Reviews: Sword Art Online

So I binged the series on Netflix and...

I've heard a lot about this show, both good and bad, and people seem to have a lot of emotion towards it, and I've seen good reasons to both like and dislike the show. So I really wasn't sure what to expect when I pulled it up on Netflix. But I watched the series beginning to end, and was left with quite a mixed opinion.

Let's start with the lead, Kirito, and I've got some serious mixed feelings on this character. Now I'm actually among the first to defend a potentially OP character, but only if the character in question is fun to watch; this could be anything from the character having amusing quirks, to having an especially interesting fighting style. And for me, while Kirito isn't a pain to watch, he's not especially fun either. Most of his fights consist of him either completely dominating, or just exchange sword blows, and he doesn't have any quirks that set in apart.

Of the other characters, most of them are pretty forgettable. While none of them are terrible, they're just not particularly memorable, though its not helped by most of them not getting nearly enough screen time to do much. Asuna in Aincrad was the relatively standard love interest, but made up for it for being a strong, capable character, though in Alfheim, that's completely abandoned, as she becomes a complete Damsel in Distress. I'm one of those who doesn't hate Yui, but that's mostly because I'm a sucker for family bonds.

One thing the series suffered from, was it didn't take the time it needed to establish and study the character's bonds. The only bonds that are given real attention is between Kirito and Asuna, but that still doesn't give all that's needed, and Kazuto and Suguha, which isn't done bad, but has some rather unpleasant implications. This is especially apparent with the character of Yui, where that time was really needed. When Yui left, I actually didn't feel anything, because she wasn't given enough time to bond with either of her adoptive parents, and I do think her leaving could've been a serious tragedy, if she'd gotten more than just two episodes of screen time before it happened.

Aincrad and Alfheim are alright fantasy worlds, but they're somewhat generic, and again, not enough time is spent exploring to really appreciate them.

In summary, this series suffers from a lack of proper time devoted to the proper places and characters, coupled with a lead that's not particularly entertaining. But that all said, I found the series as a whole entertain in some spots, and I have gone back to watch a couple of episodes. So I guess while I can't bring myself to hate it, I can't call it a good series.

An Excellent Gateway Anime

I watched Sword Art Online when it first came out and was blown away, not so much because of how great it is, but because of how well I thought it handled the original premise: thousands of gamers are stuck within a virtual world, will actually die if they're killed in said world, and can't escape until one of them completes the game. Before I go any further let me mention that i've never seen any entries in the .hack franchise, outside of a few episodes I viewed on Adult Swim as a kid for the original. So one of those series might handle the idea better, I really don't know. However, I think SAO does a good job of it.

In terms of anime I think there are a number of other entries in this genre that are better, but that doesn't reflect badly on this one. One of the best things about this series within the first 14 episodes is just watching how all these different characters are adapting to being stuck inside a video game. It's an interesting idea that many people might have imagined before or could easily imagine themselves being stuck in. I think this makes it easier for people to connect with this series, especially because so many common gaming tropes appear here. One of the most controversial decisions was to make the main character, Kirito, fairly OP. By the end of the first arc he is unquestionably the best player in the game, as evidenced by him gaining a unique special ability. This is justified within the story however as him having beta tested the game beforehand and generally being a hardcore gamer. This OP status decreases the sense of threat to his character, but also makes it so that the you enjoy the series not necessarily for his struggles against enemies, but for just getting to watch him take part in this new game and interacting with different people inside it.

I think that the creator did a great job fleshing everything out, both visually and in-terms of how the world of SAO works. By the end of the first arc a number of interesting characters have been introduced, including Asuna (Kirito's primary love interest/girlfriend) and Klein (Perhaps Kirito's best friend and the first side character he meets in the game) and I think one weakness of the series is that these characters are not developed more. I think most of the members of Kirito's circle could hold their own side stories. The series provides a harem aspect, with almost every female Kirito comes across falling in love with him. That, to me, is unnecessary. He has an official girlfriend in Asuna and there's zero chance they will ever break up. This makes it so that the harem thing just takes up time that could be spent further developing these other female characters. Kirito and Asuna's relationship is decently handled in my opinion, but also suffers from a lack of interaction between the two early on.

Overall, the series isn't groundbreaking, but it is a fun watch that i'd suggest, especially for someone who has never seen another anime before.

Episodes 15-25: How does this exist?

Before we get into it, lets imagine what 15-25 could have been. If 15-25 had been a sudden mid-series switch into a slice of life drama about the inhabitants of SAO learning to readjust to the real world and balancing their 'unreal' digital experience with their old lives. Asuna who formed a bond with the mind of Kirito, sharing highs and lows with him for two years and the girl who stayed by his hospital bed side and formed a bond through faith in his body. What a fake-out that might have been!


By itself, SAO 15-25 is just mediocre. As a sequel to SAO 1-14, itís an unnecessary cash-grab series probably made by a completely different team who couldnít convince any of the voice actors to come back.

As a collection of episodes in the same series as SAO itís baffling.

I donít understand how this exists. My only guess is that maybe the novels itís based on are an unnecessary cash-grabs trying to cash in on the original series?

It brings over nothing the made SAO 1-14 special. It has no understanding of what people who watched 1-14 want or expect and it answers none of the themes and questions 1-14 creates. Itís entirely unrelated.

If I made a list of the things which people liked about SAO 1-14 and might want to see brought into a sequel it would be:
  • Sense of time passing.
  • Consequence and weight to actions and death
  • Asuna
  • Asuna and Kirito's relationship.
  • Societies forming in an MMO
  • Side characters.

What the writers of SAO 15-25 thought they needed is:
  • One week time scale
  • No consequence
  • More Kirito
  • Threats of rape
  • That sister shown for thirty seconds in the first episode
  • Incest?
  • Elf ears.

You could write essays on each aspect of SAO 1-14 that cut away and undermined. For brevity I shall stick with two:

Itís unbelievable how much a betrayal it is to have Asuna be the damsel in distress with only 10 minutes of screentime and spending most of that about to be violated by the villain of the series (who is himself nothing compared to the original villain). After 1-14 established that their relationship was so strong they would break reality for each other SAO 15-25 thought she barely needed more than a cameo in the epilogue of the show! The climax is painful to watch and utterly unearned by this thoughtless generic story.

And the one constriction 15-25 placed on its players was that they could not fly for very long and flying for a long time was both the final obstacle and the prize. And yet they _never show anyone struggling with flying_. In fact they routinely show the protagonists flying to places and for lengths of time that were narratively established as unreachable achievements.

Watch SAO 1-14, itís a good show. Watch SAO Abridged, itís the best abridged series yet. Why would you watch SAO 15-25?

Episode 1-14: Building Worlds

Iím aware SAO is controversial, but Iíve deliberately avoided hearing why so that I can form my own opinion after watching SAO and SAO abridged.

The biggest strength of the SAO 1-14 story is the way it creates a real world where people are growing and forming societies and bonds with each other. There are huge time skips between episodes which help to imply that lives have been lived, people have had experiences and have been changed by them and thatís leading to more changes in the future. This is a growing, living world.

And it creates a sense of consequence and weight. SAOís problems arenít going to be solved by four kids on holiday, theyíre worn down by the relentless organisation of hundreds of individual chipping away every day.

It does undercut itself a little Ė people donít really die in SAO, the story says they do but the tone doesnít match that. Itís impossible to have that many deaths without creating a bleak and hopeless view, and SAO doesnít match that. But it does have the same tone as if dying sent people into a coma. Life isnít cheap and every accomplishment has a price. And that only builds SAOís world further.

The characters are its weakest part, itís true that SAO Abridged has better characterisation, but itís not as bad as it seems. SAO Abridged is building on foundations that are there in SAO. Asuna really does sometimes seem like sheís actually going to give someone the death of a thousand cuts. It canít quite follow through and SAO Abridged fixes that, but the permanence of the world helps get past those problems.

Because consequence is real, and time is real, Asuna and Kirito have a genuine relationship. Itís not just a crush, they grow to rely on each other, to be comfortable with each other. They become a part of one another. Itís not just the romance, they settle down and learn to live with each other. Itís so rare for shows to do that!

I would happily recommend SAO 1-14 to people, itís a lovely _complete_ story that Iím happy to have seen start to finish. Nothing can change that. What came after thoughÖ

Sword Art Online Anime: Not that bad, actually (Spoilers)

Now, I'm going to be roasted for this. I will be burned on a cross for having the audacity to support this series. But, here's the thing. I genuinely like it. My friends genuinely like it too. This is going to the people on the internet who like it: You are not alone.

Effectively, the series is set in an MMO. This justifies a lot of things. First off, Kirito is overpowered. Yes. You know why? The series is an MMO. He has been level grinding. No, really. Rewatch the first bunch of episodes. He literally can stand for hours on end without being injured. Additionally, he still loses at points. Watch his duel with Heathcliff. Yes, Heathcliff cheats. But Kirito is forced to put all his effort into victory. Additionally, Kayaba, the creator of said MMO, has quite literally deemed him the chosen one. Now, by MMO physics, think. The lead developer has effectively given Kirito his power. Of course he's overpowered. And seeing as this saves over into the other games, it makes perfect sense that he would be an OP MC.

His personality, while generic, is far better than most anime protagonists, who either have an absolute lust for revenge, have no emotions whatsoever, or are entirely there to fit the "bad boy" archetype for fangirls. Would I put Kirito on the level of heroes like Rin Okumura and Goku? No. Do I dislike him? No. He's just a gateway to what is otherwise a rather fun series.

And the series is very fun. Some say, "Oh, it's a harem romance comedy disguised as an action-comedy." Well, the problem there is that that is expressing a desire for an even more generic show. Watch some great Western Animation like Adventure Time or RWBY if you want action-comedy, see how that is. Yes, there is a good amount of time spent on the harem romance concept. But Kirito clearly doesn't care about it, and is just being nice. And that's better than being the "bad boy" character who's designed just for fangirls.

Ironically, one of its best characters is also one of its more criticized ones. Shino Asada, otherwise known as Sinon, is often criticized for the overly large amount of time spent focusing on her rear end. Once again, watching any other anime, even the acclaimed Kill La Kill, and you will get plenty of eye candy. It's not right to criticize a series for being in a genre where fanservice is common.

The show gets its MMO things right. Grinding is emphasized, levels play in heavily. No magic is actually present in the series, opting for a science fiction version of video games which is not far from tech we have today.

It would be mean of me to criticize the female characters on this show. They're all good. Except Leafa, who is quite irritating. But the supporting cast is generally good, with Klein, a somewhat dorky, "I have no idea what I'm doing" guy, and he's actually funny. Sinon, a brilliant sniper with PTSD and an alter ego struggle, and Lisbeth, a blacksmith, who, frankly, is just adorable.

6/10, not worth watching again.

Wasted Potential: The Series

I haven't watched the 4th season yet, so perhaps my opinion about this series will change, but for now I am only reviewing seasons 1-3 and nothing from the LN, since I never read the LN.

Let's get this one out of the way. Kirito is a terrible MC. You heard this before. He's a wish fulfillment character. He's an overpowered Gary Stu with no real personality outside of being a nice guy. His character is written inconsistently (wanting to torture Sugou, suddenly having PTSD in GGO even though he didn't show it in the Alfheim arc, etc.)Everything about revolves around him and it really detracts from the show. Characters that could have shined had their spotlight taken from them by Kirito. Asuna challenging Kuradeel? Sinon looking like the prospect main character of GGO? Nope, Kirito needs to solve this murder-mystery.

Kirito isn't a terrible character, but everything about him just feels forced. His forced romances (every girl sans Suguha loves him because he saved him). His contrived coincidences (surviving just long enough to kill Heathcliff after being brought down to zero, somehow accessing admin mode when he couldn't beat Sugou, having an electrode conveniently placed on the EXACT same place Kyoji injected the syringe at.) There are so many scenes in this show that felt unnecessary but were added to show that Kirito is soooo coool.

Even the tragedies he suffers seemed forced since there were no actual consequences shown. I know he's a loner because his guildmates were killed, but I only know that because I was told. That's the problem with the show as well. Too much telling, not enough showing. SAO tries so hard to be dramatic, but the characters aren't developed enough to carry that emotional weight the show wants them to support (except for Sinon. I felt her backstory and character was very well done, since we had a lot of focus on her).

The main problem of SAO is too much Kirito, not enough everybody else. The premises for each arc are fine on there own, but when you have an obvious wish-fulfillment character, it becomes harder to watch, especially if you can't relate to him. Is the show bad? Well, no. There are parts that I did enjoy. Is it any good? Nope. It's more like disappointingly below average. Like, imagine the most average meal you can think of and make it a bit above or below room temperature. That's SAO.

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.

Looking back...

Sword Art Online used to be my favorite anime of all time, but, looking back, it's not as good as I remembered. Hey guys I'm Jedipikachu9009 and now I'm reviewing Sword Art Online. Remember to be respectful in the comments and NO SPOILERS.

Looking back to this anime, it's not as good as I thought. The story is unique but not as good as other anime I've been watching. And the characters? Well, let's break it down.

Kirito: He's the main hero, and a really nice guy. But that's all he really is, a nice guy. He was a nice guy at first and continued to be a nice guy throughtout the series. Really, this guy had little character development.

Asuna: The love interest to Kirito. Asuna went through some SERIOUS mood swing throughtout the series. She started as this girl who didn't really know what she was doing, to a really bossy second in command, then became a really nice girl.

Klein: REALLY bland. He's that typical, I-don't-know-what-I'm-doing character.

Yui: Crap, I really want to love this character but she is basically a Navi when it came to Alfheim.

Heathcliff: (SPOILER) I always thought he was a well made villain, but he too was bland. Even when he was dicovered to be a villain. I guess the reason I thought he was a good villain was because he accepted his loss when he lost.

Leafa: Was she really necessary? Did we really need a plot where Kirito's sister fall in love with him? Did I actually cry when she found out Kirito's identity.

Oberon: What I thought was my most hated villain in any anime turned out to be one of the best villains in any anime. He did his job as villain well, having motivation to be evil and being a big obstacle for Kirito.

Yeah, looking back at this anime, it did not perform well. Why did I love this so much? Was it because I was young and stupid or... oh yeah now I remember.

The Action: This was why my young self loved this anime. The action here really brought out the fact that they are in an online world. Each and every fight is epic and has an awesome sound track for it.

Yeah watch this anime for the action, not really for the story, even if crying is a guarentee.

My thoughts on Sword Art Online

Oooh boy, where to begin? I'll start with my overall impression on the series; It's terrible. They had a promising setup, and wasted it.

Kirito is just the absolute WORST Gary Stu, Black Hole Sue, Marty Stu, and God-Mode Sue that I've had the misfortune to see in an Anime. His personality is bland and predictable, and nothing about him stood out. And no, that's NOT a good thing. I felt no concern for him, nor cared about his struggles because he was THAT bland and forgettable.

People claim that the romance is well done in the show, BUT IT'S NOT. Kirito and Asuna talked to each other a few times, and suddenly they're in love. That's stupid. They share no chemistry together, and their romance feels forced. Romance MUST have some substance to make it work, and it's severely lacking here. Without it, it's just forced, boring, and an Ass Pull to make two characters a couple.

The harem aspect is incredibly dumb and should never have been added in. The main character has a girlfriend who he's faithful to, so why add a harem? It's unnecessary, unneeded, and contributes nothing to the show. It's not even played humorously, and I hated every bit of it.

The villains are laughably pathetic at best, and downright forgettable at worst. Akihiko was a pointless villain, despite him being the reason the whole series began. His lack of motivation for his actions just makes him Evil For the Evulz, and that's just stupid.

Sugou is just an asshole, plain and simple, and even worse than Akihiko, as while Akihiko had some form of standards, this jackass doesn't. He's thrown in only for viewers to hate him, and to force another Arc to come along, that's it. He is worse than being evil for the sake of being evil. He is pointless.

The amount of ass pulling in this show is astounding. Oh look, Kirito's a hacker! Oh look, he's the ONLY player in the WHOLE ENTIRE GAME who thought to max his speed out. Oh look, he died, yet came back just long enough to kill the big bad! Oh look, the Deus ex Machina from the first Arc is still around to give him an automatic boost for the new game! Oh look, the dead big bad SOMEHOW came to life to help him out, without explanation. Relying on ass pulls and Deus Ex Machinas to solve a situation, or end the arc, is NOT GOOD. It is lazy, it is boring, and it breaks viewers' suspension of disbelief.

No. Just...No.

Potentially Quite Enjoyable

It's difficult to find people who will agree about Sword Art Online, whether the quality of the series or that of smaller aspects of it. It's difficult for me to predict how much you will enjoy it, but I will recommend it provided its flaws do not repulse you.

The plot involves the eponymous virtual reality massively multiplayer online RPG that's revolutionary in the world, but has two problems- the players can't log out until the game is cleared, and if they die in the game, they die in real life.

The story is quite easy for gamers to get into, with many references to various aspects of gaming. There are many themes in it that can resonate with non-gamers, such as understanding other people and dealing with guilt.

The action is entertaining and involves a good amount of strategy by the heroes. Some of the climactic battles, however, tend to get resolved by Deus ex Machina, which can kill some of the tension and excitement, occasionally resulting in cases in which the hero suddenly works his way out of a hopeless situation. The setting is nicely fleshed out, although a fair number of the details and nuances, particularly with regards to character thoughts, are only found in the light novel version.

Kirito, the protagonist, is a highly divisive character, given that he starts out as one of the most competent people in the setting and continues upward from there, often achieving rare or virtually impossible power-ups (although some would put it less charitably). How much you think this makes him a Gary Stu and how much you think this kills the drama will largely determine how much you like him.

Asuna, Kirito's Love Interest, is controversial in a somewhat similar way, for different reasons. She has come a long way from someone who never touched a video game before, and accomplishes a great deal in her own right, but plays second fiddle to Kirito. Whether it says more about her or him, and whether this is acceptable is a matter of personal opinion.

Naturally, the romance between the two is quite controversial, especially with various other potential pairings for Kirito, but if you like both of the characters, it will likely be at least tolerable.

All in all, SAO is not for everyone, but if what you read sounds appealing, it's worth a look, and if the major points of contention do not turn you off, I believe you will enjoy it, as I did.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 Kšfig— 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 clichťd 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 clichťs 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.


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.