One series I’ve heard mixed reactions to was Sword Art Online. I have heard from different anime viewers that it was irremediably awful while others were citing it as one of the best anime the media had ever produced. Curious for the popularity of the series, I binge watched the first two seasons. After watching the series Sword Art Online, I have come to the conclusion that it is neither the best nor the worst anime I have watched. If I had to accurately describe the series I would call it wasted potential.
The first arc of the series seems very promising. In the near future technology has evolved to virtual reality where gamers can be virtual characters in three dimensional worlds. One of these gamers is Kirito playing “Sword Art Online” a popular new fantasy game. On the day of the launch, however, the creator of the game, Kayaba Akihiko reveals that there is no log out button. Each person is trapped in the game and if they try to remove the virtual reality gear their brains will be fried and they will die. The creator explains that the only way to escape the game is to beat it.
The first season of sword art online is flawed from rushed pacing and a flat romance. For some reason the anime decides to do a time skip between the first and second episode. At the beginning of the second episode a month has passed and many beta testers are hated by the other gamers for using knowledge of the game to get ahead faster. Kirito teams up with other gamers to do an attack against the boss to move on. Kirito meets a mysterious girl named Asuna and strikes up a friendship with her. At the boss battle (which I will give credit for being visually engaging with a well-orchestrated soundtrack) Kirito defeats the boss but reveals that he’s a beta tester. He embraces his role as a beta tester to be hated by the other gamers if it means that he can survive in the game.
From the second episode onward I was hoping Kirito being a beta tester would be important. I thought it would be interesting to have Kirito struggle to work with other non- beaters to complete parts of the game or face unjust prosecution for being a beta tester but those plot elements are never explored.
I was also looking forward to the first arc explaining various mechanics of “Sword Art Online” such as a magic system, different classes, combat system etc. yet those elements aren’t explored much in the series either. Instead the first season is mostly about the romance between Kirito and Asuna.
The romance between Kirito and Asuna leaves much to be desired. The reason that the romance between both is shaky is because neither are really complete characters. Both have character traits such as Asuna being kind or sweet and Kirito’s desire to survive while keeping a moral code but not fully developed characteristics. Everything is too suspiciously tranquil between both. I was disappointed that so much time was spent on the romance aspect instead of the science fiction and mechanics of the game.
So much time and effort is placed on the romance between Kirito and Asuna yet it also poorly teases the possibility of Kirito having a romance with Lisbeth in a plot point that never goes anywhere.
While the premise of the first season is attention grabbing with any degree of forethought, in the end it makes no sense. Somehow Kayaba Akihiko is able to successfully trap and capture hundreds of people in a game and not be immediately shut down or sued from the families of the people trapped in the game or that were killed from attempting to remove the virtual reality gear.
The second arc of the first season has Asuna still trapped in “Sword Art Online” even after the game was beat. Kirito discovers the same world is being used for another game called “Alfheim Online”. Kirito must rescue Asuna from Sugou Nobuyuki the fiance of Asuna that plans to marry her for her money. Nobuyuki keeps Asuna in a coma but in “Alfheim Online” holds her virtually captive. As the Fairy King Oberon he controls “Alfheim Online” and taunts Kirito to rescue Asuna. Instead of Kirito calling the police like any normal person would instead he decides to enter “Alfheim Online” to rescue her.
Aside from issues with pacing the main problem of the arc is from a love triangle. As Kirito explores “Alfheim Online” he befriends a girl named Leafa. Like all the girls in the series Leafa develops a crush on Kirito while helping him. However, she is unaware that in the real world Leafa is the adoptive sister and cousin of Kirito. The plot hastily ends when Kirito rejects her in both the game and real life. Despite its prevalence it provides no character insight, no pay off and only serves to lengthen the plot.