Reviews: Sword Art Online

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Mother's Rosario: One of the best parts of the series
Mother's Rosario is a relatively short arc, comprising one volume, but it's one of the better parts of Sword Art Online.

The plot is refreshingly small-scale. After hearing of an individual known as "Zekken", Asuna meets the person in question, whose name is Yuuki, and loses to her in a duel. Yuuki then asks Asuna to help her guild,the Sleeping Knights to defeat a floor boss so that their names are inscribed on the Monument of Heroes before they go their separate ways. That goal is accomplished fairly early on, albeit not without difficulty, and the rest of the arc deals with Asuna learning of her new friends' reasons for the quest, and dealing with her troubled relationship with her mother. All in all, while lives are not on the line, it's still dramatic enough to keep viewers' interest.

The action is fairly good, and there's time for the protagonists to get in some awesome moments. It helps that a floor boss that's standard fare becomes exceptionally challenging with the group's Self-Imposed Challenge.

It was also a nice chance for Asuna to get to do things on her own, with Kirito playing a relatively minor role. This is not said out of dislike for Kirito, but in favor of allowing Asuna to do things on her own and develop in her own right.

Yuuki is also a good addition to the series, albeit one who won't be around for the long term. She's powerful without being overpowered, a strong person who still has vulnerabilities, and has a good, almost sisterly, friendship with Asuna. Her character arc concludes with a life-affirming message that's believable and doesn't feel like a "very special episode" of SAO.

Overall, the Mother's Rosario arc is quite enjoyable. You may enjoy it even if you dislike the rest of the series, since it's free of some of the things people criticize SAO for. And, of course, if you liked the rest of SAO, you'll most likely enjoy this arc as well.
  comments: 0
Arc 1: "It's Okay."
(For the record, read the novel. The anime copies it almost verbatim, improving some aspects, even...)

When I get over the raw emotion that the series seems to carry, it becomes a lot more easier to properly give my thoughts, and really... it was eh. I mean, the series definitely dropped the ball by the second arc, but even in the first arc, there were flaws. The main character felt like a Gary Stu without any distinct personality, only being defined by his actions (which were the standard hero fare) instead of having a personality to justify those actions. The only times he loses, it's either because someone had to cheat, or he ends up bending the system over to exact revenge before finally not dying. The supposed Action Girl Asuna goes from that to a Faux Action Girl to a complete waifu in a relationship that, while admittedly cute, was too saccharine and had a progression rushed way too quickly without much, if any, conflict. Opportunities for development on Kirito's part are brushed aside either to make him look badass or make him look sensitive or propel the romance (which, by the way, is a Romantic Plot Tumor)— his guild died and he's feeling survival guilt? Well, we're not going to actually have him bring that up by and for himself or in any other way until seven episodes later when it helps make a cute moment with Asuna, and they're not even going to address it then. And the antagonism, possibly Kayaba excluded, is just a complete black on the scale of black-and-white morality, and horribly so. So, then, why do I still say it's meh?

It all comes with presentation, and the first arc succeeds in that. Again, it's actually better than the LN in a lot of aspects: dropping some things, editing some others, and adding emotional weight in a way that only moving pictures can do while being further helped by the weight of the setting itself. The pathos is well done and justified. The romance, while lacking in substance, is cute, and the fight scenes are just bloody amazing. Even seeing all the flaws, and even being pissed with the complete romantic detour the arc takes between episodes 8-13, the anime's first arc is a fairly enjoyable romp.

So, 6.5/10.
  comments: 9
Phantom Bullet: How SAO Redeemed Itself
Let's face it: The first season of Sword Art Online had... problems. Plenty of problems. Kirito was an overpowered Black Hole Sue, the female characters were objectified and demeaned, the villains were horribly written, and the whole thing just screamed "power fantasy". It was aesthetically fantastic, but if it drew you in, it probably wasn't for any other reason but that.

Apparently the creators learned their lesson.

Sinon is far and away my favorite character in the series so far. Unlike the characters from season 1, she's fleshed out from her very first appearance. She has a goal that can easily be understood: the need to be stronger and to overcome her own past. She holds her own in fights and isn't constantly relying on Kirito. And her backstory is legitimately tragic - it doesn't feel cheap, cliche, or ineffective at all.

Even more impressive, however, was how the show retroactively fleshed out Kirito himself. Unlike before, he has internal conflict that doesn't just come down to basic things like "I failed my friends" or "I'm not strong enough". He has to grapple with real trauma from his past, and with the question of whether previously shrugging it off makes him a bad person. The emotions involved are much more tangible and believable than before.

Season 1 only tangentially mentioned some themes of the relation between games and reality. Season 2 explores them in more depth, constantly bringing them up through the first arc.

The conflict was more easily bought into than in the first season. The two protagonists of the arc often butt heads while they're working toward their separate but related goals, a sharp turn from season 1's "everyone loves Kirito". The stakes felt more personal than Aincrad and better articulated than Alfheim. And the heroes encountered legitimate opposition, both in the game and in their own emotions - Kirito wasn't able to just plow through everyone.

Season 1's Unfortunate Implications are almost absent entirely. The female characters have much more independence and agency than before. And when the villain is finally dealt with, it's in a manner that doesn't leave him scarred for life.

While there's still plenty of room to improve, SAO II is already a huge improvement over its predecessor. I'm anxious to see how the second half turns out!
  comments: 0
One of the worst animes I have ever seen that I feel does not deserve it's praise...
No pros and cons here....why?

Lets see......

An overpowered Gary Stu? Check.

Harem? Check.

Villain without a motivation. Check.

Animation that people claim is good but is filled with still shots later on? Check.

One-dimensional characters? Check.

A clearly original story that clearly wasn't done better in another anime? Check.

Awful dialogue? Check.

Spun off two other games that have even more awful dialogue? Check.

Our anime franchise is amazing right? Hur Hur No.

I'm not even bothering with a Pros and Cons breakdown here because the only thing I will list is that it has great backgrounds. Everything else is either poorly implemented or just plain awful.

The plot starts off as a compelling story with people who must struggle to survive after being trapped in a virtual MMO. But its premise later gets dumbed down to a one-dimensional Gary Stu and his equally one-dimensional Harem as they adventure through other MM Os after 3 decent episodes. The story goes off into side stories that tell us nothing about these characters and how they feel. The only decent side story is probably episode 3 and even that had flaws.

Kirito is one of the blandest protagonists I have ever seen and his girlfriend (yes he has a does he have a harem again?) is equally bland and uninteresting. We know nothing about them, how they feel, or why they make the decisions that they make. This is completely unacceptable.

The other characters are equally bland. This show expects us to care about one dimensional characters when they die, but here is the problem....HOW CAN I CARE ABOUT CHARACTERS THAT AREN'T PROPERLY DEVELOPED? HOW?!

Don't even get me started on Kayaba, who says he doesn't know what his motivation is and says something completely retarded about a castle. He got thousands of people KILLED over a castle.

The animation? Full of still shots later on just you wait.

Overall: Screw this, I'm watching Log Horizon. It clearly has a better understanding of MM Os and basic storytelling than this show does. I'm not even gonna bother with the second half unless I suddenly have an interest in excessive Deus Ex Machinas, more one dimensional characters, and shameful Fanservice to cover up its extremely low points. I'm sorry but I feel that this series is pretty bad.

  comments: 19
Kirito should not have a girlfriend
A big mistake of mine was assuming that Sword Art Online is an action/adventure series. IT IS NOT AND SHOULD NOT BE TREATED AS ONE. It is a harem romance placed in the setting of an action series. That's an awkward choice, but normally wouldn't be a problem except that Kirito got a girlfriend in the first arc.

While the fighting is gorgeous, the main focus of the story is Kirito meeting a girl, bettering her life, and having her fall in love with him, but why should I care about any of that WHEN HE IS ALREADY PRACTICALLY MARRIED? That girl is definitely not getting with Kirito because he's madly devoted to Asuna! And any "development" the girl has because of Kirito doesn't even matter because as soon as their episode/arc is over, she's promptly pushed into the background to make way for the next girl. I have to question why I should care about anyone Kirito meets because they are all so quickly ditched. Even Asuna winds up relegated to peanut gallery.

Also, Kirito is just plain boring. I don't care a bit about whatever latest internal turmoil he's going through, because by the next episode he'll surely be over it and ready to fight again. Kirito is played up as a deeply jaded person, but all it takes is a hug or word of encouragement and he's back to normal. No struggle. No internal conflict ever threatens him, and any physical obstacle (like Kayaba or Sugou) is easily Deus Ex Machina'd away when they have Kirito on the ropes. It's just cheap drama that's tossed aside when it's time to advance. It also grossed me out how touchy Kirito got with Sinon despite being in a committed relationship with Asuna. Again, non-relevant characters are non-relevant.

There is no commitment. As soon as a character finishes their tale, they're shoved away and Kirito moves on, unchanged, but that's not a problem since he's already perfect. It's wasted potential. If Kirito could maintain a consistent party, that could lead to deeper character development, actual romantic tension, and would make everything Kirito goes through actually have meaning. But the worst mistake was making Asuna an official couple with Kirito so early. I think, ideally, the series should have ended after SAO. Everything after just feels fabricated, like filler — like none of it actually matters, and that's not how a series should be.
  comments: 6
Arc 2: "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" (SPOILERS)
(Don't bother reading the novel. It's just as bad.)

Let's get the incest out of the way, first: it was the most unneeded aspect of this arc. Comes out of nowhere, serves no purpose since the main character is already all but married, doesn't resolve itself, and bears a bit too much of a resemblance to a certain Hentai genre, while using a familiar Cop Out that makes me question why this was done in the first place if it wasn't even going to go all nine miles.

Let's also get the tentacles out of the way.

And the near-Netorare— no, I am not kidding.

And the increased amount of Gainaxing and general fanservice— seeing part of the problem, here?

While SAO had its flaws, it was vanilla— if not tame— with fanservice, and an enjoyable and sometimes tearjerking story. What about the second arc? GAAAAUGH. The flaws from the first arc are not only not fixed, but accentuated. The lack of the death game mechanic found in the first arc makes less thrill. Oh, they're at risk of dying? They can try again! No urgency, and yet... they still act like they were trapped in SAO. Only Kirito has any reason to be freaking out over anything in this arc, because he's trying to rescue his wife who's almost literally a Vogel im Käfig— yes, after becoming a waifu, Asuna becomes a Distressed Damsel. They try to emulate the tension and stakes that the first arc had, but the first arc was a Deadly Game. And this isn't. So, it's kind of silly that they try making a talk about pointless gaming politics suspenseful. It's kind of silly that Leafa cries for Recon after he sacrifices himself by blowing himself up for a mob (which does nothing of value). The "villain" is definitely silly and clichéd and poorly done. And the whole arc is just silly.

But it doesn't acknowledge that.

And that's the other part of the problem. It's brimming with these clichés from run-of-the-mill anime, but it takes itself too seriously unjustly— there's a scene that looks like it came straight from The End Of Evangelion. It expects you to take it seriously, but doesn't properly deliver, and just becomes a condescending cockslap in the face. If it didn't take itself seriously, I wouldn't have much reason to complain.

  comments: 6
Virtual Reality is awesome.
Ten years ago, I watched .hack/SIGN: A meandering series centred around barely-animated talking heads. The cast never really did any actual MMORPG stuff, preferring to spend most of the series navel-gazing. To my younger self, it was a letdown of epic proportions - But now, a full decade later, I'm actually kind of grateful that the SAO anime hadn't come out yet.

It sets the bar so high, it would have ruined my younger self.

For life.

SAO isn't a deep series, by any sense of the word; What SAO is, however, is *fun*. It's a show that's completely honest about what it's trying to be, and a grand celebration of virtual reality in general and MM Os in particular.

The story is as follows: 10,000 players are trapped in Aincraid, a cutting-edge MMO, where dying in the game means dying in real life. The only way to escape is by completing a hundred-storey dungeon; Kirito, our protagonist, is one player amongst many - And one of the first to realize that the only way out is *through.*

Let's talk about Kirito for a moment.

There are plenty of shows which are dragged down by their main character. You know the type; Whiny, useless, apathetic cyphers, who have to be poked and prodded into taking any action.

Kirito is not one of them.

Competent, intelligent and quietly mature, he's a breath of fresh air in a stale genre. As far from a cookie-cutter protagonist as you can get, he actually has attractive qualities, and doesn't behave with the frustrating wall-banging obliviousness that plagues many, many other male leads. Refreshingly, he isn't burdened by the impossible standards that define typical protagonists, and is driven by very recognizable motives and desires - Something that I'll never cease to be grateful for.

In brief, SAO is a show that knows the audience and knows what it's aiming for, with top-notch production values. It is a show about how MMORP Gs *should* be, and refreshingly free of the sneering - "Stop playing games, *nerd*! The real world is *so* much better!" - message that constantly plagues the genre.

Sure, there are flaws; The pacing lags in places (Mostly due to the limitations of the original Light Novel format), and there's an unabashed reliance on anime tropes. But in the end, SAO is immensely cathartic, guilt-free escapist fun - And that's what matters.

  comments: 1