In the year 2022, on the opening day of the virtual reality MMO game Sword Art Online, hundreds of players are trapped within the virtual world, unable to logout. The only way to escape is to clear all 100 levels and their respective bosses. While this concept had potential, the anime was poorly made, resulting in a huge letdown. Sound and animation were up to par, but the story and characters were terrible.
SAO has so many bad points that I almost don't know where to start. One of the problems I noticed after watching a few episodes, is that there are too many episodes that add absolutely nothing to the plot. These "side stories" feature absolutely no real character develpment. Sure, one tragic scene (that really don't feel tragic to the viewer) impacts the main character later on, but it doesn't feel real enough for people to relate to. By the time I even started to feel a connection to Kirito, the show was almost over and there were so many other bad aspects that I didn't care.
The "tragic scene" I speak of refers to a moment in one of the episodes in which some of Kirito's friends die. While that one its own may not seem bad, the problem lies in the fact that they died in the same episode they were introduced. This prevents viewers from developing an emotional attachment vital to making deaths dramatic. The entire episode really feels like one big plot device.
Speaking of plot devices, I lost count after the twenty fifth one. That may be an exaggeration, but there were quite a few. AI with admin priveleges wandering into the game? Still alive when your health has dropped to zero? Stats being transferred from one game to another? Copying your conciousness into a video game server? What the heck?
There were also plent of unexplained concepts that leave viewers confused about the virtual world like: Why do they need to eat? Why do they need to "switch?" There are plenty of questions and few answers unless you want to read the light novel.(...okay, I'm a fan of the LN, but I admit even the LN doesn't answer EVERYTHING...I even admit it's not that great. It simply has better pacing because reading is slower than viewing. But it's much more entertaining to read it than watch this failure of an adaptation.)
Back to the problem called Kirito, he is a Mary Sue. If you don't know what that means, it is a term used to identify characters that are overpowered/have a tragic past/liked by everyone/defeats the villain single handedly/becomes a martyr/etc. A complete list of Mary Sue traits can likely be found through google. (Basically every mainstream manga protagonist is a Mary Sue) What's that? Almost every main character has at least one of those traits? That's right. Many protagonists have one or a few of these traits. They become a Mary Sue when they have too many of them. Kirito starts off too powerful from the onset, he practically creates a harem (that includes his cousin -_-), has powers nobody else does, single handedly defeats both antagonists, and the list goes on.
The instance that truly shows how lazy the scriptwriters are is the ending of the first arc. Kirito asks Kayaba (antagonist) why he did what he did, and he answers "I don't remember." Talk about ridiculous. I was hoping the series ould improve over time, but it seemed to get worse.
SAO is divided into two arcs. One feels extremely rushed, with the studio attempting to put too much into 15(14?) episodes. The second stalls, with many useless scenes and catering to Kirito x Suguha fans (and once again, they're COUSINS). And yet with all its faults, the second arc did one thing right that the first didn't: it showed life in the real world. It could have been done much better, but at least they included it.
One of the biggest negatives in my opinion is the ending when the antagonist tries to rape Asuna. That scene felt very forced and while I understand the emotions the show tried to convey, it came out more like a desperate attempt to make Sugou looks bad. After all, he barey had any screen time before that, except for a few scenes of him saying "Asuna's mine. Hahaha." or "I'm gonna make you my wife." Kayaba, in that regard, was a much better antagonist. While Kayaba had even less screen time than Sugou, the grief he caused through his game created much stronger emotions in me against him, than his succesor. What they should have done, was make Kirito's friends trapped in the nerve gear as test subjects, and show them being tortured during tests. That would have made Sugou a much better enemy, in the eyes of the viewer. (But of course, they decided to instead focus on "Sugu's sugus." Phrase not coined by me. XD google it if you're curious)
While I'm talking about what they should've done regarding story (imo), I might as well talk about some improvements that could have easily been made if they hadn't been too lazy to base it completely off the source material.
The list (both the negatives and what they should have done) goes on but I really have no desire to rant about the story anymore. It's not worth the effort and I'm sure you get my point. (If you don't get the point, then let me make something clear: This list would be at least thrice as long if I dissected every episode for its problems.)
Animation, overall, was pretty good. Motions were smooth and backdrops were great. My only complaint is during fights, there were too many instances where motions occured in slow motion or a still shot was used. Otherwise, the sword swings were colorful and fun to watch.
While they are not my favorite songs of all time, there was a point when I was addicted to the openings (Crossing Field and Innocence). They have a catchy tune and a fitting tone for the series overall.
The endings, in particular the first one (Yume Sekai), tended to break the mood created by the cliffhangers throughout the series.
I wasn't focusing on the background music, but considering I can't recall a single instance in which it was effectively used, I'm going to assume it was poor. Sound effects, on the other hand, were well done. (An example of an anime that efffectively used background music is Code Geass.)
When I saw the title to this anime (back when I knew nothing about it), I thought maybe it was a fantasy anime where people learn to fight using swords online (hence the title). That sort of premise sounded ridiculous so I decided to disregard it.
Then I saw people raving about it, on anime forums and youtube videos/comments, so I did a little research. With the general synopsis I read on ANN, my initial expectation for this anime was something along the lines of an action/adventure anime where the protagonist forms a band of friends to fight their way to victory. Instead, I'm given a terribly paced, one man show, where a relationship escalates from rivalry to married lovers who adopt a child/AI in a matter of a 3 or 4 episodes (I believe time wise, if I recall correctly, it was about 2 months worth of time, but it certainly didn't feel like it. And even then, 2 months is awfully short.), and characters are thrown out as suddenly as they're brought in.
While I was entertained by some episodes, I was also tempted to drop it at other points. I didn't, of course, because it's my policy to finish all animes I start. A policy that can get quite annoying at times.
Quite honestly, I think there are fanfic writers out there who could write a better script than the one this anime used (which was probably 99.99% just copied off the LN). Another thing about the LN: The author even admitted that his first volume (the first arc) is all over the place and needs reorganizing.
So, in the end, I give this a 3.5 for overall quality. On a day that I'm feeling very generous, a 4.5 at most. For entertainment, I'd give it a 4.
It's only true redeeming quality is that it's created some hilarious memes on facebook.
One thing I'd like people considering watching this anime to note: A large number of the reviews rated 8/10 or higher are written by people who either haven't yet completed the series, wrote an invalid review (in other words a few short paragraphs that don't mention any concrete details for support), or don't know what they're saying (An example of this would be: Oh yeah, there was no character development but I'd rate characters 10/10 because Kirito is such a badass.). Most reviews are probably just people rushing to get a positive review listed under the reviews section, whether it is valid or not, to drown out the true, lower rated ones.
After thinking about it, this may have one more good quality. If you have a friend who thinks they're an anime addict just because they watch Naruto/Bleach/One Piece (in other words, weaboos), and you want to introduce real anime to them, this may be an ideal transition. Both mainstream anime and this one have mary sue protagonists. In addition, it has a faster pace (too fast imo) than mainstream anime, so mainstream anime fans annoyed by the fillers and stalling may appreciate this.