The original premise, cool ideas, and basically anything good this anime had going for it were slowly squandered the first 14 episodes, and utterly ruined for the second half of the show, leaving a smoking ruin of one of the worst ‘could have been great’ animes I have seen in a very long time. The only reason I dont give it a 1, is because Saikno was SO bad, I cant rate anything 1.
Let me state, I did not have utter hatred for this anime, actually the first episode was pretty cool, I was feeling it. Had the anime ended at ep 14, I probably would call this an above average anime, maybe like an 8, it had a few flaws, but overall pretty cool. The problem is EVERYTHING they had built for the 1-14 was completely, utterly discounted and destroyed, and the wreck of the anime is became struck with the force of a mack truck and never ceased until the anime was concluded.
Essentially, the plot is a ‘Battle Royale-lite’ people are trapped in a game, and unless they beat the game they are stuck forever in the video game, if you die in the video game your brain is fried in real life. Now, there were a few points with this that detract slightly from the first part: namely that 10,000 people are trapped in this game, and apparently there is zero outside concern, no police raids on the servers, no demanding the creators let the people out, no changing the programming to allow people to not die, nothing. Oh well, so within the narrative, the only major problem of the first half is that for an overall serious tone, (people dying, committing suicide out of hopelessness etc) there are about 2-3 pure comedy episodes- it really disrupts the flow and takes away from the atmosphere. Again, had the anime ended at this point, I’d give it about an 8, and probably recommend it to friends…but oh no…what it becomes is a nightmare more frightening then the darkest nights of hell.
The understand what makes this so bad, it is important to delineate 4 characters: hero, hero’s girl, hero’s cousin, and bad guy. Whereas the first part was the player vs this merciless world, just trying to survive the very first thing the 2<sup>nd</sup> half does it proceed to annihilate the entire narrative it had just created, ‘sword art online? That was a joke.’ (actual quote>) “(the maker of SAO) was a fool”. Ok, so, the 14 episodes of battle royale lite were just discounted within a single episode, I have some vaguely sexually-dysfunctional pyscho business man (bad guy) as the new threat…and everyone is running around as fairies? Hero’s girl- who in the first part was a pretty decent heroine, a tough fighter, caring etc- is now regulated to living in a cage, crying repeatedly for the next 12 episodes.
EVERYTHING good about the first part is gone. People no longer die in the game. There is not big bad (now replaced by a very cardboard villain you know is going down) to fear any more. Hero’s girl- a fairly above average character in first part- completely nullified. Perhaps a quote in the show best describes its own irony ‘nothing is more boring than watching someone else play an rpg’. Which is what part 2 is. We have the over-powered hero stomping his way through meaningless battles as the ecchi and violence mysteriously continue to scale upwards as the episodes march on.
A good example of everything wrong with part 2, is the existence of hero’s cousin. She is in 8<sup>th</sup> or 9<sup>th</sup> grade, but constantly played for sexual tension with hero. The writers try to make it seem like there is a chance of some love triangle of hero deciding between the two of them, yet they repeatedly let us know hero would never abandon hero’s girl. What we are left with, is perhaps the most characterized person in the show doomed to what the watched knows will never happen. It is not tragic, because there was never the hope to begin with, it only comes off as wasted potential because this character we actually know the most about is doomed to second-class citizen status despite the show telling us otherwise. The cousin showed emotion and depth, but it was all so pointless because there never was a true chance in the plot for anything to take root.
The lack of direction in the second part can be demonstrated by the constant genre switches the show goes through. In part 1 it was consistent: rpg survival game in fantasy world. Part 2 ranges from happy fairy flight time, to near Berserk levels of violence, ecchi harem animes, to one disturbing episode seemingly ripped out of a hentai. The hero is not consistent either. He feels like a younger kids protagonist, not particularly thought out, not really driven by anything, shallow persona that changes as the plots dictates. Within a single episode he will go from blushing and rubbing his chin with his eyes closed to raged-induced fury killer a la Guts, leaving behind bloody bodies almost as high as Berserk or Elfin Lied in insanely violent killing sprees unseen in the first half.
The first part was pretty good in a concise way: try to survive against this seemingly unbeatable foe, finding love amidst the terror, shared sacrifice etc. The 2<sup>nd</sup> a mess of a love triangle that never was, watching some guy play a fairy rpg, a bad villain, and the heroine of the first trapped in a cage. What meager characterization existed in the first half is totally gone in the 2<sup>nd</sup>. A side character is lucky to have about 2 lines, and when the main character doesn’t talk much, that means most of the lines go to the cousin we want to cheer for despite knowing it is doomed to fail.
As if to epitomize the series inability to decide where it is going, after unsatisfactorily resolving the ‘love triangle’ with his cousin, the entire final few minutes of the series is the cousin and hero, very confusing as to why hero is not together with hero’s girl, instead ending with the cousin he had abandoned, instead of the girl he had chased for the entire 2<sup>nd</sup> season.