*Minor spoilers ahead*
This may be the most difficult anime to review that I've ever watched. Sword Art Online has a unique distinction among anime that I've watched over the years. I don't think in my 5+ years on this website have I encountered an anime that simultaneously contained elements of the greatest and the worst that the medium has to offer. Sure, I've seen shows start out promising and crash at the end; on the other hand I've seen (more rarely) shows turn around from being poor to mediocre to being my all time favorites. SAO doesn't really follow either of these patterns but rather will have elements that on one hand are interesting, mature, and well developed and then just five minutes later fall into a trap of tired cliches or poorly executed storytelling. If the problems that plague Sword Art Online were to be summed up in one word, by far the most appropriate one would be "inconsistent."
There isn't much that I can say about this anime that hasn't already been said. It's one of the most reviewed anime on this website already, so let's get the obvious out of the way. What have people said about Sword Art Online that's been beaten to death?
- "There is some really amazing art in this anime which truly brings the world to life in a way that I just can't take my eyes off, it's well thought out and wonderfully designed giving your eyes a nice treat!" -Mike154698
- "The second half is where the show really fails in writing" -greyseyboy
- " To say [Kirito] is a wish fulfillment character could be considered an insult to Mary Sues everywhere." -Seabound117
- "his main love interest Asuna despite here (sic) badass introduction just ended up being a generic tsundre who hates kirito, then loves him, then pushes him away, then cooks for him, then they kiss and get married in the span of around 5 episodes." -imarebel
- "introducing one of the most hated anime characters in years, Nobuyuki SUGOU" -ashman711
- "I also could have done without the incestual love that happened. What happened to the action packed first season? It was replaced with this emo-like, too ridiculous second." -jypsyjulia
- "Yuki Kajiura is a master at soundtracks, and a lot of the soundtracks she used perfectly captured the moments of the story, and when the plot line was failing or not creating as good a mood, her music helped punctuate the moments perfectly and arouse such emotion and connection with the characters." -Kaltos
- " If you look past the flaws then this anime would probably be one of your favorites, but if you truly analyze it, it is packed with many plot holes and a weak story." -Moparty
And these are just samples from a fraction of the reviews out there for this anime on this site. So what do I have to add from here? A few things:
- Neither Kirito nor Asuna were nearly as poor characters as I had initially expected. Sure Kirito is still the definition of wish fulfillment, but he's a character who still has to deal with struggles both actual and moral. Up to the point of the inevitable deus ex machina that seems to bail these characters out of bad situations the development of these conflicts were quite interesting and allowed me to invest in the characters more than I thought I would. For example, the development of the conflict of interest between wanting to return to the real world and staying in the virtual one was well done and generally well thought out rather than simply a recitation of one liners from similar scenarios in other shows. Asuna becomes a damsel in distress by the end, but I enjoyed her interactions with Kirito when she was actually a character and not just an object for the hero to save. Hopefully we see more of the former going forward with the story.
- The good moments in SAO make it worth watching, but the mind boggling nature of the bad moments also contribute to its watchability, as long as you're tolerant of a little absurdity. At times the bad moments in the anime dip so far and so ridiculous that they can generate "bad movie moments" or things like the scene in Troll 2 where they're just so poorly executed, come right the heck out of nowhere, and are never mentioned again that you can't help but chuckle a little. I'm sure this wasn't intentional, but it did allow some of the weaker parts of the anime to be more tolerable. I'm not saying every negative part of the anime is like this; there will still be some cringe-worthy moments and times you're yelling at the screen for its stupidity, but there will also be times where you'll think "that's so ridiculous it's actually fun."
- I'm not a huge fan of the character designs themselves (they're very generic), but I do like their wardrobe. Cosplayers everywhere rejoice!
- Yui is so freaking cute. I can't explain why but I absolutely adore her. She's not really even that good of a character or even particularly unique, but when she shows up the show gets 100% better. Seriously.
Sword Art Online is an anime that you have to watch with either a complete blindfold to its flaws or a healthy amount of skepticism to enjoy. In other words, you have to be a fanboy and completely ignore the obvious flaws of the show or simply take the flaws as part of the experience and be a little disappointed that the potential that the anime initially sets up and the hype surrounding it doesn't quite match what the anime actually delivers. That said, I enjoyed the anime enough to be invested in the franchise and will be watching the second season when it comes sometime this year.