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 Survivors 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.
  • Apathetic Citizens: The only possible explanation to why there's high demand for Full Dive games after the SAO incident. It's also the only reason why a game like Alfheim Online would ever be released, especially so soon after the SAO incident.
  • Arc Fatigue: The Alicization Arc has been ongoing for 8 volumes, which is half the series. Preceding arcs were two volumes at most.
  • 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.
  • Awesome Music: The soundtrack in general is very well done, but that was to be expected of Yuki Kajiura.
    • The first OP theme "crossing field" (performed by LiSA), and the first ED "Yume Sekai" (performed by Asuna's voice actress, Haruka Tomatsu).
    • The second OP "INNOCENCE" (performed by Eir Aoi) and the second ED "Overfly" (performed by Luna Haruna) might just top the first OP and ED in terms of awesomeness.
    • In the actual OST, special mention to "swordland", which sounds in the most climatic action moments. It became the most iconic theme of the series, by far.
    • "Luminous sword", Asuna's combat theme. This is a classic Kajiura-style theme that fits the main female lead to a T.
    • "False king". Yeah, yeah, make all the "EPIC RAPE MUSIC!" jokes you want. That doesn't make this theme any less awesome! Plus, the theme has its chance to shine, free from the Squick factor, during the scene where Kirito beats Sugou in real life.
    • The second season of Sword Art Online brings us some new music to the table, starting with the first OP "IGNITE" (performed by Eir Aoi) and the first ED, "Startear" (performed by Luna Haruna).
    • The O Ps keep being awesome with Season 2's second opening: "Courage", performed once again by Haruka Tomatsu.
  • Broken Base: Any of these can spark heated discussions:
    • Is the Anime rushed and did it fail to develop its characters effectively as a result? Or is it fine the way it is?
    • Is the novel superior to the anime? Are the novel fans just upset that the animation crew didn't adapt the anime word-for-word to the novel's chronology?
    • Everything about the Official Couple Kirito and Asuna. For Kirito it mostly has to do with whether or not he is a blatant Marty Stu and bland Wish Fulfillment as opposed to being a completely legitimate and competent badass lead anime hasn't seen in years. Asuna is either the most moe and likable character in recent anime history or a Mary Sue and another typical Shana Clone. Some claim that both are a little bit too perfect, thus making them unrelatable, if not downright unlikable.
      • How Kirito and Asuna work as a couple have similar reactions. Some see it as a cute, incredibly heartwarming classic romance between two truly likable characters with genuine chemistry, which is the true central pillar of the story. Others see it as a saccharine, melodramatic and non-believable couple, created by a teenager who writes how he thinks relationships work, which's only there for even more Wish Fulfillment (See Romantic Plot Tumor below).
      • On the same note, is Kirito and Asuna's Romance Arc developed enough? Detractors usually consider Episode 8 the beginning of the arc, so they say it doesn't have nearly enough development to be believable that they fall in love. Kirito's interactions with his Supporting Harem before then don't help either. Defenders, on the other hand, consider that it actually starts in Episode 2, and that even if their relationship is not the A plot, their interactions and Belligerent Sexual Tension are enough build up for when the romance jumps to the forefront. The constant hints that they keep meeting off screen for months (Not a Date included) also help.
      • And finally, is their relationship a blatant and saccharine Romantic Plot Tumor that utterly ruins the awesome premise of the story? Or does it actually add to it, giving it real emotional stakes and creates an incredibly compelling mix between action, adventure and romance that is so hard to find in anime?
      • Who deserves Kirito more? Asuna vs. his Supporting Harem. For some, the Kirito and Asuna relationship lacks chemistry and development, especially in the anime.
    • Whether or not Kirito and Asuna actually had sex. They do in the light novels (rather explicitly, in a scene some consider to be Squicky) but the anime is much vaguer.
    • The implementation of Attempted Rape on Asuna near the finale of the first season. Some viewers think the Attempted Rape scenes add a lot of drama to the series. Others saw the Attempted Rape scenes as either executed very poorly, used as a cheap shock value, devalues Asuna as a character, or used as a fodder to make Kirito look good. Or, worst case scenario, all of the above.
      • It also happen again with the same reaction of the Attempted Rape scene with Sinon in the second season.
    • The series has an Awesome Music entry for good reason... although some people may argue that it sounds a little bit too similar to Yuki Kajiura's previous works. Others say that the compositions are great, but the best tracks (particularly swordland) are so overused that they eventually get old.
    • Aniplex USA owns the rights to the series. American otakus consider them the EA of anime for good reason.
    • Quite a few fans have said that SAO is a good Gateway Series to anime, however, many of its detractors have said otherwise and accused it of being heavy on "Otaku pandering" and Wish Fulfillment. This was a point of contention by some fans on whether it should air on Toonami or not, due to the said block's status as a gateway drug to the medium. Ultimately, the block’s creators thought the negative aspects weren’t a big deal.
    • The Mother's Rosario arc's portrayal of people with terminal illnesses, particularly Yuuki's AIDS. Some people found it unrealistic and overblown just for cheap tears, while others found the story moving and genuinely heartbreaking.
  • Complete Monster:
    • Alfheim Online Arc: Suguo Nobuyuki (Oberon the Fairy King) is the director of research and development at RECTO Progress Incorporated, and the one-time fiance of female lead, Asuna Yuuki. He was also completely obsessed with research into the manipulation of human emotion. Following the clearing of Sword Art Online, Suguo trapped three hundred of the surviving players in his own game, Alfheim Online, where he ran experiments on their minds, testing their fear and pain responses. Kidnapping Asuna in the game, he keeps her trapped in a gilded cage at the top of Alfheim's World Tree, while plotting to wed the comatose girl in the real world. When Kirito reaches the top of the World Tree, Suguo uses his administrator abilities to paralyze him, tortures him, and then sexually assaults Asuna in front of him, gloating the entire time about how, once he's freed, he will rape her again in real life. When the plan fails, he attempts to kill Kirito in the real world, attacking him with a knife. Guilty of attempted murder, torture, trying to rape a teenage girl, and putting three hundred people who had just spent two years fighting for their lives through an additional two months of trauma, Suguo is as bad as SAO's villains get.
    • Gun Gale Online Arc: Red Eyed XaXa (real name: Shoichi Shinkawa) is one of the top members of the Laughing Coffin Guild in SAO, and the Guild's Master Swordsman. During the Murder Investigation Arc in SAO, XaXa, alongside PoH and Johnny Black, ambushed and attempted to murder players Caynz, Yolko, and Schmitt; when Kirito intervened, the trio also tried to kill him. After making his way back to the real world, XaXa, bored, and seeking a way to kill again, took advantage of his younger brother Kyoji's fragile mental state, to convince Kyoji to create the online persona of Sterben/Death Gun in Gun Gale Online, ultimately hijacking Kyoji's desire to be "the strongest" for his own ends. Using Kyoji, and his old partner Johnny Black as aides, the psychotic XaXa was able to arrange the murders of players Zekushiido, Usujio Tarako, Pale Rider, and Garret, before sending Kyoji to murder his own crush, Shino Asada. A sadist at heart, XaXa makes a point of crippling his opponents' avatars with a paralyzing toxin before delivering the coup de grace, and during his Sword Fight with Kirito in GGO does his best to cut him to ribbons, mocking him the entire time.
    • Also from GGO: Johnny Black (real name: Atsushi Kanemoto) is another top member of the Laughing Coffin Guild. As the Guild's Master Poisoner, Johnny came up with a way to paralyze opponents so that they could then be tortured to death, and puts this poison into effect during his, XaXa, and PoH's attack on the members of the Golden Apple Guild. When discussing what they will do with the captured trio, Johnny expresses a desire to make them fight each other to the death, promising to release the survivor; when PoH notes that Johnny will just kill the survivor, Johnny complains about how the Guild Leader has ruined the surprise. He subsequently tries to poison Kirito when he comes to the Golden Apple trio's rescue. Escaping into the real world, Johnny was recruited by XaXa during the Death Gun murders, poisoning Pale Rider and Garret in their homes, before again making a getaway. He was finally arrested when, after having lain in wait for six months, he attacked Kirito and Asuna on the street, intending to inject them with poison from a syringe, and hospitalizing Kirito. Unable to quit killing in the virtual world or the real world, Johnny is the show's definitive Psycho for Hire.
  • Critical Backlash: Not surprisingly, an increasing amount of folks are saying that the hate and backlash for the show and especially Fairy Dance is quickly reaching this territory. This is actually the opinion of Toonami themselves (whom probably witnessed first-hand many requests of SAO coming to the block get retracted when the show moved on to Fairy Dance during it's airing in Japan), as their rational for picking it up in response to the backlash.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy:
    • The series is already dark at the start with The Most Dangerous Video Game premise, but later story archs introduces much darker plot writing such as two Attempted Rape scenes (one in the Fairy Dance arch, and another in the GGO arch), to a group of mass murders who orchestrate a series of murders between real life and Gun Gale Online by finding other players' addresses and poisoning them despite the fact that AmuSphere have built-in safety measures that makes it impossible to kill someone in real life through the virtual world, introducing characters that have been treated as social outcasts (Sinon for being forced to shoot a bank robber note , and Yuuki Konno for having AIDS); and having the main character, Kirito, ending up in coma, brain dead, and trapped in another VRMMORPG. One of the biggest criticisms of this series is the numerous amount of tragic fates on many of the characters without developing proper backstories or giving enough characerization for the audience to sympathize with them.
    • One of the criticism of the series is that the author is too dependent on very controversial issues such as rape, AIDS, and PTSD for simple shock value rather than doing the research on these topics thoroughly and portray these scenes in a more respectful manner. This is particularly true with PTSD where there are a lot of incosistencies. For example, Sinon has suffered severe PTSD for four years after being forced to shoot a bank robber as self-defense and faced social isolation. Many psychologists would think that playing a VRMMO first person shooter as self treatment for combating one's fear of guns is considered to be a bad idea.
  • Designated Hero: A Marty Stu he might be, but Kirito is always sympathetic enough to avoid falling into this role... until the climax of the Fairy Dance arc. He's given himself GM powers! He's about to save Asuna! He's got the villain at his mercy! And what's the first thing he does? "Set Pain Absorber at level zero." That's right, folks. Kirito 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 police instead.
    • On the other hand, it can also be considered a moment that moves Kirito away from the Marty Stu category. Kirito is not an angel, he's a human being, accustomed to extreme situations and also majorly pissed; so he gives himself (and possibly the viewers) some slack in the ethical department. Also, you have to remember the context: Suguo was just about to rape Kirito's girlfriend and make Kirito watch it. That (along with all the other horrific things Suguo has done) makes it hard to argue that Kirito's retribution was unwarranted.
  • 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 two tie-in games for PSP and PS Vita.
  • Ear Worm: See Awesome Music.
  • 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.
    • 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 is a HUGE example. He's one of the most likeable characters in the series because he acts like such a bro to Kirito, yet also shows genuine emotion and is a damn good fighter and guild leader, whose entire guild survived from inception to finish. There's a large amount of fan's who claim HE should be The Protagonist or The Hero, not Kirito.
  • Fandom Rivalry: Theres 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).
    • To a lesser extent, there's also one with Accel World, which is written by the same author.
    • Berserk fans have also not taken well to the fact that "The Black Swordsman" is now more commonly associated with a 16 year old instead of an adult.
    • 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.
  • First Installment Wins: Despite the story spanning at least four different MM Os, 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.
  • Fridge Brilliance: "That's not possible!" said three or four times should probably give you a clue that we don't know something, especially if Kayaba says it about anything anyone does inside SAO. Then we learn about Fluctlight...
  • "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. Kyouji, on the other hand, turns creepy right before he tries to rape and murder Sinon. Before this, the two were very similar.
  • God-Mode Sue: There are some complaints that Kirito is too powerful at various points, with some people who agree, some who disagree, and some who agree but think it makes perfect sense in-universe, so they don't care. It's invoked during the ALO arc, as Kirito gets gets an Old Save Bonus from SAO (because ALO was built using the same engine as SAO), so he keeps all his old stats, meaning that he is easily the most powerful player in the game the second he starts. Kirito even lampshades it.
    Kirito: "I'm not even a beater this time, I'm just a cheater."
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • 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
  • 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.
  • Love It or Hate It: One of the biggest anime examples in recent memory. Depending on who you ask, it's either one of the best animes of all time or one of the worst examples of bad writing in existence. And when these two kinds of viewers collide, it ain't pretty.
  • Memetic Mutation:
  • 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.
  • Narm:
    • Every single fight scene 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.
    • "I wonder what the difference is between the real world and the virtual one?"
  • Never Live It Down: The series definitely has Supporting Harem elements to it, but if you were to believe the haters, 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.
    • On a similar note, Asuna's Tsundere traits. Albeit they're definitely there, they are prominent only between episodes 5 and 8. 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. 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.
  • No Yay: Anything from Sugou/Oberon.
  • 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)
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: The story pretty much ignores the consequences that would arise from thousands of people being kidnapped and killed in SAO in favor of focusing on the main characters lives.
  • Romantic Plot Tumor: Kirito and Asuna. Their relationship practically overtakes the whole escaping the MMORPG storyline, even though it barely has any development.
    • Suguha's feelings for Kirito/Kazuto in the second half. Getting past the Incestual Values Dissonance, it can come across as unnecessary and only serves to drag the plot down. Specially considering that the audience already knows that, even if they weren't related, there's no way in hell Kirito would have chosen Suguha over Asuna after all they went through together in Aincrad.
  • The Scrappy: Everyone in SAO gets bashed at some point.
    • Yui gets the most heat, to the point that some believe that she is a lolicon pandering bait, the dreaded moeblob. Many disliked her story arc, as they asserted that the emotion was contrived and pretentious.
    • Kirito has gotten more and more hate from the fan base with the pass of time, as his ability to make girls to fall in love with him reached almost memetic levels, despite that it's arguably overtly exaggerated (see Never Live It Down above). To give you an idea, the anime has two tie-in games for PSP and PS Vita, and there are quite some fans that say they are interested, but won't play them because they don't want to play as Kirito.
    • To a lesser degree, Asuna also gets on the nerves of some fans, especially because of her Tsundere traits. Curiously enough, her Distress Ball during the Fairy Dance arc isn't brought up nearly as often. Haters use it more against the writing as a whole, rather than against the character itself.
    • Ironically, there wasn't the same reaction with Silica in Episode 4 where she was seen in her fanservice underwear.
    • Suguha was almost INSTANTLY disliked by people for almost everything she did from her wanting to be Kissing Cousins with Kirito, to her genuine lack of combat skills in a MMO, to her repeatedly going "Kirito-kun" in just about every scene she's in, to even her "stealing" the role of the heroine from Asuna.
  • Scrub: An in-universe example, any players with an attitude against Beta testers mentioned they saw them as unpunished cheaters who have an unfair advantage in terms of knowledge and getting a head-start can give off this vibe.
  • Seasonal Rot: Quite a few fans consider the Fairy Dance arc as a down part of the series, especially since it pretty much nullified Aincrad’s emotional conclusion. Asuna was reduced to a Damsel in Distress, and the romantic aspects were focused on Suguha and her feelings for Kazuto/Kirito. When Episode 21 hit, the arrival of Tentacle Rope had the fanbase screaming and Episode 24's Attempted Rape of Asuna in front of Kirito sent most who had stuck with the show until that point nuclear. As a result, quite a few people that have previously praised SAO have switched to bashing the series by the arc's end. In fact, it's quite common to hear the phrase: "I like Aincrad, but hate Alfheim." as a way to basically describe people's viewpoints on the series.
    • Interestingly enough, this is also applies to some people for the second half of the Aincrad arc, mainly Episode 8/9-14. For these people, the two year Time Skip and the switch of focus from the "complete the game" story to Kirito and Asuna's relationship was what started the decline.
    • Second Season Downfall: There was concerns that due to the backlash of Fairy Dance, the Phantom Bullet arc onwards wouldn't be realized. Fortunately, this was averted as a second season came out in the summer of 2014, and the English dub premiering in spring 2015.
  • Snark Bait: By the time the second season started, SAO had become one of the biggest ones in the entire anime community. Specially among critics. Some even said that they enjoyed seeing how the first season failed to meet its potential. The Fairy Dance Arc gets the majority of the flak, albeit the Aincrad arc doesn't get a complete free pass either. The second season was received more consistently positively, although it never recovered the hype levels it had during the Aincrad arc.
  • 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.
    • Mind you, Sugou 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.
  • Sympathetic Sue: It's not perceived nearly as strongly as Kirito and Asuna being examples of Mary Sue, but still there are some people who consider Yuuki to be this.
  • Tastes Like Diabetes: Yui. Fans thought that she was adorable and contributed to Kirito and Asuna's relationship. Detractors on the other hand saw it as contrived and pretentious and say it contributed to the show's Seasonal Rot.
    • Debatable sure, but some of Kirito and Asuna's scenes where they are being a couple can really come across this way due to some rather cheesy, if not just down right cringe worthy lines.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Klein is 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 real character with not much characterization beyond being "Kirito's buddy".
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: The first three episodes deal with an interesting premise, thousands of players trapped in an online death game by a madman. Then the plot chomps forward with multiple teenage girls dealing with their affection towards Kirito while he remains varying extents of oblivious about it, and Kirito falling in love with Asuna sooner than one would expect. Then in the Fairy Dance arc, Asuna gets relegated to damsel in distress status while Kirito's sister's character arc revolves around her romantic feelings for her brother (actually her cousin) which ended up as awkward for Leafa as it was for fans reading, even if she did get over it. In the light novels, the "multiple teenage girls dealing with their affection towards Kirito while he remains varying extents of oblivious about it" scenarios were left out of the main narrative in volume 1 along with a few other side stories. To some fans, this makes more sense than how it was handled in the anime, since the inclusion of said side stories in the main anime narrative was seen as messing with the momentum. There's slightly more buildup for Kirito and Asuna's relationship in the light novels.
    • Kayaba Akihiko's reasoning for why he trapped the players in SAO was never explored and why he did the things he did is never fully gone into detail besides him basically saying "I did it cause I could", which wouldn't be bad in of itself, if it wasn't for the fact that he hints at other reasons.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 almost 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). 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. 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.