Sword Art Online; likely the hardest anime to talk about in recent years purely because of how the thing was handled and the general hype that always seems to be around it. Overall, yes, it's an exciting series and yes, it it's understandable how the series has gained so many fans and so much hype, but is it going to be something quite forgettable in years to come? Likely so, yes.
The thing with this series is the fact it was spilt into two different arcs across its 25 episodes and each arc was handled very differently. The first and core arc of the series is played out in the Sword Art Online video game where all the players have become trapped in a death game where death in the game means dying in real life too, and with no means of escape except for completing the game, the first arc of the series is very interesting. It's interesting seeing how players adapt to the two years they spend in this death game, how they accept it, how they fight it, how they make everyday lives for themselves; and it's interesting following our lead character, Kirito. He starts off a loner, a beater, wanting to complete the game but not wanting to see anyone close to him die either, so for the most part he isolates himself from the other players up until our other lead character, Asuna, brings him out of his shell a bit. Yes, this arc of the anime is certainly interesting and the second loses a lot of that. Although certain things happen and Kirito is still working against a strict time limit the series seems to handle everything in a far more relaxed manner. Then again, it is being hosted in a completely different game with different rules, the whole series feels somewhat overturned for the second half, and while enjoyable it seems to be a big change of pace from what fans were used to, and again the pacing isn't all that great in places. This is without the mention of us being introduced to Kirito's cousin, who has been brought up as a sister to him and falls in love with him as the second half of the series goes on.
Again, it's tricky series to judge. It does a lot of things right, but it also does a lot of things wrong. The first half of the Sword Art Online episodes are very jumpy in their pacing and a lot of the time you're left wondering what happened in-between these stories, how Kirito was getting so powerful and such things. I mean, the light novels work in the same way, so the anime isn't completely to blame, but the dodgy pacing does hinder the series until it shakes it off and starts going in a normal order. This is also half the problem with Kirito, he's an insanely strong character within the game, and while he's also quite a likeable character, it's also frustrating not getting to see any of the work he must have put into becoming so strong. Generally I find strong characters much easier to accept if you've actually seen the effort they've put into becoming strong, and sadly Sword Art Online doesn't do any of that, in fact the second half doesn't even bother to make Kirito train as all his stats from the first game are passed across to the next. That said, again the good makes up for the bad with the later episodes seeing you grow more and more attached to these characters and the world they're trapped in, often the show will have you close to tears too, which reminds you of the emotion you put into the series and the characters in general.
As far as animation goes the series is very pretty from beginning to end and really stood out because of it. Everything within the Sword Art Online game is very pretty, as a video games are expected to be in the year 2022, and the series doesn't let up in showing off pretty scenes and looking to impress. Even just simple stuff like the sunlight reflecting off a lake looks really nice and it's not hard to see why so many anime fans adore the series for its animation alone. Characters designs are generally very nice, but normal too, in-keeping with the idea that a lot of these players are still teens and considering they all end up using avatars that look like their real self it's nice to see they weren't made too pretty or too insane; They're just normal.
One thing that can be said for Sword Art Online is that it features a stunning soundtrack from start to finish. Generally everything fits the scene as best it can, but it's also the kind of soundtrack which makes you stop and listen as it plays. It's very pretty and a really great listen even for those who weren't that fond of the anime, you'll likely still find something of interest from the soundtrack. It's hard to put across just how nice the soundtrack is in words, because it is my favourite from all the shows I watched last year, which really does say a lot.
Overall Sword Art Online is worth your attention if you're a big video game fan and can put up with the somewhat dodgy pacing as well as being able to accept the fact you will never see Kirito work to become as strong as he is. Emotional the series will have a lot of impact on you, but then again that largely depends on how much you can care for Kirito and what these characters go through as they're trapped in a death game. It's an interesting series with an outstanding soundtrack, but it likely will be forgettable in a few years time purely because of all the pacing problems it suffered from, it just happened to be one of the best shows in the later half of last year.