Notice: I wrote a novel-wide rant about SAO and the word count does not help to post it all here. So read the whole thing in the following links:
Here is a link to our epic podcast regarding this show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1PBROnJT2c
Ah, Sword Art Online (SAO), how much I hate this show. Not because I am jealous of it being more popular and a much better seller than my favourite shows, but because it hardly deserves its hype and popularity. This is the most overhyped and overrated series of 2012, proving once again that the majority of the anime fandom is tasteless people who deify fan service and then try to excuse that by deeming everything as deep and quality writing. I am not kidding here; every time I was pointing out a weakness in this show while it was airing, I would have dozens of fanboys downvoting me, calling me names, and trying to excuse everything with imaginary proof that they made up on the spot. There was even a forum moderator who was deleting every negative post he could find and leave only the hyped positives remaining, thus giving off the impression to anyone reading the thread that nobody had something negative to say about this masterpiece of a show. Ok, the truth is he made a few exceptions; he left a few negative ones. Specifically, those he could prove wrong by quoting them and providing shallow reasoning, found in the realm of imagination.
At the same time these same wonderful people were bashing innovating and quality titles such as Shinsekai Yori and .hack//SIGN because they talk a lot and don’t show enough boobs. Aka, they are about context and subtlety instead of dumbass entertainment. Such is the sad state of the medium and you can imagine what type of shows they are telling the industry to make in the future. It was that retarded mentality that sort of forced me to progressively make the review longer in order to constantly shoot down every new crap they were mentioning every week in a futile attempt to defend a crap of a show. So in case you don’t like the size, blame them; not me. I am only being thorough. If the show wasn’t hyped so much by people with really bad tastes, this series would be just another mediocrity that would soon be forgotten as it deserved. And instead of that it became the latest example that I will constantly be using every time someone claims a show’s popularity is proof of its masterpiece status. I will be replying by saying “Oh yeah? Tell that to SAO.”
The premise is definitely interesting and I see why everybody would fall in love with it right away. Ten thousand players are trapped in the MMORPG where the only way to get out is by clearing the game. A nice catch is that if their hit points run out they will not respawn in the nearest portal but instead they will die permanently. Something similar is going to happen if someone from the outside world tries to remove the VR helmet in an attempt to free them prematurely. This offers a feeling of actual mortal danger and that it’s not just a harmless game. Another catch is how their avatars in the game are made to look as their real selves, so it was funny to find the usual joke of males playing females or hardly being as handsome as they appeared at first. So, think of all the cool stuff you would normally expect to get with such an amazing set-up.
- A thrilling survival/death game
- Epic battles full of buffs, spells, and elaborate strategies
- A huge variety of game mechanics and resource management of rare ingredients
- Soul crushing tragedies concerning the death of people
- Intrigue and conspiracies by those who will do anything it takes to survive
- Thought provoking mysteries considering the reasons behind why they were trapped and how all that lead to some existentialism issues regarding the meaning of life and the value of morality in a fictional world
- Relationships, romance, and sex in cyberspace (yes, it has that too)
… And sadly you only get a few crams of those. As soon as the shock from the most intriguing pilot episode is over, you are offered a mess of a plot, shallow conflicts, cop-out solutions, and lots-n’-lots dumb self-indulgence. Many compare SAO to .hack and Log Horizon, since they too are about people being trapped in a videogame. Aside for the premise though, it has by far the weakest characterization, no philosophical ramblings, no amazing soundtrack, not even a good plot. It is about videogame nerd catering, and poorly presented terminology that is there just to offer familiarity with their hobby.
“Dude! It’s this anime about videogames! Yeah they play videogames and there is this amazing world and if they die they don’t respawn. And they are trapped inside and need to beat 100 super bosses! And there is this cool dude with a huge sword and all the girls love him and he is so tragic and-and… Dude! Videogames, big swords and chicks! Amazing isn’t it?”
Yes, it is amazing. As a basic idea! How about everything else? Like, let’s say, the plot? Or character development? Action? Romance? Or consistency in the rules of the game? That is why it got so hyped; it’s full of terminology that offers familiarity to the target audience. It’s like shonen fans who like Gintama a lot because it is constantly referring stuff from their favourite Jump Shonen shows. We are living in the videogame generation and SAO was made to appeal to this generation in a similar way Gintama did to the Big Three generation, or Twilight did to teenage girls, or Harry Potter did to little kids. And sadly that is the only thing it is doing right; since aside from familiarity everything else in it is pretty much shit.
There are many of course who refused to accept the show as nothing more than a good premise, loved it and hyped it as the best anime of all times. Many viewers only stick to the superficial elements of a series and don’t care about execution, thus they can make anything to seem like a masterpiece if it just looks nice. I mean, if you shut off your brain, I am sure it will fool you to think it is a masterpiece. But if you demand from it to be more than wish fulfilment and gaming fangasm, you will be greatly disappointed.
But even if you are thinking a bit of what the heck you are watching, it is still not enough to realize how bad it is, if you are not a critical thinker. It is barely exploring any of its interesting concepts, which again looks like a positive thing in the tiny minds of its fans, since they get this way to speculate for years over what the hell is going on. Plot holes, inconsistencies, character rewrites, and stuff that simply contradict each other are somehow excused as an elaborate mystery that is too smart to get it. It’s the exact same thing that made other shonen such as Naruto or Bleach so famous. It is constantly making you have high expectations (which of course are never met) and is deliberately not making any sense so you are made to fill the blanks by yourself, using the only tool available: Imagination and wish fulfilment. It’s a very neat trick to fool the superficial audience into liking and talking about something because it is presented as mysterious, even when in reality it is simply badly written fan fiction full of double standards and vague explanations. Just like the Bible! When it suits the script, it will appeal to real life claiming OMG THIS IS SO REAL - THIS IS HOW GAMERS BEHAVE, and when it doesn’t it will run to excuse everything with random gaming terminology clichés. Thus everything is excused! It’s like someone who pretends to be a scientist but every time he can’t reply, he will say God willed it or something; thus winning both sides.
But heck, all that aside, it is so full of stereotypes and overused formulas that everybody can simply have fun with its kitsch factor. I mean, damn, any attempts at romance this show tries to have is straight from a stereotypical chauvinistic and unrealistic eroge. You can easily see why harem and vn fans will love it at first sight. You know what kind of people I am talking about; the same people you give a real book to read and give up on the third page because it is not full of boobs and has more than 100 different words repeating over and over again. And it’s the same people who called this show the most original concept ever seen in anime, when in a span of just one year we had a long list of premises about videogames and gamers in them. -> Accel World, Btooom, Ixion Saga, Robotic;Notes, and Hunter X Hunter. And I didn’t even bother to add all the others from earlier years, such as Dennou Coil, or cartoons such as Captain N, or live action movies such as Tron, Spy Kids 3D, or Game Box 2.0. NOT SO ORIGINAL ANYMORE HM?
So in a few words, you watch .hack to think about the meaning of life, you watch Log Horizon for the game mechanics, and then you watch SAO to have fun with the gaming terminology, or laugh at its eroge stereotypes. Have no delusions, the show is mediocre at best or below average if you are a demanding viewer. I happen to be demanding and seeing how overhyped this trash is only manages to make me hate it even more.
Although in terms of production values the series has a good budget, most of what is going on “in” the plot is implied and not shown. For example, we are told thousands of players died in a few weeks. We never see that, which automatically makes the whole tragedy of the event completely superficial. It would be amazing if we were shown clips of people being killed by monsters and traps since it would make their deaths more than a flimsy passage. Instead of that all we are told is that they are dead; end of story and moving along. In a similar way, do not expect to see a hundred boss fights. You will get only four, the rest are skipped entirely. Do not expect constant grinding, hard ingredient gathering, or epic battles. They all last only a few minutes and always end anticlimactically. This is not really an action show based on survival by killing monsters.
Do not expect 25 episodes of engaging plot, where everybody is constantly trying to survive, levels up, and is always pressing forward.
- The death game ends midway through the show; the rest of the episodes are a completely different, non-deadly game
- Half of the death game episodes are plotless fillers
- Half of the plot-based episodes will not be fantasy adventure in a videogame world but rather slice of life, light adventures, very rushed stories, and fan service. Meaning, the total duration of the actual game only lasts for about 3 full episodes. The rest of them are irrelevant to the basic plot.
Do not expect any real fleshing out. Everything will be mentioned for a few seconds and will never be elaborated. Despite the various explanations you will never understand the game mechanics.
- Every time someone is injured in this game, his hit points drop gradually and not at once. This led me to believe there was a little bit of time allowed to heal someone before his life drops to zero and he dies by the damage he received seconds ago. But no, the game doesn’t allow that and I had to be told you can’t heal someone if his life is “actually” zero. People in the game are simply dying with delay, just so they can have a few seconds to throw out some famous last words. This creates a very big confusion, since without being told that, it really seems like you can heal them but don’t want to, or the victims refuse to be healed and act like they want to die. You won’t believe how retarded everybody seems to act in their death throes just because they never explained this part.
- There is another part where some players have a teleportation crystal but don’t use it to escape to town when they are ambushed by other players. They act like they forgot they had one when in reality I had to be told by someone who read the novels that a crystal needs 8 seconds to activate. Without being told that in-series, it just feels retarded and confusing.
- Most said game mechanics will matter only in the same episode they are introduced. You will never see or hear about them in a later episode.
- All secondary characters do not have a role to the plot past the episode they are introduced. They will become background decoration afterwards.
- All feats the protagonist accomplices will be forgotten in a few episodes by everybody and it’s like they never happened in the first place. This trashes all sense of progress and development.
- And there are many other parts that simply contradict the way the game is played.
* At some cases it is stated none of the bosses can leave the room they guard, in some others it is stated they roam the countryside and can even attack cities.
* At some cases a crystal is said to be enough to teleport away a whole team, at others it only teleports one person.
* At one part they mention there are renegade players who have betrayed their city, but then it is stated they respawn back to their town when killed, something which makes no sense, since this way nobody would be able to escape the wrath of those he betrayed.
* They constantly say you don’t feel pain in the game, yet you clearly see how every time someone hits them, they act like they are in pain. At the same time they say you can feel pleasure in the game (aka, have an orgasm) when otherwise pleasure and pain can’t exist separately since they are basically the same thing.
* There is a barrier at some point of the game to prevent anyone from crossing to forbidden parts of the game. Nothing should be able to pass through it. And yet when someone throws a simple card at it, it just passes through with no problem.
All explanations to game mechanics or character roles are presented mostly though explanatory monologues. Meaning, they are talking a lot and show very little. We hardly see how things work out on-screen and they mostly talk about them; which is boring.
- But this is also a smart trap the series uses in order to make everything interesting. It never explains something clearly and lets you assume how something happened. You can literally explain everything any way you like and you will be right. For example, when I was pointing out plot holes in some forum, the fanboys of this show would run to excuse them by making up stuff that are not present in the show. They were talking about games they somehow / somewhere / somewhat have a few similarities to SAO and thus every game mechanic makes sense. Which of course is bullshit, since there are so many videogames out there, and one of them is bound to have a mechanic to excuse the unexcused. Every show needs to make sense on its own and not by being compared to other shows or games. But no, the fanboys are stupid enough to believe that since the anime never shows how it works, anything you say may as well be the truth. A very cheap method to hide all plot holes or even bother to explain all the rules of the game.
- Of course this trick does not work with someone as smart as me. In fact, if I play their game I get to trash them completely. So, supposed I once played something similar 20 years ago, that somehow feels relevant to a somewhat similar rule in a completely different game such as SAO… Why don’t they become giants when they eat mushrooms in the forests or throw fireballs when they smell daisies in the valleys? If it happened in Super Mario, it should have happen here. But it didn’t, so there are many plot holes in this game.
- The fanboys are again trying to excuse that by saying we don’t know how videogames will be like in the future, so it’s wrong to mention rules than apply to current games. At which point I can only laugh at. First they say they love the game terminology and now they say it doesn’t even apply. Meaning, they don’t give a rat’s ass if it makes sense, they only want to hear words that have to do with videogames. Ha! Losers.
All revelations occur out of nowhere. The protagonist will literally be sitting in a corner and without any concrete proof or actual facts he will be reaching to flawless epiphanies. Examples include how he found out the way people get murdered in towns or who the guild leader really is.
Even if you try to accept the broken rules and the unexplained gameplay as they are, everything still feels stupid as hell.
Take the very objective of the whole SAO game for example. All you have to do in order to win is to kill all the bosses. And if you think this means a lot of hard work and endless hours of farming, equipping, and buffing, you are wrong. You can clear the game without having to fight a single time! I am not kidding; you can spend years sleeping or goofing around and you can still survive. The reason is simple and dumb. Every boss doesn’t respawn! If someone beats it once, it will never return and not every player needs to kill it at least once in order to advance to the next level. Only a dozen hardcore players are enough to clear the whole game by doing the above troublesome procedure, while all the rest can do absolutely nothing. They can be sleeping in town and when they hear the boss is beaten, they can just go to the next level. They don’t even need to walk through dangerous areas in order to get to the next town since they can use an easily acquired teleportation crystal.
- The above easy method gets even easier. After a revelation happens they don’t even need to clear all 100 floors, since the game ends prematurely way before they get to the last level.
The game is also not really as deadly as they want you to believe.
- The things I mentioned above ruin the feeling of dread, since all of a sudden it is very easy to survive in this game. Just don’t do anything or go farming past the easy areas. At the same time it makes the viewer think someone who endangers himself to the point of getting killed, simply deserved it for being a complete idiot who got what he deserved. Every time someone is killed, instead of feeling sad you just end up thinking: “Serves you right for going to farm in a dungeon fifty times your level, instead of letting others with proper levels and skills to do it for you.”
- Any sense of danger is lost when you realize the system will make sure the protagonist will always be overpowered, will never lose, and be the guaranteed victor all the time just because he is the protagonist.
- Furthermore, the death game aspect that seemed so interesting at first, is completely gone in the second half of the show, since nobody really dies there; it’s just a typical MMO where you respawn as usual.
The fighting is heavily based on “switching”, meaning to jump back and forth while waiting for your attacks to cool down and allowing your team mates to storm in without you standing in their way. This makes each battle to feel silly for being based too much on tag in and tag out of battle.
Every single problem in the game is based on the exact same thing. Not being able to use crystals. There are crystals to teleport or heal and if for any reason they can’t use them, tragedy occurs. It becomes predictable early on and so every time someone shows or talks about crystals, get ready for something stupid to happen.
(read more in the link provided in the beginning)