Um yeah. Sword Art Online. While it doesn’t beat Guilty Crown as “trainwreck of the year” for me, it still is a show I had very mixed feelings about. In order to explain why, I’m going to have to diverge a bit from my normal spoiler policy, though. I won’t outright spoil things, but I do have to say things about the plot progression here and what happens at certain stages. Because Sword Art Online has for me been the prime example of jumping the shark for the past half year.
Like Guilty Crown, SAO is what happens if you focus your series way too much around your male lead. Thankfully, Kirito is an actual character. A bland one, but an actual character, rather than a plot device. It’s nearly everything around him that’s a plot device instead though. The first half of the series however thankfully has enough to make up for it.
I mean the setting behind this show is fascinating: you’ve got an MMORPG that traps its own players. Wonderful! The despair of the people who are trapped inside it for an incredibly long time was great. A unique culture evolved that was really interesting to watch. Add that to great fight animation and a great climax, and you’ve got a very solid story. For the first half.
The show’s problems already shine through in the first half, but not bad enough. By far the worst issue I had was the harem element. Picture this: you’re on an mmorpg server. The females are in a big minority. And yet, nearly all of them end up falling for Kirito, the lead. He’s the first who truly cares about them when he meets them, he’s the first who makes them feel comfortable, even though he’s a completely antisocial guy. Yeah, this is wish fulfillment that is pretty thinly veiled. Kirito’s sole salvation here is that he actually ends up in a very good couple, and that the chemistry between him and the female lead actually works. The lead female is strong, and they complement each other quite well. The combination between action and romance works out quite well as the first half goes on and gets to its climax.
So yeah, the second half… it took about two episodes for me to completely give up hope on this series afterwards. That arc is just so inherently wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to really start.
But imagine this: the bland male lead is happy in a couple. Then the female lead gets kidnapped for an entire season, and he starts flirting with his cousin (who he grew up with believing her to be his sister), leading to a completely pointless romantic quasi-incest subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere. Seriously, nearly the entire second half of this series is dedicated to just that, rather than the much more interesting other things aobut this series.
The second half is also littered with plotholes that this show just pulls right out of its ass, just to be more convenient and make the plot go as intended. It’s just too spoilery to go into details, but items appear from out of nowhere, the games in this series are riddled with design decisions that just boggle my mind, characters act irrational for no reason, and half the time this show doesn’t know whether it’s in a virtual world or not, which gets really annoying. Oh and the villain there. He’s one of the most stereotypical evil villains I’ve seen in a long while.
Thankfully this is an A-1 production, so the graphics look good and the fight animation is very creative. Yuki Kajiura behind the soundtrack is also solid, although with this series she really starts to reveal that she has run out of inspiration and that all of her music is just starting to sound the same.
Sword Art Online gets a lot of love. I don’t think that it deserves that. Sword Art Online also gets a lot of hate. And I also don’t think it deserves that either. Sure, its second half is pretty bad and all, but it does have its things to make up for it. Its setting has its traces of brilliance, and the first half was pretty solid there. Nevertheless. There’s better out there. It’s just too flawed to really recommend. The only thing I’m really angry at this series for is how it disrespects its female lead in its second half. That’s the one thing that I really find unforgivable. Apart from that the second half is just bad storytelling. Nothing more, nothing less.
|Storytelling:||6.5/10 – Good build-up, but waaaay too many plot devices.|
|Characters:||6.5/10 – There are some interesting characters here, and the lead couple is quite good in the first half. This show completely disrespects the female lead in its second half by having her kidnapped, making her do nothing and have the male lead head off to a pointless incest subplot.|
|Production-Values:||8,5/10 – Great animation. It’s overall a very solid looking show at the very least.|
|Setting:||7.5/10 – The show gets some points for being interesting and having some really nice ideas. It loses points for not making any sense. Especially in its second half.|