Perhaps the most controversial anime of 2012 was Sword Art Online. This anime became a phenomenon; the revival of the MMORPG-anime genre since the .//Hack series. I can also thank this anime’s protagonist, the almost-perfect Kirigaya “Kirito” Kazuto, for inspiring net gamers to use “Kirito” as their in-game names and the countless Kirito cosplays around the world (he’s almost as mainstream as Miku!). Also, since Sword Art Online is an adaptation from a light novel, I’ll be making heavy comparisons between the two. So, let’s move on to the review!
The idea of Sword Art Online (well, the first arc) was genius. Trapped in a net game where death means death in reality and the only way out is to clear the game. Armed only with swords and armor, gamers must clear floor after floor till they reach the 100th floor, where the last boss resides. It’s your choice to go solo or join a group; a display of anarchy at its finest. So…men, women, traps… to arms!
So… what were you expecting? (virtual) Bloodshed, agony, angst, and a dramatic conflict of emotions and godlike sword battles? Wrong! You get a bunch of characters and play house with them! Screw the battles, screw the awesome “survival game” premise, let’s just make a harem! Oh, and to add more fun, let’s make the perfect love story with the heroine and protagonist! But what about the battles? Let’s just make them 30-seconds long and let the protagonist have Deus Ex skills, like the boss insta-kill.
Great job, you succeeded in making an anime adaptation that has let down the true fans of the light novel. Now, how about a part-per-part review?
As I mentioned before, Sword Art Online has terrible plot. The anime uses too many time-jumps which creates plot holes. How the hell did Asuna fall for Kirito if they only met, like, only twice? And then they get married all of a sudden? If it’s about Kirito’s level, the only plausible reason is that it’ll be boring as hell watching him grind mobs over and over. The time-jumps also affect Kirito’s character. In episode 1, he’s a wimp. In episode 2, he suddenly becomes close to a god. In episode 3, he became emo. What the hell?
Most of the storyline is not about battling; it’s more about having lolis and girls falling head over heels for Kirito and the “married” life of Kirito and Asuna. This completely defeats the main premise and creates an impression that Sword Art Online is more of your generic moe harem anime instead of the sword-slashing action anime which we all expected. It’s like they’re trying to create the perfect “love story set in a survival game”.
The second arc was just as terrible as the first, although it did show improvement. The idea may not be original, but at least it followed the light novel. They did not use too many time-jumps this time, which gives a clearer storyline. But again, the amount of Deus Ex Machinas in this arc is too damn high! Kirito just went from Beta Tester to plain cheater, he can miraculously cast high-level spells, and he suddenly has Heathcliff’s login ID? And the spotlight is too focused on Suguha, the busty imouto-cousin who everyone loves. Kirito seems to have forgotten about Asuna for the early parts of ALFheim and decides to spend time with his cousin. Still nothing compared to the light novel.
But, the main reason I gave plot a 1/5 is because they deliberately eliminated Jotunheimr, the secret dungeon in ALFheim, which holds the secret of raiding the World Tree.
The characters are the worst part of Sword Art Online. You can barely see any character development. Kirito, in Aincrad, was almost a god. With a Unique Skill, the knowledge of a Beta Tester, and a “cool” attitude serving as a chick magnet to boot, Kirito is the living embodiment of what every net gamer wants to be. He is shown without flaws, which kinda ruins the anime. I personally hate perfect protagonists because I can’t relate with them. On the other hand, Asuna is a flawless beauty who everyone (mostly creepy otakus) wants to have sex with. She’s pretty, can handle a rapier, and can make sandwiches? Marry me please! Together with Kirito, they are the main couple of the story. A perfect couple. But they barely spend any time together! Asuna is also just a target for fans service both in Arc 1 and Arc 2. She’s a cool beauty rivaling Octavia (Tears to Tiara) in Arc 1, but she suddenly gets turned into a helpless prisoner who gets NTR’d by Sugou in Arc 2.
The other female characters like Sachi, Scilica, and Lizbet… well they are literally “side characters”. They only get one episode each. I feel sad for Scilica, since she’s my favorite. They meet Kirito once and instantly fall in love with him. What kind of world is this?! The male characters are barely mentioned. Egil, the items shop owner, only appears when Kirito needs something. Klein, Kirito’s first friend, is nothing but a benchwarmer. The other side male characters only appear once and die afterwards.
In the second arc, please welcome Kirigaya “Lyfa” Suguha, who will serve as Kirito’s buddy throughout ALFheim Online. By “buddy”, I mean “fans service slave number 2”. Her character, Lyfa, is an oppai blond elf, nuff said. She’s Kirito’s cousin who has a crush on him, but she knows that only Asuna is in his heart. So, she decides to become a slut, stealing chances with Kirito before he gets to Asuna.
Now, on to the bad guys. In Aincrad, the ultimate bad guy was Kayaba Akihiko, but it turned out he was just a lunatic trying to create his own world. The side antagonists are simply too weak to be mentioned, as they die by Kirito’s blade. In ALFheim, Sugou was the bad guy who reminded me of cartoon bad guys like Mr. Crocker and Death Laser in “The Fairly Odd-parents”. They were evil, they had their desires, but they were just too funny. Sugou is the same. He’s basically a perverted salaryman who wants fame and glory in the world. But, man, you should see his hilarious face in episode 24! He turns from mastermind to a mere creep.
The characters in Sword Art Online are pretty bland and lack development, nothing to see here, moving on…
Yuki Kajiura is a large name in the anime music industry, and her score for Sword Art Online is pretty amazing. I love the main theme of Sword Art Online because of the epic feeling which reminds me of Final Fantasy. “Crossing field” sung by LiSa is also my favorite, and to boot, LiSa is one of my favorite musicians, next to YUI. The other songs are average, except “Overfly” by Haruna Luna. The soundtracks are played at the right time in the anime. The main theme during the boss fights matches the fighting and gives a feeling similar to facing dragons in Skyrim.
Graphic Artwork (4/5)
The characters are well drawn… but the best artwork goes to the landscape. An endless blue sky, verdant plains, dark dungeons and a fantasy forest… that’s what an MMORPG should be like. The still images of Kirito and Lyfa standing below a vast sky is perfect for a CG. However, animation quality drops during battles. The battles use too many still-shots and not much dynamic shots of Kirito actually using his sword skills. Also, when the battle speed gets high, animation quality starts dropping. Who could ever forget the hideous distorted face of General Eugene when he was blown to bits? Nevertheless, there were times when the animation really shined, especially during episode 2 and when Kirito fought “The Gleam Eyes”.
The anime suffers from plot issues and bland characters, not to mention the overuse of Deus Ex Machinas. The plot was very poorly executed despite an awesome premise and idea. The characters were just “there” and most of them passed by like blips of lights. The light novel does it better. However, the music was not too bad and the graphics were just right. Still, the animators should have paid more attention to the story, as it is what makes or breaks an anime, especially if its an adaptation. I’m fine with the anime, but I won’t be recommending it to anyone; I’ll be recommending the light novel instead. Sword Art Online in a nutshell: Swords, check. Online, check. Art, nope.