Critic’s Log - Earthdate: April 21, 2014. Review #83: Sword Art Online.
Besides the fact that I enjoy watching anime. I also really enjoy playing video games such as Old-school Retro Games, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and any fun game in general . I particularly like Role-Playing Games because of a higher chance of an appealing story which RPG’s does put heavy emphasis on as well as being character-driven. When I went to my local anime convention Sakura-con last year, there was this one anime that really got a hell of a lot of attention. I didn’t understand why, I mean after all… This anime really didn’t look appealing to me despite that I myself play video games to keep myself occupied on my own leisure. I think video games are pretty fun and I like playing video games with friends as well as by myself, but it all depends on the game. This “game”, this anime really became an endurance test. That being… The Legend of Asuna… uh, I mean Sword Art Online.
Across the world, there are players that join the virtual reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, Sword Art Online, and they end up being trapped and fighting for their very lives. After the game master announced that the only way to leave the game is by beating it, Kirito (a very powerful swordsman) and his friends take on a quest to free all the minds trapped in Aincrad.
Chances are, my brief synopsis of Sword Art Online is a bit redundant because I have a hunch you have heard of the premise for Sword Art Online. In fact, a premise like this has been done before but Sword Art Online’s premise is actually interesting. Too bad that it didn’t last well for me. Sword Art Online is an A-1 Pictures production and I can’t say I have been disappointed with this studio for the most part. I actually liked the animation quality to Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji), however, not everything they touch is perfect. I am in the middle of watching Fairy Tail which is another anime series by A-1 Pictures and it does look nice but the animation direction did disappoint me. Sword Art Online on the other hand is not bad for the most part but there are some areas that could have looked better. The backgrounds and all the effects work well. the problem with Sword Art Online’s animation to me is its character designs. I kind of found them a little messy at times especially when they make certain moments in action scenes look fluid. If there is one thing about the animation that does not impress is how the monsters are designed. The detail on the monsters do look pretty sloppy. Even though these are only nitpicks, the animation does work when it needs to.
The Japanese cast is mostly alright for the most part, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka is not a bad choice for Kirito and I do give props that he does pretty well for an average seiyu, and I could say the same for Haruka Tomatsu as Asuna. The casting is pretty average except for Koichi Yamadera as Kayaba, and Toru Ohkawa as Heathcliff. They somehow do pretty well in this show. The English Dub cast does not contain average voice actors in this show. Bryce Papenbrook has been voice acting for quite a while but he doesn’t really get too many big roles. Kirito is one of those few shows where he plays the main role. The performance isn’t perfect but he mostly gets it right. As English Dub voice acting goes, he sounds a little like Yuri Lowenthal kind of like how Micah Solusod sounds a little like Johnny Yong Bosch. Cherami Leigh is not too bad as Asuna and she does pretty well in the show. Kirk Thornton is also a nice casting choice, too bad his character is severely sidelined. I will give Stephanie Sheh credit that she is a talented voice actress but her role as Yui didn’t click with me. The dub actually has a few surprises. One! Marc Diraison as Kayaba, Marc Diraison was known for being the English voice of Guts from Berserk, but I consider the performance take it or leave it. Two! Vic Mignogna has a minor role where it involves “Tentacles” Be worried Vic Mignogna fangirls, be very afraid. Three! Todd Haberkorn’s villainous and eerie performance in the second half. Kudos to Todd Haberkorn! The Japanese cast is mostly average and does alright for the most part. the Dub has some nice choices but I did not expect too much from the dub and it holds up alright.
The music by Yuki Kaijura however does deserve a special mention. The soundtrack suits the show very well but it really isn’t a memorable soundtrack outside the show, but with inside the show. the soundtrack does its job for the most part. Kaijura-san was an interesting composer choice considering she is known for the soundtrack of a similar anime that you probably know which is .Hack//SIGN. It may feel like it was a predictable choice but the soundtrack wasn’t that bad. The first opening “Crossing Field” by LiSA is a pretty memorable catchy theme. I will give the show’s credit that the first opening theme stands out. I could say the same with the first closing theme “Yume Sekai” / “Dream World” by Haruka Tomatsu. The second opening theme “Innonence” by Eir Aoi is an ok opening, nothing more… I could say say the same for the second closing theme “Overfly” by Luna Haruna. The music is mostly pretty good and it does not disappoint.
If there is one major flaw with Sword Art Online, it is the characters. Kirito really is a wish-fulfillment character and not for reasons that impressed me. The guy is a fucking chick magnet in the show and this aspect of him distracted me. To make the issue far more stressful. It doesn’t really add anything to the story whatsoever. What I really don’t like about Kirito is how he seems to be average at first, acts like a smartass in the next, and then acts depressed because he’s alone when he prefers to do things solo in a MMORPG where playing the role of Leeroy Jenkins does not fucking compute whatsoever. His personality is a mixed bag to me and this character just didn’t do it for me that much. However, he gets the most screentime out of everybody in the show, so I guess Kirito is the only character that has likely chances of someone relating to… but that’s where the show’s problems really lie. There are a good number of characters that have potential to stick out in the show and Yui is actually the only one besides Kirito that actually sticks around in the long run since she first appears. However characters like Klien, Agil get sidelined quite heavily in this show and this is a pretty obvious sign that this show disappoints with its portrayal of characters. There are other new characters that show up later in this anime but they suffer the same problem. Out of all the characters, Asuna is the main female lead in this show and you would think that she plays a huge role in the show. Here’s the thing, She does play a big role in the series except that she starts out great until the show progresses and she is reduced to the stereotypical female character with housewife traits. If you thought that was disappointing… it gets worse. FAR WORSE. The biggest issue with Asuna is that during the second half. Well… Let’s just say her role gets drastically reduced till the last quarter of the 25 episodes of this anime. Asuna had potential, but sadly… Her character was under disappointing results. What’s even more insulting is that there was a romance established in the first half but it was built up even more in the second half where it felt really forced shoddy. About that second half, Kirito’s “sister” plays a huge role where she hardly played a role in the first half and yet she does the things Asuna could have done in the show and gets even more screentime than Asuna in the second half. To make this long story short. The characterization, and character development is fucking awful in this show. .
This leads to what I think most people can agree is the most questionable factor of Sword Art Online, which is… The story. In all honesty, the premise is actually interesting and this anime had great potential with it. The first 3 episodes were not too bad, but that was until a few more episodes came in and the show’s focus seemed to not work anymore. The show’s first half really does take time to sit through but what cheapened the story is the timeskips that take place in this show. It did not help the character development as properly as it could have. Kirito’s character development is half-assed at times and he’s “The Black Swordsman”?. Guts from Berserk had some good character development and he’s the real deal when it comes to the title of “The Black Swordsman” and he earned the damn title too. the second quarter of the show is ok, but once the first half is over, that’s when the story takes a nosedive towards an inane direction. The first half is supposedly called the “Aincrad Arc”, which is set in the virtual reality world called “Sword Art Online”, right? Here’s where the second half comes in… It’s called the “Fairy Dance Arc” set in ALFheim Online where everyone appears as a Fairy… Not being set in Sword Art Online. Here’s the problem. THE SECOND ARC OF SWORD ART ONLINE DOES NOT STAY TRUE TO THE SHOW’S TITLE. That’s right, half the show is in Sword Art Online, the latter half should have renamed the show “Sword Art Online: Alfheim Online”, but it doesn’t. This can be viewed as misleading. Here’s the show’s biggest problem. Whatever the first arc was building up to becomes irrelevant later on except for Kirito’s motives which I will not explain for spoiler reasons. The reason I am stressing some potential spoilers is because you may want to know a few things before jumping into this game. To make matters worse, the second arc is paced a lot more faster than the first arc but the second arc feels rather pointless in buildup which leads to a conclusion that surprisingly doesn’t end in a shitty way for the most part. The character factor really suffers because of half-assed writing and unfocused direction by Tomohiko Ito. What I like to know is why fans think this schlock is the same in the source material which are the light novels series of the same name by Reki Kawahara. I can’t state my opinion on those because I haven’t read them.
This leads to my concluding topic surrounding this anime. Sword Art Online is ridiculously overhyped and I don’t understand how people thought Sword Art Online was a great anime. If the show only had the first arc alone, it would be fine yet it would still have bad characterization. The second arc could’ve gave the show an extra subtitle, but whatever… it still doesn’t add much to the show but it makes the experience far more inane yet more watchable than the first arc just to see how stupid it can get. But here’s the thing. There are more arcs after the first two which are yet to be adapted in Sword Art Online’s second season. The next arcs involve Guns and the Underworld according to their titles in the light novel series. Which makes the title “Sword Art Online” a little more questionable now that “Guns” are thrown in during the third arc. Having different settings with each arc wouldn’t be a bad thing if the title were different and a little more creative. If there is something that’s not even an anime, and not a TV show or movie at that, there is a very well known video game franchise that’s sort of similar in not keeping the same formula from game to game, and that is The Legend of Zelda, what makes the series work to me and possible other gamers is that the games are different from game to game for most of the time. Ocarina of Time was treated as a coming of age game but with an epic atmosphere in it. Majora’s Mask took place in a parallel world with Death as a motif in the game. The Wind Waker’s landscape was mostly water, Twilight Princess involved two realms, so on and so on. What makes those games work is that if you ignore the timeline, the games are treated as legends and it maintains the expanding mythos that made that franchise beloved for years. Sword Art Online kind of has standalone settings from arc to arc, but since the first two arcs had two volumes each in the light novels 25 episodes in the anime adaptation, it didn’t really leave room for me to be captivated in the worlds that Sword Art Online shows where in the Zelda games, you can play them for hours and the player can explore in any given time. Because I am comparing Sword Art Online to a video game franchise (and a beloved one at that). I am only drawing the comparisons because of how Sword Art Online plays out. It may be a silly comparison to say the least but I felt the Zelda series was a good example because it doesn’t stick with one main concept for 1 game. Sword Art Online doesn’t stay the same after one arc as well.
However, the bigger question is…Is it really that bad? In my opinion, My answer is Yes and No. I would say yes because of its poor characterization and half-assed writing. I would say no because the soundtrack isn’t too bad despite it not being a standout feature in the show, but the animation is what makes the show somehow watchable. The action scenes are the show’s saving decency in this entire package. I will give the show credit that the action scenes are watchable and can make the show recommendable just for the action. I was not expecting Sword Art Online to be a Masterpiece but I was a little surprised that the action wasn’t that bad to begin with. If this anime made you react with Angry Nerd- like emotions. I don’t blame you and I’m dead fucking serious about that. If you actually were able to sit through the entire show, then YOU’RE WINNER! But I can tell you one thing, The Legend of Asuna and Asuna II: The Adventure of the Black Swordsman left a impact that I would like to call “Cluster Fuck Online”.
Sword Art Online is available from Aniplex of America, the light novel series by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by abec is available by Yen Press. Six manga adaptations of Sword Art Online written by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by Tamako Nakamura have not been released in the U.S. Sword Art Online: Progressive, another light novel series of S.A.O. has also not been released stateside. The Sword Art Online video game “Infinity Moment” has not been released outside of Japan and I don’t expect it to
With all that said, Sword Art Online is an RPG-inspired anime that had potential because of its premise. It sadly disappoints with its sloppy writing, poor characterization and character development, its soundtrack is not too bad and the action makes it the only watchable thing for this anime. This anime may have had a big deal of hype in a ridiculous level in the past but it is no wonder why this series was controversial in its enjoyment factor. Half of it is decent, Half of it can be viewed as a virtual clusterfuck.
I give Sword Art Online a 4.8 out of 10, it is NOT REALLY GOOD!
Feel free to leave a comment after I log out of Sword Art Online
Next Time: The World!