One of the reasons for the series' divisiveness is the amount of unintentional humor present throughout it:
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- While the character designs are generally well made in their cutesy parameters, the fact that their faces have a shining "C:" smile as their default expression (particularly in official materials and artwork) can be a bit offputting.
- Every single fight scene that has Kirito making some distorted facial expressions.
- A lot of people consider that the anime takes itself too seriously even after the Aincrad arc ends and the MMORPG ceases to be a life-or-death issue. This gets especially bad in the "Calibur" mini-arc, where the characters are just playing the game normally, and yet they treat the whole thing as Serious Business.note
- 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 Aincrad arc, which should be the most emotionally effective one as the game is an actual life-or-death issue. This gets Up to Eleven during the ALO arc, since it maintains the tone, except that this time people don't die in real life, so such melodrama feels odd, to say the least.
- Some critics have pointed out that, despite how SAO treats itself entirely as somewhat realistic science-fiction, things like the Nervegear virtual reality systems, the sentient AI, the fluctlights and virtual ghosts like Kayaba and Yuuki all equate to pulling off magic with technology (especially blatant given that the setting is apparently just 20 Minutes into the Future, not even full-fledged futurism that might justify it through Clarke's Third Law). One may even have to invoke the MST3K Mantra after that point.
- Sword Art Online is mentioned to be a massive hit in sales, selling about 10,000 copies on release day. In real life, that's actually worse than a flop. It's a piece of research failure that comes from nowhere.
- Strangely, the original web novels had the numbers around 50,000, which isn't as bad for a day-one sales number for a game that isn't quite a big publisher of products and all. This means both the light novels and anime turned it into an absurdly low number but didn't change the context.
- 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.
- The leader of Laughing Coffin, the guild of Player Killers, is known as "PoH". While it stands for the appropriately intimidating "Prince of Hell," it's said to be pronounced, "Pooh".
- After Kirito, Asuna and company defeat the Gleam Eyes and Kirito is left with almost zero points, Asuna emotionally hugs him. This is not narmy by itself; the narmy part comes when she stays clamped to his chest for several minutes, giving her back to the group and without uttering a word, all while Kirito speaks normally with them as if nothing is out of the ordinary. Keep in mind that, even if at least Klein could see they were attracted to each other, they were not even lovers by that point (and although they had been, it would have been equally silly). Also giggle-worthy is that nobody seems to find this even a bit melodramatic.
- The opening for the Fairy Dance arc has Suguha pushing Kazuto into the middle of a road, which many people have joked or memed that she was trying to get him hit by a car.
- Kirito vs barrier! As soon as Kirito learns that Asuna really is trapped at the top of the World Tree, he goes into a blinding rage and flies straight at the World Tree, where he promptly and repeatedly slams headfirst into the barrier put in place to prevent players from flying higher than a set height. The scene is supposed to show Kirito's despair that he had kept bottled up, but it's hard not to laugh at this display of watching Kirito smack his head pointlessly into an invisible wall.
- Asuna's Titania avatar being barefoot (or at least with her barefoot sandal-like ribbons) makes sense from an aesthetic point of view, as fairies are often portrayed in art as unshod or even entirely unclothed. It is also clear that the designer of the avatar was trying to make her look sexy and delicate, and not to mention she is technically a captive. However, Sugou's Oberon avatar wearing sandals is another thing, given that he has to fight and look dominant due to his role in the arc, and instead he just looks goofy. Him soccer-kicking Kirito in the face with that very footwear looks hilariously more like out of a Magaluf tourist brawl than a High Fantasy final fight.
- The fact that two adult and presumably professional neurologists working for Sugou go around ALO in purple, tentacled slug avatars for some reason, instead of using regular human/fairy forms like Sugou himself, is incredibly cartoonish and kitsch for what is meant to be a serious part of the plot. The light novel (where the slugs at least are grey in color, not gawdy purple as in the anime) even does a Lampshade Hanging by having Asuna wondering why would they have that appearance of all things.
- The additional fact that they immediately use their tentacles to grope a random female they find in their chambers is both trite and hysterical. Even worse, the undoubtedly lecherous yet weirdly restrained way they do it (despite how eager they appear, they don't even grope Asuna, but rather get content with just strangling her and stretching her limbs) makes it look like a parody of tentacle anime from The '80s adapted to a family friendly medium, instead of something meant to be serious and fit to the series' level of maturity.
- In Episode 22, 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 says it. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka manages to turn this into a Heartwarming Moment 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.)
- Sugou sexually assaulting Asuna has been criticized as an ugly and exploitative moment, but this makes a stark contrast with what we actually see in the anime, which is a strange mix of offscreen censorship and deliberate inaction: after baring Asuna's chest, Sugou places his hands on her shoulders and then... he simply places them lower, out of the shot, without moving or evoking a reaction from any of them. Similar to the tentacle scene mentioned above, this instance really makes it look like the series is attempting to be both edgy and tame at the same time. As a result, it comes not only as an amusingly awkward attempt of doing such, but also as an offensively naive portrayal of sexual violence.
- Sugou slurping Asuna's tears. The act itself is something even a Saturday morning cartoon villain would find silly, but him becoming ecstatic to the point of breaking out in very high-pitched screams is hilarious.
- The scene where Kirito frees Asuna from her chains, after killing Sugou in-game. It's meant to be a heartwarming reunion, but many fans can't get over the fact that Kirito hugged Asuna and cried on her shoulder while she's topless. Unlike similar scenes from other series, Kirito doesn't gives Asuna his jacket, and the two of them don't seem to care about her state of undress. From the position Kirito is in, he's basically pressing his face against her bare boob.
- Kirito's visualization in the anime of Death Gun killing someone in real life through a game. That is to say, he imagines a bullet traveling through a phone line and then launching out of it to land square in the forehead of a victim. The fact that this moment is played completely seriously, complete with dramatic music swell, and as some sort of horrified idea of how dangerous the situation is on Kirito's part is a complete Mood Whiplash to how ridiculous it is.
- "The name I share with this weapon... Death Gun!" Yes, he named himself after his weapon, and it isn't a name you could say with a straight face. To be fair, this one applies mostly to native English speakers. For people of other languages, this doesn't have the same impact. Considering the original novel was first written in Japanese (but the name was written in English), with no plans for an English translation at the time it was created, it can be argued that this was a case where some Woolseyism was needed, but the localizers just chose not to.
- When Kirito and Sinon are theorizing on how Death Gun commits murders, Kirito figures out that there is more than one player behind him. So that when one Death Gun members them kills a player in-game the second Death Gun member kills the person in real life. This is immediately accompanied by visual symbolism of a scorpion killing a lizard. This motif is so ridiculous it completely flips the seriousness of the scene and invokes laughter. Even Bryce Papenbrook made fun of this bit in the bloopers.
- During the climactic battle between Kirito and Death Gun, when Death Gun tries to cloak himself, Kirito draws his pistol in slo-mo and shoots Death Gun while leaping forward so he's in the air. Once Death Gun gets uncloaked he panics and slashes Kirito about twenty times, all the while Kirito is still airborne and slowly spinning in midair before his feet finally touch the ground. Given Death Gun was able to get in that many attacks in the time it took Kirito to drop to the ground, it's fair to assume that Kirito must have been lagging.
- After Death Gun has been taken out, Shinkawa goes nuts in Shino's apartment and attacks her, which would be scary and dramatic if not by his hilariously exaggerated psycho face and his vociferous, Motor Mouth-style cries of her name.
- Kirito and Asuna's use of Photon Swords in GGO is very hard to take seriously given the sound effect of the Laser Blades resembles a farting sound. This may be a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, as the stock lightsaber sound effect is likely off-limits to them now since Disney bought the franchise in 2014, but they could have still found a less funny replacement (such as the one used in the anime adaptation of Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online which used a different electrical sound effect that still managed to sound cool).
- While Kirito is discussing the nature of the Soul Translator project he's working on with Asuna and Shino in the bar, it stretches disbelief a bit that Asuna could instantly relate the company's name "Rath" to Alice in Wonderland, a reference that even most Americans would have difficulty getting.
- Johnny Black attacking Kirito with a syringe would have been scary and dramatic if it wasn't for the fact that an absurdly good Kendo practitioner like Kirito, wielding an umbrella (a popular weapon in real life self-defense systems, albeit admittedly a bit of a narmy one by itself), managed to lose to a lunatic with a syringe. This is despite the fact that he had previously defeated a knife-wielding Sugou while unarmed!
- Kirito's fight with the Goblin boss is overall pretty badass and even has Kirito a lot less overpowered than usual. But the tenseness of the scene gets disrupted when Kirito gets knocked into the ground and lets off a huge scream with his mouth opened to max capacity while he does so, which a lot of fans can't help laughing at.
- An otherwise emotional scene ends up being laugh-out-loud funny when Kirito breaks down into tears over seeing his flower garden dug up, without the context that he had been relating to the flowers and seeing them as sharing his journey of thriving in a foreign land. Although Kirito brings that up, he only does so after the flowers have been destroyed, meaning that the moment suffers from Show, Don't Tell reasons.
- There's also the particular line from a sentence in the scene that some fans have taken out of context, which only amplifies with Kirito's flashback Dissonant Serenity of a happy smile at that moment.
- When the corrupt pair of noble students, Raios and Humbert, try to have their way with Ronye and Teise, the girls and Eugeo all react as one would expect, but the pair of nobles play off the entire thing as just another game as the whole scene rapidly descends into an unintentional Black Comedy filled to the brim with too much ham to be taken seriously. In particular, as he's talking to Eugeo mid-sentence, Raios literally disrobes and leaps at the girls in the same motion, complete with the camera lingering on him in the air for a few seconds like it's something out of Lupin or a tag team Professional Wrestling match! It was so jarring that even Reki Kawahara (who was otherwise not involved in the production of the episode) himself admitted he was surprised to see it on his Twitter (said jump is an anime-original scene and was not in the light novel).
- One of the most infamous moments of season one, what with Sugou licking up Asuna's tears to revel in her despair, even gets replicated here as if the pair are trying to make this as theatrical and over-the-top as possible. The fact that they suffer extraordinary amounts of Off-Model and Art Shift to become particularly Gonk once Eugeo loses his shit doesn't help either.
- It is also hard to ignore that, while the episode is focusing on Eugeo's thoughts for minutes, Raios and Humbert are all the time on top of the girls, enjoying maniacally the act yet without actually doing anything beyong toying with their victims' clothes. And even when they finally start to strip them down, several minute of scenes more happen again, yet they are still shown doing the same, without having even bared a bit of skin from their victims aside from their shirts! If Sugou's groping of Asuna in season two was portrayed in an absurdly naive and minimalistic way, this one probably tops that. It almost looks like the two villains were just pretending to harass them, as if they were actors in a rape scene from a very amateur film and were waiting all the time to hear "cut!"
- Then there's the moment when Raios and Humbert are about to completely consumate their respective rapes right before Eugeo manages to break free from his Taboo Index induced paralysis. They both get ready at unison and show quite ridiculous grins on their faces, while the animation does a sudden momentary freeze frame for dramatic effect that makes the whole moment unintentionally funny.
- If you pay attention as Raios' fluctlight glitches out and causes him to die, everyone in the room is just staring at him with mild concern, besides Eugeo's annoyed look. Even Humbert seems more like he's somewhat confused rather than paying much attention to his missing arm, and Tiese and Ronye also join in on the awkward staring.
- Raios and Humber's response to having their arms hacked off is way too childish to take seriously, and seems like a rejected scene from Fist of the North Star or Monty Python and the Holy Grail (and the fact that those two works are being referenced in the same sentence should cue you in to how ludicrous that scene is).
- Afterwards, Eugeo feels torn up about what he did and considers himself to be "just like those goblins." In-context, it's likening himself to lawless and chaotic monsters he and Kirito fought previously, and considering himself a murderer, plain and simple. Out-of-context, considering a certain other series airing at the same time that is infamous for the gratuitous Goblin rape at the beginning of its own storyline, and the fact that Eugeo is saying this with a missing eye tearfully to a near-rape victim, it's a bit more unintentionally funny than it should be.
- While the majority of the fight between Kirito and Fanatio in Episode 15 was quite awesome, there was one moment where the two of them are trading high-speed blows between each other... but the only parts that are moving are their arms and swords. It looks a bit silly to see just a bunch of white lines sparking against each other as Eugeo mutters, "Incredible..." Thankfully it only lasts a few seconds.
- Quinella fighting the heroes while naked (or almost, given her choker and her ankle wraps, which has its own fair share of narm) was such a edgy stunt for the novels that it already ensured they could never portray it properly in a G-rated medium like the Alicization anime. As such, the anime opts to hide it through an uniquely exaggerated usage of Godiva Hair and faraway shots in a way which is both awkward and distracting.
- Cardinal's boast to Quinella about how they are four while the latter is alone. While it does make some vague sense because Cardinal is technically occupying the body of a child after all, it doesn't justify that it is a massively childish threat, especially for a master virtual intelligence like her (as well as a rather silly claim, given that, alone or not, by this point Quinella has already proven to be powerful enough to overwhelm all the four characters gathered there, which is exactly what she proceeds to do next).
- Charlotte the spider appearing in Kirito's thoughts about people he wants to protect. While she could be counted as a person (she spoke with a human voice in the same episode), Kirito barely knew of her existance at all, and she is still, well, a bug, appearing in bug form next to Alice and Eugeo.
- Cardinal randomly losing a foot after being hit by Quinella's magic in what was supposed to be a tragic, intense scene. Black Comedy Burst at its finest.
- It's not helped by the fact that Cardinal's attempt at sacrificing herself for the others is undermined by everyone just standing there, doing nothing but making sad, horrified faces - and then fighting Quinella shortly thereafter anyway, rendering the entire scene a pointless Senseless Sacrifice just to get an excuse to Kill the Cutie and add stakes to the climactic finish.
- The last two episodes are effectively one thing after another of escalation in pretty much every fashion. Quinella's Sword Golem is already some massive hulking monster the cast fear for the sacrifices made to create it, but then they spend ten minutes going on about how it's also made from the lobotomized memories of knight's families and loved ones, except no, it's also created from people and mangled into sword form. Cardinal's response is repeatedly calling Quinella a monster each and every successive time.
- The scene choreography repeatedly undermines the situations, resulting in a problem where most of the deaths at the end of the series could have been avoided if everyone worked together like they had been doing so thus far and didn't just stand around. Beyond Cardinal's case above, only minutes later Alice shows she can deflect the blasts to protect Eugeo's transformation - and then she and Kirito both let Eugeo fight and die without intervention. At all.
- What would be a dramatic moment of Eugeo's transformation and eventual Heroic Sacrifice is undermined by the fact that turning yourself into a sword in a series called Sword Art Online is just too on-the-nose. Even worse, this entire scene is condensed to half an episode, meaning that like the above problem of constant escalation, there's simply not enough time to develop or dwell on it. And while he didn't die immediately, this happens less than five minutes after Cardinal's death to boot.
- Quinella's death scene both is surprisingly beautifully animated thanks to a massive Animation Bump - and also an absolute joke because what kills her isn't Kirito or some heroic act, but Chudelkin of all people getting set on fire and jumping on her as she escapes and trying to hump her while they both burn to death.