The Love and Hate I have for ‘Sword Art Online’

Studios: A-1 Pictures, Aniplex, Genco, Dax Production, ASCII Media Works 

Aired: first season July 2012 – 25 episodes, season 2 July 2014 – 25 episodes, season 3 October 2018 – 24 episodes, season 4 October 2019 – 12 episodes (also a couple movies and specials

Score: Season 1 First half – 8/10, second half 6.5/10, season 2 8/10, season 3 6.5/10, season 4 7/10

I have a love – hate relationship with the vrmmo series Sword Art Online. You see my fellow Otaku, back in 2012 I was really just starting to get into anime, barely dipping my feet in the ocean of anime content, and not really having an ounce of a clue as to what was considered a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ series. 

At the time, Sword Art Online dominated the media landscape, in commercials, on the web, and word of mouth around school. So naturally, I picked it up to watch. I ate it up, all 25 episodes and you know what? I f*cking loved it. 

I did *nods*, I really did. At least… in the beginning. 

The premise was really cool; a thousand or so people try out a new kind of virtual reality game for the first time and find out they’re all stuck inside the game unless they beat all 100 floors of its increasingly punishing dungeon, and the real kicker is that if the player dies in the game, they also die in the real world. 

What fascinated me here was that there’s a real threat present in the anime (which added a great deal of suspense), if your avatar dies – you also die. No starting over, trying again, or reloading from the previous save. It was the first time I’ve ever heard of such a concept, oddly enough. The idea of it felt original and fresh, as if it hasn’t been done before (not that I can recall any other like it). 

Being a high schooler at the time of watching SAO, I thought the premise was so f*cking cool, like… every action could have dire consequences. And the protagonist was none other than a bad@ss swordsman decked out in black attire. 

Kirito, our protagonist shrouded in mystery, and I thought that was just so awesome. He ventured alone and answered to no one, because there’s a slim chance he could get someone hurt. Well… there was this one incident he couldn’t save a group of players from a trap room; one of them even left a Rudolph Christmas message (and it was sad as sh*t). 

Then this girl Asuna comes along and partners up with our boy for like… the first 3 floors of the dungeon. And he offers her bread and stuff and that makes her happy for… 5 minutes at most. Then they don’t see each other again for like 20-something floors. 

Err… what happened during that time?

I guess we’ll have to wait for the progressive anime to come out in 2021-2022 to find out *rolls eyes*. 

Anyway Kirito meets a number of ‘interesting’ characters on his quest to be the very best player, or get out alive, however you see it. 

He meets the ginger Ryoutarou from the beginning, who calls him cute, and that’s been on my mind ever since (it was honestly probably a translation mixup). I literally don’t remember anything else about the character besides his use of katanas and being the first player Kirito met. 

Kirito also meets the black shopkeeper Andrew; I have to mention his color because seriously he’s the only dark-skinned character in the anime, and also one of the more likable characters in my opinion. I think he wields a mace.

There’s also one episode Kirito helps the young Keiko revive her itty bitty feather-dragon Pina (don’t ask me how I remember that name) and the audience is first introduced to PK’ers (player killers), who really rub Kirito the wrong way (I mean… these are murderers after all). But anyway this quest he does basically makes her infatuated with him and she becomes this reoccurring character for no reason other than to be kawaii. 

Some point after Kirito and Asuna bump into each other again, she brings him to the blacksmith Rika to make him a bad@ss sword as black as his coat. She needs a special stone though so naturally she sends him on a fetch quest that results in the two of them spending the night together in a hole somewhere. And this single quest makes her fall head over heels for him, even legit bringing her to tears at the thought of Kirito and Asuna together.

If you couldn’t tell already, Kirito is quite the lady killer. It’s not a bad thing, but when it’s with every female he meets, it’s annoying and uneccessary. It’s a typical trope in so many anime, not exclusive to harems; the protagonist sees a female (or male) in distress, so out of the kindness of their heart (hopefully) they do one decent thing for them. And that one act of kindness sends the character absolutely infatuated, obsessed even, with our protagonist.

In reality, we should never expect something in return for helping others out, because in most cases, a “thank you” is the most we’ll get. If we do expect greater compensation that’s beyond their comfort (say… becoming intimately involved) we become a very shallow individual. 

Anyway back to SAO, I haven’t actually watched a romance before it, so naturally when Kirito and Asuna become romantically involved, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. He wants to be alone but the two of them realize they need each other to survive the sick game they’re playing. They even get married in game and buy a neat house by a lake.

To keep it pg-13 the show throws in Yui to act as Asuna & Kirito’s AI child, who basically serves as a third wheel. Then the two of them join a guild and if you’ve seen the anime you know something big happens on the 75th floor of Aincrad. 

So that’s it right? We’ve built up to this moment, give me something good! Eh… well Kirito gets to talk to the big fat meanie Akihiko for answers annnd he doesn’t remember why he did it (wonderful). Then next thing you know Asuna is whisked away into another game and held captive by the super creepy Nobuyuki to which Kirito has to go through the trouble of rescuing. 

Now this is where my opinion of the anime starts to dip downhill. The first half was great, you know, when it was about Sword Art Online. The second half… was alright except a few controversial plot points. 

So Kirito has to learn how to play this new fairy type game and along the way he teams up with his cousin-I-mean-sister Suguha (who has a huge personality by the way…).

Of course she doesn’t realize it’s him, even though his avatar freaking looks exactly like him, and she develops feelings for this character. Well in the real world she’s ready to bone Kirito she’s so in love with him, even though… they’re siblings? Is this incest? Oh but they’re actually cousins so it’s ok… but not really? 

Anyway he makes it to the birdcage and faces the villain but there’s just this one scene that really rubs me the wrong way. You know the scene… unless you haven’t seen it obviously. Kiritos basically forced to watch Nobuyuki have his way with Asuna, which of course is interrupted and they all log off the game. 

I remember how excited I was with anticipation as I watched Kirito ride his bike to the hospital, fight the baddie, and finally get to share a kiss with Asuna in the real world. But that previous scene was just burned in the back of my mind and even when the season ended it just bugged me. And it bugged a lot of viewers. I’m pretty sure the creator even came out and apologized for it. 

Then the second season happend, and you know what my fellow otaku? I enjoyed it overall. It was a very similar experience to the first season; where the first half was solid, but instead of the second half being controversial like the first season, it felt more like a compilation of side stories and arcs that were thrown in to fit the 24 episode frame. 

The new characters were a nice addition, Shino is a unique gamer who plays shooter games like gal gun online to overcome her fear of actual guns.

And the villain Red Eyes? Death Gun? Forget his name but he looked stylish and felt like a menacing presence. My favorite line from him “Are you… the real thing?” when Kirito comes face to face with him and realizes his alliance with the laughing coffins. 

The threat of the second season didn’t feel anywhere as punishing or brutal as the the first season, probably because getting killed in the gun game didn’t result in actually dying, unless it was by the death gun of course. I also thought it was funny Kirito was mistaken for a girl with his avatar’s long hair, and how he had to use a sword in a shooter game and still managed to make it to the final round. 

The best scene all season had to be the victory announcement when Shino let loose a grenade between her and Kirito and hugged til they blew up. 

I don’t remember much about the second half of the season other than the gang trying to prevent Ragnarok in one of the games, going underwater in another mission, and the really sad arc with Yuuki. 

Overall the second season was enjoyable, the third season however… felt a little dragging to me. And there was that one controversial scene that just wasn’t necessary. 

I haven’t seen the Ordial Scale movie but besides missing a few new characters I’m not sure if I’ve missed much. 

Kirito tries out an experimental game to learn more about artificial lights and bringing AI into the real world. Of course something happens in the real world and he’s left in a coma. In this new world, he’s young and has a couple friends Eugeo and Alice but sh#t happens and the two boys venture off to find their missing friend. 

I just feel like it could have worked as it’s own anime and not branded in the SAO universe. This is no longer Aincrad and none of the characters or experiences we’ve seen in that world carry over to this one. It’s just Kirito and friends trying to overthrow a character who learned of the game’s rules of the world. Asuna and friends don’t add much to the season besides wanting to get Kirito out of the game. 

Some of the action sequences were nice, but that one controversial scene with the two r@py students almost having their way with their underclassmen was just not necessary and overall I felt bored. 

The fourth season just continues off where the third season ended, and this time Alice takes center stage and I kid you not the first half of the season sets up and initiates a war between humans and non-humans. If you don’t like swordfights and lasers, this isn’t the season for you.

Then familiar characters actually make an appearance in the second half and it gets a little more exciting. Our boy Kirito comes back and literally everyone reacts in such awe and wonder that he’s back in the fight. 

I have yet to finish this season, I believe I’m on the last episode. From the sound of it though I’m not sure if the studio is going to continue with this timeline in the anime. 

What I have heard though is that the series is going back to the progressive arc, meaning way back in the beginning in SAO but a literal floor by floor walkthrough, because the original anime skipped through several floors, leaving us wondering what happened during that time. It also adds more opportunities to show Kirito and Asuna’s developing relationship as well as flesh out the other characters. 

This could be something to look forward to. I personally miss that part of SAO and look forward to seeing what they do with it. 

Thanks so much for reading! 


By: The Shy Otaku 

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