You know, ever since starting this in 2011, I always keep an open mind when reviewing most anime out there as most people tend to be too dismissive and ranty when it comes to new titles and often say the words, “Anime is DEAD!!” whenever a bad show (or what people perceive as ‘bad’) appears in the broadcast wavelengths and this particular show already has a history of that already in the span of two years and has already gotten its fans and its critics. (And note, I said critics, not haters because…..well, we’ll get to that later).
Sword Art Online (SAO) is a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG), released in 2022. With the Nerve Gear, a virtual reality helmet that stimulates the user’s five senses via their brain, players can experience and control their in-game characters with their minds.
On November 6, 2022, the players log in for the first time, and later discover that they are unable to log out. They are then informed by Akihiko Kayaba, SAO’s creator, that if they wish to be free, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss. However, if their avatars die in-game, their bodies will also die in the real world. One of these players is Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya, a skilled player who is determined to beat the game. As the game progresses for two years, Kirito eventually befriends a female player named Asuna with whom he ultimately falls in love. After the duo discover the identity of Kayaba’s avatar Heathcliff in SAO, they confront and destroy him, freeing themselves and the other players from the game.
Now, with a premise like that, it’s something that could be promising and worth to be a watch but unfortunately, that’s only the first episode and maybe the second because as the rest went back, the quality of it got lower and lower as the show went and this is something I watched twice. First time during the simulcast period and second time around the Toonami run with the English dub and I didn’t hate it as much at the first time but the second time viewing it, I really didn’t like what I saw (and no, it’s not because of the English dub).
The show is split into two arcs: The Aincrad Arc and the Fairy Dance Arc. For the Aincrad Arc, I did think that arc was alright at first, but most of the time, I was bored to tears and the pacing of it is way too fast and clumsy. I know some people complain about slow pacing of anime in the past but at least they try to get you immersed into the storyline. They jumped forward to the story too much, leaving out some details that could be important to the story but instead, it’s left out for the romance side story, which really wasn’t that great in the first place. The Fairy Dance Arc was a completely unnecessary arc as forced melodrama took over with either a love triangle that shouldn’t have happened nor did it need to exist and a new game, ALfheim Online, was made even though after the disaster of SAO, you think you would’ve stopped there but nope. The bad quality of the writing shows during this arc, even though the writing for the first one was just uninteresting. It felt like they needed to just do shit for the sake of doing it with no plausible explanation and as far as people saying it was the smartest anime at the time, you got to be kidding me. There is nothing smart or deep about this series and while that might not be a bad thing, it’s not entertaining either and if you can’t be both of those, then you failed to be a good show.
Characters are even worse as most of them don’t really seem that memorable or inspirational. They are quite forgettable. Take the main character, Kazuto Kirigaya, who is the most powerful character in the show because of……..well, fuck if I know. Now I said one time that Kirito wasn’t the perfect character and I may have said that wrongly because it is described as being perfect, perhaps too perfect and with him being the strongest player (or beater) in the game, I have no concern to worry about him. He’s just a generic badass wannabe. We know he can defeat whoever challenges him and that just sucks out the tension of it. Protagonists in shows like Berserk, Fate/Zero, Blue Exorcist, Code Geass, and Accel World (which was written by the same guy who did SAO) showed that they are capable of doing what they need to do; however, they also have some noticeable flaws in them that made them into better characters, better protagonists as you will. Kirito is a wish-fulfillment character that guys desperately want to be. And as for Asuna, she could’ve been an alright character and she was for a bit but most of the time, she had some of that tsundere character traits that I really hate but the biggest downfall for her is when her development shrivels down and that confidence in her is just poof, gone and for their romance, it really wasn’t that inspiring as most fans think it is because no relationship like that would ever go like that within the span of the first arc, which I would blame the time skips for and the fact that the second arc shouldn’t have been made at all. The other characters in there doesn’t seem that important at all because the show doesn’t give them that much face time except for either one or two episodes. Klein and Agil were good characters, I give them that but the girls (Yui, Silica, Lisbeth, Sachi, Leafa) all seem like they are part of Kirito’s growing harem of girls that fawn over him, even an AI character that supposed to be Kirito and Asuna’s “daughter” and also his sister…..no, wait, his cousin (as in that love triangle that was pointless to begin with). The villains of the show Akihiko Kayaba and Nobuyuki Sugō (Oberon the Fairy King) have the worst motivations for doing what they did, especially the former whose reason for doing this wasn’t even explained and the latter’s purpose may have some motivation but a piss-poor motivation to do it.
The animation by A-1 Pictures (who made Blue Exorcist, Magi, Fairy Tail, & Anohana) was perceived as stellar to most people and while it looks look visually stunning, it’s not all amazing as some make it out to be. It’s not awful but nothing that I haven’t saw before and as far as some of the action scenes go, they aren’t actually that well-animated. It has pretty artwork and the character designs does appeal to the standard otaku, which is why they might love the show in first place.
Music-wise, I love Yuki Kajiura and her music but this score is just about average and the same can be said about the opening and ending themes of the show (and I mean, all of them). “Crossing Field” doesn’t really stand out as one of the best themes in an anime and especially from the singer LiSA. I still say to this very day that “Oath Sign” is more of an inspiring theme song than this.
And now for the dub, which is also average. Yep, in 2013 where Bang Zoom Entertainment proves their dubs are getting better in quality (Fate/Zero, Blue Exorcist, Accel World) than most of what FUNimation or Sentai Filmworks pumps out weekly or monthly, this isn’t their brightest one but it isn’t that horrible of one either. Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito did felt uninspired although in his defense, I think it matches the character rightfully. Cherami Leigh does alright in her starring debut in a LA dub as Asuna. I would say that Todd Haberkorn being one of the villains is expanding his range as a VA but I’ve seen it done before and it felt like how Johnny Yong Bosch was in Fate/Zero (Ok, I’ve been mentioning that show here lately) In short, I do like most of the dub cast in here (like Cassandra Lee Morris, Christine Marie Cabanos, Patrick Seitz aka one of the few guys I don’t mind playing a black man because dude can do that, Kirk Thornton), but I felt they were underutilized.
FINAL VERDICT: OK, there’s no doubt about it. This is just a failure of a show, not a complete failure but damn, this was disappointing. I blame the hype of this as people making it out to be one of the best shows in 2012 when it’s really the most popular title of that year and I’ll say this as many people did, “Just because it’s popular, doesn’t guarantee that it’s any good.” The writing is abysmal, the characters are bland and forgetful. The only praise I get from it was the artwork and the music was just average and I thought .hack/sign was a bore to get through but at least that show had some merits. And I highly say I would NOT recommend this title to many of you unless you need to see it for yourself to show how it is. This is purely one of the many examples of how NOT to write an anime.
And with that, I give Sword Art Online…..
NOT FEELING THIS (AT ALL!!!!)
At the time of this review, Sword Art Online is available to own on DVD and Blu-ray via Aniplex of America and it did finished its run on Toonami. Streaming options are available at Crunchyroll, Hulu, Daisuki, & The Aniplex Channel.
And until then, this is MAK2.0 aka Blue Hybrid, bringing all the elements in one format.
Yeah, I know about this. No, I couldn’t care any less.
SWORD ART ONLINE – animation by A-1 Pictures / distributed by ANIPLEX OF AMERICA