I’m two years late to the party, but ah, screw it. This is a show that I have seen considerable hate thrown upon, and today, I’d like to re-examine this verdict. So think of this as a revisionist take on Sword Art Online.
A few things before we start
1.A youtube channel called GRArkada did a review on Sword Art Online, among other shows, and I strongly encourage you to check him out. Heck, checking out anyone else can give you a better sense of the show.
2. I’ll be looking at two aspects of the show
a. The story – storytelling, focus, direction, etc.
b. The Characters – somewhat self-explanatory.
3. there will be minor spoilers
4. (disclaimer: This is my first blog post, so if it’s horrible, which it probably is, any feedback is greatly appreciated. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not the best writer.)
It is the year 2022, and the world’s first Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Role-Playing Game (or VRMMORPG) has just been released: Sword Art Online; thousands of players are online the very first day of release. However, what started out as a simple game turns dark very quickly when the creator of Sword Art Online locks the players in (i.e they can’t log out) and challenges them to beat all 100 floors of the game. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. There’s a catch. Should a player die, they die. No respawns, no nothing. Once you die in game, you die in real life.
SAO’s story is nothing new. Death games like this have existed before, but originality is not the maker of a good show. What matters is the direction SAO takes with this concept. Sadly, that’s the problem. SAO doesn’t really take the concept in a new direction. And the worst part? It could have. Early on, it introduced concepts that could’ve been expanded on, and the ones that were didn’t last very long. Heck, even the whole death thing kinda loses meaning by the 14th episode. Choosing not to expand on these concepts robbed SAO of complexity, which usually means it could’ve connected to the viewer on a deeper level. It’s a trait that other “good” animes share, such as Clannad and Shakugan no Shana, and SAO missed its opportunity to connect. Instead, what we got were episodes that really could’ve been considered filler, featuring characters that only appear once and then vanish.
The other problem lies in the second half of the show. See, the whole SAO death game only lasts for a little over half the entire anime. The second half switches focus, from the death game, to…… I don’t even know. Instead of Sword Art Online, it’s a game called Alfheim Online (or ALO), where players now can log out. This ruins many plot devices that the first half was able to use, such as the whole death game thing, and it also did not solve the problems of the first half: ALO missed its chance to really connect with the viewer; it didn’t have that level of complexity. The result is enjoyable, but a step down at least from the first half of the show, which wasn’t very high to begin with.
When I talk about the characters, I’m only going to look at the main characters
Kirito: The main man. Kirito was a beta-tester for the game and is much stronger than most other players. Furthermore, he’s an oddity among MMORPG players, choosing to go alone. There’s honestly not much to say about him, partly because he’s not all that interesting of a character. The show hints at a backstory, but it doesn’t go into much depth, so said backstory doesn’t appear to play much of a role. All he does in-show is be your standard goody-two shoes.
Asuna: The main female, Asuna is by-far the most disappointing character of the show. She starts out ok, if you’re looking at her from a “feminist” view (i.e looking for a strong, independent woman). By the second half, that independence and strength the show gave her evaporates, turning her into “Princess Peach”, if you will. She’s the focus of the second half, and honestly, wasn’t needed. What I mean by that is she didn’t need to be the focus of the second half. The original focus in the first half (i.e getting out of SAO) was vastly superior.
Leafa: The main heroine of the second half, Leafa suffers from many of the same problems as Asuna, so there’s not much to say about her. Any sign of a cool female character kinda evaporates as she just serves to highlight Kirito instead of getting any kind of development herself.
SAO is the perfect example of missed potential. It had many opportunities to put a new spin on the whole “death game” motif and didn’t take them. The result was a show that, while enjoyable, really sold itself short and robbed itself of being a really great anime.
SAO has a second season confirmed, so hopefully, that will make up for this show’s shortcomings.