Sword Art Online

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Sword Art Online
Cover of the first light novel featuring Kirito (left) and Asuna (right)
(Sōdo Āto Onrain)
Genre Action, Adventure, Science fiction
Light novel
Written by Reki Kawahara
Illustrated by abec
Published by ASCII Media Works
English publisher
Demographic Male
Imprint Dengeki Bunko
Original run April 10, 2009 – present
Volumes 17 (List of volumes)
  • Sword Art Online.
  • Sword Art Online: Aincrad
  • Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance
  • Sword Art Online: Girls Ops
  • Sword Art Online: Progressive
  • Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet
  • Sword Art Online: Calibur
  • Sword Art Online: Mother's Rosario
  • Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
Anime television series
Directed by Tomohiko Itō
Music by Yuki Kajiura
Studio A-1 Pictures
Licensed by
Network Tokyo MX, GTV, GYT, tvk, TVS, TVA, RKB, HBC, MBS, AT-X, CTC, BS11
English network
Original run July 7, 2012December 22, 2012
Episodes 25 (List of episodes)
Light novel
Sword Art Online: Progressive
Written by Reki Kawahara
Illustrated by abec
Published by ASCII Media Works
English publisher
Demographic Male
Imprint Dengeki Bunko
Original run October 10, 2012 – present
Volumes 4 (List of volumes)
Anime television film
Sword Art Online: Extra Edition
Directed by Tomohiko Itō
Written by Reki Kawahara
Munemasa Nakamoto
Music by Yuki Kajiura
Studio A-1 Pictures
Licensed by
Aniplex of America
Network Tokyo MX, BS11
Released December 31, 2013
Runtime 101 minutes
Anime television series
Sword Art Online II
Directed by Tomohiko Itō
Music by Yuki Kajiura
Studio A-1 Pictures
Licensed by
Network Tokyo MX, GTV, GYT, tvk, TVS, CTC, TVA, MBS, TVQ, TVh, AT-X, BS11
English network
Original run July 5, 2014December 20, 2014
Episodes 24 (List of episodes)
Light novel
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
Written by Keiichi Sigsawa
Illustrated by Kouhaku Kuroboshi
Published by ASCII Media Works
Demographic Male
Imprint Dengeki Bunko
Original run December 10, 2014 – present
Volumes 4 (List of volumes)
Video games
Anime and Manga portal

Sword Art Online (Japanese: ソードアート・オンライン Hepburn: Sōdo Āto Onrain?) (also known as SAO) is a 2009 Japanese light novel series written by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by abec. The series takes place in the near-future and focuses on various virtual reality MMORPG worlds. The light novels began publication on ASCII Media Works' Dengeki Bunko imprint from April 10, 2009, with a spin-off series launching in October 2012. The series has spawned eight manga adaptations published by ASCII Media Works and Kadokawa. The novels and four of the manga adaptations have been licensed for release in North America by Yen Press. An anime television series produced by A-1 Pictures aired in Japan between July and December 2012, with an Extra Edition episode aired on December 31, 2013, and a second season, titled Sword Art Online II, aired between July and December 2014. Three video games based on the series have been released on the PlayStation Portable, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4. An animated film titled Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale featuring an original story by Kawahara has been announced and will premiere in Japanese theaters in 2017.

Sword Art Online has received widespread commercial success, with the light novels having over 16 million copies printed in several countries including Japan, the United States, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Thailand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.[1] The anime series has received mixed to positive reviews, praised for its animation, musical score and exploration of the psychological aspects of virtual reality, but criticized for its pacing and writing.


In 2022, a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG) called Sword Art Online (SAO) is released. With the NerveGear, a helmet that stimulates the user's five senses via their brain, players can experience and control their in-game characters with their minds. On November 6, 10,000 players log into the SAO's mainframe cyberspace for the first time and discover that they are unable to log-out. They quickly discover from Akihiko Kayaba, the creator of SAO and NerveGear, they must reach the 100th floor of the game's castle and defeat the final boss if they wish to be free. Those who suffer in-game destruction or remove the NerveGear out-of-game will result in their real-life deaths.

One of the players, Kazuto "Kirito" Kirigaya, is one of the 1,000 beta testers in the game's previous closed beta. With the advantage of previous VR gaming experience and a drive to protect other beta testers from discrimination he isolates himself from the greater group and plays the game alone, bearing the mantle of "beater", or "beta cheater". As the players progress through the game Kirito eventually befriends a young girl named Asuna Yūki, forming a relationship with and later marrying her in-game. After the duo discover the identity of Kayaba's program Heathcliff in SAO, who was discovered to be the leader of the guild Asuna joined in, they confront and destroy him, freeing themselves and the other players from the game.

In the real world, Kirito discovers that 300 SAO players, including Asuna, remain trapped in their NerveGear. Several months later, he is informed by Agil, another SAO survivor, that a figure similar to Asuna was spotted on a giant tree (known as "The World Tree") in another VRMMORPG cyberspace called Alfheim Online (ALO). Assisted in-game by his cousin Suguha "Leafa" Kirigaya, he quickly learns that the trapped players in ALO are part of an evil plan conceived by Nobuyuki Sugō to perform illegal experiments on their minds. The ultimate goal is to perfect mind-control for financial gain and to subjugate Asuna, whom he intends to marry in the real world, to assume control of her family's corporation. Kirito eventually stops the experiment and rescues the remaining 300 SAO players, foiling Sugō's plans. Before leaving ALO to see Asuna, Kayaba, who has uploaded his mind to the Internet using an experimental and destructively high-power version of NerveGear at the cost of his life, entrusts Kirito with The Seed – a package program designed to create virtual worlds. Kirito eventually reunites with Asuna in the real world and The Seed is released onto the Internet, reviving the VRMMO industry.

Soon after, at the prompting of a government official investigating strange occurrences in VR, Kirito takes on a job to investigate a series of murders involving another VRMMORPG called Gun Gale Online (GGO), the AmuSphere (the successor of the NerveGear), and a player called Death Gun. Aided by a female player named Shino "Sinon" Asada, he participates in a gunfight tournament called the Bullet of Bullets (BoB) and discovers the truth behind the murders, which originated with a player who participated in player-killing in SAO. Through his and Sinon's efforts, two suspects are captured, though the third suspect, Johnny Black, escapes.

Kirito is later recruited to assist in testing an experimental FullDive machine, Soul Translator (STL), which has an interface that is far more realistic and complex than the previous machine he had played to help develop an artificial intelligence for the Ministry of Defense (MOD) named A.L.I.C.E. He tests the STL by entering a Virtual Reality cyberspace created with The Seed package, named UnderWorld (UW). In the UW, the flow of time proceeds a thousand times faster than in the real world, and Kirito's memories of what happens inside are restricted. However, Black critically injures Kirito with suxamethonium chloride but the MOD recovers Kirito and places him back into the STL to preserve his mind while attempts are made to save him.


The light novel series spans several virtual reality worlds, beginning with the eponymous world of Sword Art Online. All of the worlds are built on a game engine called the World Seed, which was initially developed specifically for SAO by Akihiko Kayaba, but was later duplicated for ALO, and later willed to Kirito, who had it leaked online with the successful intention of reviving the virtual reality industry. Among the virtual reality worlds are:

Sword Art Online (SAO) (ソードアート・オンライン Sōdo Āto Onrain?)
The first virtual game world, and the setting of the first story arc. A virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game (VRMMORPG), the world takes the form of a giant floating castle called Aincrad, with 100 floors in it. Each floor has a medieval-themed setting and a dungeon with a boss, which has to be defeated before players can advance to the next higher floor. Like most RPGs, it implements a level-based system. However, after the beta testing, the game's creator activated a system to trap the players inside the game, unable to log out; if players die in-game, or the helmets they used are removed, a strong electromagnetic pulse is emitted, destroying their brain and killing them in real life. Of the 10,000 players in the game, 3,853 are killed, over half of those in the first month.
Alfheim Online (ALO) (アルヴヘイム・オンライン Aruvuheimu Onrain?)
The second virtual game world, and the setting for the second story arc. The player characters in this VRMMORPG are fairy-based, capable of flight for 10 minutes thanks to their wings. Alfheim, loosely based on Álfheimr and other aspects of Norse mythology, is a large world divided into separate "homelands" for each of its nine fairy races, which include cat sìths, spriggans, sylphs, and salamanders. In Alfheim's center is a very large tree called the World Tree, and the apparent goal of the game is to reach the top, where the victorious player will meet Fairy King Oberon and be turned into a tenth race, the Alfs, who have unlimited flight; however, Kirito discovers during the arc that the existence of the Alfs was a lie. Taking more of an action RPG approach, the game implements a skill-based system with players increasing their stats by developing both their combat and non-combat skills, and no level-system in play. After the events of the second story arc, Aincrad, the castle of the first game (albeit re-christened as New Aincrad) is implemented into ALO.
Gun Gale Online (GGO) (ガンゲイル・オンライン Gan Geiru Onrain?)
The third virtual game world, and the setting for the third story arc. It is a first-person shooter VRMMORPG with a main focus on guns, although melee weapons like lightsabers (photon swords) and knives also exist. The game is developed by an American company, Zaskar, and is set in a science fiction world where humanity left a post-apocalyptic Earth but crash-landed upon returning home in a spaceship. Of all the games, it is the most competitive one, as the money earned there can be exchanged for currency used in the real world, drawing high-tier professional gamers to make a living from playing the game alone. One of the more competitive aspects is a tournament known as Bullet of Bullets (BoB), which involves a duel tournament and an open world free-for-all environment. There is also gambling in the game, and like ALO, killing other players (in-game) is supported.
UnderWorld (UW) (アンダーワールド Andāwārudo?)
The fourth virtual world, and the setting for the fourth arc of the story. It is the first Virtual World setting introduced to not be a game world but rather an AI simulation, set in a Renaissance world where players are encouraged to build the world on their own by discovering new sciences and technology. According to Kirito it is graphically the most realistic of all Virtual Worlds to date. The flow of time in UnderWorld is variable and can be much faster relative to the real world's. Kikouka claimed that the current rate of its flow is 1000 times the speed of the real-world, and that the maximum rate was 1500 times the real-world's rate.
Ordinal Scale (OS) (オーディナル・スケール?)
A virtual world not featured in the light novels, it appears in the upcoming animated film Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale, and so far there is little information about it. Contrary to the other games, it doesn't have a full-dive function and is based on an augmented reality device called "Augma" instead. In this game, players are ranked according to their achievements and players with lower ranks have disadvantages in duels against higher ranked ones.


Light novels

Reki Kawahara wrote the first volume in 2001 as a competition entry for ASCII Media Works' Dengeki Game Novel Prize (電撃ゲーム小説大賞 Dengeki Game Shōsetsu Taishō?, now Dengeki Novel Prize), but refrained from submitting it as he had exceeded the page limit. He instead published it as a web novel under the pseudonym Fumio Kunori.[2] Over time, he added three further episodes and several short stories.[3][4] In 2008, he participated in the competition again by writing Accel World, this time winning the Grand Prize. Aside from Accel World, he was requested to get his earlier work, Sword Art Online, published by ASCII Media Works.[2] Kawahara agreed and withdrew his web novel versions.[4] Working with illustrator abec, the first volume was published in print on April 10, 2009,[5] and 16 volumes have been published as of August 8, 2015.[6] Kawahara also writes the Sword Art Online: Progressive series, which covers Kirito's adventures on the first few floors of Aincrad. The first volume of Progressive was released on October 10, 2012,[7] and four volumes have been released as of December 10, 2015.[8] The first volume of a light novel series based on Sword Art Online titled Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, written by Keiichi Sigsawa with illustrations by Kouhaku Kuroboshi, was published by ASCII Media Works on December 10, 2014.[9]

At their Japan Expo USA panel, Yen Press announced the rights to publish the light novels; the first volume was released on April 22, 2014.[10][11] Yen Press later announced their license of the Sword Art Online: Progressive series, which is scheduled for release in 2015.[12] The novels are also published in China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Thailand.[1] With more than 16.7 million copies in print worldwide, there are future plans for publications in France,[13] Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Vietnam and others.[1]

There are a number of dōjinshi, written by the series' original author Reki Kawahara under the pseudonym Fumio Kunori, titled Sword Art Online Material Edition (ソードアート・オンライン・マテリアル・エディション?).[14] An 80-page assemblage of some of the Material Edition volumes was published on February 13, 2011;[15] the latest release is Material Edition volume 16 on August 30, 2015.[16] The author has also created some other dōjinshi including Lisbeth Edition, Silica Edition and Pina Edition under cooperation with Kurusu Tatsuya from ponz.info.[17][18] It is reported that these dōjinshi gain traction from the involvement of the original author in its creation process, as well as from supplying more details on characters from the original work.[17]


There are eight manga adaptations of the series, all written by Reki Kawahara and published by ASCII Media Works. Sword Art Online: Aincrad (ソードアート・オンライン アインクラッド?), illustrated by Tamako Nakamura, was serialized in Dengeki Bunko Magazine between the September 2010 and May 2012 issues. Two tankōbon volumes of Aincrad were released on September 27, 2012.[19][20] A comedy four-panel manga, titled Sword Art Online. (そーどあーと☆おんらいん。?) and illustrated by Jūsei Minami, began serialization in the September 2010 issue of Dengeki Bunko Magazine. The first volume of Sword Art Online. was released on September 27, 2012.[21] A third manga, titled Sword Art Online: Fairy Dance (ソードアート・オンライン フェアリィ・ダンス?) and illustrated by Hazuki Tsubasa, began serialization in the May 2012 issue of Dengeki Bunko Magazine. The first volume of Fairy Dance was released on October 27, 2012;[22] the third volume was released on June 27, 2014.[23] The Aincrad and Fairy Dance manga have been acquired for release in North America by Yen Press.[10] The first volume of Aincrad was published on March 25, 2014.[11]

A spin-off manga starring Lisbeth, Silica, and Leafa, titled Sword Art Online: Girls Ops (ソードアート・オンライン ガールズ・オプス?) and illustrated by Neko Nekobyō, began serialization in the July 2013 issue of Dengeki Bunko Magazine.[24] Girls Ops was licensed by Yen Press in November 2014, the first volume of which was released on May 19, 2015.[25][26] A manga adaption of Sword Art Online: Progressive, illustrated by Kiseki Himura, began serialization in the August 2013 issue of Dengeki G's Magazine. The manga ended serialization in the magazine's May 2014 issue and was transferred to Dengeki G's Comic starting with the June 2014 issue.[27] The Progressive manga adaption has been licensed by Yen Press, with the first two volumes released in January and April 2015, respectively.[12][28]

A sixth manga, titled Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet and illustrated by Kōtarō Yamada, had its first chapter serialized in the May 2014 issue of Dengeki Bunko Magazine, with following chapters being digitally serialized on Kadokawa's Comic Walker website. A seventh manga, titled Sword Art Online: Calibur and illustrated by Shii Kiya, was serialized in Dengeki G's Comic between the September 2014 and July 2015 issues.[29] A single compilation volume was released on August 10, 2015. An eighth manga, titled Sword Art Online: Mother's Rosario and also by Hazuki Tsubasa, is based on the seventh volume of the novel series and began serialization in July 2014 issue of Dengeki Bunko Magazine. A ninth manga, titled Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, began serialization in the November 2015 issue of Dengeki Maoh.


An anime adaptation of Sword Art Online was announced at Dengeki Bunko Autumn Festival 2011, along with Reki Kawahara's other light novel series, Accel World.[30] The anime is produced by Aniplex, animated by A-1 Pictures and directed by Tomohiko Ito with music by Yuki Kajiura.[31] The anime aired on Tokyo MX, tvk, TVS, TVA, RKB, HBC and MBS between July 7 and December 22, 2012, and on AT-X, Chiba TV and BS11 at later dates.[32] The series was also streamed on Crunchyroll and Hulu.[33] The anime is adapted from the first four novels and parts of volume eight. The opening theme song for the first 14 episodes is "Crossing Field" by LiSA[34] and the ending theme song is "Yume Sekai" (ユメセカイ?, lit. "Dream World") by Haruka Tomatsu.[35] From episode 15 onward, the opening theme is "Innocence" by Eir Aoi and the ending theme is "Overfly" by Luna Haruna.

The anime has been licensed in North America by Aniplex of America[36] and an English-language dub premiered on Adult Swim's Toonami from July 27, 2013[37] to February 15, 2014. The series was released by Aniplex of America in four DVD and Blu-ray sets, with special extras on the BD sets, between August 13 and November 19, 2013.[38] Manga Entertainment released the first series on BD/DVD in the United Kingdom in December 2013,[39] whilst Madman Entertainment released the series in Australia[40] and the English-language version began airing on ABC3 on June 7, 2014.[41] Sword Art Online has been available on Netflix in North America since March 15, 2014.[42]

A year-end special, titled Sword Art Online Extra Edition, aired on December 31, 2013. The special recapped the previously aired anime series and included some new footage.[43] The special's main theme is "Niji no Oto" (虹の音 Sound of the Rainbow?) by Eir Aoi.[44] Extra Edition was streamed worldwide a few hours after its airing in Japan.[45] The two-hour-long special was available on Daisuki worldwide except for French-speaking areas, as well as China and Korea.[45] Daisuki offered subtitles in various languages such as English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German.[45] English-speaking countries, Mexico, Central and South America could also watch the stream on Crunchyroll.[46] Extra Edition was also simulcast in Korea on Aniplus cable channel and in China on the LeTV streaming website.[46] French-speaking countries could watch on the Wakanim streaming website.[46] The Blu-ray Disc and DVD of Extra Edition was released on April 23, 2014 in Japan.[47] The limited edition included a Yui character song titled "Heart Sweet Heart" by Kanae Itō and an original side story written by Reki Kawahara titled "Sword Art Online Niji no Hashi" (ソードアート・オンライン 虹の橋 Sword Art Online Rainbow Bridge?).[47]

At the end of the special, the anime TV series was confirmed for a second season, titled Sword Art Online II, which premiered on July 5, 2014.[48][49] The first 14 episodes of the second season is an adaptation of volumes five and six the light novels that cover the Phantom Bullet arc.[50] Episodes 15 to 17 cover the Calibur arc from volume 8 of the novels, with episodes 18 to 24 covering volume 7 of the novels, the Mother's Rosario arc. Premiere screening events of the second season were held in the United States, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan before the television premiere between June 29 and July 4, 2014.[51][52][53] The first opening theme is "Ignite" by Eir Aoi, and the first ending theme is "Startear" by Luna Haruna.[54] The second opening theme is "Courage" by Haruka Tomatsu, and the second ending theme is "No More Time Machine" by LiSA, with the third ending theme being "Shirushi" (シルシ?), also by LiSA. At Katsucon, it was announced that the English dub of the second season will air on Toonami beginning March 28, 2015.[55]

An animated film titled Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale featuring an original story by Kawahara set after the events of Sword Art Online II will be released in 2017.[56][57]

Video games

A stage event at the Dengeki Bunko Autumn Festival 2011 revealed that Reki Kawahara's light novels would get video game adaptations.[58] The first Sword Art Online adaptation, titled Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment (ソードアート・オンライン -インフィニティ・モーメント- Sōdo Āto Onrain: Infiniti Mōmento?), was developed by Namco Bandai Games for the PlayStation Portable.[59] The game follows an alternate storyline, in which a glitch causes Kirito and the other players to remain in Sword Art Online despite defeating Heathcliff, and players from other VMMORPGs such as Leafa and Sinon get sucked into the game themselves.[60] The game was released in both regular and limited edition box sets on March 14, 2013.[61]

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a PlayStation Vita game released in Japan on April 24, 2014 rated C on the CERO rating scale.[62][63] Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment takes place in the same alternative storyline as Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment,[64] and it includes all content of "Floor Clearing" from that previous game[65] with the addition of new unexplored "Hollow Area" of Aincrad.[66] The protagonist Kirito will cross swords with a mysterious player who would become one of the key characters in the game.[66] The game sold 145,029 physical retail copies within the first week of release in Japan, topping the Japanese software sales charts for that particular week.[67] The game had also been released in Taiwan by Namco Bandai Games Taiwan with Chinese and English subtitles.[68] A digital-only North American, European and Australian release was released in August 2014.

A third video game developed by Artdink[69] and titled Sword Art Online: Lost Song was released in Japan on March 26, 2015[70] on the PlayStation 3 and Vita platforms,[71][72] with an English version being released in Asia.[73] The game's producer revealed in October 2014 that the game is an open-world action RPG featuring an original storyline, set within Alfheim Online, where characters are able to fly.[74] The game sold 139,298 physical retail copies on the PlayStation Vita in addition to another 55,090 units on the PlayStation 3 within its first week of release in Japan, ranking second and sixth place respectively within the Japanese software sales charts for that particular week, narrowly behind Bloodborne taking the top spot.[75]

A fourth game titled Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization will be released in Japan on October 27, 2016[76] for the PS4 and Vita.[77]

A social network game called Sword Art Online: End World was released for Japanese feature phones and smartphones on February 28, 2013[78][79] with more than 1 million registered users.[80] Another freemium game for Android and iOS titled Sword Art Online: Code Register launched in 2014, and over 3,000,000 users have downloaded the game.[81] Another game called Sword Art Online: Progress Link designed for the Mobage browser game platform on smartphones was released on February 10, 2015.[82]

Kirito, Asuna, Leafa, Yuuki and LLENN appear in Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, a fighting game by Sega featuring various characters from works published under the Dengeki Bunko imprint.[83][84][85] A browser game titled Sword Art Quest and its sequel smartphone game, Sword Art Quest II[86] provide challenges to users to upgrade their characters to receive rewards.[87] There is also a paid Android game titled SAO -Log Out- that users can download and play with characters from the series and obtain wallpapers from it.[88]

A virtual reality massive multiplayer online game was in development by Kadokawa and IBM Japan,[89] but was only a demo and will not be released as a full game.


According to Oricon, Sword Art Online was the top selling light novel series of 2012, with eight volumes figuring among the top selling light novels.[90][91] It was ranked first in the 2012 and 2013 Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! rankings, as well as top ten placement in 2011, 2014 and 2015.[92][93][94][95][96] It was also the second best selling light novel series for the first half of 2016 in Japan, selling 489,374 copies.[97] Sword Art Online: Progressive sold 321,535 copies in the same time period.[97]

Richard Eisenbeis of Kotaku hails Sword Art Online as the smartest series in recent years, praising its deep insight on the psychological aspects of virtual reality on the human psyche, its sociological views on creating a realistic economy and society in a massively multiplayer online game setting, and the writing staff's ability to juggle a wide variety of genres within the series.[98] Eisenbeis particularly noted how the romance between Kirito and Asuna is explored bringing "definition to exactly what love is like in a virtual world." However, at the time of this preliminary review, he had only watched the first 12 episodes of the series. He has since gone on to review the second half of the series, lauding its excellent use of plot twists and praising its well written and believable villain. However, he felt that some of the initial positive aspects of the series were lost in the second half, such as the focus on psychological repercussions and social interactions that could be realistically seen in an online game. Criticism was also levied on the aspect of turning Asuna into a damsel in distress, stating that a female lead as strong as her was "reduced to nothing but the quest item the male lead is hunting for." Eisenbeis closes his review of the series by stating in regards to the two halves, "Both, however, are enjoyable for what they are."[99]

Rebecca Silverman of Anime News Network has criticized the series as having pacing problems and "sloppy writing".[100] Theron Martin criticized the story as struggling "to achieve and maintain the level of gravitas that life-or-death danger should have", while calling it unwilling to commit to Kirito's "lone wolf" image.[101] DeviceCritique explains that Sword Art Online influences the virtual reality market to grow, and references the Oculus Rift as a prime example of the starting point of virtual reality. It also praises Sword Art Online for exploring the psychological and social aspects of virtual reality gaming.[102] Adam Facey of The Muse criticized the series, among others, as being sexist and the female characters as being overly sexualized.[103]


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