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animefreak114's Sword Art Online Tv Review

Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online tv Review

The series follows Kazuto Kirigaya as he signs into a MMORPG called Sword Art Online, under the name "Kirito". The creator of SAO informs him and all the other players that they are trapped there and that should they die in the game, they will die in real life as well. Having been one of the 1,000 beta testers, Kazuto feels that he can go at the game alone, but later on realizes that he needs others just as much as they need him.

As such, he begins to help other players, one of whom is named Asuna; the two fall in love and make plans to later meet in the real world. After almost two years in the game, a large scale battle is attempted to take on the final boss. While Kazuto awakens back in the real world, he soon discovers that Asuna and others did not wake up, and that they are trapped in a different game known as Alfheim Online. In hopes of saving the woman he loves, he signs into Alfheim Online, where he meets a girl named Leafa...

Synopsis: LuluOokami

Story & Characters

From time to time there comes an anime like Sword Art Online that can be best described by its reception. And by reception I mean fans of the show who can't stop praising it, and will stand by the show regardless of any lack-luster moments it possesses, vs the non-fans holding up the red flag of overrated-ness, and starting rage wars with the fans about how the show in question is complete-and-utter-shit. Then you've got the rest of us smack in the middle. Is this a bad thing, you ask? Not entirely. If there's one thing I can give SAO credit for, then its how it can appeal to old time anime fans (to some extent) and to the newbies as a whole.

That being said, here's the short version of my opinion on SAO as someone on the middle ground. And also as someone who's been watching anime for several years: Sword Art Online is NOT a bad show, it's actually very entertaining, but at the same time, it's not the greatest anime EVAR, either.

Story:

Two decades into the 21st century where Virtual MMORPG's have become a massive hit to the gaming industry, a new VMMO makes it's explosive debut: Sword Art Online. As a critically acclaimed game that uses Nerve Gear-Helmet-Esque-Technology allowing players to control their characters with their minds, it has spawned excitement from many a gamer. Particularly with our protagonist, Kazuto Kirigaya or Kirito, who's been following SAO and it's creator for sometime. For the duration of the first episode, everything in SAO is what the players hoped it would be, until they discover they can't log out. Yes, thanks to the game's creator Kayaba Akihiko, they are trapped within SAO and will continue to be so until they've beaten all 100 levels of the game. Additionally, SAO has all the players playing for keeps : if you die in SAO, the nerve gear cooks your brain and you die in real life. No second chances.

Taking into consideration the enitre .Dot Hack, franchise, and Accel World, the trapped in a virtual game premise, isn't exactly the newest concept for an anime. Still, it's not as beaten down as the entire slice of life higschool and harem, genre. Additionally, its worth mentioning that SAO's got way more action-based-thriller moments than .Dot Hack ever did have, so it's easy to forgive SAO's overarching story--to some extent.

The Good:

SAO knows it's audience. That's pretty much what any critic like myself who's seen the show will tell you. Considering that most of the anime fanbase happen to be avid gamers, I have to give credit to A1-Pictures for producing an anime that capitalizes on this aspect. Especially when you take into consideration how popular the MMO genre is as a whole. That being said, it was a lot easier for me to appreciate this as a gamer than as a long time anime fan. On that note it's worth mentioning how well the mechanics of the game come into play, on both the larger and smaller scales of SAO. From watching Asuna cook, to the boss battles, to the guilds, to the people who like to play the villains in their MMO games, the way the mechanics of actual online games were integrated into the society of SAO never failed to catch my interest. SAO definitely did well to show what exactly a society in an MMO would be like.

On a side note, to non-gamers, I would recommend doing some research on MMO's or at least having some familiarity with the genre and its logistics before watching SAO otherwise a fair amount of it's appeal might be lost on you.

Another aspect, and decidedly the most important twist in the anime, is the Death Penalty. This is what gives the SAO it's impact. This is what makes SAO feel less like an VMMO and more like an adventure-thriller game with life or death choices and consequences. And initially the producers play off this aspect masterfully. You can feel the weight of death in this anime, and its shadow hovering over every character and plot device in SAO. Personally, I had a hard time watching characters die off which is a feeling I've rarely ever felt while watching anime.

The Bad:

Let's start out with the more forgivable discrepancies in SAO and mind you, these problems are grievous enough to warrant their own sections.

The Filler:

For those of you who don't know what filler is--it's basically a pointless episode in an anime with little to no connections to the main plot line in general. These can be found especially in Shounen anime like Bleach, Naruto or One Piece and it's basic purpose is to forestall the progression of the anime to keep it from catching up to its manga counterpart. Don't get me wrong, filler can be a great source of entertainment, but what really gives it a negative connotation as a whole is how utterly pointless it is at the end of the day.

SAO suffers from a good deal of filler, and unlike these other shows, it's harder to forgive considering SAO was based off of light novels that contain the same material used in each of the filler episodes. So wait, then if it's actually in the source material, it's technically not filler? Well whether you call it actual filler or not it still doesn't change the fact that it's for the most part, completely pointless.

That being said, I can't completely disregard the filler as it was entertaining to watch. Additionally some filler episodes actually did have some bearing to the story as a whole, especially in showing us the MMO aspects in SAO's society. Still as much as I enjoyed watching our protagonist, saving helpless loli-esque girls, playing detective or fishing (yeah, not really on the fishing note) by the end of each episode I felt the overarching story grow more and more distant. I had to remind myself that I wasn't watching an anime about a bunch of kids messing around on videogame because they wanted to escape reality, but instead about a bunch of kids fighting to escape an MMO that was disturbingly realistic and dangerous in many ways.

As a general rule of thumb in good anime, the overarching story shouldn't be so distant as to have me reminding myself of its presence.It boggles down the momentum set in the first few episodes, in addition to hurting its sense of purpose and thereby making SAO's ability to immerse its audience, that much weaker.

The Timeskips:

Yes, SAO does a lot of timeskips from one episode to the next. Had it not been for the second season I would've been a lot more forgiving on this issue. I had honestly expected SAO to be a 12 episode series, and this was because of the timeskips. The world of SAO is HUGE and it's practically impossible to completely cover the journey from floor 1 to floor 100 in a 12 episode series. However, with the addition of 12 extra episodes to the entire series the producers could've taken a lot less liberty with the timeskips. Seriously guys, what's wrong with the first season being about the first fifty levels, or about Kirito as a weaker player, then coming in with a second season about the next 50 levels with Kirito being much more badass? It definitely would've made his rise to power a lot more feasible instead of him getting to a ridiculously high level in only a few episodes.

Instead we get a second season that (without spoiling too much, for those who've yet to see SAO or its second season) is, utter-fail-topia as it's got a plot as cliched and predictable as a Disney movie. For those of you who aren't die hard fans of the show you know what i'm talking about and for those that are I'll grant you this: it's fun to watch if you don't think about it too much. Or if you've not seen enough anime to recognize the overused-plot devices and the overly-stereotypical characters from good guy to bad, being thrown your way.

But I digress, overall, condensing two years into twelve episodes only then to come out with a second season that doesn't come close to the potential the first season had, is the best and most tragic example of how shoddy the writing in SAO turned out to be.

The Romance:

For the sake of spoiler-evasion I'm not going to delve too deeply into this topic, but it still deserves some attention. I don't mind romance in anime. It's definitely a spice that can add an additional level of interest to the show in question. With that said, if you're going to add a spice of romance to a show, don't do it for the sake of the plot. And when I say that I'm once more making a reference to the second season.

A fellow anime fan had told me that the romance in the show made sense due to the psychological impact SAO can have on its characters. And he's right to some degree. Especially when most of the cast is composed of teenagers. Teenage love more often than naught, can be rushed, confusing, and downright ridiculous at times and that's under normal circumstances. SAO definitely brings this aspect to light while adding a levels of *awww :3* and *facepalm* that were forgivable UNTIL the second season. Up until season two the romance was somewhat explainable even if it wasn't entirely likable or believable. But to take a mediocre romantic subplot and make it the focus of the entire show by the second season is utterly inexcusable. And this is excluding the harem-esque genre SAO exhumes in its latter half with a love triangle involving a cousin to boot.

Thus this leads me to my last and worst grievance:

The Characters:

No you're not misreading, and no I haven't made a typo by putting this section under the bad. By far the most disappointing aspect of SAO is its cast of characters. Particularly with its development of its main characters, or lack thereof. Once again I'm going to take this opportunity to introduce some archetypes and terminology exclusive to the world of anime, for those of you who aren't familiar with them.

Derived from the Japanese characters, Tsun Tsun (meaning to turn away in disgust) and dere dere (lovey dovey feelings), the word Tsundere in Japan, and in anime pop culture is a word used to describe a method of character development or characterization of a female character in anime. This is a character that while initially, acting cold uncaring or sometimes cruel to our main (generally male) protagonist, will overtime come to like him or develop feelings for him as the show progresses. Hence you have our main female lead Asuna Yuki. Generally characters with Tsundere aspects, don't really bother me. I might not necessarily like them, because of how cliched they are, but there are ways to work around Tsundere characters and make them a little less cliched with additional development. Even then as far as likable cliched characters goes you're talking about the exception rather than the rule.

The rule in this case, being the main heroine of SAO, Asuna, in which the writers literally threw her character into this nicely cut out archetype and didn't bother to develop her any deeper than that. This neglect becoming even more evident as the series progresses. She goes from being a mysterious badass with amazing potential in the first episodes, to a generic Tsundere in the later episodes, to becoming a plot device in the second season by playing the role of the helpless pitiable damsel in distress and having to rely on a man to save her. Personally, its downright disrespectful to take a character with the potential she possessed and have it take a nose dive into hackneyed.

Next is our main protagonist, Kirito. While I don't outright agree with the non-fans on how Kirito is a complete wish-fulfillment character, I can kind of see how they came to this conclusion. Like Asuna he starts off well enough, and that's about it. As the story progresses its hard not to notice how everything has a habit of going his way. Excluding the fact that he's a higher level player, despite going solo in an MMO as dangerous as SAO, he's able to perform Deus Ex Machina feats not remotely possible by the system. Why? He's Kirito and he's the main character. Oldest cliche in the book. In addition to the fact that he's a complete chick magnet and attracts all sorts of stereotypes from Cat Women, to Moe/Loli-esuqe little girls, to Tsunderes, to his sister who's not REALLY his sister. The main problem I had with Kirito is how the writers tried to make him likable, by giving him all of the focus, all the development, and all the girls. Instead they wound up with an overpowered cliched semi-anti-heroic, gilded hero, that could give Shirou Emiya and Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach and Fate/Stay Night a run for their money. Other than that, you've got Leafa, the other female "lead" and she gets sidelined almost as much as Asuna. Top that off with the second season villain who was more laughable than menacing, and you've got a fine example of an anime that knows how to stereotype its characters.

Overall as a watcher of anime SAO's Story is very entertaining and I can get through an episode with some semblance of satisfaction. As an anime reviewer though, the cliches in this story and characters are painfully evident. In terms of story and characters, SAO is an anime I would equate with Bleach or Naruto: shows that started out with heart and an engaging premise only to derail all of that potential into what I call "safe territory". SAO is an anime guaranteed to get a massive fanbase and guaranteed to sell. But ultimately, there's not a lot done in SAO that hasn't been done in other anime, just as well if not better.

Rating: 6

Art

Taking into account that A1-Pictures is known for making anime with higher production values than most studios, it's only fitting that the art and animation in SAO looks as stunning as it does. On that note, its worth mentioning that the visual appeal of this show is something even the non fans of SAO can't and don't argue against.

The Animation:

Fight scenes people, fight scenes! While it's no Fate/Zero, the action is where the animation truly shines in terms of showing the mechanics of SAO's world. This is especially true in the boss battles and sword fights with everything from slow-motion sequences to the fast paced sword-play to gorgeous set pieces like the Asuna-Kirito tag team against the Skull Reaper boss.

The Art and Character Designs:

Hands down, the best feature of SAO is in its concept art and character designs. This is where you'll find all of the creativity in SAO that was practically nowhere to be found in its story line and characters. In terms of scenery there is no one setting in SAO that looks like the next. From the generic starting level, to the ominous beauty of the 74th floor to the wintery setting of the 55th floor, the concept art for the scenery does well to illustrate the vastness of this online game for all to see. Its worth mentioning that in terms of design, the world tree in the second season is an artistic wonder and is by far my favorite set piece in SAO. Additionally the character designs were also up to par with my expectations of a anime taking place in an MMO. The in game avatars, their weapons, and additional items were given enough attention in detail, to blow other anime in its genre like .Dot Hack to the moon and back.

Lighting and Color:

I'm going to take this time to say again that SAO would've been an amazing show if the story and characters lived up to the artwork in terms of aesthetic appeal and just the sheer amount of effort put into the show on a technical standpoint. This is nevermore evident with the color palette and lighting effects. For the most part the colors in SAO are just as expansive as the SAO world itself, albeit bright and lively, especially when you compare the colorful VMMO to the dull, decidedly more somber look of the real life world outside of it. The lighting however, is what really can bring out the atmosphere in the show. Following the third episode and Kirito's misadventure with the Moonlit Black Cats and the special boss, the lighting is a shadowy presence over the cool colors that expertly echoes the melancholy felt by our protagonist and the overall seriousness of death in SAO as a whole. In contrast to that you have the golden glow of the town at the base of the world tree that had my jaw hitting the base of my laptop in awe.

On a smaller scale its worth mentioning the little things like the glow of the swords during the fight scenes or the majestic baby blue backdrop of the first boss battle as well as the one on floor 74 with the gleam eyes.

Rating: 10

Sound

The Soundtrack:

When I think of Yuki Kajiura I think of Fate/Zero, Madoka Magica, Kara no Kyoukai, Tsubasa, Pandora Hearts and Mai Hime all because of the wonderful singles she produced from these anime. Fate/Zero had Point Zero, Legend, and Battle to The Strong. Madoka Magica had, Venari Stirgas, Salve Terre Magicae, Credens Justitam, and Sis Puella Magica. Kara No Kyoukai has the M01 and the fantastic M12+13. Tsubasa had Ship of Fools, Break the Sword of Justice, Siren Song and the Song of Storm and Fire. Pandora Hearts had Bloody Rabbit, Alone, Shadow, and Pandora Hearts Expanded. Mai Hime had Mezame, Yamiyo e no Prologue, Duran Shoukan, and Ensei. Sword Art Online has...

Well...nothing.

Nothing that stands out or sells the scenes in SAO like her other works. Yes there's that one epic choir present in boss battles but its nothing unique enough to listen without that visual accompaniment. Its also worth noting that some of the songs above are NOT all epic choir. Tracks like Yamiyo e no Prologue or Legend, that are wonderfully mystical and dark, and do an incredible job of setting an epic atmosphere without the traditional vocals are ultimately the songs SAO lacks. I wouldn't call the soundtrack in SAO forgettable by any means, but it certainly isn't up to par with any of Kajiura's previous works.

On a small side note and as a defense on Kajiura's part, all the anime listed above that she composed so beautifully for, never lose their dark undertones the same way SAO had done and anyone familiar with Kajiura's works can tell you of her preference for very dark anime and her success in composing for them.

Rating: 7

Presentation

Sword Art Online is a classic example of a show that's easy to watch, easy to enjoy, and, especially for those who are fairly new to anime or don't take a show beyond face value, easy to mistake for the amazing series it tries to be. Yes, therein lies the primary problem with Sword Art Online. It tries to be the ultimate anime experience, with a little action adventure here, a little romance there, with filler and thriller in between. And instead of becoming one of the benchmarks for modern anime like Madoka Magica Kara no Kyoukai or Fate/Zero it becomes more or less a collection of many different cliches, tropes and archetypes, with the only amazing qualities being the art the action and it's gripping introduction.

Presentation:

At the end of the day, as enjoyable as I found SAO to be I more or less felt like I was watching a show scripted by a guy with a bad case of ADHD. It's unable to keep up the momentum, and the overall sense of purpose that it established in earlier episodes, with practically pointless filler, an equally pointless second season, and random time-skips within the first. In a anime, in a great anime, sense of purpose is everything. Especially in an anime with an overarching story. Sword Art Online does extremely well to convey that sense of purpose necessary for the rise to anime greatness in it's introduction only to spiral down throughout the rest of the series. Moreover while the ending was satisfying to some degree, there were important questions and plot elements introduced in the beginning that were ultimately side-lined in the end along with most of SAO's initially premise.

Why did Kayaba Akihiko trap the millions of players in SAO? Did he have a god complex? Was it a more personal or psychological reason? Maybe these questions were left up to our interpretation intentionally but considering how drastically the plotline of SAO changed from beginning to end, I somehow doubt that.

Humor:

There's really not a lot of downright hilarious moments in the show, but it does have its amusing points. Some of which I might point out are unintentional on part of the creators, seeing as how I found the sheer amount of cliched stupidity radiated primarily in the second season, to be much more hilarious than in any of the humor provided in the show. Very pretty looking cliched stupidity I might add, with amazing art and a fitting soundtrack.

Overall:

As an anime fan I can say with certainty, SAO is a great show in the case of enjoyability and it does have some truly impressive moments. It's definitely a show that's not likely to be forgotten about any time soon. While it doesn't come close to being one of the best anime of all time, it's definitely a distance above being average. As a reviewer and a critic of anime, though SAO is a bittersweet experience. To take a show with THIS much potential and take it on a crash/burn trip to hell and back is quite a feat on part of its creators. To the non-fans who say it's complete shit, I disagree: it's actually enjoyable shit. To the fandom: its good but its far from being the best.

And finally as, I previously mentioned SAO does well to garner a mixed audience of veteran anime fans, and the newbies, thereby making it a great gateway show. However, from all that I've said its pretty obvious to see which of the two is more likely to appreciate this anime. If you're new to the medium of anime and thus unfamiliar to the cliches abundant in SAO, or if you're someone who doesn't mind enjoyable overly hackeneyed anime or if you're a gamer you are going to like SAO in one way or another. To the rest of you, SAO is an anime best watched with your inner critic on silent.

Rating: 6

Final Verdict

6.83 (above average)

Reviewed by animefreak114, May 04, 2013

Comments

  1. Himejideviluke May 04, 2013

    *claps* What a very interesting analysis of SAO, agreeable points with excellent elaboration. Juuten for your artwork.

  2. fishshell May 26, 2013

    Nice review there....
    Maybe if you don't put too high expectations on the series, perhaps you could enjoy more :)
    For me, I have to stop near the end of Aincrad arc at first because I just could not stand the pace of the show and watched from the start till the end after some time...
    I think they started quite a good foundation during Aincrad arc and I feel Aincrad ending would have been a much better way to go out than the Fairy Dance arc. Quite frustrated with Fairy Dance arc actually :(

  3. Nusune Jul 01, 2013

    What a great review. Before I read this, I was a complete fangirl of SAO, ready to defend it to the death. Now I feel rather stupid for missing out on its great clichedness, or at least most of it. It seems perfectly clear now that I've read this. I cannot say you've turned me into a non fan; heck, I might even still proclaim to my friends how great it is. But I feel that now I can see it for what it is, and I shall treat it as such. Thank you for opening my eyes.

  4. YHE Feb 06, 2014

    Its an awesome review.. You really stated the good traits and bad traits of SAO.
    Thats very objective I like it..

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