Sword Art Online sucks. I could stop here and that'd be all you needed to know, but I won't. I'll explain why this thing is terrible and in no way deserves the hype/scores/praise/fanboyism it gets.
Sword Art Online tells the story of Kirito, a gamer that gets stuck in a virtual reality MMO along with thousands of others. Their only way of escaping is to completely clear 100 levels of a tower, each progressively harder than the last. Oh, and if you die in the game your virtual reality gear in real life microwaves your brain. Interesting, no? Well, surprise, I'm actually going to say yes. Despite my opening sentence, the premise behind this anime is great. The stakes are high, it's a cool, unique setting and there were the beginnings of interesting characters. So what happened?
Nothing. And that's the problem.
Let's talk about the story, or the lack thereof. You might think, from both my brief summary and the synopsis above, that this anime would deal with clearing the floors, the epic struggle to finish the game. Spoiler! It does not. When the timeline isn't having an epileptic fit you get, at most, a brief summary of what floor is currently being cleared. That's it. Cool battles? Nope. Heart breaking loss? Hell no. How about filler episodes in what amounts to a 12-13 episode anime? No fu-oh wait.
The majority of the episodes in the Sword Art Online arc (the last, roughly, half of the anime is set in a different MMO entirely, which has its own problems but I'll get to that later) are completely pointless. A handful of them are devoted to Kirito helping, in one way or another, one of the few actual girls in the game world. When the episode is over, they've fallen in love with him and they play no further role in the story. I'm not even kidding. The entire episode feels like a gigantic waste of time and this happens MULTIPLE TIMES. Then there's an odd CSI-esque murder mystery that's based around an MMO term. It kind of works but it feels forced, like they just wanted the murder then scrambled to find an MMO reason for it to happen. Further, this goes for 2 episodes when it could easily have been wrapped up in one and, like everything else in this anime, amounts to nothing. And the few episodes before the end, which I won't spoil, are the worst. This is supposed to be an action fantasy anime, not a boring slice of life...I was going to say comedy, but it's not comedy. Or drama. It's just slice of life. You watch two people live their life together. Exciting!
If the SAO arc went for the full 24 episodes I could tolerate this kind of thing. A lot of animes have these "filler" episodes that give a break from the main story, maybe throwing in some character development or world building. I don't mind this. But in the case of a shortened arc, like SAO, they take away what precious little time the main story already has. You can't do this and expect to have anything resembling a respectable story. And since SAO did it, it's main storyline feels rushed and, frankly, stupid.
I glossed over the second half of this anime to be honest. It's set in a world with fairies and elves and the main villain looks like a closest butterfly, who also screams like a girl. He's one of the least threatening villains I've ever seen, which only adds to the lack of tension that comes with the life or death stakes disappearing. See, the new MMO doesn't trap Kirito, or anyone really, so if they die they can just log back in later. I believe Asuna is in some kind of danger but it's not enough, especially when I don't like her anyway.
Which is a nice segue to start talking about the characters. Kirito himself, when not being a Stu, is a bland and empty shell existing purely for wish fulfillment. He's a loner badass that all the girls instantly fall in love with and is insanely powerful and is the hero who saves the day because he's the speshul. That is really all there is to him and that's all there ever was. There is no character development whatsoever for him throughout the entire series. There's a half hearted attempt at a tragic backstory, but it never resonates and, like so many other plot points in this anime, falls apart when confronted with logic.
Asuna is the other main and I hate her. Aside from beginning as the literal definition of a tsundere, she eventually ends up as another useless female incapable of doing anything without Kirito. This does not a good character create. Further, the romance between the two feels so weird and oddly forced that it feels like it was written by someone who had never actually been in a relationship. It amounts to they spend some time together, eventually she cooks for him and then they're in forever love. There aren't any specific events that you can point to nor does it ever feel that their relationship is growing. They just end up being a couple because the writer says they are.
Aside from them there's a handful of girls that make one or two episode cameos and are never seen or heard from again (a slight exaggeration, I'll admit, but not far off either). Oh, and there's Klein, a caring but kind of goofy guy. He's my favourite by far but only gets limited screen time, likely because he's an actual character and would shine a light on everything Kirito lacks. But when he is around he easily steals the show. I thought they might play him as the comic relief, which I would have accepted if for no other reason than to see more of him, but that's just one more wasted opportunity this anime has.
Animation is fine and actually impressive in some instances, the boss battles standing out. Audio is also good, with no complaints from me. I'll say here that there's nothing technically wrong with this anime; in my opinion the production values come off as fairly high.
Unfortunately it's everything else that comes up short. Impressive visuals can only get you so far and when you lack any good characters, development or even a good overarching storyline, you're bound for failure. How this gets so much praise is beyond me, but perhaps you can get some mindless enjoyment from it if your expectations are low. read more