Sword Art Online Review

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Now, I’ll be honest and say that I only watched this show because I thought it would be a neat challenge to deconstruct, since I like to do that with most things that are popular in a given circle. But this is probably the third most problem infested thing I’ve ever tried to review. The answer is both simple and complex as to why that is, so here’s my answer. With no actual images from the show, other than the best part. The random purple slug-men-rapists… I am not really making that far of a stretch. If only that were the rest of the show.

Sword Art Online Review
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Length: 25 episodes
Availability: CrunchyRoll

The initial premise of Sword Art Online is that by the year 2022, Virtual Reality(VR) will be something available to the middle class, and it was primarily used for the purposes of making MMOs. Because why wouldn’t we use this technology for video games above all else? And after the release of the first major game to use this feature, Sword Art Online, 10,000 people are unable to log out of the VR simulation. If they do, the VR helmets would microwave their brain. And the only way to get out is to beat the MMO and get to the top floor of its 100 levels.

Now, a question might have appeared in your head while reading that. One, why would you enable a VR headset to microwave someone’s brain? And two, how would someone even enable this? Or better yet, why? You answers are up in the air. It is just accepted and never questioned that VR headsets would be able to fry your brains. Hell, the ability for them to rewrite brains was also mentioned. And the cause for this is all centered around a plot point the writer never thought of. And it just serves to create a villain, who I refuse to believe could ever run a company without a barrel of panties as his chair.

SAO Purple Slug 3

Okay, so the base premise is faulty, but what about most episodes?  Well, for the first fourteen episodes, the series coasts through about two years worth of events that happen in this MMO. And keep in mind that they are trapped in a game, mostly because the writers didn’t. Where we learn that despite being trapped in another world that must have some sort of uncanny valley effect, despite how they boast it being “realistic”. No one is really all that offput by the whole thing, and start to try and go through the game. Resulting in a mismatch of poorly explained lore, one episode characters, massive time lapse with no external information, and the realization that Sword Art Online would be one of the worst games ever.

Going through the list that encompassed four pages of typed notes before I gave up on the show being a better story than Master of Martial Hearts, minus the disgusting factors. Here are some things that the show does not explain, in a list: What does food do? What does sleeping in game while the actual people are in two year comas do? Why when people die, and they die for good, they disintegrate into crystals? Why does food have a degradation effect? Why, for the love of god, do they move their finger to navigate a style breaking menu, when this is thought controlled? How do stats work? What does an inn do? How can 10,000 players fit in the same world that must be several dozen thousand terabytes.

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How do skills work? And how are there “unlimited” amounts? How does the very well choreographed sword fighting work? Why do some characters obtain skills unique to them alone? How does combat work? Why are their status inflictions that could paralyze players for a good minute? Why is there turmoil in guilds when the cause is the same? Why would anyone become a criminal by murdering other players? And why is their first person HUD given a CRT effect to it? In fact, how do they have a HUD, when they would have this streaming into their minds? Why is there only one scene with a horse? Are mounts in this magic-free fantasy MMO? How much server power does it take to render photorealism in an MMO, with thousands of enemies and players at the same time?

How does the quest system work? Why is it never used later on? Why can’t everyone get together and fight a boss at once, instead of 50 guys trying to do it every time? Are there customizable armor sets? Is this world about 5,000 squared kilometers? Why would anyone ever make a game that big? Why does this game take over two years to beat, when people are working on it 24/7? What is even the goal of this game? Is there any story beyond social interactions? Because that is absurd! What is suppose to happen when players die? Because their inventories seem to just vanish as they turn into sparkly triangles. Why wasn’t this show about the cat people dragoons? Why can players manipulate taxes over NPCs? Taxes are not fun. What would they even go to? Why is the game’s tutorial just a player’s handbook? That is awful design!

Okay, that’s about the first page of four done! I think you get the idea. I can accept minor problems in the lore, but this is just unforgivable from any media. I should not need to look up anything to get your story, unless you are obviously basing it on an event, culture, or another work. And all that before we get to the characters.

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The two most main characters are the inevitable couple of Kirito and Asuna. Both of whom are good battlers in this combat focused game, and prefer to work alone or as a duo, rather than be involved in guilds, as far as I could tell. The characters who do the standard thing of falling in love because of… Yeah, I don’t really know, I think they like each other’s personas more than anything, and they do have a long relationship. But I never found either of them appealing, namely Kirito, the main character. owing substantially to how he seems to be among the best of the players in the game, and is apparently so damn good at it, he manages to break pretty much every game he is in.

I say “every” game, because after the midpoint in episode 15, where we learn that being in a coma for two years can be recovered in two months. Despite starting the series as a 14 year old, he never truly ages by the way, Kirito does not need any more school. And that through her sole character trait being that she is not big on MMOs, preferring to be more physical, Kirito’s cousin, but she’s like a sister, starts playing another VR MMO… Yes, after 10,000 people were trapped in a game, and several thousand died, there is still an industry of VR MMOs, with the one shown being a mod of Sword Art Online… How did the world not flip its shit when this happened? It take another incident to shut down the industry? That might mean something, except we never saw the world’s reaction to the MMO that could kill people! But it’s okay, we’ve got a circle that can read your brain better than any helmet with less microwaves!

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But it get’s dumber. It turns out that Asuna, a character who I barely mentioned, because I don’t view her as a person as much of an object based on the way the story is told. Was still trapped in another VR MMO, for reasons that boil down to that some dude wants to get more money after already owning a major electronics corporation. And he’s also willing to invent brian control helmets out of video game peripherals… Wow, just saying it makes it seem like I can stop right here.

That’s not all, we’ve got a semi-incestual relationship between Kirito and his female cousin who meet in the second MMO, and get a semi-romance going on… Japanese media, I know this is common stuff, but it doesn’t amount to anything much, and just goes against the sister’s one trait of not liking these MMOs. Why would she try them after they nearly killed her brother? Next thing you’d know is that the show brings up racist behavior being reinforced by video games…. Oh for the love of!

In the second VR MMO this series covers ALfheim Online, where there are 9 species of fairies one may choose to play as, although they don’t give you any info on how they work. Despite how there is an ongoing race war between the nine, where players automatically assume that other players must be assholes because they chose the fairy dressed in black. And they are divided, because the ultimate goal of the game is to unlock the ability to infinitely fly for your whole race, because normally you can only fly for ten minutes at a time.

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In other words, the ultimate goal of this game is to unlock the no_clip mode for your species. Perfect motivation. And it is a clear example for why this would work in pretty much anything but an MMO. If this were a fantasy world, I would get the appeal, the necessity of being racist pricks. But an MMO that discourages class mixing is nearly too dumb to elaborate upon.

The lore in the ALfhiem arc is actually modestly solid, but when you remember that it is a person from 2025 larping, everything just ends up looking momentous stupid. No, they are really players who run economies and wage virtual wars over trade routes, in an MMO. No clue why anyone would play it for that, when only nine players can do anything.

But it goes on. Why would admins need to write a goddamn letter to tell someone that they were stripped of their right to be a species? Why, in a VR simulation, would you need a controller to control yourself? There is so much “What” in that question alone to become an entire paragraph. When if this were just a show set in a world similar to these games, I’d just need to ask a one word question: How?

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What should I really expect from a show that believes that teenagers would love to raise a child who had brain damage and the body of a twelve year old? Or that they would not tell each other’s names or ages until they know they’ll be gone for quite some time? Not much at all, I suppose. And even less after the villains are revealed to be somewhere below the intellectual level of Team Rocket. By hiding their evil plan for monetary gains inside of a goddamn video game. Not that the show likes to remember that, since it tries its hardest to go against things that are necessary in games. Like following coded actions. And not giving people the power of heart so they can break the game.

When your previous storytelling decisions make anyone have literally no expectations for your show from any given point afterwards, that just harms anything good that could come from it. Sure, I watched the last five episodes after giving up all hope, but my opinion was static, because of how much of a narrative hole it dug. It was so bad that I was not surprised when they did the two rape scenes. One of which involves an older man talking to someone about how they will rape her teenage comatose body.

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Seriously? Even the rape scene I wrote had more class than that, and it ended with cumming on a corpse that was set on fire due to a sex overload! And then the rapist at least apologizes later on! She didn’t lick her victim beforehand and make their lover watch! There’s being ballsy, and then there’s just being unpleasant and licking a digital vagina in a video game. How was that even programmed?  Sorry, there I go assuming this show knows what programming is. It doesn’t even get how servers work! Let alone rules and limits, because it’s the Power of Love!

But if I had to say anything positive, I do like the presentation. I can see why many would like this show, and they do. Because the world is very neatly presented and it takes the storyline seriously and tries its damn hardest to form a cohesive world out of all of this. Bad CGI bosses excluded. Character designs are sharp and range in a nice assortment of colors and at times lovely imagery. Despite the main character always being in black as of episode two. And the battle sequences are nothing short of excellent. But visual prowess can only assist on established ground. A wonderful animation style can make the shows more fun to watch, but they can hardly save something with as many narrative and establishing issues as this show. In fact, it’s actually pretty much the Final Fantasy XIII of anime when viewing it from that angle.

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I could’ve on for literally hours about how this show falls flat on its face. They are never colossal mistakes, but when I am baffled every two minutes over the combined course of five hundred, I just can’t help but care any more. In many ways that is the worst thing entertainment can do, provide something so unstimulating that the viewer just doesn’t give any level of crap about what they are viewing. The idea is not fully original, but there is a lot of promise in it. But good ideas executed poorly just make the ideas look worse. And in the case of Sword Art Online, it made the idea look unsalvageable along with the show.

I like to think that everything could be fixed, and while there is a lot of good in Sword Art Online, there is at least ten times as much bad. It is not the worst thing I reviewed, but being 25 episodes of this sure puts it up to the number two spot. I’m not disgusted with the idea of people liking it like I was with Master of Martial Hearts, which is the only thing where that is the case. But I’d sooner look at something from that show’s studio than the inevitable second season.

Poor (4/20)
Barely any good in the product, often just being stupid, boring, or unbearably uninvolving. Might have some neat bits to learn from, but the title is rarely worth your time beyond that.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Voltech

    Ah, nothing puts a smile on my face like a post full of highly-valid nitpicks. Still, if only there was a set of lines that fully summarizes and encapsulates the experience…oh, wait, hold on.

    “A wonderful animation style can make the shows more fun to watch, but they can hardly save something with as many narrative and establishing issues as this show. In fact, it’s actually pretty much the Final Fantasy XIII of anime when viewing it from that angle.”

    Ah. Say no more. I completely understand…and sorry you had to sit through this series.

    1. Electnigma

      Trust me, I plan on going through the entire Final Fantasy XIII trilogy eventually. I’ll probably end up looking back on this with a longing for the sensibility of this show. Seeing how I am sent in a fury at the mere sight of Lightning Returns. But SAO is still in the top 3 worst for me, and I was able to give up, at least until the very misplaced rape… No clue why that was even added, other than making the villain look unsympathetic, so he can then become sympathetic. I know what I just said there, shame the writers didn’t!