A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sword Art Online is an anime series about a virtual reality game that controls its players and holds their real-life survival in the balance. Many characters die throughout the course of the show, either beaten by monsters of various kinds or by others' swords, but they burst into tiny pixels and there's no blood. The concept of suicide is one that's discussed numerous times, and some players resort to it in hopelessness. Kirito struggles with others' impressions of him, causing him to doubt himself at times, but he generally makes good decisions. This series blurs the line between reality and virtual reality in a new way, which raises some talking points about staying safe online. If your teens like this show, they may want to check out the games related to it, so that's something to consider before giving it the OK.
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What's the story?
SWORD ART ONLINE is the story of a multiplayer virtual-reality game that takes a deadly turn when players discover they can't escape of their own will but must play to victory or to death. It centers on Kirito (voiced by Bryce Papenbrook), an avid gamer and beta tester for SAO who enters the game on the day of its public launch and is met with the challenge from designer Akihiko Kayaba: Conquer the game's challenges to advance to the 100th floor and defeat the final boss to win your freedom; die in the process, and your real-life persona will perish as well. Loner Kirito sets off to do just that, bolstered by the advance knowledge he gained as a tester, but eventually he teams up with others, including the particularly skilled Asuna (Cherami Leigh). But in an environment where many will die, his edge as a tester (or "beater," as others call them) makes him a target of players who resent him for it.
Is it any good?
This exceptional, highbrow anime series has some thoughtful themes that are well suited for teens in the audience. Kirito is a curious but relatable sort of fellow, an apparent loner in life who turns to multiplayer virtual reality in part so he can invent a new persona, courtesy of the taller, more imposing figure of his avatar. The trouble is, once the SAO game starts in earnest, the characters are reduced to their real-life appearances. Between overcoming his anxieties about being seen for who he is and trying to hide his true identity as a beater from those who would hate him for it, Kirito has to find his source of strength to face the game and those around him. It's a constant source of turmoil for him, and some of his experiences speak to social pressures teens themselves may feel.
Sword Art Online's blurred line between virtual and reality puts an intriguing twist on the "escape" of gaming by presenting a venue in which players can enter with virtual versions of their whole bodies, controlling them through their own thoughts. Here, though, doing so has consequences unlike anywhere else, and they sacrifice their very freedom just to play. Given such a scenario, how would you react? It's a question you can't avoid as you watch the characters toy with difficult decisions -- teaming up with unsavory folks for self-preservation, going it alone even if it means relegating others to die, and so on. It's a heady series with some dark themes, but for teens who can handle the content, this is a fascinating anime series.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Internet safety. Teens: What kinds of personal information do you typically share online? How could seemingly innocuous things such as your whereabouts or your birthday put you at risk? When is it appropriate to share photos, and what limits do you put on those?
How has social media changed how we relate to other people? Should you believe everything people write about themselves online? How can social media be used as a tool to hurt someone? Have you ever experienced cyberbullying?
Kirito struggles with relating to others. Have you ever felt that way? Why are friendships important? How do you and your friends bond over unplugged activities? Why is it important to do so?
Themes & Topics
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