Genre(s): Isekai, Action, Game, Fantasy, Psychological, Adventure
Age-Appropriateness: 16+ (Violence, blood, partial nudity, heavy topics (cw: sexual assault))
Platforms: Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation
TheAwersome Rating: 8.6 / 10 (Best SAO yet)
Premise: The Soul Translator is a state-of-the-art full-dive interface which interacts with the user’s Fluctlight—the technological equivalent of a human soul—and fundamentally differs from the orthodox method of sending signals to the brain. The private institute Rath aims to perfect their creation by enlisting the aid of Sword Art Online survivor Kazuto Kirigaya. He works there as a part-time employee to test the system’s capabilities in the Underworld: the fantastical realm generated by the Soul Translator. As per the confidentiality contract, any memories created by the machine in the virtual world are wiped upon returning to the real world. Kazuto can only vaguely recall a single name, Alice, which provokes a sense of unease when mentioned in reality.
When Kazuto escorts Asuna home one evening, they chance upon a familiar foe. Kazuto is mortally wounded in the ensuing fight and loses consciousness. When he comes to, he discovers that he has made a full-dive into the Underworld with seemingly no way to escape. He sets off on a quest, seeking a way back to the physical world once again.
TheAwersome’s Thoughts: I feel SAO goes back to its roots in a really good way with this one. We get an excellently immersive fantasy world with a lot of charm, great sword-play tactics, and a strong, emotionally driven story. This is a lot more streamlined than previous entries, as it isn’t split into separate mini-arcs, all the same story going on here. I feel here, more than in previous installments, you’re forced to really think about some hard morality questions and philosophical conundrums, and I LOVE it.
TLDR: SAO goes back to its roots and slows the pace down.
It does lead right into the next arc: Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of the Underworld, so we’re not done with SAO yet.
The qualms I do have with this are some repeats from previous installments. Sexual assault is used as a plot device yet again, and this is the worst it’s been in the series. So much so that the SAO creator after seeing the episode personally apologized to the voice actors for having to do that scene. He has allegedly seen the light and changed his ways. We can only hope because it’s a rough episode to watch. While very effective, there are other ways to make a villain detestable.
My other disappointment is that we don’t get to see Asuna be the BAMF that she is. She’s sidelined, yet again, for most of the season. I guess that’s what the upcoming movie Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night is for. From my understanding it takes place in the Aincrad arc from Asuna’s perspective, and land sakes she deserves it, come on.
You’ll likely enjoy this if you enjoyed: