Sword Art Online & the Squabble of Love It or Hate It – Anime Discussion (Sorta)

Sword Art Online (ソードアート・オンライン) is an adventure, science-fiction anime adaptation of the original light novel series written by Reki Kawahara with artwork from abec. The first season aired in Summer 2012 with twenty-five episodes. It was produced by A-1 Pictures with direction from Tomohiko Itō (Occult Academy, Silver Spoon, Erased). I remember watching it during it’s simulcast year and liking it for what it was. Recently, after seeing how much hate that the anime community seems to harbour for the franchise, I decided to re-watch it to determine if it’s always been crap, or if people just needed something to complain about. Even though the answer was pretty obvious, after giving it a second go, Sword Art Online is not a bad anime, by far. It’s not perfect, but it’s not a hot mess of shit either. Today, I wanted to (attempt) a brief discussion on the drama that SAO tends to incite.

Sword Art Online takes us to the near future where the most-anticipated VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) yet has finally been released. New players login to the game with VR technology known as Nerve Gear and when they get ready to logout, they discover that they can’t. The game’s creator is basically entrapped all the players into the game. Until someone can reach the 100th floor and defeat the final boss, they shall be stuck in VR forever. As if things couldn’t get any worse, players soon learn that if they die in the virtual world, then they shall also die in real life.

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Man, I remember thinking that this was such an original and amazing premise eight years ago when the anime first aired. Back then I was a very fresh and new anime watcher, but I was a voracious reader of science-fiction and I had never read or seen anything quite like SAO (Sword Art Online) then. Thinking back on it now, I feel a bit naïve and silly, but I don’t regret how I felt. I thought it was cool concept. During my re-watch, a few things occurred to me about this series, things that really confused me on why people love to hate it given that these elements actually made the series somewhat decent all around.

The animation quality is still reasonably good. There are so many scenic shots in SAO that I find to be stunning, especially in terms of fantastical environments, and the fight sequences are rendered smoothly without being awkward or clunky. I loved watching people pulling out their weapons and hacking-and-slashing their way through an enemy (or occasionally to their own demises). The virtual cinematography from this first season is about on par with medium quality stuff that releases today. A good example would be Goblin Slayer. It’s definitely not on the same level as Dororo or Fruits Basket, but for being almost a decade old, it holds up quite well.

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The plot is rather linear and straightforward for the most part, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. I like that there was a very clear problem that needed resolving because that means that the journey to get to that solution would be the main focus. Fantasy and sci-fi (especially fantasy), put out some of the best character examinations when following a basic adventure trope. It was something to look forward to.

While the characters aren’t super complex or filled to the brim with contemplative depth, they’re still somewhat interesting in their own ways as they are shown to be normal, everyday people. Some are Uni kids needing a refresher between studies. Others are old businessmen that were looking for a way to unwind after a crappy workday. For many others it was a way to be social without having to jeopardise their anti-social or introverted tendencies or break their family obligations. Whatever their lives, they were basic and boring people. Everyday, normal folx,  highlighting how the game didn’t discriminate over who it chose to screw over. Rich, poor, old, young, foreigner, local—they all got fucked equally.

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The star of the series, Kirito, is kind of an over-powered (OP) dude in the game, but he’s also not perfect or invincible either. He’s a nobody in real life who’s avoiding responsibility. In VR, he’s a broody, loner nerd who’s depressed because he’s stuck in an environment that he practically worshiped from a technological standpoint. If I got stuck in a video game and learned how easily it was for my existence to be wiped away, regardless of how much my life sucked IRL, I’d be pretty depressed as well. More so if the creator of the game was someone I admired greatly. This is further heightened by the fact that every time he made a new friend, the chances of  him having to watch them die was ridiculously high. That kind of thing can mess up anyone’s emotional capacities.

These are all fairly decent parts of SAO. If I had to pick them apart and name things that kept them from being outstanding, I would choose pacing as the first shortcoming. Instead of tossing together two separate story arcs in the first season, I would have spread out the segments somewhat and given more developmental attention to the side characters, or explore the psychological morality of being in a place where you literally can’t be punished for becoming a murderer, for the most part. Hell, maybe being able to explore more dungeons would have been neat too. But that didn’t really happen.

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Brief snippets of these aspects were given with mild screen-time. When the players eventually are released from SAO (game), it felt anticlimactic to an extent because of how it was done and what came immediately afterwards. Rather than try and fill out another ten to twelve episodes, the first season should have just ended when SAO did with some cliff-hangers, especially since the plan to continue was already fairly set in stone. The whole Alfheim Online section should’ve been a separate season as the tone is severely different. Also, it wouldn’t have hurt it to have a better written finale.

Another shortcoming was having Kirito be so damned OP and then having all the women fall in love with him. Harems are great, sometimes, but seeing other couples being impacted or being brought together as a direct result of their dire circumstances creates a much more interesting layer and storytelling dynamic than just falling in love with the hero; than all the people falling in love with the scrawny, basic boy hero. That’s boring no matter what medium it’s in.

Even with all of this stuff, I’m still baffled as to why Sword Art Online gets all the hate that it does. As I mentioned earlier, it’s far from being perfect by any means, but it’s also not a terrible series at all. It did a lot for reigniting the isekai genre and putting it on the map for people who had never heard of it until then, mostly for newbies like me who weren’t familiar with titles such as Vision of Escaflowne yet, for example. The premise led to a mass influx of stories with similar concepts being produced—some of which were written far better than SAO—within manga and anime mediums. I’m sure there are other things that I’m missing. But y’all get the gist.

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The hatred that Sword Art Online faces consists of masses of folx who are swashing in a pool of hollow complaints and whiny bitchiness out of a desire to be loud and proud at dehumanising others for things that bring them pleasure. Honest critiques of why the show sucked is a different story. I have respect for individuals who offer genuine reasons for not liking something, which can even be as simple as, “I just didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t my cup of chai.” Okay, that’s cool, bro. But when enflamed hatred is taken and used to inflict judgement and mockery onto those who disagree merely because it’s something to do, I can’t help but wonder as to how much of those same acts of chastisement are just attempts at denying self-reflective feelings and insecurities.

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That’s the tea.

All in all, Sword Art Online didn’t suck. It had some good stuff, some mediocre stuff and a a bit o’ bad stuff. It’s not an anime for everyone and not the best isekai-type series out there by a long shot, but it’s a moderately enjoyable series that I’d probably re-watch again sometime later down the road. If you hate it, great. If you loved it, awesome. If you’re somewhere in the middle, that’s cool too. Just don’t be an assbat and insult others that don’t agree with your opinions.

Good day.

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16 thoughts on “Sword Art Online & the Squabble of Love It or Hate It – Anime Discussion (Sorta)

  1. Pingback: Otaku Things to Do During Recovery: Anime, Manga, & Light Novels for July | BiblioNyan

  2. I haven’t watched SOA but I totally am with you on the whole mindset. If you like/love sometime then enjoy it and don’t let others change your mind just because they don’t like it. If you don’t like/hate something, come up with reasons as to why and have discourse, don’t result to insults and name calling to those who do like it. It will go a long way in shutting down negativity between fans and also negative stereotypes for fandoms if we could all learn from this article.

    • Toxic fandoms are pretty much everywhere unfortunately, but SAO has one of the loudest ones. It does seem to have toned down somewhat, but they get rejuvenated with each new season it seems.

  3. I’ve never watched it myself, and I don’t really have the urge to. I think the fanbase had a lot to do with it. Like, fans were acting like this was the first ever “stuck in a video game anime” and spamming it everywhere. Then when someone would bring up .hack it felt like it was either ignored or get an angry “IT’S COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!!” without every explaining why. Now, though, it seems like Kirito gets accused of being OP, so that also plays a part.

    • He is an OP character, but he’s just as likely to die as everyone else. Being OP gets you far, but only so far, and that was something in the anime I loved. It wasn’t like other OP characters who just always tackle everything so easily. Plus, it was cool knowing that Asuna was someone who could kick his ass if she really wanted to. The toxicity of the fandom really does make it difficult to watch the series as a first-timer because of all the bullshit they stir up. But, it’s honestly a great series. Not perfect, but still quite enjoyable.

  4. I loved SAO so much! Everything about it. I was really surprised years later to learn so many people hated it. While like you said, it’s definitely not perfect, it has so many good qualities. It really seemed like one of those times where everyone jumped on the hate bandwagon just because. Of course, it’s fine for those who genuinely don’t like it, but to act like it’s just some horrible show, and it should be proclaimed loudly is really strange to me. I have so many fond memories of it, and I’m so happy to have watched it 🙂

    • I agree! It’s a fun show and I like most of the characters. I mentioned this in another comment somewhere, but I liked that Kirito was still someone who could die even though he was so powerful. He wasn’t immune to being harmed or dying and that helped to make me more genuine as a character. Plus, his and Asuna’s relationship is just so cute and a healthy portrayal of mutual respect. I love it.

      • Yep, I loved Kirito as a character and that he was actually vulnerable. I also loved his and Asuna’s relationship soooo much! It was tooo cute 🙂

  5. OMG has it been 8 years? I was an anime newbie then myself – but a lover of scifi and gaming. I thought SAO was amazing. I talked hubby into watching it with me and he loved it, too. I can’t imagine why someone would really actively hate it. I’m afraid I’d have to think it was more a reflection of them than the show. But yeah, so not my cup’o’coffee and move on. I think I must somehow not be hooked into the section of the anime community that stews in such negativity. With any luck I’ll continue to avoid it!

    • I know! 8 years. I couldn’t believe it when I looked it up haha. It was a great show for what it was and I really liked my re-watching of it. I think I actually enjoyed it more on my second time watching than my first, and I feel like it’s a series I can find new things to like with each re-watch. But people just like to complain about things that get super popular, I’ve noticed. Hype brings about the worst in people sometimes, and it’s another reason I typically try to stay away from hyped things until the hype dies down. Toxic fandoms just aren’t worth dealing with.

      • I couldn’t agree more about the hype. I tend to avoid the highly hyped because it seems like when I finally get to watch them, I’m disappointed. Then I think, I’ll give it a few more episodes and I end up thinking What was all the fuss about? I chalk it up to me being weird in my tastes.

  6. I guess regardless of storytelling, what SAO was to me was that it gave me this feeling of an exciting and beautiful fantasy-like world that’s serene yet deadly. The reason its more powerful to me is because, unlike your Isekai nowadays, VRMMO isn’t an unbelievable concept, and it felt like I could imagine myself in Kirito’s shoes much better. It made me want to experience every bit of the world SAO had to offer, and I didn’t really mind that it focused on Kirito because it is his story’s perspective after all.

    Yes there were gaps in the story that could’ve made it better, but it doesn’t change what the show made me feel. SAO will always be one of the best shows to me 🙂

    • Yeah! I loved how plausible the VRMMO concept was. Like it was something I could totally see happening as well, and it was neat to see this unique spin on it. Plus, the settings, as you said, were stunning but quite deadly. I think while Kirito is OP, he’s still not completely invincible. He came close to dying so many times and it really humanises him as a strong protagonist, which was cool.

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