Hailed by some as an amazing work of art, and earning a lot of good reviews when it was first released, Sword Art Online (2012) is a 25-episode adventure/fantasy anime. A special was also released, although I haven’t seen it, and a second anime has been announced.
What’s it about?
Sword Art Online is a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (bit of a mouthful). Just newly released, the game attracts thousands of players on its official launch day, but after a day of playing, they notice that they cannot log out. Now trapped it the game by its creator, Akihiko Kayaba, and the others learn that a death in the game means a death in real life, and the only way to win is to beat all 100 levels of the game. One of the players is Kazuto Kirigaya, going by the name of Kirito in the game, who was an original beta-tester, and the main character of the anime.
The art in Sword Art Online is of a high quality; I really liked all of the character styling, and the action scenes were all animated well. However, what the art in this anime does best is bringing the virtual world of Aincrad, the name of the world in the game, to life. Whilst setting an anime in a game is not an original idea, the world in the game of Sword Art Online is so absolutely fantastic, with so much attention to detail, I find it next to impossible to fault. Even the world in the second game (I won’t tell you too much about the second game because of spoilers) is beautifully put together. I really liked the idea of the different races in the second game, and the fact that they had different skills. The anime’s soundtrack also fits in well with the art, and truly brings it all together.
I already mentioned that this anime does action scenes well, and there are quite a few action scenes scattered throughout the series. These scenes are tense, exciting, and overall enjoyable to watch.
Another thing I liked about Sword Art Online is that there were enough death scenes to give the anime a real tragic touch. These scenes were done very well and are quite emotional, although they only took place in the first half of the anime.
Let’s get the biggest and most noticeable negative of Sword Art Online out of the way first; its plot, particularly the second half. However, I first want to point out some pacing issues that occur in the first half. Although it took a while to get used to the massive jumps in time between episodes, I think what the writers were attempting to do was better than the alternative. However, what this pacing does is sabotage consistency with characters; many are in it for one episode, making the tragedies in the series a little less powerful than what they could be. However, despite this, the plot still held up pretty well… until we got to the second half, where it crashed and burned terribly. The plot became disjointed and inconsistent, which is a shame, because it could have explored some interesting territory. Not to mention there’s some distasteful fan-service and the development of Kirito’s little “sister”, Suguha, both of which will leave you feeling a bit gross. By the time the series concludes, everything’s all over the place, plot devices are laughable, and I was pretty much just waiting for it to end.
Another problem I had with this anime was in terms of characters. I initially really liked the female lead, Asuna Yuuki. It was good to see a strong female character; someone who was potentially as tough as Erza Scarlet from Fairy Tail, but less intense. However, once the romantic relationship between her and Kirito develop, she turns into a boring, useless, typical female character- yawn. Meanwhile, Kirito was so much the “perfect hero” that he was boring. Don’t get me wrong, he was far from unlike-able, just uninteresting. Because of the way I felt about the two main leads, it’s not surprising that I found the romantic relationship that develops between them to be pretty generic, although I do admit it’s nice to see an attempt at romance in an anime of this type.
Finally, I feel that the anime could have done much more in terms of exploring the psychological effects of being trapped within the game, as well as how the characters dealt with it once they were free. Although briefly touched on, this anime could have been so much more if the creators had put a little more time and effort into it.
Art: 9/10: Fantastic throughout the whole series, with action scenes done particularly well.
Story: 5/10: Although not perfect in the first half, the second half destroys any chance it had.
Characters: 5.5/10: The mains are generic, and the other characters don’t get enough screen time.
This anime had a lot of appeal, and definitely delivered in terms of the setting and action. However, it lacks in plot and characters. Perhaps I expected too much after all of the hype it received? I felt that the short-comings of this anime were not enough to combat the excellent visuals. It’s not a terrible anime, but it’s not amazing either. You will probably enjoy it if you are a gamer, particularly if you like role-playing games, but overall I give it a 6/10.