Sword Art Online(SAO) is unique with Attack on Titan(AoT) in being recent anime that are able to capture a big western audience, even with those who aren’t that into anime. In the 90’s Pokémon, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Naruto and more where able to do this, and while all of those are still airing or have received reboots recently, outside of their already established fan bases it doesn’t seem like many people are talking about them anymore. I was originally going to write about why I think SAO and AoT are overrated but, not only do I hate using the term overrated when talking about something completely subjective I also couldn’t think of anything for AoT. I thought on it for a few days and all I could come up with was “it’s enjoyable but I don’t like it nearly as much as others do nor is it the savior of anime.” which wouldn’t be interesting, especially when I can think of many things I don’t like about SAO. Keep in mind, if you like Sword Art Online that’s good on you, I have nothing against you. Hell, I found enjoyment in both seasons and I also like shows with huge debates waging on if they truly are as amazing as popular opinion says (Clannad) so it would be very hypocritical for me to attack you on it. I also have no intention of changing anyone’s mind. If I do, fine. If not, that’s fine too.
First I’ll go into the things I like about it. Its first arc (this spans episodes 1-14 of season 1) usually called the Sword Art Online or Aincrad arc is enjoyable. I’ve been told Log Horizon and .hack both do it better but there’s still something appealing, as a gamer, about being trapped in a video game. Aside from one-off episodes in western cartoons this was my first exposure. I also enjoy Asuna and how she’s not portrayed as the stereotypical anime girl, woman or gamer girl. Yes she does some things that fit into those three but I personally find it more realistic (and enjoyable) than her being a total opposite. Overall, aside from the filler episodes and rushed nature (weird partnership) of fitting a lengthy time-frame into a short one, I enjoy the 1st arc. I also enjoy Mother’s Rosario (episodes 19-24 of SAO II) to an extent. I’ll go into this more later. I also like how it switches things up with guns in Phantom Bullet (SAO II 1-14), Asuna as the lead in Mother’s Rosario instead of Kirito and, to and extent, the large cast of characters. I still have few more positives but they’re hard to get into without going into my negatives so let’s move on.
I can never remember the official name for the second arc of SAO (episodes 15-25), I also call it ALO after the game they’re in but I think it’s Fairy Dance or something like that. Anyway this arc is a total mess. It introduces incest with Kirito’s sister/cousin having a crush on him, starts the trend of annoying irl friend of the heroine of that arc, starts SAO’s descent from decent action-fantasy show to generic fantasy harem (I love how many people I see fight against it being called a harem, look it up and tell me how Kirito does not have a harem) and, probably worst of all, turns Asuna from a badass fighter kicking gender roles in the balls to “Oh when oh when will my man come save me!”. Yes she tries escaping and yes it was a crazy person in love with her that kidnapped her but did the writer really run out of ideas by the second arc they had to resort to one of the most tired tropes in fantasy stories?
As I mentioned we’re also in basically a fantasy harem now. Look at it, main heroines; Asuna, Suguha, Shinon. All have a crush on Kirito. Side characters; Keiko and Rika can also both be added. When I watch or read a harem I always look for something unique as each season has 3 or 4 I have to wade through. Recently Monster Musume I watched for the humor, Nisekoi I started with finding interest in the mysterious key and continue because the characters, while nothing special, I find interesting and work well together. Maga-Tsuki again humor but also the thought of literal goddesses fighting over generic harem protagonist #879. Sword Art Online has… They’re in a game? So? There’s nothing special about that anymore as there’s also tons of fantasy harems such as DanMachi or Chivalry of a Failed Knight that don’t take place in games yet have elements clearly based on one as well as being more entertaining harem (although DanMachi drops the ball near the end). I guess long arcs that don’t really focus on the harem is unique but other things such as Clannad do that too.
My main issue is Kirito himself. He starts off cocky which is fine enough but as a protagonist I never worry about him. Why? I don’t think he’s ever once actually been in danger of losing or if he was it was in an area that didn’t matter. Compare this to other series with super powered protagonists. There’s the obvious Dragon Ball but as I know nothing about that I can’t comment. I can on One Punch Man and Medaka Box however. One Punch Man is about a superhero so strong he wins every fight with a single punch. Obviously he’s super strong but the point of the show isn’t “oh no! I’m worried if Saitama is going to make it through!” it’s a parody of the “super strong” protagonist filling shounen manga and anime and it’s more comedy. In Medaka Box Medaka can’t lose. Again though, the point isn’t to make you worry if Medaka can win or not, it’s to pit her against weird mind games as well as making the other not so strong character fight though battles. The fact twice SAO has pulled the “If you die in game you die irl” card as well as how it hypes up “final bosses” they obviously want you to worry about Kirito but I have a hard time when both those arcs have a “look how powerful Kirito is!” early on with Aincrad’s “Beta Tester” and Phantom Bullet’s dodging game to win a ton of money.
My final issue with Kirito is he never really changes. He get dual wielding but then what? He can fly in Fairy Dance but that’s a game mechanic and he only can in ALO. He gets a pistol in Phantom Bullet but mainly uses his light saber knock-off. I can understand the show is called “sword art online” but what has Kirito learned since dual wielding that he actively uses? I’m sure I’m forgetting something but these kind of moves shouldn’t be forgettable.
Overall Sword Art Online does have good points but it is no where near the perfect series I have seen a vocal minority hold it to nor is it the savior of anime. If you enjoy the series even with all these points that’s great! Part of being a fan of something is accepting and pointing out it’s flaws. As previously stated I didn’t write this to change anyone’s mind. I wrote this to explain my points easily as I have been asked why I don’t like it and this post is currently over 1200 words which obviously is far too much for Twitter. Anyway I hope you enjoyed this editorial and hope you stay tuned for more I have planned.