Faithful to say the least.
I was actually extremely surprised at how faithful the first episode was to the source; it’s almost word for word in some scenes. Hell, the animation surpassed the source in some aspects given the voice acting and the overall immersion. Let’s hope this continues.
Nevertheless, many may seem a bit wary of the professed “greatness” of Sword Art Online from the pilot episode alone. That’s not the most obtuse reaction; Sword Art Online really does not pick up until later on into the series [I'm not saying that the beginning chapters are utter shit; I'm saying that the later chapters give SAO its name as being a great series]. Ironically, if you’re expecting Sword Art Online to be a central survival game, then you’re bound for some disappointment. It is a recurring theme in SAO, but it’s not what made it a great series [I explained it here]. Anyhow, I’ll continue onward to the episode.
Basically, Sword Art Online revolves around the use of Sword Skills. Unlike most MMORPGs, SAO revolves strictly around melee weapons [not limited purely to swords; just primary close range]. Most of the prowess, or skill in combat isn’t reliant on brute brawn [your actual physique is not the deciding factor in how well you'll do in combat], but rather, on level. In simple terms, it’s a “realistic” MMORPG. An idiot at level 30 will always defeat a good player at level 10; it’s not a matter of skill, it’s a matter of pure statistics [SAO may show this in later arcs]. The only thing “manual” or “reliant on skill” so to speak would be the execution of combo moves. Let’s say you slash up, then right; this activates a theoretical move. The system will not slash up then right for you;you’ll have to do it yourself; but after you commit the prerequisite to the combo move, the system will guide you in executing the combo move [almost like a magical force, as shown with Kline this episode].
What I really liked about SAO is how much the author went on to explain the mechanics of the game. It wasn’t a botched explanation resulting around the laws of “just is’s” or magic; each time something new was introduced, the author went on to enunciate about it in depth. How the mechanics of it worked, and why it existed. There aren’t any filler arcs in the light novels; every chapter serves a purpose [a new mechanic is almost certainly introduced within each arc]
As for Kirito’s character; there’s more to it than meets the surface. You’ll see him mature, and grow up in SAO; it eventually becomes his “actual world.” Hell, it’s taboo to refer to SAO as anything but the real world; otherwise, people wouldn’t take deaths seriously. The adaptation is going to be presumably chronological; the light novels were not [Volume 1 was fairly objectively towards clearing the game; while volume 2 and side stories focused on visiting parts of volume 1, and developing occurrences in the gray spots.
The nascent OST is also piquing my interest. Kajiura did the soundtracks to Madoka, Fate/Zero and Kara no Kyoukai. I really liked her general soundtracks for Madoka and Kara no Kyoukai, but I didn't care too much for Fate/Zero's general soundtrack. I'm expecting great things from the soundtrack; SAO is mostly fueled by the fantasy aspect of it; I want to be able to experience it vicariously through music.
First Impressions: Concluding Thoughts
Q: When the fuck does this shitty anime get better then?
A: When Asuna gets introduced, kawaii shit happens.
Q: What if SAO sucks still when that occurs?
A: Your taste in anime is shit then.
Anyways, UTWoot released this so ridiculously late into the night. Hopefully, not every week is like this. For those who do want to read the light novels, I'll have a download link [PDFs from bakatsuki]
If you do decide to read it, read in the order of:
Aria Side Stories
The adaptation should cover all of volume 1, and hopefully, all of Aria and Volume 2 too; most likely, none of volume 3+ [with some exceptions].
EDIT: When Kayaba gives his speech in the light novel, he mentions how the bodies will be taken care of. The adaptation doesn’t mention this.
‘Players, there is no need to worry about the bodies that you have left on the other side. As of this moment, all TV, radio, and internet media are all repeatedly reporting this situation, including the fact that there have been numerous deaths. The danger of having your NERvGear taken off has already all but disappeared. In a moment, using the two hours I have given, all of you will be transported to hospitals or similar institutes and be given the best treatment. So you can relax…and concentrate on beating the game.’