Let’s just say that since I’ve been waiting for this show for at least ten months, so you can tell that I pretty darn like the source material.
So does the first episode live up to my expectations, having read through the entirety of the first seven books of the light novel?
That would have to be quite a big yes.
Sword Art Online, the first and (IMO) best piece by writer Kawahara Reki (Accel World) who made his name by first publishing this online in the form of a web novel, is be no means a groundbreaking story. You have the overpowered shounen protagonist, the wallflower main female lead and the medieval swordfighting, among other things. But by god, even though you can see the plot coming from miles away and stereotypes are practically everywhere in this series, what caught me the most was how utterly efficient the execution was. It was just one hell of a ride from start to finish, and finishing the first novel just made me pick up the second. And the third. And so on.
One of the good things about this is that the story thus easily translates into an animated format, and it shows in the first episode. While slightly talky due to the need to explain the characters’ situation and set the scene before getting into the story proper, it’s punctuated properly by several small action scenes, giving the viewer something to look at while exposition happens. This should start to clear up by the next episode.
The animation by A-1 Pictures is stellar, with beautiful vistas proliferate throughout the show. However, there does seem to already be several off-form shots, even though this is the first episode. This hopefully will not become a trend, but given A-1 Pictures’ track record, this might not be disappearing any time soon. I don’t mind much, though, with their amazing control of colour dominating any negative opinion I may have of them.
As for music, guess who’s in charge? Yuki Kajiura. A fitting musician for a story set in a post-modern medieval setting. While unintrusive overall, the final piece of the first episode really heightened the impact of the scene for me, raising a feeling in my chest that can only be described as unbridled excitement.
Sword Art Online’s first episode isn’t fantastic by any means, and for an introductory episode moves pretty much as all introductory episodes do. However, it does give a taste of what the rest of the show will be like – and that taste shows that that no matter what happens with the story, it’ll be gosh-darned pretty.