Odds are that you’ve heard of Sword Art Online if you have any interest in anime. Before Attack on Titan came along, it was basically the most hyped anime to come out. It went viral instantly and suddenly everyone knew about it and really enjoyed or disliked the anime. It’s only natural that I would see it at some point and the plot sounded like a lot of fun. The show got off to an incredible start, but the ending was incredibly awful. Time to see what happened!
The plot revolves around a kid who goes into an virtual video game by putting on a headset. It’s like the Oculus Rift, but a tad more futuristic. Once he enters the game; Kirito realizes that he cannot get out. The programmer decided to get rid of the log out function and the only way to escape this place it to complete the game. If a player died in the game world, then they will die in the real world as well. Luckily, Kirito played the Beta version, but will that be enough for him to complete the game on his own? Either way, the rest of the players will be trying to head for the goal as well and the minions are not unlimited so they may have to fight for EXP. Let the games begin!
Arc 2 takes a different route as the SAO nightmare is not over. Some of the players never returned and Kirito is forced to head into a dangerous video game in order to tie up loose ends from the first arc. He’s going to do whatever it takes to make things right again and he is helped by his sister. Kirito and Suguha do not know that they are teaming up in the virtual world and just assume that it is a stranger. (Despite Kirito not even bothering to change his real life design from his online one…) No matter, they just need to complete the game!
During these two arcs we still manage to have some time for filler and the pacing can get a little rough. While some episodes may technically not be filler in the first arc, they definitely feel that way. We get a multi parter about a mystery that wasn’t very interesting and we even take time to see Kirito take a day off from saving the world. There’s also a random quest so that Kirito can get a new sword. Some of these plot points come back in a big way and others don’t really need to return. It can also make the story a little harder to follow because the timeline keeps jumping all over the place. Episode 8 may take place after 6 but before 7 and it boggles the mind. It can be complex in a good way, but it can also feel a little out of place. Kirito will be mopping the floor with everyone in one episode and then getting beaten up with ease in another.
Kirito is a pretty good character and his voice actor in the english dub did a terrific job. It’s easy to root for Kirito because he’s such a noble character and he always wants to help. He does have some iffy moments that detract from his coolness such as his ungraceful effort in helping Asuna get away from her bodyguard and the whole romance angle seemed to take him down a few pegs. He’s typically at his most hardcore when he’s alone. He was awesome during the first few episodes and he was pretty likable in Arc 2 as well. He’s pretty unforgettable and he finishes the show looking pretty good. He’s not going to be the greatest protagonist out there, but he’s good enough.
Asuna can be a little disappointing in this show. I’ve heard that she’s a whole lot better in the novels so I guess we’ll see about that, but her role in the anime isn’t great. She gets to fight the final boss of Arc 1 in a sense, but she doesn’t do well. She’s a high ranking member in the army, but she still needed help to get away from one of the underlings and we rarely get to see her fight any of the opponents. She has some good fight scenes, but they’re typically just against minions or she’s just supporting Kirito’s attacks. She needed a bigger role and it doesn’t help that her Arc 2 role is pretty sad. So, Asuna isn’t a bad character, but she’s not as tough as I had guessed.
Sugou is terrible and he’s the main villain of arc 2. His picture that’s shown above really depicts how awful he is. The creator of Sword Art Online technically destroyed many more people and basically committed genocide, but he’s still more likable than Sugou. He still had some dignity and humanity left in him. Sugou crosses all of the lines that he can and I’m just glad that the anime didn’t feature any puppies for him to try and kick. He’s pretty despicable and you can’t even appreciate him as a villain. His reasons are all very petty and he’s a very sad person. He single handily managed to drag Sword Art Online down with him towards the end of Arc 2, which shows how awful he is. He may be the worst final boss that I’ve seen in a long time!
Heathcliff is the big general of the army in Sword Art Online. He can fight, which is a step up from most of the commanders that you may be used to seeing. He is an excellent fighter as it turns out and he is one of the only guys who can give Kirito a challenge. I can’t say that I really liked him, but he wasn’t a terrible character. He doesn’t really have honor when it comes down to a fight though and that’s where he loses major points for me.
Skull Reaper and Gleam Eyes are only two of the epic enemies that appear in Sword Art Online. Arc 1 definitely had some fun opponents and I give the anime props for giving them a horror feeling. The backround music was perfect for when Gleam Eyes appeared and Skull Reaper’s design can give anyone chills. I also liked a Phantom that attacked the heroes in one of the episodes and his stats were off the charts. The heroes really didn’t stand a chance against him. It’s rare that we get to see monsters act as big bosses anymore so it was fun to see them.
Suguha is the main heroine of the second arc and I can’t say that she was terribly likable either. In a sense, she’s similar to Asuna in personality, but she’s not as powerful. This doesn’t bode well for her and she doesn’t really get any big fights in the show. She has magical abilities, but they aren’t good against the stronger enemies. She also has a lot of drama in her human form and I could have gone without that subplot. Just tell Kirito that they will have to be rivals and leave it at that. She can fight pretty well in the human world which is good. If not for her subplot, Suguha was actually a decent character. I’m sure that she’ll bounce back for the sequel.
Yui became a main character once she appeared early on during Arc 1. She’s not a bad character although she doesn’t really add anything to the plot. She does provide Kirito with someone to talk to at times so it is a good way to advance the plot without monologing to one’s self for no real reason. Yui has some pretty impressive abilities that help out the heroes as the show goes by. She jokes around a lot with Kirito and friends, but ends up coming through when it counts.
There are other characters that I could mention like Grimlock and Sigurd, but they don’t really feel major enough to warrant their own sections. Even the red haired guy from episode one vanished for a long time before briefly reappearing. Kirito also joined a squad during one of the earlier episodes but I can’t say that they were super likable. They should have listened to his expert advice! (Still an emotional scene though) There are plenty of characters in SAO, but I can’t say that most of them are likable. The bartender is a nice guy and he’s probably the best from the minor supporting characters.
So, what happened to the show? Sword Art Online’s first episodes were awesome and I was probably going to give it a low end 8 or a very high 7. Unfortunately, that’s when the random mini arcs popped up to give us some romance and a really boring mystery. A lot of the episodes didn’t really feel like they had a point. I only liked it when they’d work towards getting up the tower and Kirito’s epic fight against Heathcliff. That being said, it was definitely still a decently high 7. The arc also ended on an epic note and that’s where the series should have ended.
Then…arc 2 came along to blow the show up. If you thought that Guilty Crown imploded towards the end..then you need to see this show to see how you truly mess up an anime. I actually did not mind the beginning of the second arc…for a few seconds. Once the plot started and we find out what Asuna’s fate is…things quickly went down. The villain gets away with just about everything and Kirito can’t stop him. (Which is the main problem. We get that villains are evil because they’re the villains, but we don’t need to see how evil they are. After a certain point, it just makes the villain completely unlikable. I also prefer when the hero is able to stop the villain before maximum damage can be done. In this case, the villain lasted too long and accomplished too many of his goals) Kirito should have brought a camera and sent proof to the police between matches or just knocked him out and locked him up until he can get proof. (I realize that the second option isn’t feasible, but Kirito needed to do something!) Instead, it’s back to the gaming world.
The actual game is pretty interesting and it’s visually better than the Tower from the first game. Flying is a nice addition and Kirito even got to keep his level ups, which means that he’s still very powerful. Unfortunately, that’s when Suguha’s subplot comes into play and we get some plot twists about how related they are. Making matters worse is Asuna’s subplot, which we keep seeing over and over again. We know that she has absolutely no hope, but the anime keeps on showing this to us until it’s burned into our memory. Kirito’s plot was pretty good, but we can’t ignore the subplots.
Things went to ground zero during the final episodes as the main villain got two octopus assistants that were pretty awful. There was also a very unnecessary plot twist about some of the other players from SAO who weren’t able to get out in time. Time to give the show a dark twist eh? How did the police not notice this? Finally, Kirito meets up with the villain and things don’t go very well. It’s time for Kirito to realize how powerless he is and the scenes are cringe worthy. After that, we get to see Kirito’s super rage moment as he sadistically takes the villain on. Finally, the online game ends!!!! The final episode definitely leaves off on a happier note, but Kirito must be crazy.
After those two traumatic experiences..I’d never go into a virtual world again. I don’t know how they’re still legal after those two huge controversies and unless someone needs his help; Kirito should stay in the real world. In that respect; I definitely didn’t care for the ending. I was just relieved that Arc 2 was over. I really hope that no future SAO arc is that bad. The first one was amazing and the second one was downright awful, which means that they basically cancel out as far as the rating goes. Luckily, this isn’t an unusual thing. Soul Eater, Accel World, Samurai 7, Railgun S, Guilty Crown, Naruto (to an extent. Like 50+ filler episodes in a row…..) and many more have suffered the same fate. Sword Art Online’s just happened to be a little more drastic than the average show, but it can always bounce back. The sequel does show a lot of promise and adding guns to the mix could be nice and exciting.
The animation in Sword Art Online is also impressive and you can tell that they put a lot of effort into the show so that it would look good. The fights are always very flashy and exciting to watch and the show feels new. I have a feeling that it’s one of those shows that will never really look old. It’ll age pretty well and 20 years from now it’ll still be able to match up. Everything from the character designs to the backgrounds look very good.
Again, I have to stress how great the fight scenes were. The one thing that I really did enjoy in the second arc of Sword Art Online was the fight scenes. Kirito’s match against the Red group’s commander was excellent and his final battle against thousands of flying minions that came out was spectacular. Arc 1 also had it’s share of incredible fights. They’re some of the highest budget fights that you’ll see out there and they have the right amount of flashiness to coincide with the swordplay. The music just amps up the epicness for these scenes and Kirito is a solid protagonist to root for. All of these factors result in really great action scenes.
Unfortunately, SAO does have some fanservice. It’s mainstream so it’s probably expected that they would add some, but it’s still sad. It’s not a whole lot, but the small scenes to add up. They typically involve Kirito and Asuna or just Asuna. The scenes typically come out of nowhere and some are practically there just so that they can have the stereotypical scene where the main heroine gets jealous. The scenes will likely make you wince, but that’s the effect that they always have so it’s not surprising!
Sword Art Online’s soundtrack is very good. It has some very nice theatrical sounding themes in it. The fight against Glimmer Eyes started with a great theme and even Kirito’s quick assault against the guy with the shield had a good fight theme. There are mainly 2-3 action themes that I liked in the first arc and another 2-3 in the second. The show definitely excelled in this area and the soundtrack deserves 5 stars.
It’s time to finish up the comparisons to Accel World. Now that I’ve finished both, I can safely say that Sword Art Online feels higher quality. They definitely put more budget into it and the soundtrack/animation really show this. That being said; Accel World rules the school when it comes to fight scenes. Nothing can stop Silver Crow’s big fights. They’re fast, epic, and awesome. They’re some of the best fights in anime history and you won’t be forgetting them anytime soon. Combat Animation goes to Accel World. Overall animation goes to Sword Art Online. Soundtrack goes to Accel World. It’s tough, but Accel World takes the slight edge here. Both of them die out in Arc 2, but Accel World’s wasn’t nearly as drastic. So, it wins in Arc 2 and Sword Art Online wins Arc 1. Overall, Accel World wins. Still, Sword Art Online had the better main character, which helps to even the odds. Accel World ended up being the better show for me, but they both do a good job of showing how tough it can be to have games with such high stakes. (Accel World deserves a sequel!)
Overall, Sword Art Online is a tragic tale of an anime that ascended to great heights and then lost itself in the blink of an eye. The soundtrack and animation are terrific and I really enjoyed Kirito as a main character. His english voice actor is currently my favorite as he even passed Ichigo’s. I highly recommend watching the first arc and by then it’s hard to stop without finishing. Just be prepared for disappointment as you start the second arc. No matter how bad and unrelated to the title of the show you may think it is…it’s worse! Getting rid of the second final episode of the series would have bumped the show up to a 6 and just getting rid of the Asuna subplot in Arc 2 would have jumped it to a 7. Ah well, these things happen and I have much higher hopes for the sequel. (Guns vs Swords…the ultimate question!) On that bright note….I’m off!
Update. This is the kind of series that gets worse and worse as you remember it. It’s been a little over a year since I reviewed the title and would give it more of a 1-2 thanks to just how bad the ending is. Seriously, this is one show that you Do not want to watch!