Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sword Art Online: Aincrad by Reki Kawahara

Rating: WORTHY!

Sword Art Online: Aincrad, known in Japanese as Sōdo Āto Onrain, which I find hilarious, is a novel which has spawned several sequels and an anime as well as the inevitable video games. I checked out the anime which is available on Netflix (as of this writing) and it wasn't watchable. I can't stand those giant, mournful eyes, and the pointy noses and chins. They look creepy to me, and it's particularly obnoxious when they have physical interactions of an intimate nature because it's like seeing children have sex. No. Just no!

Worse, the thing was subtitled and that's a no for me. Video - as defined by its very name - is a visual art, and you can't focus on that if your eyes are almost one hundred percent glued to the bottom tenth of the image trying to understand what they're saying. Not that there's much action in these minimally animated anime shows. Anime is entirely the wrong name for it; it should be called minime! But if I want to watch it, I don't want to read it at the same time! Duhh! Get a clue movie makers! If I want to read it, I'll get the book, which is what I did in this case.

Dubbed versions are also sometimes laughable because they have these middle-grade kids speaking with gruff adult voices which is beyond ridiculous, and sometimes the female voices are so spastic they make you want to tear your ears off. Suffice to say I don't watch a heck of a lot of anime!

But back to our book in progress: set in 2022, with the trope of new technology available to totally immerse gamers in virtual reality, sixteen-year-old Kazuto Kirigaya, whose game name is "Kirito", is anxious to try out this new game: Sword Art Online, of which he was a beta tester. He, along with ten thousand other players (all in Japan) is shocked to discover that once the game begins, no one cannot log out.

All of the players have been trapped by psycho game developer Akihiko Kayaba, and the sad thing is even by the end of the novel we're never given any real reason (not even a 'reason' as seen by Kayaba) why this is being done. The only way to get out is to fight your way past super monsters to the one hundredth floor. Anyone who tries to exit by means of having someone remove their telemetry head cage, will have their brain zapped by microwaves. One more thing: if you die in the game, you die in real life.

Players find they have no choice. Some hunker down and do nothing, while others form guilds to try and make their way to the top. One groups forms a huge army. Some players, such as Kirito, go it alone. Time passes and the gamers progress floor by floor. Progress isn't achieved by anything like skill or intelligence - except skill in sword-fighting, but this is what the gaming world has reduced us to: conflict and bravado.

Just like the real world, we could render the virtual worlds into anything we want, but the males in power in both these worlds have decided that testosterone rules: the real world, the gaming world, and the comic book world, and all that's important is stealing and racing cars, fighting with swords, or fighting with guns. This is the world macho men have created for us all.

Large chunks of time are bypassed in this book in the space of a sentence as the novel progresses, and suddenly we've been gaming for two years, although who is keeping track of that isn't mentioned. Maybe it's the game itself, but since they're in a virtual reality, that reality could be lying to them with each passing minute! No one considers this.

There are one or two interludes, during which Kirito meets and partners with a guild member named Asuna Yuuki, the first name of which is pretty much 'anus' backwards, unfortunately. That said, the relationship between the two, while a bit on the precipitous side, isn't too badly done, and given the stress they're under, perhaps isn't even too quick. The end was a bit abrupt and unlikely. No one who has been confined to a hospital bed essentially in a coma for two years, not even with the best and most attentive care, which few of these many thousands of gamers will have had, is going to get out of bed and start walking around five minutes after waking up!

But, despite the weaknesses, I liked the story quite a lot. I consider it a worthy read, and I was thinking I might read volume two just out of curiosity, but then I discovered that volume two consists of Kirito going back into the game (a slightly different game) to rescue Asuna, who is trapped in it! What? How is she trapped in a different game? This is my problem with series - they are by definition derivative and unimaginative, and while some authors can make a go of them, most just make a goo of them. Clearly this author can't hack it, because he's simply telling the first story over again! Except that this time it's worse, because Asuna is a maiden in distress. I'm sorry, but no! You don't get to make her a victim like this and have the guy come in and rescue her like St George saving the maiden from the dragon (exactly like that!), so further reading in this series is definitely out for me.