Mid-season Review: Sword Art Online – SAO-arc

As I begin writing this, I just watched a marathon of the first 15 episodes of the Summer hit, Sword Art Online.  I steered away from this series during it’s initial airing primarily for two reasons: 1) I hated Accel World, of the same novel author, and 2) I heard a lot about how the writing is terrible.  So really, the reason came down to two words: Bad story.  As someone who emphasizes story over anything, this is the real killer for me.  That was a time before I started this blog.  I felt compelled that I need to give proper assessment of the series for the sake of my fellow anime fans out there.  Also, I hate being a hypocrite when it comes to anime.  So here is my review on the first story arc of Sword Art Online.

Sword Art Online is the story of a boy named Kirito in the MMORPG world of virtual reality video game, Sword Art Online.  The game uses a head-mounted display that connects directly to the brain’s nervous system for complete immersion into the game.  It becomes a death game when the creator decries at the opening ceremony that all 10,000 players are unable to log out, will die if they die in-game, and must clear the game if they want to ever return to the real world.  The story follows Kirito as he survives the harsh MMO world, fearing death along the way, and eventually finding love.  Without giving too much about the story, I’ll at least say that the game is eventually cleared and moves on to the next story arc.  Which, when that is finished, I will also do a review of that as well.

Story: 5/10

Art/Animation:7.5/10

Sound: 7/10

Hako’s Thoughts:

To put it out there, I liked the dot.hack series better when it comes to the topic of anime related to MMORPGs.  Kirito is constantly protected by plot armor heavier than ten tons of plutonium.  Most side-characters are introduced only to either die in front of Kirito for forced drama, or to be near-completely shut out of the rest of the story arc.  It’s like a bad fan-fiction written by that kid that keeps making up abilities when you’re playing some imagination game at the park.  In short, what I heard before was correct. The story writing is definitely mid-to-low tier.  Even though we hate long, drawn-out character development in series, Kirito needed it during the SAO-arc.  The novels actually spend 25-chapters plus about 5-8 chapters of side stories solely on the SAO game arc.  Compared to the following 6-7 books afterwards, the novel is not too different either by way of leaving this part so short.  I think this is why Kirito becomes such a hard character to like.  I don’t feel like I grew up with this kid.  Aside from the beginning episodes of the show, he’s always saving the day.  He’s always there to make everything better.  He always has something to pull out of a hat to win.  At least Dragonball Z made Goku late to the Namek party.  There’s so much more room for character development, but all of that is pushed aside by forced drama to push the main story along and make you sad and stuff.

However, what seems to make this show watchable, is that the overall animation is pretty well done.  It’s an MMORPG, so there is bound to be fighting.  And when there are fights, they are not very static like many anime do.  Talking is done when talking is needed.  Not in the middle of battle to make the fight last longer like any shounen battle manga.  If anything, that is the one thing Sword Art Online has over my beloved dot.hack.  Then again, dot.hack is ALL about story and exposition.  Additionally, the soundtrack and voice acting does not seem bad either.  As much as I’d love to tag this with a “Return to Sender” stamp, it was still kind of entertaining in a way.  Really, if you’re looking for something with a shallow story, but nice to look at series, Sword Art Online just might be your thing.

So, should you check this out?

– Pros: Entertaining to watch for action if you turn your mind off the bigger picture.

– Cons: Story lacks depth overall; shallow characters.

As much as I’d hate to say it, Sword Art Online is watchable.  It may just be that I feel a lack of a real, concrete story is evident, but it is surely watchable.  There are two main reasons as to why I continue to watch this badly-written fan-fiction: 1) It’s animated pretty well and it is one of the few series among my Fall watchlist that actually has action movement. 2) I want to see what more BS Kirito will keep bringing in under guise of Plot Armor.  If there is anything to label Sword Art Online, it is the label of “Gateway Anime.”  Meaning, this is one of those shows you tell newbies to check out to get into anime.

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