Sword Art Online (SAO) is a ludicrously popular anime which I hold a “controversial” opinion on. Honestly, fuck SAO. It’s about a virtual reality MMORPG called Sword Art Online where the people who play it get locked inside and if they die in the game they die in real life. Not the most inventive of plots but I was surprised that it hadn’t been done before and it showed a lot of potential.
First responses from me were good. There’s a lot of anime that is said to “get better later” and also a lot of anime that falls off at the end. To buck these two trends SAO is mediocre throughout and really wants you to know it. The first half of series 1, which is the most enjoyable part, takes place in SAO with people trying to get out of the game by beating all 100 levels. When the anime gets to the story it’s actually quite good. Unfortunately, if you tied together all the parts of the anime that were actually relevant to the main storyline, then you’d probably get one 20 minute episode out of it.
The series dosses around so much that, if you try to watch it more than once, you start to hate yourself for watching it in the first place. It doesn’t even do good dossing around as it likes to just use the same few places over and over rather than showing you more of the world that almost everyone wanted to see and goes with the tired and boring plots. Also, for a game called Sword Art Online, there seems to be very little sword fighting compared to what you would expect. Perhaps they just weren’t very good at animating which would explain why Aincrad is a beautiful world it but the designers do nothing with it.
I’m not going to harp on the writing as I actually found this quite tolerable. Kirito, the main character, has a few good moments but also has several moments of introspection which are wasted on me. One of the golden rules of writing is “show, don’t tell,” but SAO must have skipped that particular month at school in favour of creating Asuna.
Asuna is a pretty cool lady who, at the start of the anime, is revealed to be a high-flyer in one of the guilds and is working to beat all 100 levels so people can get back to living in real life. However, all this changes after Kirito catches some special food that only 0.01% of the playerbase will ever even see and she cooks it for them. It is then that she is revealed to be for the male audience as, while she still has a character which could have been built on, she devolves into becoming little more than eye candy with her transformation complete by series 2.
The second half has a far more interesting female protagonist, though her name escapes me. But then she has an almost intolerable sidekick. I’m over stating that a bit but, since this anime gets so much wrong, it’s difficult not to just call it out on everything and say that it’s trashy.
But then the piece de resistance, the turd on top of the metaphorical mud pie that is the first series is series 2. I couldn’t finish it. It drags everything out, the environment switches from one brown sand-blasted city-scape to another and the aforementioned Asuna has become nothing more than an obedient wife (whose boobs are significantly increased in size from series 1) to Kirito who just seems to plod along. The main story of the first half is wafer thin and the writing has taken several blows to the head since the comparably golden first series. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that this second series does nothing right and tarnishes SAO’s name as an anime because people, not just me, hated it and now new people won’t pick it up even if the series comes back for a third installment.
But its biggest crime is the villain. This is where the first series of SAO did pretty well. The first half’s villain was nameless and mysterious if you really started to think about it but the big reveal in episode 13, when they dare to ask the question of “why,” the audience is rewarded with nothing. “I don’t know why I trapped thousands of people in a game to make something resembling a gladiatorial battle.” It’s also worth saying that, when this villain seems to return in an “Obi Wan,” type way in the latter half of series 1 it falls flat and brings the writing down.
The villain in part 2 was probably the best in the anime. He’s some psychotic guy who decided to run experiments on people plugged into the VR machines while keeping them docile. It’s actually a really interesting idea for a series and I won’t knock it because I genuinely thought it was quite good. Well… except when Kirito confronts him and the comparisons to Star Wars grow ever further. The fight ends up being something that resembles this, though, admittedly, SAO has worst art design.
The villain in series 3 part 1 though. It’s a guy who mysteriously can kill people in real life by killing them in the game. Kirito needs to find out how and why. I’ll save you the trouble by saying the why is pathetic and something that not even teenagers would stoop to doing and the how is because he has an accomplice that kills his targets in real life when he shoots them in the game. That. Is. Pathetic.
I can’t recommend this anime to anyone, particularly if you have anything resembling standards.