Every now and again comes a show, movie or series that completely divides people. This is what I call the Twilight Effect; some people will love it unconditionally whilst others will see nothing but flaws, such is the case with Sword Art Online.
In 2022, a genre of gaming called Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games exists. A title within this category of gaming, Sword Art Online comes with a virtual reality helmet that allows players to control their in-game avatars using their minds. When the creator of SAO removes the players’ ability to log out, leaving them trapped until someone clears all 100 floors, however, the game becomes a deadly trap.
It’s arguable that the setting of this anime may be part of its huge popularity; with SAO knowing its audience well, they clearly presume most fans have played MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) games before. Because of this, fans are been willing to ignore the flaws that are present.
Our main protagonist Kirito starts gaming to avoid his family. Though he plays games that are multiplayer, he chooses to go solo. Many will say that Kirito is a wish fulfilment character and its’s hard to argue with that considering he overpowers everyone, does feats that the system doesn’t allow, and gets his own harem ranging from every anime stereotype possible like cat girls and his cousin…
Asunda, our lead female protagonist, is a huge disappointment considering her potential and dominating amount of screen time. Though she’s promisingly introduced as a mysterious, strong female gamer, she soon becomes the token love interest of Kirito, eventually becoming a damsel in distress.
Something that understandably annoys so many fans of SAO is that nearly every single female character on Kirito’s side falls in love with him. Whilst this does happen in harems, it’s normally understood why most girls would like the leading male. Here, however, Kirito isn’t appealing but anti-social, making him an undesirable character. It doesn’t help that every female he encounters ‘needs saving’ when they should be able to care for themselves.
Another disappointing element of Sword Art Online is its story; with such potential, it’s a wonder how a team could miss the mark. The first half condenses two years into 14 episodes, using time jumps which forces character relationships to suffer, especially that between Kirito and Asuna. Their relationship is largely developed during the time that’s skipped so alas, it comes across as incredibly forced. Though chances are this is done better in the light novels, it desperately needed to be seen in the anime. Also, why did the creator of SAO do what he did? The question is never answered!
Yes, there are good parts of SAO but they all happen in the first three episodes. Death is explored in the third episode particularly well but after that, episodes act as fillers. Though there’s an overall story of getting to the 100th floor, it’s downplayed for the entire arc. The second half completely changes things and the first half essentially becomes a prologue. Unfortunately, it’s in this latter half that the writing becomes terrible, practically laughable.
To make up for the bad writing, the animation is great; the gorgeous settings bring life to the online worlds and action scenes prove to be entertaining. Though problems are present with story and character, SAO certainly always has its animation in favour.
Although the soundtrack is good, it’s nothing that particularly stands out. However, Crossing Field by Lisa, the song for the first opening, is spectacular. Though it may come across as generic at first, it really grows on you.
With the dub itself being worth a pass, the performances just aren’t enough to save the anime from showing its flaws. All things considered, it was probably done in the best way possible.
Simply put, Sword Art Online defines wasted potential. Despite having a great concept and strong beginning, the filler, stereotyping, unrealistic actions, and unanswered questions hold this anime back massively. The second half makes it even worse with a pointless romantic subplot and a villain who’s laughable as opposed to threatening. Thankfully though, the ending of the first season is somewhat satisfying considering what could have been.
It’s not the worst anime ever made but it’s heavily flawed. Regardless though, SAO is an entertaining watch and you’ll probably like it even if you’re watching it on Netflix, analysing how hilariously bad it becomes.
What do you think of Sword Art Online?
Comment with your thoughts.