Sword Art Online hit the anime world with a bang. The STORY follows Kirito and 10,000 others as they log onto a new VRMMO and find that they cannot log out. If they die in the game, their bodies will die in real life due to their use of the NerveGear, a system which incorporates their body into the game. The first season, when the characters are in SAO, is fantastic. I loved watching it and wished that it could have lasted longer. I was bummed that a lot of the first half skipped the grind of leveling and jumped around a lot, but I appreciated the fast pace.
It was the second arc that left me feeling rather ambivalent about this series. I did not love Alfheim Online's world like I'd loved SAO's. I didn't feel the energy, the intensity or the panic in the new game, considering that if they died it was no big deal. I also didn't know how I felt about all of the characters being faeries. Don't get me wrong, I love faeries... I just didn't feel comfortable seeing Kirito as a spriggan. 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.
The ANIMATION, in my opinion, was really beautiful. I thought that all the characters had their own unique designs that made it very easy to tell who was who, a rare trait in modern-day anime. I also loved looking at the gaming worlds. They were both so beautiful, especially Alfheim. The World Tree was quite nice to look at as well. It did lack a mature feeling to it, however, and it also felt a bit too generic at certain points, so that retracted from its score. Beautiful, but generic.
I can't judge the SOUND, because I had to watch most of it on mute. :(
The CHARACTERS. Oh, the characters. In general, I tolerated them. Kirito was interesting, although a bit too god-like for my tastes. Sachi was fine, but I could have done without her. All of the co-characters, except for Klein, just seemed to be there. They didn't particularly stand out. The one I really loved was Asuna. She would not back down, she would not accept death. This was why, in the second arc, when she was kidnapped and turned into this damsel-in-distress. BORING! I was so sad that the kickass Asuna we had all come to love turned into this. That really ruined the second arc more than anything else.
My PERSONAL ENJOYMENT was a bit above average. I certainly finished all the episodes and my interest was piqued the entire time. I would have given the first arc a 10/10. It was the second arc that really brought this one down. I'm unsure if I want to see further episodes, but if they do make more, I'll probably check them out. I don't have much desire to read the manga, though.
OVERALL, I would recommend the first arc of this anime to everyone. Then, depending on their enjoyment of it, they could decide if they want to slog through ALO. Maybe some people liked the second arc better than the first, but I sort of just wanted them to return to SAO.
** I should probably note that I have a huge issue with the sexualization of minors. (I know what you're thinking: why do you watch anime, then?) So, I was extremely uncomfortable with Sugou and Asuna. I don't know if that lowered my rating or not.