Review by Arkada
Sword Art Online

You can either A) Watch the review in Video form embedded below, or B) read the transcript of the review. THE CHOICE IS YOURS!

Everycouple of years there comes along a show that forces people into one of twocamps. The first camp is compressed of all the people who love the showunconditionally flaws and all, and will defend the show like nothing else inexistence matters. And the Second camp, is full of people who see nothing butthe shows flaws, and cannot understand the blind acceptance of camp #1 so muchthat they ridicule anyone who does not agree with them that the show inquestion is indeed complete shit. These are the types of shows that get usuallylabeled as either controversial, over-rated, or shonen; they are also shows that loose many fans simplybecause of how extreme the fan base becomes and that to even consider that theshow is less than perfect makes you and idiot who doesn't know better. It’s like politics, you’re not allowed to siton the fence, you have pick a side. You’re either with me or with them! Whichmakes my position on Sword Art Online rather difficult; because you see I couldfinish an episode of this show, sit back and think, man that was a goodepisode! I really enjoyed myself. Of course then I have this little voice inthe back of my head, decked out in my reviewer outfit going: Hahahahahah! Ohwait, you’re serious? Let me laugh even harder, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Setting

In the year 2022, a genre of video games exist called Virtual Reality MassivelyMultiplayer Online Role Playing Games. One such game in this genre is the newlyreleased Sword Art Online, that coupled with a virtually reality helmet allowsplayers to control their in game avatars with their minds as if they areactually there living in that virtual world.

Of course everything is fun and games until the mysterious creator of SAOremoves the player’s ability to log out, trapping them in this world until theycomplete his challenge. They must band together and defeat the 100 floors of thegame before they are allowed to leave, and it becomes much more of a game whenthey are informed that in SAO, if you die, you die for real, now do-overs, norespawns. LET THE GAME BEGIN!

Astute viewers may recognize the premise’s similarity with that of the.Hack//Franchise not only because both of them take place in a virtual MMO, butbecause they both involve players being trapped inside the game unable toescape. But the differences between the two are simple one involves peoplestanding in a circle talking, and the other involves a life or death survivalgame that is F**KING AWESOME. Try and guess which iswhich.

Oneof the reasons why I believe SAO to be as popular as it is, is because of howwell it knows its audience. Whether you like it or not, on both sides of theocean a very large portion of the Otaku viewer base, are also avid gamers, andit is unlikely that they have never at one time, played an MMO before, theentire MMO genre being well known for its repetitively addictive nature.It doesn't matter what MMO you have played either, weather it be WoW, Guild Wars,Final Fantasy XII, or hell freaking Runescape, but to create a story thatcapitalises largely on the popularity of MMO’s was a brilliant idea in manycases, as it plays to the want and desires of those viewers who generally woulddo anything they could to be involved and play this game that the charactersare in, heck I bet some of them would even want to be trapped there as well toavoid the harshness of a thing called REAL LIFE. And it’s because of all ofthis that many people are willing to completely ignore the flaws that the showpresents them just so that they can keep with their fantasy. SPEAKING OF FLAWS!

Characters
--Kirito--

By far one of the more disappointing factors of this entire show is it’s characterization  and development or lack thereof, of the show’s majorcharacters.

First off is our male protagonist Kirito, a male gamer from japan who began toplay video games to escape his family and the real world. Kirito, is a powergamer, obsessed with being a strong character though also is a lone wolf andeven though plays games that are designed to be played as a group goes solo.He’s also a whiny little b**ch with Takfumi syndrome.

A lot of people have brought up the topic of how Kirito is a prime example of a“Wish fulfillment  character, and while I would rather have found a differentterm to make myself sound more original, it’s hard because that’s exactly whathe is. Everything has a habit of going his way, he overpowers basicallyeveryone he encounters, whether he should or not, he’s a higher level than mostplayers regardless of the fact that he adventures solo and not with a party, afeat of which any MMO player will tell you does not happen, he is able to completesuperhuman feats not even possible by the system because f**k it he’s Kirito,and over the course of the series develops his own harem, complete witheverything from token loli’s, cat girls, and his cousin. No seriously.

And that’s another thing, I’m not one to say that Girls don’t exist on theinternet, because they do and I know quite a few of them, but it would be safeto say that the female population of Sword Art Online would be a rather smallminority wouldn't it? Episode 01 also shows this when all the female charactersthat were shown turned out to be male characters when the big bad plot-device makeseveryone look exactly like how they are in the real world. And yet, all of thesewomen look super-hot, making me question why they were playing online games tobegin with, but also why more often then not they end up falling for ouranti-social hero Kritio for no god damn reason.

--Asuna--

Nextup is the supposed lead female character Asuna. I say supposed because besidesbeing heavily featured in the show’s opening as well as being one of the mainstory divers for the entire second half, she is one of the most neglectedcharacter in terms of development and stereotyping that I have seen in a longtime. She starts off well enough, being introduced in episode 2 as a new characterwho, even though does not know the game very well, plays exceptionally and ismore or less a complete badass. Unfortunately, by her next appearance inepisode 5 after the plot goes and gets sidelined with filler, she getstransformed from lead female badass to token tsundere love interest, withmoments few and far between to show otherwise, before becoming princess peachfor the entire latter half of the show if you know what I mean.

It’s the characterization towards her that just pisses me off, in an industrywhere strong female protagonists are few and far between, you have thischaracter that starts off with amazing potential to become something like ayoung Motoko Kusanagi sure she’s only 16 years old and can’t be exactly likethe major but something in the direction was completely possible, instead Ifeel like they pulled a Metroid Other M and just completely disrespected hercharacter by making her reliant on a man to save her. Like why do people alwaysconfine main characters of these shows into the same archetype? “BECAUSE IT’S AFUCKING ANIME THAT’S WHY, THE CHARACTERS ARE ALWAYS WHINY LITTLE SHIT CHILDREN.”

--SUPPORTING CAST--

Thesecondary characters all have very little screen time on their own, usuallyonly focused on for one episode and then forgotten to make way for themassively important character that is Kirito, the only other character to getmuch screen time is that of Leafa, a player who helps Kirito in his journey inthe second half of the show since Asuna was unavailable, and as much as I likeLeafa, she gets sidelined just as much as Asuna did with her major definingfactor being her fans vice avatar her love of Kirito despite the fact that shedoesn’t have a chance with him. And of course other things *cough* Spoilers*Cough*

STORY

TheStory of SAO is in fact the most tragic thing about the whole show. It takes aspecial something to have a premise with as much potential as this one, only torailroad everything and employ time jumps wherever possible. The first half ofthe show is by far the most guilty of this, consenceing 2 whole years of timeinto the first 12 episodes, with several months of un-used time just filling upthe in-between space between episodes, all the while the viewer is presentedwith what could be classified as filler episodes, Sure there is an overarchingstory, but it’s downplayed more or less the entire show: We have to fight toget to the 100th floor! But first we are going to help this tokenloli, and then get a sword made with the help of this chick, oh and then we aregoing to go fishing because EVERYONE LOVES FISHING IN VIDEO GAMES.

There are moments of clarity though when the story really grabs you. The mostinteresting aspect of the show early on is that of the Death Penalty, you dieand that’s it. It could have been played as an excuse to make the story lesslike a game and more like an actual fictional fantasy universe with life or deathconsequences but it became so much more than that. They spend time making surethat you feel the weight of death in this world and just how emotional losingpeople for good can be, and it’s not something that is usually focused on.

The mid-point of the show also decides to throw a wrench in everything bycompletely changing the overall plot of the show to something completelydifferent, almost as if the entire first half was just a prologue to what wouldfollow, with the second half being less fillery and much clearer in terms ofplot. Well as clear as SAO can get anyways. I can’t really explain much aboutthe second half of the show without venturing heavily into spoiler territory unfortunately.

ANIMATION

The animation for Sword Ass Online from A-1 Pictures is stunning, and it’s oneof the merits of the show that not many can argue against. In the past A-1pictures have been knows for shows like Black Butler, Anohana, and Sound of theSky, and while the production values for those shows tended to be higher thanmost, they never had the same amount of action that SAO does, and the fightscenes are where the animation truly shines, showing the vast expanses of theonline world for all to see. As well as Fan-service because why the hell not!?!

SOUNDTRACK

For those of you unaware, I am a Yuki Kajiura fanboy, and have taken to watchingshows specifically because she was the one to provide the soundtrack for it. Sowhile I would like to give her full points here for just existing I can’t,mainly because as good as this soundtrack is, and it is very good, there is nospecific song in the music that stands out to me, nothing that I would like tohear on its own without visual accompaniment, which is rare, Madoka Magica hada myriad of choir tracks that stood out, Tsubasa had Song of Storm of Fire,Guarden of Sinners had the fantastic M12+13, and Kajiura’s work on the .HackFranchise had more good singles then I can mention, so it was reallydisappointing that there were no stand out tracks this time around, don’t getme wrong, the sound track is still amazing, and when the boss battles start andthe orchestra kicks in it’s a treat indeed, but I guess I’m just used to acertain flare that I just never got from SAO. Depressing, but you can’t win allthe time I suppose.
6 by Lisa, originally I didn't think much of this opening song it seemed rathergeneric when I first heard it bot over time it grew on me, plus the song is availableon iTunes for a dollar, so go buy it.

FINAL VERDICT

Sword Art Online is a prime example of misused potential, it hooks you earlyon with a strong opening, before meandering in filler, getting off-track with athinly veiled overall story arc, and not developing its major characters aswell as it could have. And that’s just before the half way point, the secondstory arc continues the depressing downwards spiral, with numerous unexplainedplot-devices, a pointless romance subplot, and a final villain that was morelaughable then menacing, not to mention that what I considered to be the mostimportant question asked in the entire show was never answered. Why did thecreator of SAO video game trap all of those players? Was it just a game? Did hehave a god complex? Or was it more personal or deeply psychological issue? Wemay never know, unless you read the original light novels most likely. On theplus side, though the show may have plummeted from an attempted rise up themountain of Anime Greatness the ride down was to some degree, highly enjoyable,if for no other reason than to just watch the continual supply of fail, verypretty fail I might add, with a soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura and everything plus,I honestly believe that the early episodes handled the death aspect of thesetting very well and it was a real shame that they dropped the impact of thetopic so quickly. Though for the most part the ending of the whole show wassomewhat satisfying, which is more than I can say for other shows and hey theending is paramount, and it could have ended in a much worse way then it did somajor props there.

With all that in mind, I have meticulasly calculated values for thecategories of Story, Characters, Animation, Sound, and my own personalenjoyment, after which tossing it into a cage, having it escape and almost beraped by tentacles before throwing it right back into the cage has me awardingSword Art Online with a 7.5 out of 10, and a recommendation…to Stream it ratherthan buy, it’s worth the watch certainly but only buy if you know you alreadylike it. At the time of this video SAO is available for streaming over onCrunchyroll, and though at this exact moment does not have a DVD release, hasbeen licensed by Aniplex and most likely a DVD release is forthcoming, expensiveas their releases tend to be, and the show should also be distributed by Madmenat some point for those people in Australlia, if you live in Europe though yourshit outta lick for the time being, smoke em if you got em or something. As faras alternate anime recommendations, one would think .Hack//Sign would be a goodchoice, but considering that show is boring as sin I will instead point youtowards, Accel world, as it’s by the same original author, and Fate / Zerobecause I haven’t had a chance to properly recommend this show yet and thisseems like a good time because it was fucking awesome, so go watch it. And with that I leave you, until next timeladies, gentlemen and others, stay frosty.