YMMV / Sword Art Online


  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Kirito isn't as Oblivious to Love 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 Survivor Guilt 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 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 for their guild-mate's deaths is in fact a mental defense mechanism for his Survivor's Guilt. 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.
  • Ass Pull: One of the biggest critiques towards the first two story arcs is that both end with a Final Battle that is resolved by a blatant Deus ex Machina. To elaborate:
    • Aincrad: 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.
      • Possibly balanced out by the fact that at several points later on, it is heavily hinted that Kirito was able to prolong his death by unknowingly activating the Incarnate System, a hidden mechanic originating from the Accel World series (and part of the same universe) and later further explored in the Underworld Arc. Which, of course, could be an Ass Pull in itself.
      • However in the novels he didn't say outright that his avatar's disintegration was prolonged but just that it felt like it and allude the possibility of its delaying was possible due to his accelerated senses and just stabbed Kayaba right before completely disintegration of his avatar. Whether it was an asspull or misconception is up to the interpreter; he is an unreliable narrator after all.
    • Fairy Dance: 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.
    • The fact that even the at the next story arc, Phantom Bullet, Kirito survives a fatal syringe stab thanks to a fully providential and amazingly well placed Pocket Protector also lifts many eyebrows in the suspension of disbelief field. The only thing that prevents this from being as bad as the two previous examples is that this doesn't really resolve the final climax. It's Sinon's help, both inside GGO and in the real world courtesy of a stereo to the back of the final villain's head.
  • Author's Saving Throw: The Progressive mini-series addresses to some extent the complains of people who thought 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, 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) 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 video game continuity itself is considered an Author's Saving Throw (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.
  • Awesome Music: A vast amount of the Sword Art Online music is impressive, but special mention goes to Swordland.
  • Badass Decay: 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.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • The Official Couple Kirito and Asuna. Two of the most polarizing heroes in recent 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 Wish Fulfillment character as opposed to being a completely legitimate and competent badass lead anime hasn't seen in years. 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 One-Man Army, something that just doesn't happen in MMO RPGs. His Chick Magnet 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 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 recent anime history or another typical Shana Clone and run-of-the-mill Tsundere Love Interest. The way Kawahara tends to put her in the background in most later arcs despite being the female lead of the franchise also hurts her reputation among detractors. Her Spoiled Sweet 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 Tastes Like Diabetes 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 pandering bait and a dreaded moeblob who contributed to the show's Seasonal Rot.
    • Suguha in the Fairy Dance anime adaptation can be either seen as a Deconstruction of Kissing Cousins or a toxic Little Sister Heroine who repeatedly goes "Kirito-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.
  • Better Than Canon: There are those who consider 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 Argo) more screentime, and removing some of the most controversial aspects of the original story. 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 Konnno were pleased to find that she WASN'T Doomed by Canon!
    • 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 actually learn Dual Wielding!
  • Bile Fascination: 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 Snark Bait below.
  • Can't Unhear It: The meaningless vocals in Swordland were interpreted by English-speaking fans/detractors as: COFFEE, SODA, TOFFEE, PASTA, COFFEE, SODA, GIVE ME COFFEE/SEX PLEASE!
  • Complete Monster: See here.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: The series is already dark from the start with the being trapped in The Most Dangerous Video Game premise. However, later story arcs (though Lighter and Softer) have managed to explore even darker plot writing such as two scenes of rape; having a bunch of player killers from SAO to continue with their killing spree by killing players in GGO and in real life despite the numerous defense mechanisms of the AmuSphere that would prevent users from dying in real life if killed in the virtual world; and having Kirito end up being out of commission, twice.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: 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.
  • Dry Docking: 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.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse:
    • Really, all of the secondary female characters have rather big followings, who would rather see them paired with Kirito instead of Asuna.
      • There's a small number of people who strongly dislike the show but actually 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 Establishing Character Moment, her 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, who is killed off after 4 minutes of screentime is this. His bro-ness personality and appearance reminds viewers of another Ensemble Darkhorse: 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 Affably Evil Crazy Awesome Badass Bookworm VR junkie with 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 Invincible Hero if she learns Dual Wielding in SAO. Sadly, she's Too Powerful to Live 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 Popularity Power.
    • 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 Kirito's answer to Asuna's Yuuki.
  • Fandom Rivalry:
    • There has been one with Log Horizon, due to the similar premise. Interestingly enough, many Log Horizon 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 NP Cs who go into battle die for real... EXACTLY like Log Horizon
    • To a lesser extent, there's also one with Accel World, which is written by the same author.
      • ...which has got several crossover elements with Sword Art Online in the video games.
    • 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.
    • Many .hack 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 Fandom Berserk Button below.
  • Fandom Berserk Button: An interesting one with .hack, since both franchises are this to each other's fan bases. When SAO became mainstream in 2012, a lot of .hack fans were displeased by its popularity, arguing that SAO totally ripped off the premise of CyberConnect2's franchise. However, this accusation's became in return a Berserk Button 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. Let us say, neither side wants to budge on this debate and leave it at that.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: 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.
  • First Installment Wins: 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.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
    • It's really hard to laugh when Kirito accidentally grabs Asuna's right breast after 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, Kyouji turns creepy right before he tries to rape and murder Sinon. Before this, the two were very similar.
  • Grow the Beard : 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.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Yuuki's eventual death for what may have been Too Powerful to Live 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.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Kirito and Asuna are sometimes thought of as younger looking versions of Takashi and Rei, even though the LN for SAO was written a decade earlier (between 2001-2002) than 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. Turns out it was a trap, just not the kind they were expecting
    • One on the dark humor side for Fairy Tail fans who enjoy the English dub. Asuna and Oberon are voiced by Cherami Leigh and Todd Haberkorn, respectively. In other words, Lucy and Natsu. Let us say, NaLu fans may not be able to unsee it when they see 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).
  • Ho Yay: 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.
  • Jerkass Woobie: 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- 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 AGI builds get nerfed, rendering him unable to be the strongest in the virtual world, that essentially breaks him.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "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 voice 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 this hilarious video.
    • Season 2's second episode has sparked off plenty of parodies of the typical MLG FPS montage, complete with dubstep, Snoop Dogg, gamer slang, product placement, and FaZe clan plastered all over the screen.
    • "Kirito, I am your father!!!" explanation 
    • "It's the same ending as last time!" explanation 
    • EPIC RAPE MUSIC! explanation 
      • "KAYABA!" explanation 
    • Keep it occupied for 10 seconds! explanation 
    • "Cheer for me~!" explanation 
    • 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.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Virtually anything Kayaba Akihiko 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 satisfy his game master fantasies. Even worse, 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 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 Kick the Dog 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 by creating the legend of Death Gun just so they could continue to kill. Additionally, Johnny Black crosses this further by 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.
  • Most Wonderful Sound: Kirito's photon sword in Phantom Bullet hums just like a lightsaber.
  • Narm:
    • Every single fight scene that has Kirito making some 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 something else. Also, their reasons for hating "Beta Testers" make them come off as overly-vocal scrubs more than anything given the MMORPG setting.
    • 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 Serious Business.
    • 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 Up to Eleven during the ALO arc, since it maintains the melodramatic tone, except that this time people don't die in real life, so such melodrama feels odd, to say the least.
    • In Episode 22 of Season 1, during 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 calling Asuna's name in his mind again and again, sounding more and more desperate every time he pronounces it. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka manages to turn this into a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming in the Japanese version with his performance. Bryce Papenbrook 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 there's a guy lying in wait in Shino Asada's house with a syringe full of lethal chemicals at the ready, and for some reason 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 appropriately intimidating "Prince of Hell," it's said to be pronounced, "Pooh".
  • Never Live It Down: Some people who like the series argue that the critics are blowing some flaws out of proportion. Namely:
    • The series definitely has Supporting Harem 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 Played for Laughs. 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 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 Hes Not My Boyfriend 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 anime!Naru Narusegawa 2.0. To be fair, she got some problems in the adaptation due to her Characterization Marches On 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 Ikea Erotica 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 her cousin and adoptive brother Kazuto.
  • No Yay: Anything from Sugou/Oberon.
  • Obvious Judas: 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 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.
  • Paranoia Fuel: The thought of 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 Deep-Immersion Gaming 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.
  • Portmanteau Couple Name: KiriAsu or Kirisuna (Kirito x Asuna).
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap:
    • The Mother's Rosario arc saved Asuna in the eyes of many of her detractors. She ends up getting a fair amount of Character Development 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 Better Than Canon above.
  • The Scrappy: Nobuyuki Sugou, the Arc Villain of Fairy Dance, is a mix of this and Hate Sink. From his arrogant personality, the squicky situations with Asuna, his stereotypical villain personality and stupidity and the fact that he tried to rape Asuna in FRONT of Kirito gained him a lot of hate from the fans of the series. Certainly, his brutal defeat at the hands of Kirito (in game and in real life) were very well received and celebrated by the fans.
  • Snark Bait: 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 Acceptable Targets, 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 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 Digibro or Mother's Basement. There are a few ones like Gigguk who consider it So Okay, It's Average, but they seem to be a minority (and even then, they like to mock it from time to time for comedic effect).
  • Squick:
    • 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: The way Kirito saves her is seen by many as an empowerment fantasy. Even people who don't mind the Wish Fulfillment 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 Complete Monster label was never meant to be a surprise reveal.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Some fans believe that the Fairy Dance arc could have gone in a more interesting and less problematic direction if Asuna had been the one who returned to the real world, while Kirito stayed trapped in the system. Not only would this have given some substantial character development to Asuna, but it would have also cemented her badassness. The confrontation between her and Suguo could have been very dynamic. There is a lot of possibilities that were wasted that arc.
    • Even worse, It was skipped completely in the video games, with it happening off-screen.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: 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 was taking part in the Death Game, 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 Schuberg, who was kidnapped 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. In the end, Kawahara just kills off Eugeo.
    • Alice Schuberg 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 and seems to have somewhat of a crush on Eugeo as a kid Flash forward to her teenage years 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.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: 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 set Pain Absorber at level zero. and he brutally tortures Sugou until he's wailing in terror and agony, doing such things as cutting off his arm and stabbing him in the eye. He's clearly suffered serious damage from it, as shown in the next episode when he 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 Complete Monster, the show looks like it's endorsing 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 refrains from killing Sugou and leaves him to the cops instead.
    • Even more so in the Alicization arc when Kirito, who Came Back Strong after his worsened brain damage have been completely diminished, turns PoH into a tree 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.
  • Values Dissonance: Shino Asada attacked a bank robber who was about to shoot her mother, and manages to kill the full-grown man with his own gun - years before the events of GGO, in which she was sixteen.
    • In America, that Crowning Moment of Awesome 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 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). 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, as a sad loss of innocence.
  • Vanilla Protagonist: Leaving his abilities and controversial Wish Fulfillment 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.
  • What an Idiot:
    • Sugou's ego and Card-Carrying Villain -ness makes him quite Genre Blind 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. The Bad Guy Wins. 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 bellow level 3, it starts affecting a user's body in the real world. Once Kirito gets a Heroic Second Wind from 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. Only by sheer luck does he manage to escape thanks to Kirito, Asuna and Yui showing up in beginners town.
  • The Woobie:
    • Asuna reveals to be one, having no-one else but Kirito in her life. And beyond that, 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 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 Career Versus Man 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 it had been planned.
      • And before that, the emotional pain he went through after Sachi, his previous love before Asuna, dies.
    • Sinon has PTSD from killing an armed robber in self-defense. She was bullied by nearly all her classmates because of this. Her therapists reinforced her PTSD instead of treating it. Thieves have learned to exploit her PTSD to extort money from her. She's constantly being sexually harassed, though she treats it as an annoyance at best. 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. 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.


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

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/SwordArtOnline