Imagine being trapped inside an MMO where the game ceases to be one and every random battle could be your last, this is the world of Sword Art Online.
It's hard to talk about the plot of the show without going into spoilers so I'll try to keep it brief, the original concept is a pretty great idea, though for such a dark initial premise and despite it's sometimes sinister moments it keeps quite a light-hearted attitude. Where it stumbles is it's pacing, it loses a lot of tension along the way and story threads and dramatic revelations that should have perhaps been expanded upon can
often feel a little rush and not treated with high enough regard. The show is a lot more romance based than the synopsis lets on, it's this aspect that is given the most reverence throughout it's run, certainly there are moments of action and mystery, but it's something to be kept in mind before tackling this series. To be clear this isn't a negative point against SAO , the romantic plot threads are handled well for the most part, but I'll expand on that when I talk about the characters.
Kirito (the protagonist of the series, though not his actual name I'm sticking with the most commonly used one) is a little bland overall, he starts off relatively interesting in that he isn't the self-confident hero who is without flaw that is commonly seen, unfortunately a lot of his character development is quickly glossed over in time shifts and he ends up being somewhat of a smooth talking juggernaut by the end of them who perhaps speaks in a few too many clichés. Asuna, the female lead, shares many of the same problems, though she brings a little more humour to her scenes to make things less dry.
The supporting cast (with the exception of the main love interests) on the other hand are where the series falls down in terms of characters, essentially anyone else interacting with Kirito falls into two camps they either want to be with him or be him, again this is probably due to him becoming a little too perfect in later episodes but it's a shame since there some fun personalities in there who could have been explored a little deeper and given a bit more screen time.
The villains are rather hit or miss, for the majority they are little flat and their motives quite simple, that's not to say there isn't the occasional exception in the bunch and even some of the more boilerplate threats have sinister moments, but again we don't really spend enough time with the majority of them to really get inside their heads.
That being said the main relationships explored in the series are for the large part well done, progressing in a naturalistic and believable ways for the most part and even with my cold dead heart I found myself rooting for the main duo in some of their struggles. It's these moments where the dialogue and emotional elements to the characters shine, as they reflect on reality and what is truly real.
The graphical style of the series brings nothing particularly new to the table, that's not to say it falls down in any major ways or has any real noticeable flaws, it's just the best I can find myself saying about it is that it's strongly competent. The fight scenes are when some real fluidity and energy are injected into the action, though these are fewer than you'd expect judging by it's settings. The CG is blended in quite well for the most part though it still stands out in contrast to the more traditional animation, I suppose you could say because these elements mostly show up in the MMO segments that it's intentional but that seems like a bit of a stretch.
As a romantic fantasy based show with some light science-fiction touches to it is a fun ride though a very uneven one, it's the investment in the relationships that will pull you through the series and though the set up is a unique premise it will probably leave people a little wanting in terms of detail and depth and is an idea that could have been treated with a little more grandeur than it was here.
Thanks for reading, this is my first review so any tips or criticisms are appreciated.