Revisiting Sword Art Online as a Family
Sword Art Online is an anime series that has been both praised in heavenly song and sentenced to the deepest depths of Hell by its fans, an anime that can be enjoyed or torn apart piece by piece depending on your mood.
Though I can agree with many of the criticisms of the story and find theories and alternate scenarios interesting, I actually like SAO. I like it a lot. I was hooked back when I first watched it and I’m hooked again now that I’m experiencing it with my kids.
Watching the series all over again alongside two elementary schoolers with wild imaginations and a wide, vastly unexplored love of fantasy breathed new excitement into me too.
Kirito is such a cool dude, you can’t help but cheer him on and feel for him. My kids hung on his every word and action, especially my son who started building Aincrad out of Lego as we sat down for SAO binge sessions last weekend. He even let me know he wants to be Kirito for Halloween.
And Yui, one of the more controversial characters in the series for her world breaking abilities and childlike behavior, is my daughter’s favorite character. When she saw her brother building an SAO world out of Lego, she started building Yui.
My kids both laughed when Yui started calling Kirito and Asuna “Daddy” and “Mommy.” They continued to giggle whenever the online group acted like a family.
And you would not believe the look on my daughter’s face when Yui had a Sailor Moon-esque transformation sequence into her pink fairy form. It may as well have been my daughter’s birthday and that character, a gift especially for her.
Everything supposedly unbelievable or annoying about the series, my children loved. The drama, the jokes, the moments where characters got embarrassed or realized their feelings for one another and then responded in some juvenile way, all of that resonated with my kids and kept them begging me to play one more episode.
And when things got intense, my kids had a strange reaction. They would start tuning out completely or give the scene their rapt attention.
I think this signified moments where my kids were totally absorbed versus moments that maybe didn’t involve their favorite characters and so they weren’t as invested.
For instance, the tragic destruction of Kirito’s first guild didn’t have much of an effect on them. They didn’t know the members of the guild well enough and my kids are still in a place where death isn’t so heavy a subject or even an understandable one. So that was a moment that surprisingly went right over their heads.
On the other hand, when characters risked their lives for someone else, did something risky for the sake of another, that’s when my kids perked up and gave the show their undivided attention.
More was on the line for them in those instances, I think. Friendship. Reputation. A physical item the characters were after. These were stakes that mattered more to them.
My kids wanted these characters to stay together, fight til the end, meet in real life, and continue to have fun together. The weight of death was less than the weight of a moment with a friend.
“Higher thinkers” out there may be appalled by this but it actually makes me hopeful for my kids and helps me understand SAO as a series a bit more too.
High fantasy is meant to make you feel strong, even invincible, and strong characters help you feel that way even if they are overpowered or the only “special one.”
Seeing a character work hard, treat others kindly, and in turn make a lot of friends is something positive. Kirito isn’t an antihero. He may be gruff and irresponsible at times due to his circumstances, but he generally apologizes to people and makes sure they know they matter to him. He helps strangers with quests and makes deals where everyone can come out of it a winner.
In return, that makes the viewer want to be that kind of hero too. To think you could become so powerful and so loved without actively trying to hurt or usurp anyone else. Kirito never puts someone else down to make himself bigger. He gives everyone the benefit of the doubt until the very end.
The series may have its flaws and the small handful of scenes of characters in their underwear might have caused me some discomfort, but overall SAO has been a positive experience for us as a family. It’s been a fantasy adventure we could all get lost in, themes of knights and warriors of old tied into the modern mechanics of online games and a net-based community that my kids can recognize too.
In their minds they have already made SAO their own and are ready to forge their own stories in that fantasy. They’ve since started building SAO areas in Minecraft and talking about the characters and moments they liked the most.
Plus, we’re going to be watching the movie, Ordinal Scale, for the first time this week and then starting the GunGale Online arc, so our SAO family story isn’t over yet!
And I’m glad it’s not over. It’s such a fun bonding experience to share together and my children remind me along the way how to just have fun and get lost in a fantasy again.
I don’t care if Sword Art Online is an immature power fantasy. It’s our immature power fantasy and I love it.