I finished watching all of the episodes of SAO and I went to the web because I was curious about what others thought of it. It seems like it has been pretty popular overall but I was suprised to see many reviews tear this anime apart. So, unlike myself, I decided to step up to the plate to defend what I felt like is one of the best anime series I have seen in over 20 years of watching anime.
I have played several MMORPGs in the past, but this is an anime, not an RPG. Even if it is based on the premise of an MMORPG, expect to enjoy it as an anime and not a game. If the story is good and engaging, I could care less if some of the rules of the imaginary MMORPG seem weird or contradictory. It's a cartoon. If I wanted reality I would not be watching a cartoon.
Second of all, I admit that it seemed a little weird to see a romance theme between first cousins. So I decided to do a little research and found out that not only is marriage between first cousins legal in Japan, it is legal in many states in the US as well. I am a father of three and am not married to my first cousin (nor would I want to be) but it seems that this is not altogether that uncommon contrary to the comment on some reviews that this theme was disgustingly incestuous.
I felt that the personalities of the main characters were complex and showed substantial growth and development throughout the series. I felt that the romance between the main characters was well-paced and didn't appear rushed at all to me. In the end, this anime seemed to me to be more about love and personal development than an MMO and there were some real tear-jerking moments. So-called "filler episodes" include important character development and important plot points that are often re-introduced into the later episodes. Animation is on par with some of the best anime I've seen. Opening and closing sequences were fun and nothing to complain about.
Yes, the story is a bit cliche. But often cliche is tried and true. I would rather have cliche than some of the bizarre polt twists and strangeness that may make some other anime "high-rating". I feel that the story line reaches epic proportions. If you are looking for a solid anime that illustrates both the light and dark sides of human nature under pressure with a flavor of fantasy and online gaming, well-concluded with a heart-warming ending and without bizarre plot twists, this is highly recommended.