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Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set I (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray review)

August 13, 2013 by  



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I can now understand why there was so much hype built around “Sword Art Online”.  It’s an addictive series that is well-written, well-acted and now with the release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set I”, you get one of the better anime TV series to be released on Blu-ray for 2013.  A five-star release, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” is highly recommended!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf

Image courtesy of © REKI KAWAHARA/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO Project. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set I

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: 7 Episodes (175 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), Dolby Digital 2.0, Japanese Linear PCM Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

Release Date: August 13, 2013

Originally Created by Reki Kawahara

Directed by Tomohiki Ito

Script by Munemasa Nakamoto, Naoki Shojo, Shuji Iriyama, Yoshikazu Mukai, Yukie Sugawara, Yukito Kizawa

Music by Yuki Kajiura

Character Design by Shingo Adachi

Art Director: Takayuki Nagashima, Yusuke Takeda

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures

Featuring the following voice talent:

Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito

Haruka Tomatsu/Cherami Leigh as Asuna

Kanae Itō as Yui

Kouichi Yamadera as Akihiko Kayaba

Ayahi Takagaki/Sarah Anne Williams as Lisbeth

Ayahi Takagaki as Rika Shinozaki

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee Morris as Leafa

Ayana Taketatsu as Suguha Kirigaya

Hiroaki Hirata as Klein

Hiroki Yasumoto/Patrick Seitz as Agil

Hiroki Yasumoto as Andrew Gilbert Mills

Rina Hidaka as Silica

Saori Hayami as Sachi

Takehito Koyasu as Nobuyuki Sugō/Oberon

Toru Ohkawa as Heathcliff

In the year 2022, next-generation game Sword Art Online (SAO) is the world’s first true VRMMORPG. A virtual reality helmet known as “Nerve Gear” has been developed, making Full Dives into a virtual dimension possible.

 SAO has generated worldwide buzz, and on its official launch day, one player, Kirito, immerses himself in its virtual world. But Akihiko Kayaba, the developer of SAO, proclaims the following to all players. “This game is inescapable unless all levels are cleared. And in this world, ‘Game Over’ is equivalent to death in the real world.”

 Contains episodes 1-7 plus original soundtrack CD 1, a 16-page deluxe booklet, illustration pin-ups, and an exclusive collectible card, all housed in a rigid box illustrated by abec (Original Character Design).

In 2002, writer Reki Kawahara wrote a novel series titled “Sword Art Online” under the name Fumio Kunori.

While Kawahara would receive critical acclaim for his novel “Accel World” in 2009, which earned Kawahara an ASCII Media Works’ 15th Dengeki Novel Prize and winning the Grand Prize in 2008, the popularity of “Accel World” would lead to “Sword Art Online” being republished and featuring the art work of abec.

This time using his real name on ASCII Media Works’ Dengeku Bunko label from April 10, 2009 and a spin-off series in 2012.  The series has since spawned a total of five manga adaptations (“Sword Art Online: Aincrad”, “4-koma”, “Fairy Dance”, “Girls Ops” and “Progressive”).  The anime series produced by A-1 Pictures was released in Japan between July and December 2012 and airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami in July 27, 2013.

A video game series was released in Japan for the Sony PSP and now, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” (featuring the first seven episodes) will be released in North America courtesy of Aniplex of America on August 2013.

The anime series was directed by Tomohiko Ito (“Occult Academ”, “Silver Spoon”), featuring music by Yuki Kajiura (“.hack” series, “Eat-Man”, “My-HIME”, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, “Noir”, “Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE”), character design by Shingo Adachi (“Megaman Star Force”, “Rockman.EXE Beat”) and Art Direction by Takayuki Nagashima (“Durarara!!”, “Real Drive”, “Steins;Gate”) and Yusuke Takeda (“Berserk” films, “Armitage III”, “009-1”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, “Golden Boy”, “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing”, etc.).

“Sword Art Online” is set in 2022 and many are playing the Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG), “Sword Art Online” (SAO for short).  The game comes with a virtual reality helmet known as a Nerve Gear which uses the five senses of the brain and so players can control their characters with their mind.

The anime series focuses on protagonist, Kirito, one of the 1,000 beta testers of the Closed Beta version of SAO.  On November 6th, the game is released to the public and Kirito is enjoying the game and meets Klein, who has experience playing RPG’s but learns from Kirito about the basics of the game.

While the two are talking, suddenly they are transported to the main courtyard and are unable to log out.  They are told by the creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, that all of the people playing are stuck in the game.  If anyone takes of the virtual reality helmet of a player, they will die.

As for those playing the game, if they want to be free of the game, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss.  But if their avatars (their game character) dies in the game, their bodies will also die in the real world.  And so far, people in the real world have died by having their Nerve Gear removed.

Determined in beating the game, so he can be free, “Sword Art Online” focuses on Kirito and his adventures of beating the game but also the people he meets in the game, may it be those who are experienced or non-experienced, those who have different “jobs” within the game but also solving mysteries as certain players have become people for hire and also become “player killers”.

The main characters featured in “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” are:

  • Kirito – The main protagonist of the series.  A former beta-tester who fights solo, because people think he’s a cheater because he was a former beta-tester and has previous knowledge of playing the game, he is often called a “beater”.  But because Kirito is a man with a good heart and willing to help people, he’s also very cautious and his high level of experience has made people fear him as rumors swirl around that he is a “Black Swordsman” due to the fact that he wears a black trenchcoat and fights with a sword in one hand.  He is determined in beating the final boss.  But part of the reason why Kirito has fought alone is because the pain of losing a team member is difficult for him.
  • Klein – A person who started playing SAO and learned quickly from Kirito of the basics of fighting.  He is the guild leader of Fuurinkazaan and is often worried for his friend Kirito, because he fights alone.
  • Asuna – A person who fought with Kirito.  She is very good at fighting and after taking the advice of Kirito of joining a guild, she became a member of the guild, Knights of the Blood.  She often gets angry at Kirito (known as tsundere behavior) but in truth, she looks to him for help.  Like Kirito, she also has a good heart and determined in beating the game.
  • Silica – A person who is a dagger-wielding beast tamer.  She is the first person to tame a Feathery Dragon named Pina and one of the active young members in SAO.  She is attracted to Kirito but also looks up to him like a big brother.
  • Lisbeth – A blacksmith in the game and Asuna’s best friend.  She is attracted to Kirito.
  • Sachi – A member of the Black Cats of the Full Moon Guild, which Kirito temporarily joined.  She is afraid that she will die and doesn’t like playing the game.
  • Kayaba Akihiko – The development creator and Game Master of Sword Art Online and the primary antagonist.  He is responsible for trapping all characters in the Sword Art Online game and killing people with the use of the Nerve Gear virtual reality helmet.

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” features the first seven episodes of “Sword Art Online”:

  • EPISODE 1 – Kirito and many other players are trapped in the Sword Art Online game by the game creator Kayaba Akihiko with the use of the Nerve Gear helmets.
  • EPISODE 2 – It has been a month and 2,000 people have have died in SOA.  No one has beaten the first level boss and while everyone is forming guilds, Kirito and a girl named Asuna team up.
  • EPISODE 3 – Four months have passed in the SOA game.  Kirito joins a guild known as “The Black Cats of the Full Moon”.
  • EPISODE 4 – Kirito helps a beast tamer named Silica who lost her familiar named Pina.  Both go in search for a Pneuma Flower which would revive it, but others are also after the flower.
  • EPISODE 5 – Kirito and Asuna team up once again to solve a murder mystery within the SAO game.
  • EPISODE 6 – A continuing storyline of the murder mystery as Kirito and Asuna join forces to figure out who is responsible.
  • EPISODE 7 – Kirito wants to upgrade his sword and goes to a blacksmith named Lisbeth, who happens to be Asuna’s very good friend.

VIDEO:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  Because of the ever changing landscape within the Sword Art Online game, there is a good balance between well-painted buildings and interiors and also beautiful painted backgrounds for outdoor scenes.   Black levels are nice and deep but its the colorful palette and the beautiful backgrounds that captivate you.

Colors are absolutely vibrant and I didn’t notice any problems with artifacts or banding during my viewing of the first seven episodes.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 English and Japanese linear PCM stereo.  The voice acting for the Japanese soundtrack is solid.  Both Yoshitsugi Matsuoka and Haruka Tomatsu and other cast members have done a fantastic job.  With that being said, having watched the series first in Japanese, watching it with the English dub, I felt the casting was spot-on!  Both Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh did an awesome job as Kirito and Asuna.  But the casting for this anime series for the English dub was fantastic.  Everyone did a magnificent job with their character role.

Subtitles are in English and you can choose from complete English subtitles which include dialogue and Japanese kana translations or a selection to choose just kana translations or no English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” features the following special features:

  • Sword Art Offline 1 – (11:00) Featuring Asuna and Kirito in super deformed format discussing the first episode, SOA trivia and more.
  • Sword Art Offline 2 – (11:06) Featuring Asuna and Kirito in super deformed format discussing the first episode, SOA trivia and featuring Silica, the beast tamer.
  • Sword Art Offline 3 – (11:54) Featuring Asuna and Kirito in super deformed format discussing the first episode, SOA trivia and featuring discussion about crystalite Ingot.
  • Web Version Previews  – Featuring web previews for episodes 2-8
  • Audio Commentary 1 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna), Hiroaki Hirata (voice of Klein) and Director Tomohiko Ito.
  • Audio Commentary 3 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna), Saori Hayama (voice of Sachi) and Shingo Adachi (character designer and supervising animation director)
  • Audio Commentary 4 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna), Rina Hidaka (voice of Silica) and Shingo Adachi (character designer and supervising animation director) and Kawakami (sub-character designer and supervising animation director)
  • Audio Commentary 7 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna) and Ayahi Takagi (voice of Lisbeth).
  • Textless Opening Song
  • English Trailer – Aniplex USA trailer for “Sword Art Online”.

EXTRAS:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” Blu-ray also comes with the following:

  • Original Soundtrack CD 1 (ソードアート・オンライン Vol. 4 Original Soundtrack vol. 1)

The following is a 33-track soundtrack (1 hour long) featuring all-instrumental tracks by Yuki Kajiura.  The soundtrack was included with the fourth Blu-ray volume release in Japan and included in the U.S. Aniplex Inc. release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1”.

  1. swordland        3:18
  2. feel uneasy        1:41
  3. everyday life        1:54
  4. quiet strain        1:58
  5. no way        1:44
  6. stand at bay        1:10
  7. weird place        2:10
  8. survive the swordland        2:16
  9. taut nerves        1:58
  10. a tense situation        2:32
  11. a strategy meeting        1:46
  12. in your past        1:38
  13. march down        1:52
  14. left in suspense        2:13
  15. we have to defeat it        1:50
  16. at our parting        1:25
  17. confront battle        2:42
  18. at our parting ~piano only        1:25
  19. luminous sword        2:29
  20. at our parting ~Vc only        0:47
  21. a close battle        1:55
  22. a tender feeling        2:07
  23. a narrow escape        1:53
  24. he rules us        2:36
  25. fight!        2:07
  26. a tiny love        1:45
  27. smile for me        1:39
  28. gracefully        1:50
  29. a squabble        1:22
  30. with my friend        1:25
  31. the first town        1:54
  32. at nightfall        1:57
  33. despaired        1:22
  • 16-Page Deluxe Illustration Booklet – Each page features illustrations with characters from the series.
  • Set of Pin-Up Illustration Postcards – Featuring seven different illustrated postcards.
  • Exclusive Bushiroad’s Collectible Card #1 – I’m not sure if each set is random but the card that came with this limited edition release featured Kirito & Asuna (Avatar/Weapon).
  • Rigid Box illustrated by abec (Original Character Design) – A slipcase which houses both Blu-ray cases.
  • Clear BD cases with 2-sided Japanese Cover Design

“Sword Art Online” features an addictive storyline and one of the few anime series in the last year that had me watching it non-stop, I love this series!

As a person who loves Japanese RPG games, back in early 2000’s, I was captivated by the “.Hack” series, fast forward over a decade later and I started hearing praises for this story about people trapped in a video game world.  At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it because I figured that it would be a copycat anime series.

But from the amount of hype of the series in Japan and then our coverage of Sakura-Con which featured series creator Reki Kawahara and those who were involved in the musical end of the series praising the series, I had to check the series out the first two episodes for myself on Crunchyroll and I enjoyed it.

But with the announcement of the series on Blu-ray and that it would feature an English dub, suffice to say, I have been looking forward to watching the series and I was immediately captivated by its storyline, moreso than “.Hack” which I really enjoyed.

The reason why I enjoyed “Sword Art Online” was not just the characters but also the human and emotional element brought to the characters to this RPG virtual world setting.  People can die in the game and die in real life.  And for a lot of people that are stuck in the game, some never played an RPG game ever and face this reality that they can die not just in the game and in reality, or if someone tries to take their Nerve Gear helmet off their head, they will die.

Of course, there is a side to me that wonders if one plays the game for months, how will they survive in the real world without any food, sleep, etc.  But without over thinking those situations, unlike “.Hack” which tries to showcase the person behind the game and the jobs they have, this game features the actual body of the person courtesy of their Nerve Gear helmet which scanned their bodies.

And because each player is put into a terrifying situation that in order to beat the game and a powerful boss, you’ll need to level up and fight.

So, everyone is forced to join teams or fight alone and they can easily get killed if they don’t know what they are doing.  And the fact is that within the first month alone, 2,000 people have died.

I like how the series focuses on Kirito and the people he meets.  From Asuna, the tsundere character that is a very good fighter and a person that probably may be a romantic interest in the game?  Then you have Kirito meeting Sachi, a girl that is terrified of dying in the game.  Meeting one of the younger players of the game, Silica and Lisbeth, a player who thinks about love or will she ever find love and all of a sudden, meeting Kirito who has brought her emotions of love that she has never felt before.

But a harem anime series, this is not.  It’s about experiences and the characters that Kirito meet to show how the game has progressed or how he has progressed.  We learn that there are people who are hired by other players in the game for schemes.  We learn that there are players who kill other players for the fun of it.  And others who use their situation in the game for murder in reality.

“Sword Art Online” features a storyline that draws you in and makes you, the viewer, wanting more and more.

As for the Blu-ray release, this is an Aniplex Limited Edition which means… “Aniplex Swag”!

If there is anything about Aniplex that they have been true to fans who have purchased their limited editions, the company delivers in giving fans special swag that was released in Japan.

In the case of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1”, not only do you get the slipcase and irreversible covers on a clear Blu-ray case, you also get a 33 song soundtrack featuring the music by the wonderful Yuki Kajiura.

Also, you get a booklet of illustrations, postcards and a limited Bushiroad playing card.

As for the Blu-ray release, as one can expect, the series looks wonderful on Blu-ray.  While I wished for a more immersive lossless soundtrack, a lot of anime TV series are originally in stereo and for the case of “Sword Art Online”, the soundtrack is purchased in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Japanese Linear PCM stereo.  But both soundtracks are well-acted and I was very impressed by the English dub with Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito and Cherami Leigh as Asuna.

As for special features, you get the “Sword Art Offline” animations, several audio commentary featuring the Japanese seiyuu (voice actor and actress of the series) plus the original web previews and more.

I can now understand why there was so much hype built around “Sword Art Online”.  It’s an addictive series that is well-written, well-acted and now with the release of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1”, you get one of the better anime TV series to be released on Blu-ray for 2013.

A five-star release, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” is highly recommended!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf






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