I’m a huge anime fan, but one of the most enjoyable parts of a great anime happens to be its soundtrack, or score (whichever term one prefers). The score sets the tone and mood of any film, or television series, usually invigorating each scene that plays. I found that to be especially true with Sword Art Online. SAO is an anime about gamers being trapped in a virtual reality massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (VRMMORPG) with no way out: if the virtual reality headset (NerveGear) is removed from player, that player will die, and if the player dies in the game itself, the player dies in reality as well. That’s a general synopsis of the anime and while the premise is truly amazing, what allows it to all come together is the score itself.
Every moment in the series is brought to life by epic, yet emotionally striking, compositions by Yuki Kajiura. From the first track, “Swordland”, we’re introduced to an epic journey almost on par with The Lord of the Rings. You feel like you’re truly part this quest that’s about to occur; you packed up your sword and shield (and a couple potions) and set out to new land with new faces and adventures. The piece is introduced by a crash cymbal and then with a multitude of string instruments (mainly violin and cello) which creates a harmony that immediately immerses listeners. About thirty seconds in a Latin chorus starts singing and at that point, I was set. Even though I was listening to the track while in the car, I was able to imagine myself not simply just driving to work, but that I was adventuring. This same quality is found throughout the majority of the soundtrack—“We Have To Defeat It” and “Confront Battle” are two examples. They sound like something that would come out of a JRPG like Final Fantasy or the Tales series. Many of these tracks are powerful and help make the show more immersive.
Even the slower, more peaceful, pieces like “A Tiny Love” and the three variations of “At Our Parting” set a tone for how traumatic it would be to be stuck in a virtual realm, with no escape, for over two years. The score encompasses everything the anime sets out to do: provide a psychological scare while immersing viewers in a universe set in a game. This isn’t to say that the score is perfect.
While it is amazing, the score is still reminiscent of other anime: Naruto, Sands of Destruction, and Accel World (SAO’s sister series). By no means it this a bad thing, but it doesn’t set itself far apart from other experiences. Some of the tracks also get a little repetitive in that a couple of them sound alike; they feature similar rhythms, keys, and time signatures so these few tracks are too similar and having multiple variations of one piece is a bit much.
The score is still fantastic and even if you choose to not watch the anime, I encourage anyone looking for adventurous music to give this soundtrack a listen. It’s currently not available for purchase, but many of the tracks are available on YouTube and for those looking to check out the anime, visit Crunchyroll for the entire series. Check out the samples below: