Virtual Reality is awesome.
Ten years ago, I watched .hack/SIGN: A meandering series centred around barely-animated talking heads. The cast never really did any actual MMORPG stuff, preferring to spend most of the series navel-gazing. To my younger self, it was a letdown of epic proportions - But now, a full decade later, I'm actually kind of grateful that the SAO anime hadn't come out yet.
It sets the bar so high, it would have ruined my younger self.
SAO isn't a deep series, by any sense of the word; What SAO is, however, is *fun*. It's a show that's completely honest about what it's trying to be, and a grand celebration of virtual reality in general and MM Os
The story is as follows: 10,000 players are trapped in Aincraid, a cutting-edge MMO, where dying in the game means dying in real life. The only way to escape is by completing a hundred-storey dungeon; Kirito, our protagonist, is one player amongst many - And one of the first to realize that the only way out is *through.*
Let's talk about Kirito for a moment.
There are plenty of shows which are dragged down by their main character. You know the type; Whiny, useless, apathetic cyphers, who have to be poked and prodded into taking any action.
Kirito is not one of them.
Competent, intelligent and quietly mature, he's a breath of fresh air in a stale genre. As far from a cookie-cutter protagonist as you can get, he actually has attractive qualities, and doesn't behave with the frustrating wall-banging obliviousness that plagues many, many other male leads. Refreshingly, he isn't burdened by the impossible standards that define typical protagonists, and is driven by very recognizable motives and desires - Something that I'll never cease to be grateful for.
In brief, SAO is a show that knows the audience and knows what it's aiming for, with top-notch production values. It is a show about how MMORP Gs
*should* be, and refreshingly free of the sneering - "Stop playing games, *nerd*! The real world is *so* much better!" - message that constantly plagues the genre.
Sure, there are flaws; The pacing lags in places (Mostly due to the limitations of the original Light Novel format), and there's an unabashed reliance on anime tropes. But in the end, SAO is immensely cathartic, guilt-free escapist fun - And that's what matters.