(Wow so many people say that many people love this series, but the review page is full of scores like 1 or 3)
To write a review about such a controversial series is very dangerous, but I'll try my best to be objective, and maybe more like a fan. Seriously, enjoying a series is better than being angry, at least for your health.
(I haven't read LN yet, and I plan to do so shortly. In this review I say only about the anime, in other words, treat it as if it were an original anime like Anohana and Madoka)
I'll focus mainly on story and character. As for the sound, it's pretty decent but I don't find anything really impressive, based on Kajiura Yuki standard. The overall art quality is decent as well, while some scenes fail to convey the sense of hi-tech. Especially the animation of entering SAO, it just feels like 20 century. (Asuna's hair color and CV keep reminding me of Annaru in Anohana, and this similarity somehow ruined my impression on her, as Annaru was drawn, well, badly imo)
OK now let's get started. The first arc focuses more on the relationship (mainly discordance) between the two world, which is evident in many scenes. It's not like "haha let's accept it and forget it behind".
The major complaint I have would be the two side arcs. They are completely unnecessary, and feel rather like fanservice. I'm not saying they are useless, it's just that the producer should use other ways to show his spirit and coolness.
The character development is also a weak point. I don't feel the MC's development, although I can see the effort that the producer is trying to make watchers think that he has developed.
The effort is also evident to make the story as reasonable as possible. Unfortunately it's not very successful as well, in both main arcs. Although I can accept it, some people think it as deus ex machina, and I quite understand why they feel that way. At some points I think MC goes too far beyond common sense, and the whole thing seems somehow miraculous. But generally everyone acts fairly consistently. The ending is OK for me. That guy is not essentially bad.
Finally we come to the romance part, or relationship if you will. I have to admit that it's impossible to be objective on this part. So a good way is to look at the data. According to MAL ranking, more people like this series (and obviously mainly for the romance) than dislike. Personally I like it too. For me their development seems natural. I know this doesn't work for anyone though.
It gets better in the first episodes in second arc. (Aha good transition) For me, again it doesn't work for everybody, when the girl becomes an ideal figure in his heart, instead of a real person. It's more subtle, and for me, heartfelt.
It's sort of ironic to see that how people in VR become real and vice versa
Chasing the girl is almost like chasing the moon for poets
The ending is one of the most natural and demanded happy ending I've ever seen
*******End of Spoiler********
The second arc is also more well organised than the first, with less quasi-filler episodes and characters. That boy feels like a bit, though.
The introduction of the new character, and the way they interact together are also interesting. Their dialogues seem normal. In similar situations, other shows may make them really unnaturally allusive.
But when they become closer to the truth, their action began to deviate further and further from common sense. Furthermore, the ending feels even more like deus ex machina.
The final transition from cyber to reality largely ruins my subtle feeling before. Besides, I can understand that they want to create some space for season II, (and the LN actually contains more than these 2 arcs), but for the anime itself, it really should end there.
Despite all the complaints I have, I really enjoy this series. I didn't have too much expectation about it and find it pleasant to watch. Don't take as a extremely popular series (sadly it's the fact, but just like I said, it's better for your health)
If I'm being objective then I should probably give it 6 or 7, but it has brought me pleasant time and enjoyment so I give it 8.
(I've just seen some people saying that it's the best romance since Clannad. Well I sort of have that feeling as well but don't really agree. It's really potential, but the last episode is mediocre) read more