Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sword Art Online (2012) Review


“I’m a solo player, remember?”

- Kirito to Asuna

Sword Art Online is what happens when you let evil people design videogames. You see, on its launch date the players of the virtual MMO Sword Art Online are trapped inside the game with no way to log out, other than beating the game. (As the evil game creator informs them.) Soon after joining a guild however, our hero, Kirito, decides to beat the game solo. But, is that even possible?

But you see, Kirito has one major advantage. He was a beta tester in Sword Art Online, so he knows where to go to get good equipment, and what monsters to defeat. Well, I guess the game maker trapping 6000 players in a battle royale helps cut down on competition, too. But, he quickly rises through the ranks, defeating dungeon monsters, bosses, even participating in duels. He becomes the game’s notorious loner, The Black Swordsman. Half the fun is watching him battle every boss nearly to the death. If his HP drops to 0, he dies in real life as well as in the game.

For me, the fun is seeing the game elements mix with real world elements. For example, some people decide to play it safe and stay in the game. Others form guilds exclusively for getting back to real life and beating the game, and others are just trolls and player-killers. Things get even more interesting though, when he meets Asuna. She is a high-level guild member who keeps dragging him along on quests.

When Kirito meets her, she scolds him for falling asleep, and not beating the game. Well, they start to hang out, and start a relationship. Soon another question arises. Should they stay in the game, where they have happier and healthier lives, or risk it all to get back to the real world? Where are they even, in the real world? Indeed, it seems at first like they’d be happier in the game. What are they going to do? Meet IRL and marry?

Now, the only trouble I really have with SAO is that the fan service level is a little high. If you can stomach that unfairness, it’s a great show (25 episodes) with lots of twists and turns, sometimes out of nowhere. I like how it brings to life virtual reality issues…such as dying, which is usually no problem in a game…and flips them around by adding real world consequences. The line between the game and reality becomes very blurry. It helps build a world in which you’re invested, but also raises the question: Can/Should he give it all up? Now, Sword Art Online IS his life, and his virtual girlfriend is his girlfriend with whom he has a another life. There’s almost no real reason to go back IRL.

All in all, I like Sword Art Online. It raises good questions about escapism (For example, wouldn’t Kirito rather be the famous Black Swordsman, than some random teen?) the nature of god in the game maker, and the nature of society in how people interact with others, build societies, and guilds. The only thing that’s not very realistic is that there’s only one trolling guild, Laughing Coffin. Thank goodness! Oh! That, and the excessive fan service, which is unfair to women!

But, overall I give Sword Art Online 4/5 stars for developing an engrossing, beautifully-animated world that raises questions about the value of escapism, with great plot twists! Check it out, if you get the chance. Oh, and don’t let evil people with God complexes design videogames. That seems to be the overarching moral. Ha! But, seriously, it’s a great show to watch!

Monday, April 14, 2014


“Trust is what makes an army work. Not a bunch of guys running around shooting guns.”

- Captain America

Oh, that Captain America! So honorable. So gee-golly good! So trusting! 70 years frozen in an ice cube and does it even phase him? Nope. Just takes getting used to, he says. I mean, sure he’s got a long list of music and movies to watch, but that’s what the internet is a for. (Right?) And for buddies, he’s got his own little army in The Avengers! Ol’ Cap just never stopped fighting the Good Fight.

But, now his faith in The Good Fight is a little shaken up after he finds out his buddy Nick Fury’s been keeping secrets from him. What’s a supersoldier to do?  Why, keep fighting The Good Fight of course, and find out the truth behind SHIELD‘s secrets, even while being framed for them! There’s a lot more action in this one, and a lot more hitting people with shields. Especially because he’s hunted by The Winter Soldier!

I loved this movie even though a few things were changed from the comic book version, of The Winter Soldier. Namely, Bucky isn’t picked up by the Russians. Rather, he’s a HYDRA (read: super Nazi.) agent, and being a Russian assassin is sort of his cover story. He’s made to look Russian, given Soviet arms, (and an arm…) and brainwashed.  Although, it’s really HYDRA in control.

Yet, every time Cap and Black Widow get closer to the conspiracy, Winter Soldier appears to stop them. Physically, (and with that cyborg arm!) he’s a match for Cap, but not mentally, since he’s being Hawkeyed (a.k.a. mind-controlled.) It’s Cap’s good morals that win the day, even as helicarriers explode around him. Of course, if you’ve read the comics, you know where the Winter Soldier will end up, and why it was necessary that he be the titular villain in this arc.

Speaking of storylines, I guess I’m one of those rare beasts who absolutely loved Captain America: The First Avenger. This may be either because I liked the moral, or because I spent too much time studying WWII and the German language…or all of that! Nonetheless, I was pleased to see connections from the earlier film play into the HYDRA conspiracy. The arrival of Dr. Zola details HYDRA’s Cold War work…which is based in fact. The superpowers did scramble to pick up German scientists in the post-war period. In effect, Cap is still fighting the same war: Freedom vs. fear. Wowzers! Historical fiction! What will Marvel 2.0 think of next?

Speaking thematically, this is where I think Marvel upped the ante for the movies. Behind Cap’s loyalty and trust are (I think.) a tacit rejection of Batman’s use of fear as a weapon, which places Marvel vs. DC effectively in two camps philosophically. Compare Cap’s objections to SHIELD’s operations with Batman hacking every cell phone in Gotham. “This isn’t freedom, this is fear!” Cap might well say. But, philosophy aside, I simply loved everyone in the movie. I really think Marvel just created a great new world by destroying its old one.

Of course, Cap has still got it in either world. He can  still kick butt! And so can his new friends Falcon (I was worried Falcon might be a cheesy sidekick, but he works his way in to be necessary to the plot, and a good pal to Cap!) and Black Widow!  For me, this Marvel 2.0’s best film to date. It has a clear vision, good action, and sets up fascinating story arcs, if I know where this is going. Frankly, I can’t wait to see where they’ll go next! Freedom prevails! 5/5 stars from me!

(Did I mention I think I see where they're going?)