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Anime Reviews: Sword Art Online

Updated on July 22, 2016
2012; Director: Tomohiko Ito; Studio: A-1 Pictures
2012; Director: Tomohiko Ito; Studio: A-1 Pictures

CAUTION: contains spoilers.

Sword Art Online sucks.

Yes, I know this and the original Reki Kawahara novel series have fans, and I risk invoking their wrath, but I’m sorry. The anime adaptation is terrible.

For starters, it’s seldom a good thing when a show reminds me of another usually superior series. For instance, I watched Guilty Crown and had trouble enjoying it because I kept getting Code Geass flashbacks; on the other hand, Vandread was not dissimilar to Tenchi Muyo! yet was original enough to stand on its own two feet. Heading into Toonami’s broadcast of Sword Art Online, I had only seen one episode and already a wave of familiarity had swept over me.

The biggest video game in the market right now is, of course, Sword Art Online, an MMORPG that comes with its very own innovative virtual headset, the NerveGear. On the day of its worldwide launch. A player named Kirito, who was one of the game's beta testers, tries out the official version on the day of its release, but when the time comes to log out, he finds himself unable to.

I think I’ve seen this somewhere before…

The differences here are: this time, the main villain is a faceless psychotic programmer; there isn’t just ONE person trapped in the game, it’s EVERYBODY; and this time there are no extra lives or respawn points—you die in the game, you die for real.

The problem with watching a show that reminds you of another show is that of comparisons. Time and again you recall certain aspects that the show you are thinking of also covered, and when you think that show covered them better, it’s never a good thing. For example, .hack//SIGN was a series that focused on the relationships between its cast online and off, and because its slow pacing gave them time to develop, it handles them a lot better. In Sword Art Online, Kirito is briefly introduced to a girl player named Asuna, they have one or two scenes together, we don’t see her for a while, then suddenly she comes back, they form a party, join a guild, make love (yes, make love), get engaged and somehow start a virtual family all in six to eight episodes. We barely know a thing about them, and yet their relationship blossoms so fast it’s literally thrown in our laps.

Another problem I had with the plot of the first half is that nobody manages to escape even when TWO YEARS pass since the start of the series. The survivors grow increasingly lethargic—Kirito and Asuna included—and it shows in the episode structure. Rather than seeing them fight their way out of the game, we get a murder mystery, a sappy honeymoon getaway mini-arc where our two lovebirds meet a cutesy daughter character named Yui who’s in this show for no other reason other than she’s cute, and a FISHING COMPETITION of all things. Characters pop in, pop out, die, reappear briefly, if they’re girls they fall in love with Kirito for no reason, and only at the VERY END OF ALL THAT do they finally get around to finding a way out of the game. And by that time the programmer who trapped them in the first place HAS FORGOTTEN HIS MOTIVE FOR DOING SO. If you thought SIGN’s pacing was slow…Sword Art Online’s main plot randomly grinds to a halt.

But this ISN’T the worst part of this series. Not by a long shot.

No, the worst part of it all is Kirito and Asuna eventually DO make it out of the game…at the series’ halfway point. Or at least Kirito does, anyway. The second half of the show takes place in an entirely different game where Asuna, already proven to be a capable fighter in the first game, is demoted to the Princess Peach role thanks to some horny, sleazy Snidely Whiplash comaphiliac stock villain who wants to marry her against her will, and Kirito has to go into THAT game and rescue her. And in this game, all the players are fairies! And Yui comes back! And SHE’S a fairy too! And Kirito’s sister is in the game as well! And she’s really his cousin! And she has an incestuous CRUSH on him! Plus she has BREASTS! BIG ONES! And we’re reminded of this at every possible camera angle!

Could somebody tell me what the point of the entire second act was? Nobody dies for real in THIS game, so the stakes aren’t anywhere near as high this time and a lot of the tension that the first act had is instantly lost. We know the new baddie trapped at least 300 SAO players because he was interested in experimenting with mind control…but why? What does he hope to gain? Mind control is a tool, not a goal, so…what’s his goal? And why should I care about Kirito’s sister? She’s barely mentioned in the first half and suddenly they needed an incestuous love triangle? Why are they all fairies now as opposed to their human avatars? Does anybody really think that fairy wings make Kirito or anyone else look tougher? How could they just turn Asuna from a strong, independent player character to a damsel in distress crying out for her fairy-winged knight in shining armor? AND WHAT THE HELL WAS UP WITH THE TENTACLE SCENE IN EPISODE 21?! Asuna tries to escape and we see her hanging upside-down and felt up all over by two talking slug creatures...WHY?! What's the point?! It's tasteless, disgusting and was TOTALLY unnecessary.

Sword Art Online is nice to look at, with interesting backdrops, some good designs, and decent animation. Sadly, it’s all wasted on a series that has come to represent everything I hate about anime—shoddy writing, unnecessary filler, gratuitous fanservice, wasted story potential, and a heavy dependency on character archetypes and moe cliches. To make matters worse, its settings aren’t all that engaging, it doesn’t compel me to care about anyone or anything in it, and it grossly overstays its welcome.

The best way I can think of to improve it would be to cut out the entire second half and then extend the original story another eleven episodes to flesh it out a little more. It probably won’t make it better, but it might make it more watchable.


Some pretty good art design and decent animation
Pretty much everything else

Sword Art Online: awesome or crap?

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