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* AlternativeCharacterInterpretation:
** Kirito ''isn't'' as ObliviousToLove as he appears; he figured out that Lizbeth had feelings for him. In the case of Asuna, he ''does'' have feelings for her, and he recognizes the signals she's sending out, but he's still getting over the trauma of Sachi's death.
** There's also an in-universe example with Kirito, whose "loner" attitude is interpreted early by many players as a sign of him being a "Beater" and not caring about other players, while in reality it is caused by his SurvivorGuilt and fear of losing any more people; if anything, the way he treated Klein and Asuna (he is the one because of whom they started [[TakingALevelInBadass Taking Levels In Badass]]) and him taking the blame for other beta-testers after the first boss' defeat make it really hard to see him as a selfish type unless this trope is invoked.
** Keita blaming Kirito [[spoiler:for their guild-mate's deaths is in fact a mental defense mechanism for his SurvivorsGuilt. In truth, he blames himself for not being there. Yet he doesn't even believe himself, which is why he kills himself right afterward.]]
** Is Diavel a well-intentioned leader who's too confident in what he knows as a beta tester, a power-hungry manipulator who would do anything just to be in charge of the clearers, or some combination of the two? The former interpretation is somewhat easier to accept in the anime, in which the subplot of Diavel's attempting to buy Kirito's sword through a proxy is removed.
* AssPull: One of the biggest critiques towards the first two story arcs is that both end with a FinalBattle that is resolved by a blatant DeusExMachina. To elaborate:
** ''Aincrad'': [[spoiler: Kirito loses all of his HP fighting Kayaba, but still he manages to delay his disintegration by sheer willpower just long enough to return the favor]].
** Earlier in the same arc: [[spoiler:Kirito is capable of hacking SAO's Operating System within seconds, even if he's never seen it before, and save Yui's code from shutting down forever by placing it in a bauble. [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ9NlThB3SY Details on this link]].]]
** ''Fairy Dance'': [[spoiler:Kayaba's consciousness appears out of nowhere to Kirito and gives him administrator rights to the game's system, which allows him to defeat Sugou]].
** ''Phantom Bullet'' was also partially guilty of this: First, [[spoiler:inside GGO, Kirito suddenly remembers Death Gun's true identity thanks to a borderline BatDeduction]]. Second, [[spoiler:in the real world, Kirito survives a fatal syringe stab thanks to a fully providential and amazingly well placed PocketProtector]]. However, they are not as bad as in the previous two arcs, since they're not what actually resolves either fight. [[spoiler:What does resolve them is Sinon's help, both inside GGO and in the real world. In the first instance, Sinon uses the laser sight of her scope-less sniper rifle to distract Death Gun, leaving him wide open to Kirito's attack. In the second instance, she smashes a stereo to the back of the final villain's head]].
* AuthorsSavingThrow: The ''Progressive'' mini-series addresses to some extent the complains of people who thought [[RomanticPlotTumor Kirito and Asuna's romance was too rushed]]. One of the main points of this soft {{reboot}} is to see them interact in more depth than in the original story. However, since they still canonically get together in the original first novel, [[RelationshipCeiling they're not supposed to become a couple in the mini-series itself]]. Whether it succeeds or not in improving their romance (whether you liked it originally or not) [[BrokenBase is another matter entirely]].
** ''Lost Song'' is over ''Hollow Fragment'', which had the "Online" aspect be limited to a strange isolated field area, and only allowed you to party with your custom version of Kirito and one other person, with the only way to have anyone else be to do a pseudo-online game, which still disallowed multiplayer in the main quest fields. ''Lost Song'' has no division between the Single Player and Multiplayer, and allows you to field a three-person party of anyone at all you have unlocked.
** ''Lost Song'' also has Yuuki live and become playable in the sequel ''Hollow Realization'', giving her character a chance to shine that canon couldn't give her.
** The [[AlternateContinuity video game continuity]] itself is considered an AuthorsSavingThrow (due to Reki Kawahara overseeing the story of each game) by some, due to keeping many of the good parts of the novels/anime, trimming down the more controversial parts, and adding in things that many feel make the story better.
** The movie Ordinal Scale has one for anyone tired of Kirito taking on the BigBad of any given arc himself: [[spoiler: the final fight is held on Aincrad's 100th floor, where Kirito is joined by the friends he made in Aincrad, Alfheim and even Gun Gale to battle the true final boss of Sword Art Online with everyone pulling their weight. Even ''Yuuki'' cameos as Asuna unleashes Mother's Rosario against it]].
* SugarWiki/AwesomeMusic: A vast amount of the Sword Art Online music is impressive, but special mention goes to [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byFkvbz2Za0 Swordland]].
* BadassDecay: While Klein was never the equal of Kirito in SAO, he filled an important role in Aincrad as Kirito's loyal friend and foil, even when Kirito didn't believe that he deserved the friendship; by Excaliber he's degraded to comic relief and the butt of the jokes, and yet he's ''still'' crucial to its success. Alleviated somewhat in the Mother's Rosario arc, where he's seen swatting dozens of players out of the way with ease, and in [[BigDamnMovie Ordinal Scale]], where he and his guild are among some of the only players to hold their own against the first Event Boos while ''Kirito'' falls flat on his face and needs bailing out, [[spoiler: and may have actually won a fist fight with Eiji had the latter not had an additional AR device to read his opponent's movements]].
* BaseBreakingCharacter:
** The OfficialCouple Kirito and Asuna. Two of the most polarizing heroes in TheNewTens anime history. On the broad strokes, some claim that both are a little bit too perfect, thus making them unrelatable, if not downright unlikable. To be more specific:
*** For Kirito it mostly has to do with whether or not he is a bland self-insert WishFulfillment character as opposed to being a completely legitimate and competent badass lead with a well formed character. Detractors argue that, even leaving aside his "over-powerness" arguably breaking both the character and the narrative, Kirito's badassery just doesn't work in this setting, since he's basically a OneManArmy, something that just doesn't happen in MMO [=RPGs=]. His ChickMagnet status and the way the story tends to focus on him instead of on arguably more interesting characters are also huge points of contention. For some, these points make him almost unbearable to watch, while others don't mind them and argue [[NeverLiveItDown they're just blown out of proportion by the detractors]].
*** As for Asuna, she is either the most moe, badass and likable female character in TheNewTens anime history or another typical ShanaClone and run-of-the-mill Tsundere LoveInterest. The way Kawahara tends to put her in the background in arcs like ''Gun Gale Online'' despite being the female lead of the franchise also hurts her reputation among detractors. Her SpoiledSweet background is another point of debate, albeit to a lesser degree (to some people, it gives her more depth; to others, it makes her less relatable).
** Yui is a TastesLikeDiabetes variation. Fans thought that she was adorable and contributed to Kirito and Asuna's relationship. Detractors on the other hand saw her as a lolicon [[PanderingToTheBase pandering]] bait and a dreaded moeblob who contributed to the show's SeasonalRot.
** Suguha in the ''Fairy Dance'' anime adaptation can be either seen as a {{Deconstruction}} of KissingCousins or a toxic LittleSisterHeroine who repeatedly goes [[BrokenRecord "Kirito]][[MostAnnoyingSound -kun"]] in just about every scene she's in and "steals" the role of the heroine from Asuna.
** Sinon was definitely well received by fans in the Phantom Bullet arc but during the Excalibur Arc, she is considered as being reduced to a harem and not being as relevant to this story as she was in the Phantom Bullet arc.
* BetterThanCanon: There are those who consider [[AlternateContinuity the video games' continuity]] (''Hollow Fragment'', ''Lost Song'', and ''Hollow Realization'') better than the original storyline of the novels/anime due to several factors, such as having to fight all the way to Floor 100 of Aincrad, giving supporting characters like Sinon, Silica, and Lizbeth (and ''especially'' [[OneSceneWonder Argo]]) more screentime, and removing some of the most controversial aspects of the original story. [[spoiler: Specifically, Suguha's pseudo-incestuous crush on Kirito is nowhere to be found in ''Lost Song'' as the game already established she knows Kirito is her cousin in ALO in the first cutscene.]]
** Also, fans of Yuuki Konno were pleased to find that she '''WASN'T''' DoomedByCanon!
** And for an in-universe example in ''Hollow Realization'', the SAO Survivors can now play a remake of the game that brought them together without the threat of the death game. An out-universe continuation to this is that in the game... Yuuki can learn DualWielding!
* BileFascination: There's a fair number of late-coming viewers that jumped in after it became a critic-favorite punching bag in the anime community. See SnarkBait below.
* CantUnhearIt: The meaningless vocals in Swordland were interpreted by English-speaking fans[=/=]detractors as: ''COFFEE, SODA, TOFFEE, PASTA, COFFEE, SODA, GIVE ME COFFEE[=/=]SEX PLEASE!''
* CompleteMonster: See [[Monster/SwordArtOnline here]].
* CriticalDissonance: The franchise was one of the biggest commercial hits of the early 2010s, and still has quite a big fan base. You wouldn't believe it from anime critics, though, who for the most part hate it to a degree comparable to how most film critics hate Creator/MichaelBay movies. It's downplayed due to the fact that it also has a lot of detractors among audiences, in a LoveItOrHateIt fashion.
* DracoInLeatherPants: Despite having kidnapped and murdered thousands of gamers, Kayaba Akihiko's fans insist he is not evil because he isn't sadistic like Sugou Nobuyuki or Death Gun, despite the fact that Kayaba is directly responsible for the other antagonists being able to pursue their evil goals.
* DryDocking: The number of fans that hate Kirito's guts and want him to stay away from ANY female character in the cast so they can have them for themselves is quite high, if we pay attention to the comments about the tie-in games.
* EnsembleDarkhorse:
** Really, all of the secondary female characters have rather big followings, [[FanPreferredCouple who would rather see them paired with Kirito instead of Asuna]]... or are actually glad that they don't so [[DryDocking they are "available"]].
*** There's a small number of people who strongly dislike the show but really like Lisbeth.
*** Silica as well, a lot of fans are upset that she doesn't get much screen time in the anime across from Episode 4 and her first episode cameo.
*** Sinon herself is also very popular and many people admitted that they enjoyed her character much more than Asuna due to her EstablishingCharacterMoment, her [[TheWoobie backstory]], her development over the course of the story, and her interactions with Kirito (which to some feel much better paced and relatable than Asuna's). Some have even admitted they would have preferred ''her'' to be the sole protagonist of the ''Phantom Bullet'' arc over sharing the spotlight with Kirito and would love to see her star in her own spin-off.
** Godfrey, [[spoiler: who is killed off after 4 minutes of screentime]] is this. His bro-ness personality and appearance reminds viewers of another EnsembleDarkhorse: [[LightNovel/FateZero Rider]].
** Klein and Agil are HUGE examples. As two of the most likable characters in the series, a large amount of fans wanted THEM to have their own spin-off and even Kawahara agreed with it. Klein takes the cake for acting like such a bro to Kirito, showing genuine emotion, and being a damn good fighter and guild leader whose entire guild survived from inception to finish.
** Among the villains, Kayaba is the most charming of the bunch. It also helps that he's an AffablyEvil CrazyAwesome BadassBookworm VR junkie with [[EvenEvilHasStandards high moral standards]].
** Yuuki, the {{Deuteragonist}} of ''Mother's Rosario'', is proven to be insanely popular within the fanbase, mainly due to her deep friendship with Asuna and being one of the few characters who can beat Kirito in a fair fight. This is further reinforced and lampshaded by Kirito himself, who noted that she would've been an InvincibleHero if she had learned DualWielding in SAO. [[spoiler:Sadly, she's TooPowerfulToLive and many fans are mourning over her passing, although she '''did''' survive in ''Lost Song'' and later comes back in ''Hollow Realization'' thanks to her PopularityPower.]]
** Alice and Eugeo, to the point where fans wanted them to replace Kirito and Asuna as the main characters of ''Alicization''. Even more so with the latter, who is [[DistaffCounterpart Kirito's answer]] to Asuna's Yuuki. [[spoiler: A lot of fans have rejoiced at their addition to the character rosters for ''Hollow Realization'' and ''Millennium Twilight'' as DLC characters.]]
* FandomRivalry:
** There has been one with ''LightNovel/LogHorizon'', due to the similar premise. Interestingly enough, many ''LightNovel/LogHorizon'' supporters seem to be former [=SAO=] fans that dropped the series at some point (normally when the focus of the Aincrad arc shifted to romance, or when the Fairy Dance arc started).
*** Hilariously, ''Hollow Realization'' has you in a massive single floor area, instead of a tower, with the player characters the only ones who can't die, while NPCs who go into battle die for real... [[DistaffCounterpart EXACTLY like Log Horizon]]
** To a lesser extent, there's also one with ''LightNovel/AccelWorld'', which is written by the same author.
*** ...which has got several crossover elements with Sword Art Online in the video games.
** ''Manga/{{Berserk}}'' fans have also not taken well to the fact that "The Black Swordsman" is now more commonly associated with a 16 year old gamer instead of an adult who actually wields a sword. Not helping this the fact that Kirito's sword in Alfheim is nigh-identical to the Dragonslayer or that both series author's use rape a lot (partially [[JustifiedTrope justified]] in Berserk's case for being a {{Seinen}} whereas SAO is NOT.)
*** ''Hollow Realization'' introduces a character, Genesis, with that moniker as a nickname who is much closer to its namesake. Ironically, HE is seen as the pretender in-universe, in exactly the same way that the fanbase saw Kirito as the pretender.
** Many ''Franchise/DotHack'' fans are also resentful of the fact that SAO is considered to have an original set up. Both works were created the same year, but SAO didn't become mainstream until it was formally published 7 years later. See FandomBerserkButton below.
* FandomBerserkButton:
** An interesting one with ''Franchise/DotHack'', since both franchises are this ''to each other's fan bases''. When [=SAO=] became mainstream in 2012, a lot of ''Franchise/DotHack'' fans were displeased by its popularity, arguing that [=SAO=] totally ripped off the premise of Creator/CyberConnect2's franchise. However, this accusation's became in return a BerserkButton to [=SAO=] fans, who argue that the original Web novel was released around the same time the first Dot Hack game was released, so it couldn't possibly be a rip off. [[RuleOfCautiousEditingJudgment Let us say, neither side wants to budge on this debate and leave it at that]].
** Don't say anything positive about Sugou. Just ''don't''.
* FanonDiscontinuity: A portion of fans of the anime see "Aincrad" as the only Arc, due to the many problems "Alfheim" had. There's also another portion which would do so too, were it not for the Arcs after it.
** The last episode of Season 2 and the ending of Volume 7 is this for those who were fans of Yuuki and didn't like the fact she died, to the point that many prefer the video games for sparing her from this fate.
* FirstInstallmentWins: Despite the story spanning at least four different [=MMOs=], with the titular Sword Art Online only appearing in in a single novel and a handful of short stories, the majority of merchandise and and promotional material use the characters' Aincrad appearance.
** Also, the first and third game both use Aincrad as a basis for their original story.
* FunnyAneurysmMoment:
** It's really hard to laugh when Kirito accidentally grabs Asuna's right breast after [[spoiler: seeing Asuna nearly getting raped much later]].
** Shinichi's occasional creepiness trying to win Suguha's heart is funny because he's harmless. On the other hand, [[spoiler:Kyouji turns creepy right before he tries to rape and murder Sinon. Before this, the two were very similar.]]
* GrowTheBeard: In regards to the anime, while the series starts off pretty strong, it's the two-parter in episodes 5 and 6 where they really get the comedic timing down and solidified Asuna's characterization. The light novels are a different story due to the anachronistic nature of the first two volumes.
* HarsherInHindsight: Yuuki's eventual death for what may have been TooPowerfulToLive reasons can feel like this when one considers Kirito didn't have any real world help during most of the Alicization Arc, which could easily be the last arc like in the web novels, giving less reasons for her to die. The lack of a user for the Moon Goddess Lunaria super-account during said arc even seems to say the role could have easily been filled by her.
* HilariousInHindsight:
** Kirito and Asuna are sometimes thought of as [[http://ifunny.co/fun/ryU3PRAy1 younger looking versions]] of [[http://icrescent.tumblr.com/post/99963874114/am-i-the-only-one-who-thinks-rei-from-hotd-and Takashi and Rei]], even though the [[LightNovel LN]] for SAO was written a decade earlier (between 2001-2002) than ''[[Manga/HighschoolOfTheDead Highschool of the Dead]]''.
** The fact that there is an Arc called, "Mother's Rosario." Kirito's birthday is the Feast of the Rosary.
** The titular sword arts, as described in the novel, are special attacks where the system briefly takes over limb control, activated by specific arm movements. In other words, waggle controls five years before the Wii popularized them.
** During the Calibern arc the party finds a trapped beautiful woman who begs them to release her. Everyone except Klein sees it as an obvious trap but still Klein releases her. [[spoiler:Turns out it was a trap, [[DisguisedInDrag just not the kind they were expecting]]]]
** One on the dark humor side for ''Manga/FairyTail'' fans who enjoy the English dub. Asuna and Oberon are voiced by Creator/CheramiLeigh and Creator/ToddHaberkorn, respectively. In other words, Lucy and Natsu. Let us say, [[PortManteauCoupleName NaLu]] fans [[BrainBleach may not be able to unsee it]] when they see [[AttemptedRape Asuna and Oberon's interactions]] in [=SAO=].
*** The European Spanish dub has the exact same situation with Eva Bau (Lucy[=/=]Asuna) and Enric Puig (Natsu[=/=]Oberon).
** Kirito and Asuna's marriage in SAO when Creator/CheramiLeigh (Asuna's English VA) got married to Jon Christie in 2014.
* HoYay:
** Oodles between Kirito and Klein, starting in the very first episode. In the Japanese version of the first episode...
-->'''Klein:''' Kirito! ...Ah... Hey, Kirito. You were actually pretty cute. That's my type.
-->'''Kirito:''' And that unkempt face of yours suits you ten times better.
** In ''Hollow Fragment'', Kirito can date and bridal carry Klein, along with any male player.
** A bit between Asuna and Yuna in [[TheMovie Ordinal Scale]]. When Asuna wins the first Ordinal Scale event, Yuna gives her a kiss on the cheek, making her a little flustered. Then, during the next event, when Yuna approaches Kirito, Asuna, and the rest of their group, Asuna blushes and scurries away from her.
* JerkassWoobie: [[spoiler:Kyouji Shinkawa, one of the three]] who plays the role of Death Gun. He's an accomplice to several murders, but has a troubled real life- [[spoiler:he's been bullied at school, his grades suffer to the point at which he can't possibly meet his parents' expectations for him to go to medical school and become a doctor, and he's implied to be not entirely mentally well]]. As such, he thinks of the game world as an escape ''far'' beyond what is healthy, and when [[spoiler:AGI builds get nerfed, rendering him unable to be the strongest in the virtual world]], that essentially breaks him.
** Nezha from ''Progressive'' is a blacksmith who's party to a scheme to con players out of their weapons by making them think they had broken. He also suffers from a Full-Dive Nonconformity that essentially leaves him legally blind in the game, and is partly working so that his friends will be able to keep pace with the clearers, feeling guilty that [[CantCatchUp his friends fell behind while trying to help him]]. When Kirito and Asuna find out about his scam, Nezha's nearly DrivenToSuicide, and after becoming TheAtoner and pulling a BigDamnHeroes entry to save the parties fighting the second floor's boss, he nearly [[HeelFaceDoorSlam gets killed in revenge]] as a result of a (possibly unsubstantiated) report that he'd indirectly caused another player's death, and until the very last second, everyone believes that his "[[WithFriendsLikeThese friends]]" [[YouHaveOutlivedYourUsefulness will abandon him and let the other players execute him]].
* MemeticMutation:
** "'''GLOP! GLOP!'''" and "two years worth of semen" thanks to Chapter 16.5, an infamous fanfiction about the series.
*** Or just mentioning "Chapter 16.5" as a shorthand/euphemism for "sex scene".
*** Or more appropriately, "Two years worth of semen made a glopping noise as it flowed endlessly into Asuna."
*** What makes this funnier is that the [[Creator/BrycePapenbrook voice]] [[Creator/CheramiLeigh actors]] themselves love bringing this up!
** Some people felt that the death scenes of certain characters were massively forced and failed to evoke any feelings. This led to the creation of [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nms3eZGEb3w this hilarious video.]]
** Season 2's second episode has sparked off [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A5mM9j54zA plenty]] [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8C9U1flOZs of]] [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iidFUNfh43k parodies]] [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64H-1KbtUVc of]] [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPHZmD-yubA the]] typical MLG FPS montage, complete with dubstep, Snoop Dogg, gamer slang, product placement, and [=FaZe=] clan plastered all over the screen.
** [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzG77A5o3VE "Kirito]], [[LukeIAmYourFather I am your father!!!"]] [[labelnote:explanation]]Kirito's [[WritingAroundTrademarks "photon sword"]], him having the SuperSenses and SuperReflexes of a Jedi Master, and [[DarthVaderClone Death Gun's appearance]] [[VaderBreath and voice]] have led to many jokes about the second season being "Franchise/StarWars Online."[[/labelnote]]
** [[WesternAnimation/RocketPower "It's the same ending as last time!"]] [[labelnote:explanation]]This is the fans' reaction to [[spoiler: the climax of the Phantom Bullet Arc being Kirito cutting up the villain in virtual reality and then getting into hand-to-hand combat with a rapist in the real world, just like the Fairy Dance climax. Although, in a twist, he loses this round and would have died, PocketProtector be damned, if Sinon hadn't smashed a stereo into the back of the rapist's head.]][[/labelnote]]
** [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dx7xeNU6a9c EPIC RAPE MUSIC!]] [[labelnote:explanation]]This music is played during Sugou's AttemptedRape of Asuna.[[/labelnote]]
*** '''[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkbHS3U9lJM "KAYABA!"]]''' [[labelnote:explanation]]This is Sugou's response to Kirito using Kayaba's GM privileges on him.[[/labelnote]]
** [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTkqO1rbWpE Keep it occupied for 10 seconds!]] [[labelnote:explanation]]A quote which was used by the Chinese-speaking fandom, which translates as "再撐個10秒就好!"[[/labelnote]]
** [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_x6saGA84U "Cheer for me~!"]] [[labelnote:explanation]]Kirito in his feminine GGO avatar wooing some male players.[[/labelnote]]
** Trolling Premiere. ''Hollow Realization'' released an AI onto the internet, with the idea that her interactions with others will shape her her personality, which will then be patched into the game. Naturally, she and her sayings became a quick meme once people figured out how to exploit her and teach her horrible, racist, and mean-spirited comments.
* MoralEventHorizon:
** Virtually anything Kayaba Akihiko [[spoiler:a.k.a Heathcliff]] does, such as trapping 10,000 innocent people inside a game for '''TWO YEARS''', over which time 4000 of these people died, just to [[ForTheEvulz satisfy his game master fantasies]]. Even worse, [[spoiler:he positions himself as the leader of the strongest guild in the game, earning the trust and admiration of many of the people he trapped, with the full intention of betraying them once they neared the end of the game]]. Kirito even thinks that the guy is a monster [[spoiler:during their fight]], after seeing how he felt nothing in spite of being responsible for thousands of deaths.
** Sugou crossed the line early on, and continues to KickTheDog after that.
** Most of the members of Laughing Coffin probably crossed this in when they killed players in SAO, even though they knew they would die. However, [=XaXa=] and Johnny Black definitely manage to cross this [[spoiler: by creating the legend of Death Gun just so they could continue to kill.]] Additionally, Johnny Black crosses this further by [[spoiler:attacking Kirito and Asuna on the street whilst on the run from the police, ultimately resulting with Kirito being poisoned, hospitalized, and then dumped into UW by Rath, setting up the events of the Alicization arc.]]
* MostWonderfulSound: Kirito's photon sword in ''Phantom Bullet'' hums just like a [[Franchise/StarWars lightsaber]].
* {{Narm}}:
** Every single fight scene that has Kirito making some [[OffModel distorted]] facial expressions.
** Using "Beta Tester" as some sort of derogatory term. Even worse is when it gets mixed with cheater to make "beater", which... sounds like [[ADateWithRosiePalms something else.]] Also, their reasons for hating "Beta Testers" make them come off as overly-vocal [[{{Scrub}} scrubs]] more than anything given the MMORPG setting.
** Yui's English dub voice is particularly cringey, which sounds immensely obvious like an older female trying to put on a child's voice, unlike her Japanese voice which sounds more like a natural child.
** A lot of people consider that the anime takes itself too seriously. Yes, they're all facing death, but for these people it doesn't match well the MMORPG setting. This gets worse in latter arcs where death in real life is not an issue, specially during the "Calibur" mini-arc, where the characters are literally just playing the game normally, and yet they treat the whole thing as SeriousBusiness.
** Related to the previous point is that some people consider a few death scenes too melodramatic to be taken seriously. And that's during the SAO arc. This gets UpToEleven during the ALO arc, since it maintains the melodramatic tone, except that this time [[spoiler: people don't die in real life]], so such melodrama feels odd, to say the least.
** In Episode 22 of Season 1, during [[spoiler:Kirito's first try to beat the World Tree battle. He starts having flashes of his memories with Asuna as he fights. Eventually, he starts [[SayMyName calling Asuna's name in his mind again and again]], sounding more and more desperate every time he pronounces it.]] Creator/YoshitsuguMatsuoka manages to turn this into a CrowningMomentOfHeartwarming in the Japanese version with his performance. BrycePapenbrook in the English version, on the other hand, makes it unintentionally funny. Which is a shame, considering that, apart from this moment, Papenbrook ''nailed'' the rest of the scene.
** "The name I share with this weapon... Death Gun!" Yes, he's named himself after his weapon, and it isn't a name you could say with a straight face. To be fair, this one applies mostly to native English speakers. For people of other languages, this doesn't have the same impact. Considering the original novel was first written in Japanese (but the name was written in English), with no plans for an English translation at the time it was created, it can be argued that this was a case where some {{Woolseyism}} was needed, but the localizers just chose not to.
** The reveal of how Death Gun's Death Gun actually kills people is laughably absurd and impossible to take seriously when Shinon is being shot at because it means [[spoiler:there's a guy lying in wait in Shino Asada's house ''with a syringe full of lethal chemicals at the ready'', and is only going to use them when one of the bullets actually connects in-game, otherwise getting hit with a bullet from that gun would have no dramatic tension at all in that scene]].
** The leader of Laughing Coffin, the guild of Player Killers, is known as "[=PoH=]". While it stands for the [[NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast appropriately intimidating]] "Prince of Hell," it's said to be pronounced, "[[WinnieThePooh Pooh]]".
* NeverLiveItDown: Some people who like the series argue that the critics are blowing some flaws out of proportion. Namely:
** The series definitely has SupportingHarem elements to it, but if you were to believe the detractors, Kirito spends at least 50% of his screen time picking up chicks without even trying, or worse, being a pimp. The reality is that this particular aspect of the series doesn't have nearly that much of a relevance outside a couple of filler episodes and one or two scenes where it's PlayedForLaughs. There are also several examples of female characters that don't show any hint of attraction towards Kirito, like Yoruko. It doesn't help the fact that [[WordOfGod Reki Kawahara]] likes to joke about this, like when he said that he feels incapable to write a female character in this series without making her fall for Kirito. The fact that the merchandising is heavily focused on the girls, like in a regular harem show, doesn't help matter either.
** On a similar note, Asuna's {{Tsundere}} traits. Albeit they're definitely there, they are prominent only between episodes 5 and 8. Afterwards, she always shows her sweet side, and very rarely goes back. Not to mention her HesNotMyBoyfriend attitude (one of the most infamous Tsundere traits) only lasts for ''one episode''. However, a lot of viewers talk about her as if she was [[Manga/LoveHina anime!Naru Narusegawa 2.0]]. To be fair, she got some problems in the adaptation due to her CharacterizationMarchesOn in the light novels (see her entry in the Character page for details).
** Chapter 16.5, especially the quip about "two years worth of semen." An infamous exercise in IkeaErotica that was only posted on the original website's now-defunct ''fanfic'' section. The way some are quick to bring it up at the mere ''mention'' of the series, you'd think it made for the entirety of the franchise.
** A lot of people only see Suguha as the girl who was in love with [[KissingCousins her cousin]] and [[NotBloodSiblings adoptive brother]] Kazuto. There are many other aspects to her character, such as her passion for Kendo and the joy she feels when flying in ALO.
* NoYay: Anything from Sugou/Oberon.
* ObviousJudas: Sigurd from the Alfheim arc. He quickly establishes himself as a {{Jerkass}} when he tries to boss Leafa around outside of the scope of their original agreement, and when Kirito calls him out on it, Sigurd [[DisproportionateRetribution threatens to kill him when he can't fight back]]. As such, it's not especially surprising that he's the traitor in the Sylph faction, even if the twist is more about there being one than who it is.
* ParanoiaFuel: The thought of [[AndIMustScream being trapped in the new video game]] you just purchased and dying because you died in said video game. You'll be playing [=MMOs=] gingerly for awhile.
** And there is always the possibility that when DeepImmersionGaming is invented in a decade or two that it won't be as safe as it was intended to be. There are a bunch of ways to die with a Nerve Gear that DON'T involve product tampering. The fact that you're completely paralyzed means that if there was some emergency, such as a fire, you would be completely helpless because you'd have no way of knowing that you were in danger.
* PortmanteauCoupleName: [=KiriAsu=] or [=Kirisuna=] (Kirito x Asuna).
* RescuedFromTheScrappyHeap:
** The Mother's Rosario arc saved Asuna in the eyes of many of her detractors. She ends up getting a fair amount of CharacterDevelopment in gaining the same confidence she had in SAO in real life, and at one point, even passes up an opportunity to call up Kirito so that she can deal with her own problems.
** Suguha, only in the games though. See BetterThanCanon above.
* TheScrappy: Sugou; while it's obvious hating him was the IntendedAudienceReaction, his [[CardCarryingVillain over-the top cartoon evilness]], [[WhatAnIdiot stupidity]], and general lack of any sort of character other than being monstrously evil (which pretty much serves only to make [[CreatorsPet Kirito look good]]), most fans, instead of wanting to see him get what was coming to him, wanted to see him get the fuck off the screen and never come back... a rare example of XPacHeat outside of wrestling.
* SnarkBait: By now, SAO has become one of the biggest ones in the entire anime community.
** It's particularly vicious among critics, where [=SAO=] is one of the biggest AcceptableTargets, and it's difficult to find one who doesn't loathe the franchise to some degree. The range goes from critics who throw occasional, but consistent jabs, like WebVideo/{{Arkada}} or The Anime Man (although they also acknowledge its strengths when they see it due and admit it's a perfectly good watch), to critics who absolutely despise it and dedicate lengthy, often also hateful essays about why the series sucks too much to warrant its ridiculous popularity, like WebVideo/{{Digibro}} or ''Mother's Basement''.
** There are a few ones like WebVideo/{{Gigguk}} who consider it SoOkayItsAverage, but they seem to be a minority. And even then, they tend to like to mock the franchise from time to time for comedic effect, even if it's more to capitalize on the show's infamy rather than personal contempt.
** Hateful criticism to the franchise has become so popular at this point that there is no shortage of people who hate it with a burning passion, but kind of look forward to new installments just to watch this kind of critics to tear it apart.
** Kirito is especially this to Berserk fans. To them, between his dark clothes, his title as a "Black Swordsman", the design of his sword in Alfheim, seeing his girlfriend being (almost) raped by a vastly more powerful and his supposed "PTSD", he's usually seen as Guts 2.0.
* {{Squick}}:
** [[spoiler:The attempted rape on Asuna.]] The act itself was already bad enough to {{Squick}} a lot of fans, even to the point of making them drop the show. But it's even worse in how it's portrayed: [[spoiler:The way Kirito saves her is seen by many as an ''empowerment fantasy''. Even people who don't mind the WishFulfillment aspects of the show think that Kawahara went way too far in that scene.]]
** Unsurprisingly, Sugou (the perpetrator of the act) was squicking the audience ''since his very first appearance''. Just the way that he sniffed Asuna's hair in the hospital with that sick smirk on his face is enough proof that his CompleteMonster label was never meant to be a surprise reveal.
* SuspiciouslySimilarSong: "[[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byFkvbz2Za0 Swordland]]" is by far the most iconic theme from the series, but many detractors immediately point out the similarities to another theme previously composed by Creator/YukiKajiura: "[[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxZov8-DBHo Rule The Battlefield]]", from ''LightNovel/FateZero''. To be precise, the first few notes of the main riff are pretty much the same. This can be better heard with "[[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRFZu-IPhUs In You Past]]", one of the variations of "Swordland", which has a closer tempo and tone to "Rule the Battlefield", and thus the similarities become much more obvious. While this only applies to the first few notes and then both themes diverge from one another, a lot of people consider this more than enough to call "lazy" on Kajiura, and to consider the theme yet another reason to mock the anime.[[note]]To be fair, Kajiura has a bit of a reputation among her detractors of repeating herself too much in many of her other OSTs too.[[/note]]
* TheyWastedAPerfectlyGoodPlot: This is one of, if not the most recurrent criticism the series receives from its detractors. Most people agree the premise is extremely powerful and full of possibilities, but Kawahara never comes close to realize that potential. On the broad strokes, they see the execution underwhelming due to crucial plot contrivances and underdeveloped characters (See TheyWastedAPerfectlyGoodCharacter below). Another huge point of contention is that, rather than exploring his otherwise good concepts, Kawahara seems to unabashedly focus on PanderingToTheBase and WishFulfillment to a degree that detractors find alienating at best, and offensive at worst.
** Some fans believe that the Fairy Dance arc could have gone in a more interesting and less problematic direction if either Asuna or both she and Kirito returned to the real world. Not only would this have given some substantial character development to Asuna, but it would have also cemented her badassery and have Kirito play the role of a supporting character like in the case of the Mother's Rosario arc. The confrontation between Asuna and Sugou could have been very dynamic. There are a lot of possibilities that were wasted that arc.
** Even worse, it was skipped completely in the video games, with the Sugou subplot being merged into the ''Hollow Fragment'' version of Aincrad arc and Alfheim having an entirely new arc ([[spoiler:since Sugou was arrested at the end of ''Hollow Fragment'' and thus no brainwashing and rescue plot to be had]]) in its place.
** In the final part of the Aincrad Arc, Kayaba reveals himself as the final boss. While he does give a somewhat clear reason for only challenging Kirito...it would have been a lot cooler if he had challenged '''[[UpToEleven EVERYONE PRESENT]]''', since the ensuing battle could have rivaled, if not exceeded, the final battle of [[Manga/FullmetalAlchemist Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood]] in terms of how epic it was.
*** Speaking of the finale to the Aincrad Arc, early in that arc, it had been established that the Divine Stone of Returning Soul (an event item dropped by [[BadSanta Nicholas the Renegade]]), an item which, if used within 10 seconds of a player dying, could resurrect a dead player. It had been established that Klein had one of these items[[note]]Kirito had fought the boss in the event earlier in an attempt to revive Sachi, but then discovered the limitation to the item, and gave Klein the item, as he had no use for it[[/note]], nothing indicates that he used the item since Kirito gave it to him, and given the time skip, it would not be out of the question for Klein to have done the event himself (thus giving him a second Divine Stone). Instead of having Kirito somehow win after dying using sheer willpower, it would have made more sense for Klein to have 2 Divine Stones when Kirito fought Heathcliff and Kirito to die (after Asuna sacrificed herself), but then for Klein to use his two Divine Stones to revive both, and have Asuna and Kirito fight and defeat Kirito. Not only would this give Klein more importance in the finale (something that he needed, as he was mainly there for comedic relief), but it would have been a very fitting finale, having the two main characters working together to defeat the final boss.
* TheyWastedAPerfectlyGoodCharacter: Another common complain about the series is how Kawahara sets up characters that, at the very least, have quite a potential. Yet he squanders them way more often than not.
** Klein is another big one. He's introduced in the first episode as a new player who Kirito somewhat befriends. The two separate by the end but instead of making use of Klein by having him possibly act as a {{Foil}} to Kirito (mainly because Kirito fails to save the first guild he joined, Klein protected his whole guild through SAO), and him being an active ally in the series, instead Klein serves mainly as a comic relief character with not much characterization beyond being "Kirito's buddy".
** Akihiko Kayaba, or rather the fact he got not clear motivation for trapping thousands of players in SAO. When he's point-blank asked about it, he doesn't go into detail besides him basically saying "I did it cause I could". The fact that, before going into his rant, he just says "I forgot the reason a long time ago" doesn't help, since a lot of people take that line at face value, and consider Kawahara just didn't care about giving him a motivation. However, the subtext and the voice actor's delivery in the rant that comes after that line heavily imply that there could be other reasons. Likely him having some sort of God complex; not in the sense of having absolute power, but rather in the sense of being the creator of a living world out of his imagination, and he was obsessed with having his vision made (virtual) reality. Unfortunately, the series never explores this.
** Yuuki Konno has the reflexes and skill to be Kirito's equal or even better, is lauded in-universe as the "Absolute Sword", and even Kirito says that, if she had taken part in the DeathGame, she'd be the one who got some of the perks he did... and she dies after one arc. For obvious reasons, people prefer the videogame adaptations, where she DOESN'T die after her storyline, and instead is given the chance to shine as her fans feel she was meant to.
** Many people complain that Reki Kawahara never used Eugeo to the fullest of his potential. When we first meet him, we realize that Eugeo has more innate skill than Kirito, the beater and hero of Aincrad ever had, and that he has a crush on Alice Zuberg, who was kidnapped [[spoiler: by the knights of the Axiom Church and brainwashed, taking away her soul, memories, and old feelings]], which is his motivation for going to Centralia and trying to become a knight. However, Kawahara never gives him much character; in fact, he's practically just a blank sheet with none of the imperfections that give humanity to people. [[spoiler: In the end, Kawahara just kills off Eugeo.]]
** Alice Zuberg is another source for such complaints. When we meet her in volume 9 as a child, she is one of the most vivacious characters to ever bless SAO [[spoiler: and seems to have somewhat of a crush on Eugeo as a kid]] Flash forward to her teenage years [[spoiler: after her memories have been taken away from her and her old personality trapped in a golden cube]]: We meet her as knight skilled beyond even Kirito and Eugeo in not just magic, (which she was a prodigy in even a kid) but she can easily match the two at the same time. She had a great deal of potential that was wasted in making her just another love interest for Kirito.
* UnintentionallyUnsympathetic: Kirito generally manages to avoid this, but there are still a couple of instances where he briefly steps into this territory.
** In the climax of the Fairy Dance arc, Kirito [[spoiler:set Pain Absorber at level zero.]] and he [[spoiler:'''brutally tortures''']] Sugou until he's wailing in terror and agony, doing such things as [[spoiler:''cutting off his arm and [[EyeScream stabbing him in the eye.]]'']] He's clearly suffered serious damage from it, as shown in the next episode when he [[spoiler:encounters Kirito in the hospital parking lot.]] The show interprets this action as ''heroic''; Asuna and Yui don't even look remotely disturbed by Kirito's brutal actions. Even if the victim is a CompleteMonster, the show looks like it's endorsing [[spoiler:torture and violence]] as instruments of justice, a message that can be just plain ''disturbing.'' Fortunately, Kirito steps back into sympathetic territory by the next episode, when he [[spoiler:refrains from killing Sugou and leaves him to the cops instead.]]
** [[spoiler:Even more so in the Alicization arc when Kirito, who CameBackStrong after [[GameBreakingInjury his worsened brain damage]] have been [[HesBack completely diminished]], [[KickTheSonOfABitch turns [=PoH=]]] [[FateWorseThanDeath into a tree]] [[IRegretNothing without any remorse whatsoever]]. In his defense though, he thought that he wouldn't be able to face Leafa and Sinon for all the troubles they've been through if he regretted doing it.]]
* ValuesDissonance: Shino Asada attacked a bank robber who was about to shoot her mother, and manages to kill the full-grown man ''[[GunStruggle with his own gun]]'' - years before the events of GGO, in which she was ''sixteen''.
** In America, that CrowningMomentOfAwesome would make her a hero of nation-wide acclaim. In Japan, Shino winds up being stigmatized. She is ostracized by just about everyone, including her own mother, who mentally regressed due to the intensity of the incident. This even extends to [[ThereAreNoTherapists therapists]] who learned of the event, so she has a case of PTSD so intense that a schoolyard bully can set off a panic attack simply by ''pointing a finger at her and saying "bang".''
** This mostly touches on child-adult relations in Japan, rather than what Americans typically assume is some sort of gun issue. In Japanese society, children are viewed as relatively innocent, and dependent upon adults (which makes the events of SAO seem even harsher by Japanese standards). What is ''really'' at issue, is that to Japanese society, a child is thought to be incapable of killing - that Sinon is able seems to create the presumption that she has the mind set of a cold blooded killer (that her actions were in self defense being irrelevant). [[RuleOfCautiousEditingJudgment Which does not excuse what happened to her]], merely better explain it.
** European reactions would lie somewhere in between. Shino would unquestionably be seen as her mother's saviour and the criminal she killed would be viewed as having brought his fate upon himself. However her actions would be likely be painted as tragic, rather than heroic. The killing would be ultimately presented as a necessary evil and, above all, [[HarmfulToMinors as a sad loss of innocence]].
* VanillaProtagonist: Leaving his abilities and controversial WishFulfillment aspect aside, character-wise Kirito is largely considered to be this. This is also a big part of his lack of appeal for his detractors, specially since the story still focuses on him instead of giving more dedication to the more colorful supporting characters that normally would stand out next to him.
* WhatAnIdiot:
** Sugou's ego and CardCarryingVillain -ness makes him quite GenreBlind and he made many mistakes that were entirely avoidable had he just coldly thought and calculated about it like Kayaba. Sugou could have kept up a facade to everyone, not just Asuna's parents, or in general just not talk and gloat. Or he could've used a private server for testing instead of wanting to play god. Or he could've used something other than keypad and card for lock. Or he could've used GM ban/delete as soon as things went downhill. If he had down any of these, he would've got away with everything. But he didn't, and this led to Kirito rescuing Asuna and Sugou in jail.
*** Also, in the second to last episode, in the scene where he assaults Asuna, when he changes the pain absorber when he's in full control of the situation, he doesn't immediately set it to level 3 or bellow, which starts affecting a user's body in the real world. If he had changed it to that level or bellow, since he stabbed Kirito in the back, which would also include his spine, the addition of Kirito seeing Asuna in pain as Oberon rapes her would inflict even more pain on Kirito and kill him in real life. TheBadGuyWins. But no! He instead changes to level 8, insisting that he will gradually lower it to, in his own words, "give [Kirito] something to look forward to". He then tells him that once it drops below level 3, it starts affecting a user's body in the real world. Once Kirito gets a HeroicSecondWind from [[EveryoneHasStandards Kayaba]], and is lent his admin status, he takes Oberon's control on the system, and sets ''his'' pain absorber to level 0, which results in Sugou having some VERY bad injuries in real life when his avatar is killed in-game.
** The leader of The Army, Thinker, agrees to meet a known rival for power within his organisation unarmed in a high level dungeon. His rival doesn't even need to show up to screw him over, as he ends up trapped by a dangerous boss for days with no escape likely. [[spoiler: Only by sheer luck does he manage to escape thanks to Kirito, Asuna and Yui showing up in beginners town.]]
* TheWoobie:
** Asuna is revealed to be one, having no-one else but Kirito in her life. And beyond that, [[spoiler: was one of three hundred unfortunate players who never woke up after the SAO ordeal, being forced to be with Sugou, then proceeds to be nearly raped by him.]] Someone help this poor girl out!
*** Her backstory is expanded in later novels and the manga, which reveal that [[spoiler: the reason why she's alone in the world before knowing Kirito is because of her high class family. To be precise, her mother, who originally came from a lower class family and was extremely strict, putting unrealistic expectations on her future. On top of that, she expected her to marry a wealthy man, but not to become a housewife, but to have financial stability so she could develop a successful career (thus having the worst aspects of BOTH sides of the CareerVersusMan dilema). She's also caught in a rivalry between certain parts of the extended Yuuki family, and realizes that while her cousins feel bad for her, they also no longer see her as a rival. It is heavily implied that the reason she started to play VRMMO games was in part to escape from all that pressure.]]
** Kirito isn't much better. Although he woke up, he discovers that his love never woke up, still comatose, only to find out that [[spoiler: it had been planned.]]
*** And before that, the emotional pain he went through after [[spoiler: Sachi, his previous love before Asuna, dies]].
** Sinon has PTSD from killing an armed robber in self-defense. [[KidsAreCruel She was bullied by nearly all her classmates because of this.]] [[ThereAreNoTherapists Her therapists reinforced her PTSD instead of treating it.]] Thieves have learned to exploit her PTSD to extort money from her. [[AllMenArePerverts She's constantly being sexually harassed]], though she treats it [[ArsonMurderAndJaywalking as an annoyance at best]]. [[spoiler:Then, the only friend she's had for years tries to rape and murder her.]] Someone give that poor girl a hug!
** Yuuki probably has one of the saddest stories. [[spoiler: She was born with AIDS and had to endure it and all the social stigma that came with it. By the time of Mother's Rosario, she's the only one in her family still alive, she has to remain logged into the Medicuboid 24/7 (to the point where her time in virtual reality exceeds SAO players), and she doesn't have much time left herself. In fact, she dies at the end of the volume, after becoming such great friends with Asuna.]]

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-> ''Two years' worth of examples made a loading noise as they flowed endlessly onto my screen.''
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