I’m going to stop saying, “I’m starting to watch anime now” because I’m pretty sure I’ve left that station a while back. I’m pretty full blown into it. I’ve spent the last couple of months (maybe even years :/) catching up on what people are saying the best anime shows the networks had to offer and it has lead me to places high and low ranging from Beyond the Boundary to Kill la Kill to Code Geass. One particular anime I had heard about over and over again was Sword Art Online (SAO). I read a quick summary and it was said to be about a group of MMO players getting stuck in a virtual world where if they died in that world, they died in real life. They would have to band together to take out bosses if they ever wished to leave their virtual prison. That seemed really intriguing, so I finally took a shot at it.
And it was pretty good…for the first 15/50-ish episodes.
After those first 15 episodes, I’ve often asked myself “why am I still watching this?” I eventually stopped after the 16th episode of Sword Art Online 2 because I couldn’t take it anymore. So let’s break down how that happened.
Kazuto Kirigaya is an avid MMO player. He recently got the highly anticipated virtual reality game Sword Art Online. When he and 10,000 other players log in, they quickly find out that they’re stuck in the virtual world and that if they die in the game, they’ll die in real life. Armed with this knowledge, Kazuto, going under the in-game name Kirito, fights his way to his freedom, making enemies and friends along the way.
- MMO jokes that only players will understand – While this is not a traditionally ‘funny’ show, the moments in this series I found humorous was how seriously it took MMO games and its rich terminology/subject matter. For example, getting into a ‘party’ in a game is simple as pointing and clicking. In SAO, getting into a party meant going up to someone and physically asking them. Other instances like, ‘blacksmithing’ is as hilarious as getting raw materials, ‘tapping’ them and then magically having it become a sword. And yet, the blacksmith looks like she had a hard day’s work. Other game concepts such as ‘player killers’, safe zones, easy vs. dangerous hunting spots, event items, etc. are all rolled into the world and make interesting and clever story lines.
- For the first 15 episodes, the stakes are thrillingly high – The first 15 episodes of this show were excellent. The world they were building when it came to what would actually happen in 10,000 video game players got trapped in a virtual prison had a surprisingly high amount of depth. As we watched, we came across hardcore fighters that would blaze the trails in clearing levels and players choosing to be item vendors that would help the fighters on their way. There were psychos, children, disillusioned, and con artists that are supposed to represent the range of players that were stuck in the game. Meeting and understanding how these people got there built a universe worth believing.The protagonist would often meet and then lose his friends which made for satisfying dark moments in the show. All mistakes had a high price and you could feel the risk as the player base began to lose morale. All these for the first 15 episodes. After that…well, we’ll get to that in a second.
- Some really good animation…when it wants to – SAO had some excellent animation. Between SAO I and SAO II, there was a fairly dramatic shift in tone and landscapes which made for excellent contrasts. I want to give a shout out to the background art for both SAO I and II. These worlds were vast with different settings within them. In SAO I, there were large rolling fields with towns in the distance, icy mountain peaks with other ranges in the background, and weird trippy dungeons with an ominous feeling. In SAO II, they went more steampunk with broken cities, nasty dust, and a sense of grease. I applaud the deep contrast and overall accomplishment.
- Flustering and bumbling female characters – Something about anime that bugs me is their often ridiculous portrayal of women. Sometimes they make them absolute bumbling idiots that freak out absurd reasons. SAO had a lot of these characters, fairly one dimensional characters defined only by their reactions to the main character. The one (kinda) exception to this categorization is Sinon, the tortured sniper with a sad past. But even she has her moments of ridiculousness.
- Kirito is really boring – SAO’s main protagonist Kirito is pretty ridiculous (in the not fun way). He’s kinda like Superman in this show, labeled as pretty freaking unstoppable, defying death probably about 3 or 4 times throughout the show. Given his absurd amount of power in game and his tendency to make any girl he comes into contact with fling their panties, he’s disappointingly boring.
Overall, SAO was okay. I enjoyed the first halves of both SAO I and II, but after episode 15 of SAO I, I didn’t particularly love it. The stakes weren’t as high, the depth of the worlds they tried to build was gone, and there wasn’t anything particularly surprising plot wise. I just kind of kept watching…like you would with a dying TV too long gone after its prime. You don’t like watching it, but you’ve stuck around long enough to ask yourself ‘how will it end?’ Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t even do that, stopping after Gun Gale Online ended. Is it worth finishing those last 10 episodes of SAO II or should I try something else?
A Horizon of Logs perhaps?