is a 'Gary Stu'.[21] In Martin's review of the later half of the first arc, he notes that the series continues to exhibit 'structural inconsistencies, [and] irregular character behavior'.[22] Richard Eisenbeis of Kotaku initially praised the series initially for it's pacing, discussion of implications for living inside of a video game, diversity in genres, love story, and unexpected ending within the first arc, but critics the series for over use of tragic plot points and later, it's poor characterization of women.[23][24]

Statistics of VR gear usage.


(SPOILER ALERT) Followed by defeating the main boss, Akihito Kayaba, Kirito and other players become free from their virtual reality. Then, the story illustrates the difficulty that the players sense as they try to get used to their real life, displaying the potential harm and danger of the virtual reality. Specifically, the story illustrates players' struggle to draw a clear line between what is real and what is virtual. Connecting the ideas that are presented in the story of Sword Art Online to today's ethical issue regarding the virtual reality, the biggest ethical concern presented here is the consequences of the mass-distribution of VR gears. Although every aspect of the novel and anime series of Sword Art Online is fictional, the ethical concerns that it prompts to the audience remains relevant as the usage of VR gear is subjected to increase greatly starting from the year 2020, as suggested by the graphical figure to the right. [25] Because the future usage of VR gear is subjected to skyrocket from the year 2020, the mass-distribution of VR gear seems to be not entirely fictional in the reality. With the notion of subjected increase of VR gear usage, the fictional display of massive online virtual reality that Sword Art Online illustrates is, to some extent, relatable to current ethical issue of the sheer distinction between the reality and the virtual reality.


  1. "Official Blue-ray cover for episodes 1-7, Sword Art Online" http://www.swordart-onlineusa.com/sao1/package/bluray-SE01.php
  2. "Japanese ASCII II archive website"http://asciimw.jp/search/mode/item/cd/321504000250
  3. "Japanese Amazon Website with first Progressive volume release data. https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/4048869779
  4. "Japanese ASCII archive website"http://asciimw.jp/search/mode/item/cd/321712000232
  5. "Official Accel World Website by MyAnimeList.net https://myanimelist.net/anime/11759/Accel_World
  6. "Official Aniplex Website"http://www.aniplexusa.com/
  7. "Official A-1 Pictures Website" http://a1p.jp/
  8. "The Fandom website for SAO: Infinity Moment" http://swordartonline.wikia.com/wiki/Sword_Art_Online:_Infinity_Moment
  9. "Article on PSP sales of SAO: Infinity Moment" http://www.siliconera.com/2013/03/20/this-week-in-sales-kingdom-hearts-hd-falls-to-sword-art-online/
  10. "Official Bandai Website" https://www.bandainamcoent.com/
  11. "Review Article of SAO: Hollow Fragment"http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/09/19/sword-art-online-hollow-fragment-review
  12. "Playstation Store Website" https://store.playstation.com/en-us/product/UP0700-PCSE00465_00-SWORDART2USEU100
  13. "Gematsu Article of Hollow Fragment"https://gematsu.com/2014/04/media-create-sales-42114-42714
  14. Official website descriptions of characters http://www.swordart-onlineusa.com/sao1/character/index2.html
  15. "Technology, Psychology, Identity"http://japanesestudies.org.uk/ejcjs/vol14/iss3/miner.html
  16. "The Matrix Review on Virtual Reality"http://www.empireonline.com/movies/matrix/review/
  17. "The Congress Official Trailer"https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rNSTizOsws
  18. "Roger Ebert Review Article, The Congress" http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-congress-2014
  19. "Killobyte Book"https://books.google.com/books/about/Killobyte.html?id=od7nAQAACAAJ
  20. "Good Reads Simulacron-3 Review"http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5714811-simulacron-3
  21. Martin's review of first seven episodes http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/review/sword-art-online/episodes-1
  22. Martin's review of the episodes eight through fourteen http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/review/sword-art-online/episodes-8
  23. "Kotaku SAO Blog" http://kotaku.com/sword-art-online-is-the-smartest-anime-i-ve-seen-in-yea-5947171
  24. "Kotaku second half SAO Blog" http://kotaku.com/sword-art-onlines-second-half-isnt-quite-as-brilliant-5971194
  25. "Statistics of VR gear usage" https://www.statista.com/statistics/591181/global-augmented-virtual-reality-market-size/