Review: Sword Art OnlinePosted: December 27, 2012
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.
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…
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.