Anime Review from the Vault: Sword Art Online

(Posted to my Facebook page on April 19, 2015)

Having recently finished Sword Art Online II through to the end, I figured I should share my opinion on this series. Before you say anything, yes, I know a season 3 is coming… but I think it’s important that I just get my general opinion out of the way now.

I’ll try to keep this first part spoiler free, and I’ll warn you once I get into anything spoiler-ish.

First, SAO1. For those unaware, this story follows our main character Kirito, a teenager who helped to beta test and is now playing the live version of Sword Art Online, a brand new VRMMO (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online game). In these types of games, you put on a helmet which allows you to directly step into the shoes of your character in the game. Kirito logs on and plays for a while, but quickly, it appears that something is wrong. The Log Out option isn’t working properly for any characters, leaving everyone stuck inside. Suddenly, the game’s creator announces to all players that they’re stuck inside Sword Art Online now. If their character runs out of Hit Points, their real body will die. If anyone outside of the game attempts to unplug their helmet, they will likewise die. The only way out? Clear all 100 floors of the game and win.
Season 1 was, in my opinion, utterly fantastic. It’s a really interesting and dramatic situation that was executed quite well in my opinion. While the idea of being stuck in a video game isn’t exactly new, it’s pulled off expertly and manages to incorporate a lot of problems that this type of situation would bring about. The story is full of interesting characters (Perhaps a few too many swoon over Kirito at the drop of a dime for my liking, but whatever.) This first arc is surprisingly short at only 14 episodes and features a lot of time skips. I really would have preferred to spend more time in this arc, as I feel that it’s where the series would have found the most entertainment. If it had lasted the entire 25 episodes of season 1 and ended with the events of episode 14, I think the anime would have been stronger.

Now is where the spoilers begin. You’ve been warned, and this is mainly my commentary for the whole series for anyone who has seen it begins. For those stopping here, my tl;dr for this is: SAO1 is great and you should totally watch it, SAO2 is irrelevant filler and should be ignored.

The second arc is the ALO (Alfheim Online) arc, and takes place two months after the events of episode 14. Kirito successfully cleared Sword Art Online and freed those trapped by it, but many were lost… and the girl he loves who he met in the game, Asuna, is still trapped. No one is entirely sure why, but she simply won’t wake up. He’s living with his family again, including his cousin who is as close to him as a sister. Soon, however Kirito is alerted of a new VRMMO called Alfheim Online, which catches his attention when he sees a screen shot with a character bearing a strong resemblance to Asuna.
This arc is more a curiosity piece, in my opinion. Episode 14 wrapped things up pretty well, but if you really had to know how the story between Kirito and Asuna ended, well, that’s why this arc is here. In my opinion it’s weaker, has less memorable characters, a less memorable world, and while Asuna’s plight is certainly tragic, it doesn’t compare to the conflict of that first arc, which makes things here seem… trivial. Even Kirito’s relationship with his sister just seems like something I hardly care about by the end. Still, it’s passable in my eyes just because it does technically tie up the one loose end at the end of the first arc.

Spoilers for SAO2 lie beyond here.

And now… Gun Gale Online. You have no idea how much I wanted this to be good. It sounded like such a cool idea. In a way, it did pretty well. The idea is that after the events of ALO, Kirito and Asuna reunite and Kirito goes to school to study game design, only to be pulled back to the VRMMO world when a phenomena begins occuring in the popular game Gun Gale Online. Several people have died while playing a game, and some believe it’s murder from within the game, though these are just rumors, and most of the gaming population don’t believe it. Meanwhile, we begin a player by the name of Sinon, the top sniper in GGO. In real life she’s a shy nerdy girl with a great fear of guns and hopes to overcome that fear within the game.
It’s a bold move to focus on a character other than Kirito, but I think it works… or it would have, if the writers actually stuck with Sinon. Several episodes into the season, the show goes back to focusing on Kirito, who, at this stage, is much less interesting than Sinon. The fact that SAO actually made me care about Sinon is impressive, but the villain was lame and lazily written/tied into the story, and it just felt like the series was being dragged out. Worse, it kept going past GGO. Two more arcs, including the Quest for Excalibur (Literally just 3 episodes of filler) and a final arc. The final arc primarily follows Asuna, which I guess I liked, and added several new characters who wish to, before they die, achieve something in the game to get their names etched on a monument. Oh right, I should mention that they all have terminal illnesses. Such as AIDS. I know it sounds really awful of me to say, but I still didn’t give a shit about any of these characters. I see them as desperate grabs by the writers to try to keep the show relevant, keep the stakes high, and I just ended up bored by the end. I’ve already heard a dozen monologues in this series so I get their point, the moral, and the half-dozen monologues in the last two episodes just seemed to drag on and on until I wanted to stick my head into the monitor just to make Asuna stop talking!

Sorry, that got kind of jumbled there at the end. Like I said earlier, here’s the tl;dr: Sword Art Online 1 was a masterpiece. Beautifully written and realized. Sword Art Online 2 is beating a dead horse. Ignore it.

Will I be watching SAO3? Probably, if only to see what their next move is. Personally, my opinion is that Kirito and the gang should be scrapped. Their story is long over, and focusing on a new group could help breath life back into this series. Honestly, I’d much prefer if they just ended it here, but it’s far too popular for that to happen, so all I can do is hope that some writer will do the series justice before finally putting it to rest.

SAO1: 5/5
SAO2: 2/5

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