DVD Review: Sword Art Online – Part 1

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The first instalment into the Sword Art Online anime series has arrived, but what do we think of the DVD Release by Manga Entertainment UK? Find out in our DVD Review of Sword Art Online – Part 1.

Synopsis:

In the year 2022, next-generation game Sword Art Online (SAO) is the world’s first true VRMMORPG. A virtual reality helmet known as “Nerve Gear” has been developed, making Full Dives into a virtual dimension possible. SAO has generated worldwide buzz, and on its official launch day, one player, Kirito, immerses himself in its virtual world. But Akihiko Kayaba, the developer of SAO, proclaims the following to all players. “This game is inescapable unless all levels are cleared. And in this world, ‘Game Over’ is equivalent to death in the real world.”

Our View:

Sword Art Online, or SAO for short, in my eyes an anime series that was inspired by the .hack// franchise, of course you may think differently (or know more than I do) but from a blunt perspective both anime franchises are based in an online MMO (Massively-Multiplayer-Online) game where the protagonist is trapped and fighting for the survival. In the case of SAO that protagonist is Kirito, who is later teamed up with a female protagonist named Asuna. The difference between SAO and .hack// is that SAO has more backbone, as it features a deeper and more realistic story.

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That realistic story being that the creator of the game, Akihiko Kayaba, has trapped everyone inside the game – no one can log out or log in – and the only way for them to escape is to clear all 100 zones and defeat the final boss. The catch is that if you die in the game you die in real life (just like that horror film Stay Alive). Of course this story doesn’t sound very realistic, but when it is explained how people would be killed outside of the game, everything comes to light. Basically in order to play the game players wear head equipment called Nerve Gear, this gear allows full immersion into the Sword Art Online world and is usually considered safe, however with the safety lock now off that persons brain waves can be terminated once their in-game character is killed, which in turn kills them in the real world.

It is an interesting story, but unfortunately the origins behind this trap are not explored in this first instalment (which contains 7 episodes) as the real focus is on the main protagonist Kazuto Kirigaya, or better known in-game as Kirito, as he attempts to defeat all 100 zones (and the final boss) in the game.  As mentioned the focus is all on Kirito as he moves from a new rookie to a complete solo badass, along the way meeting new friends, helping out people in danger and steadily moving on up the world with the help of Asuna and her Knights of the Blood Oath guild.

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A lot of ground is covered in Sword Art Online but at the same time hardly any of it is shown , it seems the pacing of the series is badly presented and I personally find that things move on too quickly. For instance Asuna is introduced in the second episode, and by the fourth episode she has become second in command of the Knights of the Blood Oath guild and both her and Kirito seem to have a “complicated” relationship, yet none of it has been shown. Sword Art Online has lots of good bits, like its fights and its story, it’s just the pacing I find rather disappointing as the story seems to progress without you being present.

Extras:

Despite having a rather interesting story, and heavy references to online gaming, this first instalment of Sword Art Online only has two extra features – these being the text less opening and closing songs for the series.

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The songs themselves are Crossing Field by LISA (for the opening) and Yume Sekai (Dream World) by Haruka Tomatsu (for the ending). The opening sequence is nice to watch in text less form, as it moves by quite fast and showcases upcoming characters, however the ending is just a slow moving long picture of both the main protagonists, Kirto and Asuna.

Specs:

Media:  DVD 9
Region: 2
Running Time:  2:39:03
Video: MPEG-2
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 224kbps (English & Japanese)
Subtitles: English (White)
Resolution: 720 x 576 (576i)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Widescreen
Frame Rate: 25 fps

Overall:

Sword Art Online has a good story, but in this first instalment the pacing feels completely wrong with events progressing forward too fast – especially when it comes to a character (who we only just met in a single episode) being killed off. The death is emotional, especially for Kirito, but seeing as she has only appeared in the series it doesn’t have any lasting effect to the viewer – but in Kirito’s eyes he has known her for several weeks. This “issue” of pacing and time appears throughout the first instalment and by the 5th episode, Kirito has already managed to clear half of the zones located within the game, but there is still plenty of episodes left to come.

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It’s not just the “story pacing” that is an issue, as the visual quality of this DVD release can be questionable at times. Of course it doesn’t have any glitches (like Inu X Boku) but the picture feels slightly grainy and pixelated in some areas. The Blu-ray version (which is being released as a Combo Pack with the DVD) will provide the better overall visual experience, but it is disappointing to see this sort of picture quality on a DVD, especially after the rather perfect visual quality seen on the DVD of Last Exile: Fam. The troubles don’t just stop at the picture quality either, as the DVD has missing chapter points, basically one DVD chapter covers the entire episode thus making it annoying for those who want to skip to the half-way point (or the opening) of an episode.

Audio wise Sword Art Online is available in both English & Japanese Stereo 2.0 Audio, with both the English & Japanese soundtracks having clear dialogue and sound.  Both soundtracks provide an entertaining experience and whichever option you choose you won’t be disappointed. Subtitles are not tied to the Japanese Audio track, so fans of watching anime in “raw” format can do so.

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Overall Sword Art Online is an entertaining series with a few flaws, with the main flaw being the overall progression of the story and viewers being left behind – however this will most likely be fixed in future episodes when the series really starts to pan out, but only time will tell. In regards to this release by Manga UK it’s a “as expected” release with minimal extra features and reasonable picture quality. Those who are after the perfect picture quality release of Sword Art Online I’d recommend going for the Blu-ray Combo Pack option, as it is well worth the investment as SAO has a lot of detailed animation and CGI visuals that would look great in High Definition. In regards to the series if you enjoyed .hack// Quantum (or any previous .hack// series) or enjoy anything related to MMO Gaming then you’ll enjoy Sword Art Online.

Score: review-stars-3

Sword Art Online – Part 1 will be available on DVD and Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack from the 16th December 2013.

About Scott Emsen
Scott is the Founder and Executive Editor of AnimeBlurayUK but in the past he has worked at ZOMGPlay, Rice Digital and Funstock and was once a Community Moderator for the Nokia N-Gage forums. Based in the UK, he loves anything related to Games & Anime and in In his spare time you'll mostly find him playing on one of his many gaming consoles; namely the PS Vita, PS4 or Xbox One.

3 Responses to DVD Review: Sword Art Online – Part 1

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  2. Pingback: Sword Art Online – Part 1 (Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack) Unboxing | AnimeBlurayUK

  3. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: Sword Art Online – Part 2 | AnimeBlurayUK

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