Otaku USA Magazine
What Anime Got Right About Virtual Reality (So Far)

Virtual Reality anime like Sword Art Online have gotten a few things right about real VR

Anime is full of virtual reality adventures — gamers taking part in “full-dive” fantasy adventures so real, they can lose themselves in it. (Sometimes literally, in the case of some isekai series.) Even in 2021, where we have powerful computers in our pockets and can talk to each other instantaneously, that feels like a level of tech far beyond our reach. But is it? Not entirely.

We may not have the fully-immersive experiences of Sword Art Online. But we’re on our way. Here are just a few ways the headset in your living room borders on the world of anime science-fantasy.


You Can Quest with Friends

The stars of .hack//Legend of the Twilight

Everything is better with friends, especially fantasy adventures. Even without virtual reality, we can team up with friends in online MMOs. And, going more old-fashioned, we now have resources for playing Dungeons & Dragons with voice chat and digital maps. We may not be at .hack levels of partying up virtually, but we’re getting there.

While VR is still testing the multiplayer waters, games like Demeo allow us to conquer dungeons with our friends at a distance. Rather than adopting an avatar, you join each other in a retro basement and zoom in on an old-fashioned game board. There are battle royale, zombie shooter, and sports games out, too. We can’t wait ’til we can give ourselves a complete makeover before going out and fighting monsters with the crew.


It’s Getting More Immersive

Ainz Ooal Gown, Overlord

Even if there’s no such thing as full-dive virtual reality yet, we’re getting ourselves more and more into the game by the day. For example, fans of Resident Evil have the option to play Resident Evil 4 with “Immersive” settings. Switch those on, and you’ll need to reach for your weapons as if they were actually on you. (And you’ll know the true excitement of trying to reload a pistol while getting your face bitten off.)

As with any new video game tech, though, you’ll find the real advances hidden in the party games and “experiences.” Take Hand Physics Lab, which tracks your real human hands and depicts them as cool skellington hands. You’re then challenged to do toddler-level tasks like stack blocks, throw balls, and paint eggs. Not only is it weirdly satisfying, the game also lets you do some Taskmaster-level problem solving. As a bonus, your friends can see you act like a full-grown toddler as you applaud yourself for moving a ring along a wire.


You Really Can Get Lost in It

Yuna, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear

So far, there are zero recorded cases of actual virtual reality-related isekai incidents. But if you’ve put on a headset recently, you know full well just how real it can feel. And that’s not just the visuals themselves. A good VR setting combines controller feedback, audio, and small visual cues to trick your brain even further. Even if you can see a sliver of living room carpet under the headset sometimes, you still feel very there.

We’re also seeing advances in both non-invasive and invasive technologies for further immersion. On the low end, you could eventually put on a haptic suit for greater environmental feedback. On the extreme end, you could potentially have surgically-implanted BCIs. (But we saw that one Black Mirror episode with the Kojima-looking guy in it, so we’ll pass.) At this point, there are so many options that the concept of full-dive VR has gone from “maybe” to “eventually.”

So, while anime’s view of virtual reality may still be a bit more science fantasy than hard sci-fi, we’re getting closer by the day. Maybe soon, we can live the dream of fighting dragons in an adorable bear kigurumi.

Kara Dennison

Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, and presenter with bylines at Crunchyroll, Sci-Fi Magazine, Sartorial Geek, and many others. She is a contributor to the celebrated Black Archive line, with many other books, short stories, and critical works to her name.