* * * B
Available on Netflix, Sword Art Online: Season 1 is a 26 episode Japanese anime series set in the near future. The premise is that a virtual reality technology is created that is able to fully immerse the players sense while they are online. Thousands of players are online playing Sword Art Online when its creator announces that they are now locked in the game, any attempts to remove their headsets by anyone outside the game will be fatal, and anyone who dies while playing will die IRL (in real life).
The protagonist, Kirito, is a former beta tester for the game who likes to play solo. In the early going, there are major leaps forward in time between the episodes. The heroine, Asuna, is introduced in an early episode, then returns later to take on her full role. The writing is at first episodic, before becoming more serial. I found all the early episodes entertaining except for a two part murder mystery, which was a bit weak.
I won’t reveal the end of the first major arc (episodes 1-14), but I liked most of it. I found one of the characters, Yui, kind of weird, and the part of the arc where she is introduced, a romantic subplot, a bit slow. The second arc (episodes 15-26) introduces a new online world where characters can fly, and a new character, Leafa, as a companion and wanna-be love interest for Kirito as he searches for Asuna.
This series is violent, and has some mature sexual themes. The science fiction elements are believable. The handling of the premise, that people are essentially trapped in the online world of the game with no idea of when or even if they will be freed from it, is well written. I found the “love conquers all” plot elements a bit hard to swallow, but, since the series is romance heavy, they fit into it reasonably well.