I know that I’m a bit late on the uptake on this one. I had stopped watching anime for a while as no new shows had really caught my attention but I finally decided to dive back into it and started on the hit show.
The story follows Kirito, a Japanese boy who was a beta tested for a new virtual reality game, Sword Art Online. At the game’s official launch, its developer appears and reveals that there is now no way to log out of the game and that all of the players are stuck inside the game until somebody can complete it. If anybody dies in the game or has their headset removed then they are killed in the real world.
I love the concept of SAO. As a gamer myself there is a lot that appeals to me about the setting. It gives the show a massive scope but sadly it doesn’t utilise it. The characters are stuck in the virtual world for two years and clear 70+ levels but most of this is completely glossed over. We are told about efforts to clear the bosses but see very little of them. Instead the show focusses on individual adventures that bare no real importance to the world. Kirito will meet a girl, help her through a personal issue then move on. Things get a bit more focussed on the bigger picture around episode 8 but by then so much time has passed and they are nearing the end game.
The characters are also nothing special. Kirito is bland and every other character is underutilised. The people that he meets don’t matter. I expected him to help them then they reappear later in the series to repay the favour but this never happens. The lead female, Asuna is portrayed fairly well at least, being a kickass woman with the most emotional depth shown but even she feels too much like a background character at times.
The show falls short of its potential in almost every way. An example of something that annoyed me with this is summed up by the character Klein. He is a occurring male character who helps Kirito out yet never really does anything. In one episode, a mentally broken Kirito gives Klein an item that can resurrect dead players if used 10 seconds after death. I expected this to be important but it is never shown again.
Half way through the first series they beat SAO, (through a case of deus ex machina), and return to the real world. Asuna is trapped in another virtual world though so Kirito enters it to save her. Only in this game the players can log out and can die without penalty so all tension of the show is lost. We are given a completely unnecessary love triangle and Kirito blitzes the game without effort. There are a few cool moments but mostly it feels rushed. The final confrontation does redeem some of this though.
Season 2 follows much the same pattern of a really tense, absorbing first half then slowing during the second half. The Gun Gale Online arc is a cool twist with an interesting story. My only real fault with it is Kirito being overpowered. It is a new game with new skills and experiences to master but he is instantly the best player in the game. That said, the character of Sinon is introduced and she feels a lot more developed then many of the other side characters.
Then after that arc’s conclusion the show shifts to focus more on Asuna, presenting a more emotional story over the usual action oriented stories that follow Kirito.
All of this might sound like I am being very negative towards the show. There were definitely lots of little things that annoyed me and I feel disappointed that it wasn’t better but I still enjoyed it. It succeeded in pulling me back into anime. The motivation of some of the characters for being in the games are interesting and feel relatable to me as a gamer.
All in all, it is a solid show that could have been so much more. Don’t be fooled by the internet scorn that it has earned since becoming popular. It was over-hyped but still deserves a watch.