I never did make a review on Sword Art Online, because I felt like everything I wanted to say had already been said by other people. Writing my opinion on it would be redundant (I thought at the time). But I have since had a change of heart, after running into a certain someone at Anime & Games Society. This particular individual managed to insult me quite deeply by stating that the reason I didn’t like the anime must be because I don’t play video games myself. I didn’t speak to him any more at the time, but he led me to ponder for some time after. Firstly, he was wrong (on so many levels), because SAO is nowhere near a great anime, right? Secondly, can you enjoy a show even if you don’t know its context to real life?
In this first post, out of two, I’ll be covering these questions. Starting off by explaining why SAO isn’t a great anime. (THERE WILL BE SPOILERS).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate SAO. I was very much entertained by the anime, and ended up giving it 6/10, meaning it was a fine show. However, I do have some massive problems with how it was executed.
SAO has one of the strongest opening episodes in anime history, competing with shows like Shingeki no Kyojin. There is something sinister in the air when we are introduced to this fantasy world made from technology, a dream come true for so many gamers. And when the players are trapped inside this death game, shit gets real, and that is a very interesting premise. The problem with all this, is that the anime doesn’t deliver. It spends a few episodes setting up for what you’d expect to be an adventure. You expect action, danger, character building. You expect people to go crazy in there, not being able to separate reality from fantasy anymore, perhaps even forget about their former lives.
Instead, we have Kirito’s struggles with his antisocial behaviour. He’s in an MMO. A game created so that in order to advance, you have to team up with other players. And yet, it seems like Kirito manages to level up all on his own. He’s just too over powered, just because he’s good at games. But he can’t be the only one in this world that is good at games? His social awkwardness is a joke. Whenever he runs into some new people, usually girls, he marches in like a knight in shiny armour and saves the day. And every single girl falls for him. This anime has got some serious sexism issues right there. The way it’s set up like an adventure/action anime though, doesn’t really hide the fact that in the end, it is also just another harem. We barely even see Asuna until way into the story. We never see how she gets over her insecurities, we never see any character development.
Kirito and Asuna’s relationship feels like a straight-forward, no conflict route. They start hanging out and before you know it they’re getting married. There’s no hindrance, nothing standing in their way. So they move out to the country-side to play house and as a viewer you feel like you’re a little child again. I was hoping that this whole arc would end in them completely forgetting about the real world, wanting to stay in the game instead, I was hoping for some deep psychological issues. But no, eventually they do go back to the front rows, to continue their quest of ending the game. But of course, not without adopting a child first (this is a whole post of it’s own. Let me put it like this: I don’t like Yui).
All of the things I’ve said so far is only about the first half. And that was the half I liked. When Kirito beats the game, seemingly through the use of magic, it only gets worse. As if the fact that the creator didn’t even remember why he killed all those people wasn’t bad enough (I mean, at this point you just can’t help but be annoyed), now is when the real train wreck begins. Still, personally I think that had the anime ended at episode 14, the one where Kirito wakes up and goes to find Asuna, it would have the potential to be a classic, despite all its flaws.
But for some reason they decided to continue the story. It goes from people trapped in a game of life and death to Waifu the Anime. Kirito’s little sister Suguha is in love with him, and for some reason they justify this with saying they are only cousins. Even the sister man. But Kirito only has eyes for Asuna, and goes on a mission to save her. The pacing slows down immensely, and at this point I don’t even know if that’s for the better or worse. For the first time since watching I was actually bored. The new villain is laughable, and more than once I was worried I had gotten myself into a more graphic genre of anime than first presumed. Hints of tentacle rape and NTR make matters worse, and at the end I was just happy it was over. And why these young teenagers would want to keep playing MMOs after all they went through, is beyond my comprehension.
The problem with SAO is that it’s such a plot driven anime without actually showing any plot. It seems to me the creators just didn’t know where they were going with the story, and repeatedly side-tracked into filler arcs without actually elaborating on the deeper themes. This anime had great potential, but collapsed under the weight of it. And with that I end this post. This is my opinion on Sword Art Online. Please don’t ask me about the second season.