Welcome everyone to our next review! Today we will be covering what may one of the most dividing series in the anime community, Sword Art Online. We will be covering exclusively the first season. So with that in mind, be wary of minor SPOILERS!
Now without further ado, let us begin the review!
Summary: In the near future, a Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG) called Sword Art Online has been released where players control their avatars with their bodies using a piece of technology called: Nerve Gear. One day, players discover they cannot log out, as the game creator is holding them captive unless they reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss. However, if they die in the game, they die in real life. Their struggle for survival starts now… -Crunchyroll
Sword Art Online has a plenty strong start when the anime opens. The pacing is decent, an intriguing setting and conflict, and plenty of mystery to the plot to encourage further watching. As the series continues, the quality quickly dips off. One of the initial problems is the constant time skips, even severe ones between episodes. The show chooses to focus more on action more than storytelling primarily in the first half, but the plot of the first half is not really that bad. It remains interesting throughout. The second half of the show is where the hate really belongs. The pacing falls apart here, and the entire arc feels very forced and even unnecessarily. It can also be seen as overly dramatic, with a very weak villain who is the apparent driving force behind the whole arc. The biggest problem goes on, it slowly becomes borderline harem hell. Romantic subplots are not heavily pursed save for Kirito and Asuna, but the fact they are such a solid couple makes these other subplots extremely unnecessarily. It is at this point that one realizes the show is driven more by fanservice than any actual storytelling.
Characters are also a high weak point for the show. Main character of focus is Kirito (as is his online name), and he is the definition of overpowered. While this undoubtedly annoying, there are other notable bothersome things about him. In the first few episodes, there develops an emotional character with pains and a backstory that you would think would be key to his characterization. While some of it sticks around, primarily in his loner nature, most of it ends up being forgotten over time,especially by the end of the season. Most other characters are forgettable, bland, or both in terms of both development and personality. The notable exception is Asuna, but this is only true for early episodes. She starts out with a strong characterization that would make her easily a female lead. However, as the series start to teeter towards harem hell, she goes from a strong character to just a seeming damsel in distress.
The strongest aspect of Sword Art Online is undoubtedly its animation. It was very pleasant show to look at with colorful and touching displays that really help ease the viewer when they get frustrated at one of the shows many downfalls. Many of the designs for armor and swords are quite complex and impressive. It is at this point that I obligated, as was stipulated by LowKev when I purchased it, that I own a fully forged replica of Kirito’s Elucidator sword (the black one).
The soundtrack can be surprisingly pleasing to listen to. The first opening is really impressive, so much that it dwarf the rest of the series soundtrack easily. The string pieces really help to add to the pseudo-medieval atmosphere of the anime. Several of the soundtrack pieces may even remind some viewers of some other video game soundtracks. That being said, the soundtrack is not especially memorable outside the first opening.
One really has to really hunt for any kind of deep themes in Sword Art Online. The series primarily just focuses on action to attract viewers, like many popular anime, and is not overly concerned with themes. However, a few do stick out. Loyalty is the first and deepest that probably is also the most notable. This is seen in Kirito’s repeated loyalty to companions, defending them frequently from danger and going as far as possible to save Asuna during the second half of the series. The series also deals with morality in unfamilair environment, especially with regards to the Laughing Coffin guild, but this is not extensively pursued. Optimism and dealing with uncertainty also bleed through, again as a result of the virtual world. These aside, survival and friendship are also some notable themes, but are not nearly as impressive.
Final Score: 7.0/10
Final Grade: C
Sword Art Online was an anime that had the potential to be an okay anime, but sadly to was dragged down. Sword Art Online should have ended after episode 14 but it continued and ruined what it had, which was still not all that much. The characters where bland and had very little personality. The only male character we really get to see is the main character and he is supper over powered, while the rest feel forgotten. All of the female characters fall in love with Kirito and have hardly any personality to them. The plot was interesting for the first but it lost me after the 14th episode. It also does a lot of time skips which can get annoying. It was a cool idea but they moved away from it and ruined it. Out of 10 I would give this anime a 5. I recommend this to any video game fan, but if you have not watched this anime already and want to please only watch until the end of the 14th episode it ends well and everything. – B-Ro
“So… This is awkward… I’ve heard many Youtubers and friends alike bash this anime. I was expecting to join that angry mob, but… I kind of like SAO… I mean it’s not extremely amazing in my eyes, and it’s not topping my favorites list, but I actually had a good, often even great time watching this. Also, while we’re on controversial opinions, Mighty Number 9 isn’t that bad (though I totally understand Kickstarter backers being mad at what went down with it), and tank controls can be quite effective when used well in horror games.” I wrote those sentences as notes when I was at around episode 12 of SAO. It’s funny how much my opinion changed as I watched it. What do I think now? Well, first off, SAO is at least a well-functioning show. The animation is stellar, the game world with all of its variety is beautiful, and the soundtrack is very well done. The concept is… interesting, and works well. I’ve never been an MMO fan, but I love RPGs, so I felt right at home when things like grinding came up (though I was mad and felt it was detrimental to Kirito’s character development that they skipped the first month of grinding). Due to the concept, I looked at the story as if it were an RPG plot, and I must say that SAO’s plot and side stories would make a great game. I liked the characters a lot as well, Kirito specifically being an interesting protagonist (props to the show for actually doing interesting things with his overpoweredness), and Asuna was very likeable as well. Of course, I wish they could’ve expanded upon what they had… There were a lot of times where I wish an arc or a character’s development (such as Asuna’s) could’ve been stretched over multiple episodes, so there would be much more emotional weight to them. However I still could feel said weight, and enjoyed it. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the first half was. But of course the series switched it up for the second half. I would’ve preferred them spending more time with the original arc, made the admittedly nice conclusion that much more epic (with more rising action), and then made an epilogue. What happens instead causes a really weird pacing issue. I was pretty mad at first with how they decided to continue the season. However once I got used to it, part 2 wasn’t so bad. It just felt disconnected from the first. The setting is cool like the first part, and they again explore some interesting ideas, but I didn’t like the motivation as much this time. And I really didn’t like this antagonist, who felt really forced, especially when the first was so interesting. Is virtual reality to this world’s villains what viruses and biohazards are to the Resident Evil villains? Never mind… It could’ve made for a pretty good second season, but instead it felt like a weird DLC that is still necessary for the cannon. Part of me wants to just look at the first half fondly and pretend the rest didn’t exist, but I can honestly still live with it as it is now. SAO has its good moments, its not so good moments, and some healthy disappointment to boot. However I’m glad I watched it, and had a much better time than I would’ve imagined. So yes, I did like SAO, and also turn based mechanics in RPG’s are awesome and not dated.
Final Comments: While it has quite appealing animation and a strong start, Sword Art Online declines in quality storytelling and characters significantly over its run time. Action based fanservice seems to be the primary goal of the anime.
Thank you all for reading! We hope you like our review, and if you did not, please do comment. Did you like SAO at all, since this is such a controversial anime? Be sure to check us out on Facebook or Twitter. Our next review will be One Punch Man, so get excited!