Sword Art Online

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Sword Art Online TV Poster Image
Highbrow anime series has dark themes, many deaths.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 69 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Kirito struggles in deciding between going it alone and joining a team, weighing the pros and cons of each choice; both bring added danger but also the possibility of more protection. Viewers also see him cope with the stigma of being a beta tester, which raises the ire of some fellow players, even though he uses his knowledge to help them, too. The story is set in a place where the people have little freedom, but they still find ways to exert what they have and make their own decisions as best they can. Some sabotage others for their own gain; others consider suicide a better option than endless fighting.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kirito is perpetually conflicted; he wants to succeed, but he can't bring himself to do so at the expense of other innocents around him. As a result, he often surprises others who make snap judgments about him and his character. Generally positive traits such as loyalty, courage, and compassion yield positive results, but not always. Greed and power have their day, too.

Violence

Characters fend off large monsters of various appearances using swords and staff-like weapons. Many die in the game (including sympathetic characters) by exploding into pixels and disappearing, but it's said that their real selves also perish as a result.

Sex

Some attraction between characters, including a relationship between main characters, but little physical contact.

Language

Occasionally "damn."

Consumerism

An online game based on this series is available, so teens who like the story may want to play.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

Adult Written bydonnyboshoff May 18, 2016

Double check your facts

I'm one of those dad's who watch anime and play games with, and sometimes even more than my kids. Knowing this, I believe it's best to watch unkn... Continue reading
Parent of a 11 year old Written bymaguys September 7, 2016

Watch together with your younger teens

This started out as an interesting adventure for everybody. I guess what threw me was that a few episodes in the tone started to change a little. Gratuitous sh... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bybioniclecomeback56 July 11, 2016

Wow...

CSM really screwed up this time. It's really obvious that Emily Ashby didn't watch very much of the show. The first few episodes are quite decieving a... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byANIME.REview096 February 26, 2016

SAO

BEST ANIME!!!! I personally think this is the actual best anime ever (ive seen 39 animes so i know!) . There are some seens that include rape so i say, make sur... Continue reading

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?

TV details

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