What would you do if you suddenly discovered that your favorite video game – normally an avenue for escapism and cathartic release – had real-world consequences for each of your actions? What if it’s your own life on the line, and if you die in-game, your real life is forfeit? That’s the kind of dilemma that the players of Sword Art Online, a new Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online RPG, face inside this summer’s anime of the same name.
In early 2022, the first fully immersive virtual reality interface, called the Nerve Gear, is released to the public, which is a helmet that intercepts signals to and from the brain at the medulla oblongata. Doing so allows the device to artificially stimulate the user’s five senses and translate the user’s thoughts into speech and action inside a virtual environment. Once a user has linked into the Nerve Gear, their conscious mind no longer controls their physical body and they cannot process external stimuli.
Sword Art Online, also referred to as SAO, is the first VR MMORPG created for the Nerve Gear, designed by the inventor of the Nerve Gear himself, Kayaba Akihiko. Previous applications had been very simple interactive exercises and educational tools, but SAO was the first program to truly tap into the vast potential of virtual immersion within a fully rendered world. However, as idyllic this all sounds, it turns out that everything was a trap, and the moment the game launched on November 6, 2022, ten thousand people were taken hostage in what would become a horrifying death game.
Kirigaya Kazuto, aka Kirito, is one of those players trapped inside the game. He was one of a thousand lucky players who originally participated in the game’s beta test, so he isn’t as helpless as most people, but he’s just as susceptible to the game’s ultimate rule as everyone else: die in the game, and you die in real life. The Nerve Gear uses controlled microwave pulses to transmit the very signals that help it to create its virtual environment, but if its safety protocols are disabled, a powerful microwave burst can be emitted that destroys the user’s brain. In-game death and premature removal of the Nerve Gear appliance can both trigger this burst, and by the end of the first month following the game’s go-live, two thousand people have perished.
The players all exist within an enormous 100-floor tower called Aincrad. To be freed from their shackles, they must win the game, or in other words, conquer the 100 levels and defeat the final boss. SAO works like pretty much any other MMO today – defeat monsters for experience and loot, and get parties together to fight elites and raid bosses. However, since the game’s death penalty is… well, death, one can’t just carelessly run out and farm mobs. Plus, there’s an issue of limited resources – the game’s servers automatically adjust things like spawn rates in response to player activity – so the players start out at a serious disadvantage.
Kirito uses his past experience as a beta-tester to get a head start on leveling and quests, but other players begin to express discontent towards beta testers for selfishly hoarding key information and leaving other, inexperienced players behind to fend for themselves. Kirito makes a choice to villainize himself, deflecting their hatred off of the other beta testers and redirecting it towards him. The players derisively dub him a “beater” (the portmanteau of “beta tester” and “cheater”) and though he helps save lives and paves the way for others on the front lines, he has little choice but to hide in public and solo his way through the game. Only a few other players – namely Klein, Asuna and Egil – see the truth behind his actions, and they are among the few friends he has in game.
Within the world of Sword Art Online, the advent of the Nerve Gear technology and the SAO VRMMORPG can be seen as the harbingers of a transhumanist, cyberpunk era, where technologies can allow humans to develop beyond the limits of their physical being, whether through extended life, or expanded physiological, psychological, and intellectual capabilities. It can also be said that the transhumanist movement intends to bring about the artificial evolution of mankind through the use of technology, but Sword Art Online also explores the downside to using technology in this way through the exploitation of the physical hardware and the moral ambiguity of actions that take place inside of a virtual environment.
Besides the actions of one man imprisoning the minds of ten thousand people, take, for example, one popular aspect of MMOs, the Player-vs-Player game, or PvP. Those who use PvP to indiscriminately kill other characters, or PK (Player Killers), are also quite common and many people feel absolutely no qualms about running around ganking other players. So, what happens in a situation like the one in SAO, where PKers are only killing avatars? They’re not actually murdering the player per se – it’s the Nerve Gear that’s delivering the fatal blow, and that’s the fault of the man who trapped them in the game to begin with, right?
However, the possible benefits to integrating such technology into daily use may outweigh any of these potential drawbacks. Imagine the potential for medical applications where a person can dive into a virtual world rather than use anesthesia or post-op painkillers, since the signals for pain would be intercepted by the virtual interface. Another possibility is to use virtual space for training in dangerous tasks – while muscle memory may not be developed, the necessary mental and psychological discipline could be honed in this way without putting the body at risk.
The author of the Sword Art Online light novels, Reki Kawahara, does explore what life might be like if such technologies were integrated into daily life. Another series that he wrote, Accel World, arguably takes place in the same world as SAO twenty years later, where everyone has a man-machine interface installed and is connected to a universal network with virtual capabilities. There, the physical and virtual worlds are nearly inseparable as virtual HUDs (Heads-Up Displays) and their associated UIs (User Interfaces) can be manipulated with physical gestures.
Transhumanism isn’t just about hooking a computer up to your brain and plugging directly into teh intarwebs though. Cybernetic implants and nanotechnology with biomedical applications are also possible paths towards post-humanity. We’re already well on our way with artificial hearts, limbs, and other biomechanical implants that we use today. The worlds of Ghost in the Shell, AD Police, and Appleseed are a few examples where mankind has fully embraced the transhumanist ideal, where all these technologies have fully matured and the dilemma comes dangerously close to the other end of the spectrum – at what point of cyber augmentation does a human stop being a human, and can an artificial intelligence itself become human?
The science fiction of yesterday is becoming reality today, so it’s very possible for all of this to become real within our lifetimes. If you were given the choice to artificially augment body or attach a computer to your brain to be networked into a fully immersive virtual world… would you do so?
Would you believe your friends if they told you they had swapped bodies? You likely wouldn’t, and that is how Kokoro Connect begins; during a high school club meeting between five friends, two confess that they swapped bodies for thirty minutes the night before, and the other three are in disbelief until they find that they’ve suddenly switched bodies too! The five’s daily lives are now in turmoil as they continue to swap bodies, and their friendship and lives change forever.
This concept of body swapping is so familiar that it is almost cliche, but Kokoro Connect adds philosophical twists and originality to it that makes it seem novel. On top of this, while maintaing a balanced atmosphere of humour and seriousness, Kokoro Connect also has an excellent main cast; between the complexity of the characters and their phenomenal character development, Kokoro Connect makes the viewers care about the characters and thus invest emotionally into the series.
The body swap cliche often focuses on humor and the mistakes people make while in other bodies, but this is where Kokoro Connect is different; Kokoro Connect’s focus is not on body swapping, but the very concept of it and how it affects others. While the phenomenon does add hilarity to the lives of the main cast, it also highlights the darkness each character harbors in their hearts, darkness that can be felt by those who inhabit their bodies. This inevitably changes the cast’s relationships with each other and is a distinctively dark twist to body swapping that is also the core of Kokoro Connect. The characters themselves also change throughout the phenomenon to the point where they bring up philosophical questions on identity formation, namely whether the body or the soul is more important to one’s identity. Kokoro Connect can be quite thought-provoking, proving that it is an anime that has substance. This is evident especially when body swapping remains important, but becomes slightly less prominent further into the series. Kokoro Connect knows when to back off from the body swapping and focus more on the characters and their lives, and it uses body swapping to reveal more about characters rather than just create mindless chaos.
The body swap phenomenon also presents many opportunities for both comedy and drama, and this results in Kokoro Connect having a balanced atmosphere. The humorous moments help make the main cast more likable as well as keep the show from becoming too dark, and this is vital because when Kokoro Connect has its serious moments, they are either extremely dark or completely heart wrenching. The humor also emphasizes the more somber moments by serving as a break between the drama, effectively creating a balanced, comfortable atmosphere that is easy to be sucked into. The comedy and drama flow seamlessly into each other, and this also results in Kokoro Connect being unpredictable; with this anime having such equilibrium between happiness and tragedy, both sides of the scale fit perfectly with Kokoro Connect’s atmosphere, so which end of the scale will weigh more heavily for the main cast in times of trouble is difficult to tell.
As amazing as Kokoro Connect’s atmosphere is, it wouldn’t be as riveting without excellent characters to complete it. Kokoro Connect may have a simple, easy-to-follow story, but it focuses heavily on the characters and their feelings, and matters of the heart are never simple. Each of the main characters reveals their pasts, their feelings, and all sides of their personalities as they grow closer to their friends, so not only is understanding these characters and their motivations straightforward, but it is also easy to relate to the characters; the characters all have issues many people go through, and their personalities are realistic enough that it is easy to see ourselves in at least one of them. The cast is, to put it simply, lovable, and they also develop throughout their newfound experiences gained through body swapping, which makes them fascinating as well. These characters are so endearing that one ends up investing themselves emotionally into the series, which can be heart wrenching when these characters must face both difficult tragedies and themselves.
With a series so aptly titled Kokoro Connect, we have to wonder whose kokoros, whose hearts, are connecting. Maybe it’s the main characters’ hearts that are connecting to each other; through swapping bodies, they not only enjoy the fun moments together, but grow closer as they must face themselves and other tragedies with each others’ help. However, maybe it’s not just the main characters’ hearts that are connecting, but our hearts, the audience’s hearts connecting with these characters. The characters are so easy to understand and relate to that they feel like family. We laugh with them, cry with them, and walk their journey with them. This journey, Kokoro Connect is an unforgettable one filled with the aforementioned laughter and tears, and it’s a journey worth walking.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is focused around the kingdom of Owari, where the leader, Oda Nobuna (Historical figure, Oda Nobunaga as a female), and her subordinates reside.
Yoshiharu Sagara, a man from the future woke up in the middle of the battlefield.. being pursued by soldiers. He was saved by Nobuna's army from harm's way and was taken into her custody as a subordinate. Little did they know that Yoshiharu is a big fan of Lord Oda Nobunaga's Ambition (LONA) and knows ridiculous detail about the historical figures and events that will influence Nobuna's conquest of unifying Japan. He can basically “see the future” by using his knowledge of Japanese history that he attained from obsessively playing games based in the era of lords in Japan.
In this world, all the famous warlords of the era are female. Although a lot of them embody common troupes in anime (tsundere, yandere, overly-moe) they do not fail to also be interesting. From general, to tactician, to shinobi, the characters have more going for them then their over-the-top high pitched voices.
Each episode is very well directed and has a nice flow to it. The directing is something not to be missed. Although this is very much an ecchi anime, it’s one of the first since Love Hina to be done in a respectable manner. ( Respectable ecchi? Did I just say that? ) Maybe what I mean is, although it’s easy to consider The Ambition of Oda Nobuna an ecchi anime, it does not rely on that to be entertaining. It’s story is extremely well written, although simple, it’s very funny and entertaining.
The music is good and very suitable for the situations the characters find themselves in. The love interested that develop during the course of the series are not surprises. They actually develop naturally and slowly over the course of usually 3-4 episodes and they give you concrete REASONS for why the characters fall in love. I would explain, but I cannot without revealing SPOILERS.
One other big plus for The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is it’s good to see a protagonist who relies more on his knowledge of japanese history (or, well, videogames) rather than him being a total wimp or a genius warrior of some sorts. It’s much easier to relate to character like him, since he is from our day and age after all. He is also very decisive and outspoken, which influences Nobuna's decision's, and in turn makes them closer, and more effective towards her goals.
Tari Tari is a show that allows you to reminisce about your childhood days where daily life was focused on school and your extracurricular activities. There’s the transfer student who spent many years in Wien now trying to adjust back to life in Japan and a teacher who’s about to take maternity leave.
Miyamoto-san loves singing but since the vice-principal has barred her for joining the upcoming recital, she quits the choir club to form her own. She only needs 5 members and the principal’s seal of approval which she gets without as many obstacles as she expected. Miyamoto-san is so determined to start her club that she starts to recruit members.
Even after Sakai-san’s refusal to join, she eventually persuades her to join bribing her with cake!
If you are a fan of slice-of-life, want to enjoy some great music, or want to just be entertained for 25 minutes every week, Tari Tari is for you! This show is created with beautiful music and relationships that exist between the students. The vice-principal constantly appears and is the easy enemy for us all to hate since she tries to place as many unnecessary obstacles as possible with the new choir club started by Miyamoto-san.
As the new choir club struggles to survive and make a name for themselves, will they be able to ward off all the challenges placed by the vice-principal? Will Miyamoto-san be able to fulfill her dream by singing in the recital? Follow Tari Tari on this musical journey right here on Crunchyroll!
The Allied Shinobi Forces are on the verge of winning the war when Madara Uchiha appears. Madara summons the giant Gedo Statue and unleashes its devastating power.
NARUTO SPIN-OFF: ROCK LEE AND NINJA PALS Episode 21
It's a sweltering summer night, but Guy-sensei wants Lee and the boys to cool themselves off without air conditioning. Can a scary ghost story get the job done?
Lee and Konohamaru set out to solve one of the “Seven Mysteries of the Leaf” - “The Tears of Mount Hokage.” What is the truth behind the otherworldly tears the 3rd Hokage's monument sheds in the dark of night?