[Anime Review]: Sword Art Online

SAO

Director: Tomohiko Itou

Writer (of light novel): Kawahara Reiki

Animation Studios: A-1 Pictures

Version Watched: Subbed

 I adore the idea of virtual reality gaming; there’s very little I wouldn’t give to be able to experience it first-hand. For now, however, I have to make do with fictional representations of it, and Sword Art Online is a series I’ve been looking forward to watching for a very long time. I was so excited to about it, in fact, that I set aside an entire day just so I could watch the series all in one go. While it wasn’t what I was expecting and certainly has some flaws, Sword Art Online definitely didn’t disappoint and I enjoyed pretty much every episode.

Sword Art Online is the newly released VRMMORPG, or Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, and as expected all 10,000 released copies logged on simultaneously for the grand opening. When it came to logging out, however, the highly anticipated game became something much more sinister. Trapped in virtual reality, the players are forced to come to terms with the fantastical world that is as deadly to their real-life selves as it is to their avatars. The only way out is to finish the game. Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya was in Sword Art Online’s beta test; he knows the starting areas like the backs of his hands. What he’s not so familiar with, however, is how to work with others to survive, and how to deal with the grief when they are killed. Is it still a game when your life is on the line?

SAO3

What Sword Art Online is, exactly, is hard to describe. There’s some action that is well done when it features, some romance which is heart-warming to say the least and a pinch of comedy that shows up every now and then. All in all, it does a fair representation of what being stuck in an MMO would be like, showcasing a variety of believable emotions and reactions while never becoming bogged down in them and remaining entertaining throughout. Reminders that the characters are in fact stuck inside a game pop up reasonably often but don’t form a major focus of the series.

Sword Art Online is told in two parts, which is very controversial. On one hand it meant that the series could explore a second setting to give us more time with the characters and expand the plot, but on the other it meant that the conclusion of the first part was rushed and unexpected, and followed by a jarring lull in the action. Surprisingly enough, I found the pacing of the second portion to be a great deal more better than the first as it was much more focused, whereas the first half was more about the emotional exploration mentioned earlier and jumped to a new story nearly every episode. Having said that, the first fourteen episodes are a complete story in themselves and have a lot more impact the the later ones. Many people believe the series should have ended at that half-way mark, which is fair enough. What’s important to note, however, is that both parts of the story complement each other well and come together to form a compelling and entertaining experience.

SAO2As far as characters go Sword Art Online is a mixed bag. Whereas Kirito as a person is interesting, being kind and yet conflicted at the same time, when it comes to any action he’s just ridiculous. Right from the start of the anime he’s a pro that easily tears through anything in his way. There’s no question that he’s ever going to lose a fight because he just doesn’t and that takes a lot of potential excitement out of the show, not to mention the possibility of seeing him grow as the series progresses. While I would like to say SAO has a strong cast of characters, and I have no complaints about the characters themselves, most of them just don’t show up often enough to have any real impact. Aside from the three mains they really only have one episode each, whether that be spread over a number of encounters or used up all at once. Without risking any spoilers, it’s worth mentioning here that the second half of the series makes some terrible decisions in regards to its characters.

Sword Art Online is amazing to look at, especially when it comes to its backgrounds; if we ever do get virtual reality then this is what I hope it looks like. The character models and movements are also very well done, which is necessary in a show with so much combat. To be honest I can’t remember much about the music but the sound effects did a reasonably good job of reminding you that SAO is a video game, even if the same ones were repeated each episode. The voice acting is also very well done on all accounts.

Summary – Sword Art Online was a lot of fun to watch and succeeded in a lot of areas. However, the dramatic difference between the first and second halves, while not being bad as such, means that the earlier portion doesn’t get the attention it deserves while the second lags behind a little in terms of audience satisfaction. The series misses out on some good opportunities by having such a consistently unbeatable protagonist but I have no complaints about the characters themselves. For entertaining action and romance with a loose video game setting, you probably can’t do much better than Sword Art Online.

Score: 8.5/10 – Good

SAO4

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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16 Responses to [Anime Review]: Sword Art Online

  1. Rocco B says:

    Good review. The second half was a major let down. Kirito getting all the girl interests, was just plain ridiculous imo. If you liked the series, then check out it’s sister series Accel World. That series is a fighting MMO. And since you like anime with protagonists stuck in video games, check out Log horizon.

    • Silvachief says:

      Thanks for the comment! What I would have loved to see would be a mixture of the second half’s pacing mixed with the first half’s story extended to fill up the whole 25 episodes. Is that selfish?

      Accel world has a review on its way and is already featured on my recommendations page – I really enjoyed it. Log Horizon, however, didn’t live up to the hype for me. I’m not sure if i’ll be reviewing it.

      • Rocco B says:

        I don’t think it’s selfish at all. A lot of expectations went in to this anime. Whether it lived up to the hype & expectations – it certainly creates a mixed bag of opinions. I haven’t seen the second series yet. But Gun Grave Online, is certainly worth a look.

        Accel World – for me. Was a surprise hit. I didn’t think the likes of Haruyuki would be accepted, because he doesn’t fit the stereo-typical shouen male lead. Too bad they aren’t giving it a second series. Would’ve like to seen the group handle Chrome Disaster Haru.
        Log horizon was alright. Certainly has a lot of potential. I think it gets compared to SAO too much though.

        • Silvachief says:

          I’ll definitely be watching the second series once it’s finished. I plan on using the movie to refresh my memory of the original episodes.

          It’s funny you say that because I was also pleasantly surprised by Accel World. Is it confirmed that there won’t be another series? If it is then that’s really disappointing =(

          I feel like Log Horizon missed a lot of opportunities to really sell its concept. It’s certainly not bad but I wouldn’t recommend it. Maybe a 7/10 if I had to give it a score.

  2. Ah, SAO was such a surprise, not what I expected it to be. I thought it was alright. I really wish it had ended at episode 14 (I think? I mean the one where Kirito beats Heathcliff), because the end of that episode is really emotional. I think if the anime ended like that, it’d just be a harem with a fantasy setting, in addition to some darker side themes. A really good harem though. Instead it went on, and while I didn’t hate the second part, I didn’t particularly love it either 😛

    I think we all wanted SAO to be an adventure/fantasy death game story but instead loses its potential to the romance. The part where Kirito and Asuna moves to the forest and start fishing and stuff was really sinister to me. It was almost as they forgot they were still in the game, and I wish the anime had used that idea some more. Like, what if they were just trapped in there for years and one day woke up and were old people? Haha…

    Eh, not sure if this was the right place to vent my feelings but it said Sword Art Online so I just went with it. I agree with you that it was enjoyable, although I’m probably not as fan as you are 😛 I’m glad you pointed out the animation though because that truly was awesome. It is really too bad you didn’t notice the soundtrack, because SAO has one of the most epic ones imo. I think more people will agree with me on this one 😛 So yeah, eh, cool review! Glad you like the anime!

    • Silvachief says:

      I think you’re probably right in saying that the series should have ended at episode 14. It certainly would have saved people a lot of debate! Still, as you said, I did enjoy the second season even if it didn’t have the same impact.

      I disagree with your second point, though, while agreeing with your third one. I don’t think SAO would have been better with a greater focus on action. I love what you’ve brought up about just how frightening that part of the show is, but it’s also the part that marks them as human and believable which I think was really important to the overall feel of Sword Art Online. With a straight adventure story we wouldn’t have that question of “When does it stop being a game?” hanging around.

      We accept any and all comments at The Geek Clinic! Unfortunately my major weakness is commenting about the sound tracks of anime; while I enjoy listening to music i’m not musically inclined (if that makes sense), so unless a show’s BGM is undeniably fantastic I can’t comment on it >.< It also doesn't help that these reviews can be written up weeks after I finish the series in question (and then posted -months- later!).

  3. Lazarinth says:

    Take all of generic stuff you think of in an anime (teasing harems, overly coy mary-sue main characters, shock ‘NANI!?’ comedy) and think of that as the term anime-ee. From what I watched of sword art online it was very VERY anime-ee. Some people might think of this as a good thing and fair enough, but I like my anime a bit more raw.

    • Silvachief says:

      I’m pretty sure I get what you mean by anime-ee but I would hesitate to label Sword Art Online with it. How far did you get?
      I always find it weird when people refer to SAO as a harem, since it’s very much Kirito + Asuna with some other people watching them from waaaaaaay in the distance =P

      • Lazarinth says:

        I watched all the first part and have watched a few episodes of the second, 3 things about the second part made me stop though. 1 – the ease of which he goes back into the game even after nearly dying because of it, 2 – the main bad guy, 3 – how the badass heroine is made a generic damsel in distress while his sister becomes the main love interest… I mean incest seems to be a really big theme in anime these days.

        • Silvachief says:

          1. Might be fair enough. If I remember correctly he didn’t know Asuna was imprisoned in that game when he started it, so your point makes sense. I could probably argue that he wasn’t really traumatized by the experience or anything and that he needs something to keep his mind off of Asuna’s coma. Also, the chances of being stuck in a game again would be astronomically small after the first incident.

          2. I actually like the “villain” because of how easy it is to hate his guts. That’s a preference thing though.

          3. Part one of that is hugely unfortunate, I agree. Taking a main character out of a story almost completely for an entire season is absolutely ludicrous. I wouldn’t say Suguha becomes the love interest though…more like she stares longingly from afar as Kirito stays resolutely focused on Asuna.

          But if you weren’t enjoying it then dropping it was probably the best idea. I personally found it entertaining despite its flaws.

  4. Annalyn says:

    I’m constantly amazed by how much of SAO I managed to forget. I know I enjoyed most episodes to at least some degree, but all that is overshadowed by how much I can’t stand the villain in the second arc, particularly in one of the last episodes. And my annoyance with Suguha. Come to think of it, I think I struggled to suspend my disbelief with Kirito and Asuna playing hou–err, starting a virtual family in the first arc.

    That said, I did like watching Kirito fight. I understand why people wish he had room for improvement (the sentiment has continued in SAOII). But, in this case, I just enjoyed watching a master at work (and I continue to enjoy that part of the new season, too).

    • Silvachief says:

      With everyone saying they didn’t like the same things I can’t help but wonder if my mind was checked out during my viewing 😄 If I might ask in regards to the villain: did you think he made for a bad villain or did you just hate his guts (for lack of a better phrase)?

      I think that’s fair enough. While it -was- something that bothered me I can’t deny that I enjoyed the battle scenes.

      • Annalyn says:

        Oh, I just hated his guts. And his mouth, for the words he said. His proximity to Asuna. What he did to Asuna. His existence… I could go on. So, perhaps he was a good villain, albeit slightly over-the-top. But, as a result, I couldn’t stand his presence in any scene.

        • Silvachief says:

          I get where you’re coming from. I personally don’t think a villain’s any good if you don’t hate them (unless they’re doing some whacky “but he’s actually a good guy!” thing).

  5. Kai says:

    I’m on of the side of the fence with the people liking the first part more, lol. One interesting about SAO, is that, if I’m not mistaken, the story was actually intended to be just a one-shot and when you think about it, the first part can actually be ended right then and there (which I believe, also covers the first volume almost completely) there’s no need to expand it any further, and just have everyone wake up from coma. Perhaps this is why the second part pales in comparison but I’m sure it’s not the only reason. There is just a lesser sense of conflict, and Asuna being a damsel-in-distress, and the main antagonist in the second part… lol.

    • Silvachief says:

      After posting this review i’ve had to do a lot of thinking about my opinion of Sword Art Online and I think i’m going to rewrite some of it (though the score won’t change). I won’t budge on my opinion that the pacing of the second half is much better but i’m starting to lean a bit more towards the first portion as well. You’re absolutely right that episodes one to fourteen are a complete story that could have ended there and that removing Asuna from the equation in the remaining episodes was a terrible idea, and I should probably mention that in the article. I also don’t think the antagonist was bad, as you really should hate a good villain.

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