It has been one month since the Virtual Reality Game, Sword Art Online, officially launched to the general public. The 10,000 lucky players who managed to obtain a copy eagerly awaited to log on for the first time. The date was November 6, 2022 and the time was 1:00pm (Japan Standard Time, I presume). However, none of them knew that in reality, they were actually signing their death sentence.
The Game of Death Begins
A few hours after the game’s initial launch, the players got teleported to a courtyard in the center of the Town of Beginnings, the initial login port of the game. Above that courtyard is where the gamemaster, Akahiko Kayaba, descended from the sky in a cloak of blood. He announced to the players that there was no way to log out of Sword Art Online and if anyone on the outside world attempts to do so, the NerveGear – the helmet the players used to login to the game – will emit microwaves into their brain, killing the user.
There was only one way to escape the game. The players must clear all 100 floors of Aincrad castle and defeat the boss on each floor before being allowed to advance to the next one. Only after defeating the final boss on the 100th floor of Aincrad castle can the players be allowed to escape.
However, if any player’s life points reach zero, that player loses their avatar for good, and the Nerve Gear will simultaneously destroy their brain and end their life.
Kazuto Kirigaya – whose player name is Kirito – couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but he knew what Kayaba was saying was true because he had studied Kayaba all his life. Thus, Kirito immediately set off to become the strongest player in the game so that he could hope to one day clear the entire castle
The 100 Floors of Aincrad Castle
The world of Sword Art Online exits entirely within an enormous floating castle called Aincrad. The goal of the game is to navigate each floor, find the boss’s lair, defeat the boss, then advance to the next floor. Only by advancing through all 100 floors, can the players hope to escape Sword Art Online.
It has been one month since Sword Art Online officially launched, and since the game has begun, 2,000 players have died. The first floor has yet to be cleared. Now, one month later, a group of players have gathered together to discuss their plans on how to defeat the boss.
A Social Gathering of Sorts
A player named Diabel has gathered a group of players to an amphitheater. He announces that his party has discovered the boss room at the top of the dungeon tower. In preparation to fight this boss, he instructs each of the players to form parties of six.
Kirito, who is in attendance at this meeting, begins looking for players to form a party with. However, it seems like everyone else has already formed a party. Eventually, he finally sees a girl sitting all by herself draped in a maroon cloak. Kirito cautiously scoots closer to her.
“You got left out too?” asks Kirito.
“I wasn’t left out,” responds the girl, “Everyone else seemed to be friends already, so I just stayed out of it.”
“Then want to party with me?”
The girl nods.
Kirito sends her a party invite. The girl accepts, and then Kirito is able to see her name.
Her name reads Asuna.
After everyone has finished forming their parties, Diabel continues to explain…or at least he tries to before someone calls from the top of the steps.
“Hold up a second!” he cries and leaps into the center of the Amphitheater, “My name’s Kibaou. Some of you need to apologize to the 2,000 players who have died so far.”
He is addressing the ex-beta testers, many of whom he assumes to be at this meeting. (Kirito is one of them.) This is the first time in this story where the resentment of non-beta testers towards ex-beta testers is presented. Since the ex-beta testers already know the ins-and-outs of the game, the non-beta testers accuse them of hoarding all of the best items, hogging all of the best hunting grounds, and withholding the best secrets of the game to themselves.
“We should make them get on their knees and apologize,” continues Kibaou.
“Can I say something?” asks someone in the stands. He is a tall, muscular man with dark skin.
“My name is Agil,” he says as he pulls out a brown book and shows it to Kibaou.
“You received this guidebook too, didn’t you? It was provided for free at the item store, after all. It was the ex-beta testers who were distributing these.”
He turns to the crowd and explains that everyone had equal access to this information.
This finally gets Kibaou to sit down and shut up.
Diabel presents his own copy of the guidebook and begins reading information about the first floor boss.
“The boss’s name is Illfang the Kobold Lord,” reads Diabel, “Also, he has an entourage known as the Ruin Kobold Sentinels. The boss is armed with an axe and a buckler. He has four health bars, and when the last one is in the red, he switches to a curved-type weapon called a Talwar. His attack pattern changes too.”
Diabel closes the guidebook and explains the rules for item drops. He announces that money will be distributed equally, EXP goes to the party that defeats the monster, and whoever receives an item keeps it.
Diabel announces they will leave at 10 the next morning and disbands the meeting.
Kirito meets Asuna
Kirito finds Asuna chowing down on some bread. She has set herself away from the post-meeting party. Kirito sits next to her and sets between them a bottle of cream. He offers her some to try on her bread. Asuna spreads it on. She takes a bite, then scarfs the rest of it down.
“It’s the reward for a quest called ‘The Heifer Strikes Back,’ one village behind us,” explains Kirito, “If you want to do it, I’ll tell you the trick.”
Asuna shakes her head.
“I didn’t come to this town to eat good food,” she says, “I’d rather stay myself until the very last moment than lock myself inside an inn back in the first town and slowly rot away. Even if I’m defeated by a monster and die, I don’t want to lose to this game…to this world. No matter what.”
Kirito eats a chunk of bread and says, “I wouldn’t want a party member dying on me. So at the very least, don’t die tomorrow.”
The next morning, the entire crew begins making their way to the boss’s lair. On their way, Kirito quickly runs through the plan with Asuna.
“I’ll use a sword skill to knock their poleaxes up. The second I do, switch and jump in.”
“Switch?” asks Asuna, completely confused.
“Don’t tell me…Is this the first time you’ve ever been in a party? asks Kirito.
“Yes,” responds Asuna.
In the long-running battle between subs vs. dubs, I personally don’t have a particular preference for one over the other. I believe there are advantages and disadvantages to both. However, this is a good example of when watching the dub alone may cause some confusion for the viewer.
In the English dub of Sword Art Online, Kirito says, “I’ll use a sword skill to knock their weapons up and out of the way. When I do, switch and jump in.”
Then Asuna asks, “What’s a switch?”
The English dub presents Asuna as being a little bit dumb in this scene because she can’t figure out what Kirito means when he says switch. However, in the original Japanese version, Kirito literally says the English word switch. So as it turns out, Asuna isn’t dumb, she’s just not familiar with English.
The heroes arrive at the boss’s lair. Before they enter through the door, Diabel gives everyone a speech of encouragement. After they enter, Illfang the Kobolt Lord emerges from the shadows and descends from his throne. His sentinels also appear. At last, the battle begins.
Diabel takes command of the attacking forces. Some squads engage the boss, others attack the sentinels. Kirito and Asuna are attacking the sentinels. Despite being a beginner, Asuna demonstrates some lightning-fast sword skills. As soon as the boss enters the red zone, he drops his axe, just as predicted. At this moment, Diabel rushes in to claim the final attack. Kirito is confused. He thought the plan was for everyone to surround the boss, so why is Diabel charging at it himself?
Kirito looks back at the boss and notices something else out of place. The boss doesn’t pull out a Talwar as they thought, he pulls out a No-Dachi! Kirito cries for Diabel to retreat, but it’s too late. Illfang deals a deadly blow to Diabel and sends him flying back. Kirito rushes to Diabel’s side and pulls out a potion. His HP is dropping fast, but to Kirito’s shock, Diabel rejects it.
“You were a beta tester, weren’t you?” says Diabel.
“You were after the rare item from the last attack bonus,” says Kirito, “You were a beta tester too?”
“Please…,” continues Diabel, “Please…Defeat the boss…for everyone…”
When someone dies in SAO, their avatars disintegrate into a cluster of polygons. Such was the fate of Diabel.
Kirito realizes that until now, he had been trying to clear the game only for himself, but Diabel was trying to clear the game for everyone. Thus, Kirito carries on Diabel’s legacy and begins to fight for everyone as well.
Finish the Fight!
Kirito stands, ready to face the boss.
Asuna appears by Kirito’s side and says, “I’ll go too.”
Asuna and Kirito charge at the boss. Kirito goes in with a sword strike, but Illfang deflects it. Asuna switches in. She goes for a strike, but the boss gets to her first. Fortunately, the only thing that gets shredded is Asuna’s cloak. And when it does, Kirito can now see Asuna’s true face.
After a few seconds of being dazed by Asuna’s beauty, Kirito gets back to his feet. The two fighters begin a tag-teaming against the boss, until eventually the boss is defeated. Kirito manages to get the last attack, which means he receives a rare item as a reward. Kirito looks at the name of this rare item. It reads “Coat of Midnight.”
Agil and Asuna congratulate Kirito for winning his prize, however, not everyone in the group is happy. Kibaou accuses Kirito of knowing the boss’s attack pattern and not telling Diabel, also accusing him of being an ex-beta tester. He demands the other beta testers reveal themselves, surely there must be some in the group. Kirito realizes if he doesn’t do something fast the other beta testers are going to get ostracized from he group.
Suddenly, Kirito lets out a maniacally laugh.
“An ex-beta tester, you say,” says Kirito, “I wish you wouldn’t compare me to those noobs. During the beta test, I made it to higher levels than anyone else was able to reach. The reason I knew about the boss’s sword skills was because I fought tons of monsters with those skills on floors far above us.”
“Wh-what,” reacts Kibaou, “That’s…that’s way worse than a beta tester. That’s cheating!”
“Yeah, a beta tester and a cheater,” says someone else in the group, “He’s a beater!”
“A beater!” responds Kirito, “That’s a good name! From now on, don’t compare me to the other testers.”
Kirito dons his newly acquired Coat of Midnight and begins his ascent into the 2nd floor.
Asuna runs up the stairs after Kirito.
“Wait!” she cries, “You called my name when we were fighting….Where did you learn it?”
Kirito points to an icon next to his head and says, “You can see another HP gauge below yours around here, right? Isn’t there something written below that?”
Asuna looks closely and sees the two HP bars next to Kirito’s head. One of them reads “Asuna” and the other reads “Kirito.”
“‘Kirito’, is that your name?” asks Asuna.
“Yeah,” responds Kirito.
“You can become powerful,” Kirito says to Asuna, “So if someone you trust ever invites you to join a guild, don’t turn them down. Because there’s an absolute limit to what you can do as a solo player.”
“Then what about you,” Asuna says concerningly.
Without answering the question, Kirito disbands his party with Asuna and leaves through the door, entering into the 2nd floor.
Sword Art Online is probably one of the most polarizing anime of all time. Everyone seems to absolutely love it or utterly despise it. For the latter, Kirito’s antisocial nature could be one of the turn-offs for most people. Seeing as how in this episode, he intentionally distances himself from Asuna and everyone else. Though, his reason for doing so seems to be that he doesn’t feel like he fits with anyone.
Will Kirito develop as a character? Only time will tell. Anyways, the most important thing about this episode is the introduction of the two most important characters of Sword Art Online – Kirito and Asuna. As you can see, their relationship is already off to a shaky start, but hopefully things will get better in the future. Perhaps the fate of SAO depends on it!