Hope you all had a fantastic weekend, and today I’m doing the first anime review of 2018. That anime is, as you no doubt read in the title, Sword Art Online.
Of all the anime series I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot, this is by far the most divisive. There are a few different points of view on the series. On one side, you have those who enjoyed the show who seem to be of the opinion that the show is an underappreciated gem and on the other you have those who didn’t enjoy the show calling an over-hyped, simplistic mess with a lot of cool visuals and nothing else.
What all viewers tend to agree on is that the show had a lot of potential which it sadly couldn’t quite live up to.
Personally, I enjoyed the show but I have to agree with both sides to some extent. That said, this is probably going to be one of the longer reviews I’ve ever written. I’ll be talking about each of the story arcs individually and then the show overall so there could be spoilers ahead – let’s begin with the stories of each arc.
The first story arc, Aincrad, follows a group of people who end up trapped in a virtual reality MMORPG called Sword Art Online and the only way to get out is to beat the game – the only catch is that death in the game means that the players will die in real life. Kirito and Asuna are two of the players trying to beat the game.
The second story arc, Fairy Dance, takes place a few months after the end of the first arc. Kirito ends up having to save Asuna who is being held hostage in a new VRMMORPG called Alfheim Online.
What I liked about the Aincrad Arc
- I liked the overall concept of being trapped in virtual reality where dying in-game means dying in real life. Yes, I know that sounds weird but hear me out: it’s got a very dystopian fiction vibe to it that could’ve allowed for some great moments – more on that in a bit.
- I loved the designs for the weapons and the monsters, a lot of them were, if nothing else, interesting to look at.
- The way the game was structured and the look of the different levels was also fascinating to me, I particularly enjoyed watching the game get harder as they went to the higher levels.
- The character designs and background images were really nice to look at and the action scenes were a lot of fun to watch.
- Some of the humor was a lot of fun.
What I didn’t like about the Aincrad Arc
There was actually very little that I didn’t like about the Aincrad story. There were a few problems here and there, sure, but that’s true with any series. The only REAL problem I had with the story was the pacing.
We don’t get much in the way of setting up the series’ backstory except that technology has become hyper advanced and Sword Art Online is the next big thing. Then we’re thrown into the world of SAO and the proverbial deep end of the pool and left to float.
To the series’ credit the transition from one to the other is very smooth and feels very natural but we don’t get much about the world of SAO at all beyond; ‘if you die in the game you die for real’ which is a shame. The pacing from then on, however, is a different story. It moves at breakneck speed before slamming on the brakes for an episode or two and then fires off into breakneck speed again – leaving viewers with mental whiplash. This means that we don’t get to know much about the characters, and unfortunately we don’t care if/when they get killed off.
What I liked about the Fairy Dance Arc
I’m not sure how much of the Fairy Dance Arc I actually liked but here we go:
- Much like in the Aincrad story arc, the character designs are all pretty cool and unique.
- I liked the way the different types of fairies had different powers which made them more unique.
- The comedy in this arc was more…fan service-like than what I would have preferred but it works well.
- The action scenes are as cool as the ones from the Aincrad story – especially with the inclusion of fairy magic into the mix.
- The background imagery is also fantastic.
- The final confrontation is pretty cool.
What I didn’t like about the Fairy Dance Arc
Oh brother, where do I start? I suppose saying I disliked this arc is a bit harsh as it wasn’t that bad as a story but it was so uncomfortable to watch! Let’s start with the antagonist of the arc and his motives.
The antagonist is a man named Sugou (pronounced ‘Soo go’ I think) who is effectively being adopted by Asuna’s family (by marrying the comatose Asuna). Why? I don’t know it’s not very well explained. Apparently, from what I can gather, Asuna wouldn’t agree to marry him if given the choice so he has her trapped in virtual reality so that she can’t reject him…yeah, that’s pretty much it: he can’t handle rejection so he won’t allow it. There’s also a money-making subplot but that makes no sense to me so I didn’t pay that much attention to it.
He even goes as far as to practically rape Asuna in front of Kirito, that’s how messed up he is. Thankfully Kirito kicks his ass in the end but still…sheesh, that was an uncomfortable watch!
Once again the pacing is all over the place but here at least it’s slightly more consistent. The moments that are meant to be quiet are quiet and the moments that are meant to be fast are fast; but it’s still difficult to care about the characters if you know nothing about them – which is exactly the case for the majority of the characters here. Except for Kirito, Asuna and Leafa (Kirito’s cousin IRL) we don’t care about any of the characters.
What I thought overall
Overall I thought this was a good series. It’s not perfect but then no series is; and there are problems – I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface on that end of things.
The pacing is a big problem – especially with establishing a romantic relationship between the two lead characters.
The music is nice and the art style and animation are beautiful with character designs as unique as the monsters and weapons of the games they play.
The games themselves were cool and I can definitely see them becoming a thing.
With regard to the characters, they’re likable enough but most of them just come across as cannon fodder. Disposable bodies to progress the plot. The use of plot armor on certain characters also takes away any sense of danger or dread that ‘hey, this guy could be dead in a minute’ which was kind of disappointing, not gonna lie.
In terms of plot, I can’t lie; I thought it was good on paper but that the execution was way too rushed with the Fairy Dance arc feeling tacked on and unnecessary. Personally I think they should’ve stuck with Aincrad some more. I don’t think we got nearly enough of that world in the series. I think they should’ve stuck with Aincrad’s world for the first season, showed the characters progressing to the final floor and showing the final boss fight on the top floor and then saved the Fairy Dance arc for a second season; but hey, that’s just my opinion.
Is it over-hyped? Definitely, but is it as bad as some viewers make it out to be? No, but you have to put any expectations you have aside and judge it for what it is and not what other people make it out to be.
The mysteries of the two arcs are relatively well done….I suppose, although there isn’t really a mystery as to who the antagonist of the second arc is but I digress.
In spite of its flaws, I found Sword Art Online to be an entertaining series to watch and would definitely recommend it
.That’s all from me for now guys, so I’ll see you again soon.
Thanks for Reading!