Review: Sword Art Online

sao

Sword Art Online is pretty sweet. The art design is cool, with each each floor being vast and varied as far as setting goes; the concept of having to climb a 100-story tower with a boss at the end of each one is neat; and the combat and skill systems look like they are programmed very well!

…Oh wait, I’m supposed to review the show, not the game.


The show is a piece of shi- actually, the Sword Art Online arc isn’t that shabby. It has its share of faults and occasionally tries too hard and trips over its own ideas, but for the most part it’s still at least entertaining.

The problem is that the ALO arc is quite possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. I’m not even exaggerating when I say this; it’s almost as bad as Dragonball Evolution. The whole thing plays out like really bad fanfiction of Sword Art Online.

But enough of that for now, I should discuss SAO before getting into the problems of ALO. I’ll just go over a few positive and negative points. Probably more negative ones than positive ones, because it’s a lot easier to explain what something does wrong than things it does well.

And don’t expect the same analytical depth that I gave for Clannad. Only special shows are going to get that treatment.


I think it’d be amusing to start with a solution I found for the Sword Art Online problem of not being able to get out of the game. As a greatly influential figure once said,

“The grander a human scheme is, the simpler it is for unforeseen factors to thwart it.”

…Okay, so maybe that was just Dio Brando from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but I feel like a quote from an anime is more fitting than a random literary figure.

Anyways, the point I’m trying to make is that the more points you have to use to explain something’s logic, the easier you make it for holes to be found. This is basically what happens with the explanation in SAO about not being able to log out.

So they can’t turn off or forcibly remove the helmet, or it’ll activate. They also can’t unplug it because it has an internal battery. But here’s the thing: why not just unplug it and let the battery drain? The first thought to that is obviously, “Well, the point of the battery is to fry their brains if it gets unplugged.” However, that doesn’t work because all of these players were moved to hospitals. They needed to unplug the helmets at some point to do this. That means unplugging the helmets doesn’t activate them. So just unplug the suckers and let those batteries drain away! If they’re anything like my Nintendo 3DS’ battery, the damn thing will drain in under a day.

I guess the people on the outside just never thought about it. They probably aren’t gamers, after all.

As for an actual point in regards to the SAO arc, the plot is all over the place. First it’s about the conflict between normal players and the beta testers, then it’s about groups of people dealing with friends’ deaths when Kirito joins that one guild, then it’s some story with that small girl that I can’t even remember the name of, then it’s a murder mystery, etc. etc.

A lot of the ideas SAO brings up are indeed interesting, but they just don’t get the treatment they deserve. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but there’s a problem with throwing out so many plot points, themes, and characters that the story can’t handle them all. Most of these will get focused on for a very short time before moving on to the next due to it wanting to cover so many.

For example, the second episode ends on the big message the Kirito is a solo player and is prepared to do everything on his own, but at the very start of the next episode, he joins a guild. Uhm, what’s up with that? Or how about the fact that the girl in that episode opens herself to Kirito, then dies very shortly after? I timed it myself, it was only about five minutes. Not that I’d say it was handled badly, but that was an incredibly short amount of time, and they could have developed it further by making it last longer.
There’s also the fact that Kirito spends the entire second half of that episode being depressed, but then at the start of the next episode he’s all fine and dandy again, as if it had never happened. Then they only bring up that episode’s events again a few times when it’s convenient for the plot.
How about that revival item that Kirito gave to Klein since it only works if used within ten seconds of someone dying? That had the potential to play a great part in something later, but you never see the item again after that episode.
Or hey, does anyone remember that PK guild from the murder mystery arc? Laughing Coffin? They never show up again, even though there was slight hinting that the guy leading that group and Kirito would eventually duke it out. The guild itself gets brought up extremely briefly during the thing with Kuradeel, but that’s it.

With so many ideas, the show either hastily throws them out, or just completely forgets about them after using them. Sometimes it’s even both.

At least the romance between Kirito and Asuna was handled decently well. It definitely could have been done better, but if that’s the best complaint you have for something, then it hardly even qualifies as one. Plus, I’ve heard the show actually cut out some of their romance scenes from the novel, so the material for it to be better at least existed.  I’m just mainly glad that Asuna has an actual personality, and she didn’t lose it after they got married. Far too many females in romance shows become empty shells of what they used to be personality-wise when they get with the male character.

Though speaking of marriage, that was something that was handled like ass in SAO. While everything takes place in a game, it’s also supposed to be shown as realistic, because it has become reality for these players. That means incorporating real life situations and concepts into a game world, but not focusing as much on the game aspect so that everything also feels real for the audience. They botch this with the marriage by not shutting up about how people who get married share inventories. Not only is this dumb in its own right and mentioned way too many times, but Asuna even calls it romantic. What.
It probably won’t be all that romantic when you see he has eight various animal brains in his inventory for some random quest.

And don’t even get me fucking started on Yui.

Oh, I was also going to talk about how the whole thing with Kuradeel was another aspect handled terribly, but I’ll just let this speak for itself.

sao2

All the subtlety of a horde of stampeding bulls.

Seriously, why do people think these psychotic facial expressions make scenes more dramatic? They’re unrealistic as all hell and just make you laugh at how dumb they look.

The only show to ever pull off psychotic facial expressions correctly was Higurashi, and those weren’t even all that psychotic. They had the token cat eyes which yes, were unrealistic, but the whole point was to make them look unnatural. It was creepy because it was inhuman. The only times they went crazy were when they got pissed off or laughed, and their faces for both were normal anger and normal psychotic laughter. I know “normal” psychotic laughter sounds weird, but the main point is that their faces didn’t distort to ridiculous levels. That’s where the line lies, and SAO crossed it.

The final battle at the end was pretty cool though. I actually liked the reveal that Heathcliff was Kayaba. There was enough hinting throughout the show that there was something odd about him, so the twist worked.

What didn’t work was Asuna breaking out of the paralysis for absolutely no reason. Kayaba’s reaction to it just made it worse. What he essentially said was, “Huh, that was weird. Oh well, these things happen.” What a terrible game creator.

Then it proceeds to give Asuna even more plot armor by not making her die in the real world when she gets killed in the game. What’s the point of having rules if you’re not going to follow through with them on your main characters? You could at least come up with some excuse for it.

They also kind of screwed Kayaba over as a character at the end. His desire to create a world of his own to observe how people lived makes enough sense, but when asked why he went as far as to have people die in real life when they died in the game, his response is, “I forget”. That’s such lazy writing and removes so much potential depth from his character. Here, I’m going to rewrite that part of the ending.

When confronted about the people who died, Kayaba reveals that in actuality, nobody died. People who died in-game were logged out and not able to get back in, but that’s it. He lied to everyone in the game about the dying aspect in order to make people treat SAO like it was reality, rather than just a game. Sure he’d still be a psychopath for doing what he did, but at least he wouldn’t also be an asshole and a murderer. And this actually also makes his reappearance at the end of the ALO arc fit better, but I’ll get more into that later.

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who think that not having them actually die “totally ruins everything”, you’re wrong. The whole point is that there’s a consequence for their actions. Whether it’s an actual threat or not doesn’t matter as long as the character’s themselves see it as such. Of course it also helps if the audience is also led to believe the same thing, which is why Kayaba revealing it at the end would be brilliant.

But despite the faults I listed, the SAO arc is still entertaining. The setting and concept (despite not actually being original) definitely help carry the show. But most of these complaints are just about the show not doing enough. The basics are still there, despite it occasionally tripping over its own feet at times. It’s just more charming than it is pathetic.

The ALO arc, however, is an abomination.

The only positive thing I can say about it is that it didn’t introduce a ton of ideas like SAO did. Nearly every episode focused on the main plot, which kept it clear and straightforward.

So the plot for ALO is that somehow Asuna and around 300 other people from SAO got mentally kidnapped and put in to ALO. It’s just as ridiculous as it sounds. Honestly, the whole story plays out like some kind of filler arc. I wouldn’t be surprised if later novels never mention the events that happened in it. It seems like the arc purely exists just so that the author could make Kirito look even more like Cloud.

Anyways, Asuna’s personality gets downgraded to “damsel in distress” and Kirito has to be the elf in shining armor and go rescue her. Also, tentacles.

However, the biggest problem with ALO is something I was just talking about: consequence. Death in ALO doesn’t kill you in real life. Now, this isn’t inherently a problem, because there’s infinitely more consequences than just “death”. The problem is that they treat every fight like it’s a massive deal. “I can’t die here! If I die, I’ll… respawn!” The horror.

This just further draws focus on to the fact that they’re just playing a video game. It causes conflicts such as that diplomatic meeting between the two factions being in danger to be seen as stupid. It’s just a video game, so who cares? Why should Kirito abandon his rescue mission, something with actual real-world motivation, to help them out? It doesn’t help that later on he mentions that he “wasted too much time” on his way to save Asuna. Dude, you’re the one that chose to help out that diplomatic meeting.

Yet even the main plot is dumb because it has one of the most one-dimensional villains in the history of one-dimensional villains. Sugou is just evil for the sake of being evil. He’s not even one of those villains that’s evil because he thinks it’s fun, he’s just evil because the plot demands it. All he ever does is be a dick or explain what his evil plan is about five bloody times. Now, you’re not necessarily supposed to like the villains usually, but you should always make them interesting. It makes the conflict between them and the hero more than just “hurr durr you are evil and must be vanquished”.

The final confrontation is just fucking abysmal. Subtlety is jettisoned out the window at maximum velocity as Sugou licks Asuna everywhere and touches her boobies a bit. And don’t forget a few crazily happy faces here and there! This is the laziest writing imaginable. You need to have the audience hate the villain, so what should he do? I know! How about we have him assault the protagonist’s girl? Yes, this makes you mad at Sugou, but only due to base instinct. They may as well have just shown him shooting a puppy. Or perhaps he could eat some babies? How about just putting up a black screen with some text that says “Sugou is a jerkface, hate him”? Those are just as lazy and blunt as what they had Sugou do.

Then for some reason Kirito says how Kayaba was a lot better of a guy than Sugou would ever be. He tells Sugou he’s an asshole and how apparently Kayaba is a good guy, despite the fact that one of those guys touched some girl’s boobies a bit and the other killed about 4000 people. Hmm.

Then there’s the whole pain slider thing, which came out of absolutely nowhere first of all, but then Kirito uses it to essentially torture Sugou. What Kirito did to him was not heroic or anything of the sort, it was just sadistic. Kirito set the pain slider to zero, so he was essentially doing the same thing as slicing him up in real life with a knife. All because he licked the virtual form of a girl a bit? First he slices his hand off, then he cuts him in half, then he tosses his head up and stabs him through the eye as he falls, in a way that suggests the show is saying “this is where you cheer!” No, fuck you SAO, you just wrecked a dude’s real life body in a slow and torturous way, and I’m supposed to cheer about that? They even had a ton of red code stuff fly out with each slice, as if saying “man, isn’t violence awesome retribution?” The dude is even more bark than bite.

It changed a scene that was supposed to be where the villain gets whats coming to him, and instead turns it into violence porn. Just finish him with one strike, Kirito, don’t play with him. Or just don’t turn off the pain absorber when doing it. It makes it really hard to see you as the bigger person when you act like a big tough guy in a video game.

When Sugou shows up at the hospital with a knife, and you see how screwed up his body is, I was almost proud of the show because I thought it would point out how screwed up Kirito’s actions were. It would show how Kirito went too far and…

sao3

…Oh.

sao4

Oh.

Goddamnit SAO.

Yes, he doesn’t do it in the end, but the show wanted you to cheer for him at the beginning before he comes to his senses. Because obviously everything the main character thinks is right is automatically right universally.


So to sum this up, the SAO arc is decently enjoyable, and the ALO arc is a blight upon this universe. Normally this would mean the show balances out to be just mediocre overall, but ALO was just so bad and left me with a bad taste in my mouth that I can’t even say the show was anything but bad overall. Perhaps it’s unprofessional to let one half of the show overpower the other, but ALO was a lot more terrible than SAO was good, so it works for me.

Honestly, just watch SAO and don’t even bother with the ALO arc. It’s that bad.


15 Comments on “Review: Sword Art Online”

  1. Marina says:

    I just started reading the novels, but if I remember correctly, if the NerveGear is disconnected from a power source for something like 10 mins., then the player dies. So I guess the battery draining method wouldn’t really work either.

    I decided to start reading for the exact reasons that you discuss–there are some great ideas raised in the SAO arc that aren’t fulfilled in the anime. I’m hoping some of them are followed through in the light novels. And I really, really do wish I had stopped watching before ALO. Oh, god, that monstrosity. If any of your readers are reading my comment, then take Riyoga’s advice! Stop watching after the SAO arc!

    • Riyoga says:

      …Damn. But the anime failed to mention it, so I still half-win!

      If the novels turn out to be better, then let me know. I’m curious if it was genuinely this badly written or if the adaptation was just a load of garbage at times.

      • Marina says:

        It’s okay so far (I’m still in the first volume), but I don’t know if it’s the translation or what, but I don’t think it’s very well written at all. It does have less sidesteps than the anime though, which is why I think there are side stories you can read separate from the light novels. The bedroom scene for Asuna and Kirito was plain awkward and blatant erotica. I’m going to continue into the the other novels though since I hear there are more worlds than just SAO and ALO.

    • Ban shi kai says:

      To be honest te creator didn’t build the plot off the concept he made. He built it off of the fact that he wanted it to be a wish fulfillment story that’s still at the same time completely badass when he came up with it. That’s why the concept he made is basically nothing to the plot.

      So I’m gonna put SAO in the wish fulfillment category and say that it was a good wish fulfillment anime.

      But it was a terrible general anime.

  2. (^w^) says:

    Wow 0_o…

    Although it was a bit harsh, I must admit that you make some valid points.

    The whole Sachi issue was not delt with very well, but in a way, I think it was necessary in order for the plot to proceed. It’s where he adopts his ‘must protect everyone’ mentality, and if you pay attention, it mentions that the next episode’s events take place months later.So I think he had sufficient time to get over his depression before the show commenced.
    But WHY THE HELL he chose to give away the revival item to Klein remains a mystery. And so does the fact that the Laughing Coffin guild didn’t appear more than once.
    Plenty of loose ends there.

    But I don’t know about Kirito being a bad person. Yeah, TECHNICALLY Sugou didn’t do anything weird to Asuna in the real world, but you have to consider that It’s a matter of pride.
    He pretty much raped her right in front of him. While he was swrawled on the floor and powerless. Pretty fucking horrible.
    And I don’t really have any complaints about Sugou’s character either. If the idea was to create an antagonist that everyone hated, they did a pretty good job. So what if he doesn’t have an original motivation for being bad? As I recall, his motivation was his desire for power, and it worked for me. But maybe I have low standards…
    So I feel like Kirito’s murderous behavior toward’s Sugou was more than justified. I mean, he’s a human being, for christ’s sake! Who wouldn’t want to slit that bastard’s throat?
    And the fact that he didn’t actually do it should earn him some credit.

    I didn’t have any problems with Alfheim Online, and I wouldn’t reccomend skipping it, because to do so would be to abandon the series halfway through. I wouldn’t have been satisfied not knowing what had happened to Asuna (even though I kind of hated how they portrayed her as a weak character who needed to be rescued).

    EESH… The tentacles were a bit much 0///o

    Overall, I really liked Sword Art. Not the best series ever, but a pretty darn good one.
    The animation durring the battles was good, too.
    That is all :3

    • Riyoga says:

      No, I know there was a time skip. But the second half of the episode focused so much on his depression that having him be fine the start of the next episode still felt awkward.

      I would have been fine if Kirito got up and started going at him in some kind of berserker rage, but the second he got admin privileges he knew he had won. He was just toying with him after that for his own pleasure. If you’re supposed to be the hero, you don’t flaunt your victory over the villain; that’s something the villain is supposed to do.

      Just assume Asuna got out of SAO (for whatever stupid rule-breaking reason Kirito was also able to get out of the game alive with), then you can pretend as if ALO doesn’t even exist!

      • (^w^) says:

        I suppose… that’s true. He kind of just derps around for a while after Sachi dies. And then he’s fine and dandy a month later… and then he gets depressed again. Huh. Yeah, I can see where that’s a little concerning.

        And… Well yeah, he knew he’d won, but he obviously felt that that punishment alone wasn’t enough. I’m not saying he’s a saint- well actully, I’m saying the opposite. Honestly, it would have been a little boring if he’d just walked away. That shows no emotion at all. And Sugou’s one evil son of a bitch. I think Kirito displayed some excellent restraint, even if he did legitimately beat the snot out of him in the game.

        Still… that ending would have been at least slightly infuriating…

        • Riyoga says:

          I’m not saying he should have walked away, he could have finished him in one strike or just not turned the pain absorber completely off. Or the show could painted him as going crazy for that section. Instead he’s being shown as “heroic”, which is a load of crap.

    • Ban shi kai says:

      The revival item could’ve been used on Yui, since they treated her like a living thing.

  3. Vincent says:

    I have always thought that Kayaba let Asuna live after she took Kirito’s blow for him. In the 10 second grace period before your brain gets fried, I always thought that Kayaba made it so that Asuna wouldn’t die. He did tell Kirito that he wouldn’t let Asuna commit suicide… I’m pretty sure that Kayaba also saved Kirito from death as well. He may have reformed his game avatar after dying, but his avatar did shatter after that. Kayaba most likely made it so that he wouldn’t die. Kirito himself thought that he was going to die, as did Asuna, but they ended up not doing so because of his intervention.

    Anyways, the show is bad, and I’m not going to comment further.

    • Riyoga says:

      I’d be fine with that, but there was no indication that Kayaba did anything. He kind of just looked at what happened and went, “Well that was odd.”

  4. I pretty much agree with everything you’ve put down, though I’d argue that the first arc isn’t very good either.
    I always had a good laugh when the ALO arc would take itself so seriously… I mean, an alliance that would screw over another faction for a mere ten days? No sense of weight or tension to be found…

    • Riyoga says:

      Eh, I was decently entertained by the first arc. Probably because the threat of dying caused there to be at least some tension with what was going on.

      But yeah, ALO was complete trash. I should start calling it AOL like all the cool kids are.

  5. Xepter says:

    Man, I never thought I would agree with someone saying that SAO sucks, but you convinced me. After watching through everything, I thought this was one of the best shows I have ever seen and everyone who said otherwise, just sounded like some “cool guy” who just hated for the reason of hating, without any good arguments whatsoever.

    Now I have read your review and I must say… I was blinded. I probably just fell in love with the idea, that another anime would take place in an MMO and would follow the .hack route of “die in the game, you die in real life”. I should maybe hate you for opening my eyes and ruin a (in my previous eyes) great anime for me, but I enjoyed it while I was watching it, so everything’s fine.

    So all in all, thank you for finally having a well written review on the internet, about how SAO is bad (or at least not as good as others make it out to be) and coming up with arguments to do so. <3

    PS: After having read your review of OreImo, I was impressed to finally see someone with a little bit of sense to say that Kirino is NOT a tsundere, but as you said, a goddamn bitch. So I expected this review to not "suck" either :D

  6. uncannyfellow says:

    Did you actually manage to hate on ALO without talking about the incestuous sister-cousin? I mean, you did a great job of destroying ALO anyways, but it just doesn’t feel right without mentioning Suguha.

    And I deleted SAO from my computer, so I couldn’t watch the 14th episode for reference (I’m also too pretentious to stream things), but I do believe Kayaba said something like “People who die stay dead, whether it be in this world or the real world.” I interpreted that as him saying that it wasn’t enough for his world to give the appearance of being real, it had to function like the real world in actuality. If he did indeed say he forgot why he made people die in the real world when they died in the game, then I suppose that does debunk this theory of mine.

    All in all, I think this is one of your best reviews yet. It was definitely more entertaining than the anime you were reviewing.


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