When I first watched Sword Art Online I loved it! But once I thought more about the plot and development of characters, I felt SAO really fell short of what it could have been. Despite its issues, I still think SAO an enjoyable anime to watch. I am going to be reviewing both the first and second season separately. Please knowledge that all of this is my opinion 🙂
Season 1 | Sword Art & Alfheim
It has been quite a while since I have watched the actual series so I am sorry if some of the details are a little off.
This is an area that SAO fell very short in. Despite some interesting designs and concepts, I felt like most of the characters were very poorly developed. In both SAO and Alfheim the characters (with exception to Kirito, Asuna, Suguha, and maybe Yui) hardly got any development past first impression. I was disappointed that side characters hardly got any screen time or development throughout the 25 episodes, which could have greatly improved the series. For example, Klein could have been a great character, and I would have loved to have seen an arch featuring Klein and his clan/buddies. Instead, his character was abused and he was pushed to the side as being some sort of weak comedic relief. Even though he appears in multiple episodes, Klein hardly has any dialogue. This is also true of the other characters, like dragon girl and sword smith girl. They have no essential role in the story, despite how much they are advertised in the opening. Throughout the series, only Kirito and Asuna had some good development, and even then the series mostly focused on developing their relationship instead of developing them as characters. Yui actually has a role and purpose in both parts of the first season, which I actually liked, although her role seems to shrink to almost nothing at times, as her dialogue disappears. Overall, the characters had an interesting base, but for the most part, they were never really developed and suffered from the main protagonists domination of screen time. I also want to mention the poor and little dialogue that the side characters got. The antagonist (creator of SAO game) was actually a character that I enjoyed the concept of. Sure I find it a little stupefying that he made the game to close to no reason, but I believe that something about that aspect of his character sets him apart from the rest of the cast. Although he was a technically a weak character, I enjoyed him because he is unique to the series. The second antagonist (guy who wants to marry Asuna) is simply a horrible bad guy. First of all, his motive is weak and without a strong emotion. Second of all, he is not likable in the slightest. To make a successful antagonist, the character needs to get at least a little bit of development. Some great antagonists like Meruem from Hunter X Hunter and Tsukishima from Tokyo Ghoul are able to be likable to the viewer because they have both a motive and development. Nobuyuki (I had to look up his name) is a trashy antagonist with zero appeal to the viewer.
Art & Animation
I actually believe that the art style and animation are the things that saved this anime. If the series had terrible animation, there would not be nearly as many fans of the series. All in all, there is not much to say about the art, other than it is very well done. Much of the scenery is beautiful landscapes of the lovely worlds of SAO and Alfheim. I think both give the anime a very video game feel, while also matching the animation itself. The character animation is quite fantastic. The fight scenes in particular are close to jaw dropping. I think that the art and animation are the strongest parts of the anime.
The main pitfall of the first season as a whole is that the pacing is far too inconsistent and results in weak character and plot development. The SAO part of season one was actually enjoyable, despite some of the problems with character development, as well as some other problem that I will dive into momentarily. The story of the SAO arch is actually quite innovative and was executed in a decent way. I think the series could have been significantly stronger is the SAO arch had encompassed the entirety of the first season. If the producers had expanded the first part, there would have been more room for side character development, without milking the show. The major downfall of the first season was the large contrast in the pacing from episode to episode. The SAO arch did a decent job at keeping the pacing more even, but the Alfheim arch was a mess. In the SAO arch, there are some episodes that are significantly slower than others, but in general the pace keeps it together. Despite the strong first half of the anime, SAO takes a turn for the boring and average in part two. Part two, for lack of better words, is a disaster. Although I’m not a fan of incest, I thought some of the development with Suguha/Leafa was actually good. With exception to Leafa, the rest of the series is incredibly weak in comparison to the original SAO arch. First of all, Kirito is ridiculously overpowered, as he never dies (is this right?) in all of the Alfheim arch. Somehow Kirito is able to just defeat players that have been playing Alfheim for years right when he starts. Kirito’s overpowered character makes a lot more sense in SAO because he was one of the trial people for the game. I really hate this part about the Alfheim arch. Yes, Kirito got his stats from SAO, but the fact that he is head and shoulders ahead of everyone already in the game detracts from Kirito as a character. The pacing in the second part was also a mess. Some episodes there is a (weak) attempt at deep dialogue. The ending was actually satisfying, and tied up the lose ends in a decent manner.
I would have loved to see more development of the characters while they were actually in the game, fighting for their lives. Instead, most of the details not concerning Kirito and Asuna are rushed over, resulting in the SAO arch to end just after the halfway point. I felt the series could have been significantly stronger if the producers had expanded the SAO arch to encompass season one. The Alfheim arch fails to uphold the potential of the anime. The terrible pacing and lack of side character development really affected the quality of the anime.
Season 2 | Gun Gale & Alfheim
There are only really three new and important characters introduced in the second season, them being Sinon, death gun, and Yuuki. I’ll start with Sinon. She is easily my favorite character of the entire series and her development (throughout the GGO arch) was fantastic. She is one of the only truly interesting characters from SAO in my opinion, and I found her to be incredibly unique. Her development in the first part is unrivaled by that all the other characters. Sinon drives pretty much the entirety of the show, as Kirito is useless as ever. Death Gun is also a pretty great character, and I consider the concept of his character to be stronger than the execution of his motives. I really liked how they set up the illusion of Death Gun being just a single person, and the way the mystery played out was done well. The boy (no clue what his name is) has in interesting complex and relationship to Shino (aka Sinon). Sadly, Kirito got pretty much no development for the rest of the series. The second part of the season was terrible in terms of development for side characters (literally only Yuuki and Asuna got some development). Yuuki was introduced and I honestly didn’t care for her at first, actually I never really cared for her. Although the premise of her character is unique, her personality was quite bland and incredibly common. Her development was pretty good, but it sent the pace into a whirlpool of inconsistency. I liked that Asuna finally got some development, despite the effect it had on the season as a whole. There was much better character development this season, but only for specific characters. All the side girls were ignored throughout the season, which I found stupefying. Even Sinon became a mute member of Kirito’s harem-wannabe thing, which somehow undid a lot of the greatness Sinon’s character built up in the first half.
Art & Animation
The animation is pretty much on the same, awesome level as the first season. I have no complaints in this area. I would like to talk about the one new aspect that was introduced in the second season: GGO art. I actually love the darkness of GGO and how it contrasts the style of Alfheim (and SAO) completely, yet is somewhat similar to the way real life is depicted throughout the series. All in all, the art was great and saved the anime at times.
Similar to last season, this season suffered horribly from inconsistent pacing. GGO had a medium pace, which I enjoyed most of all. From there, the pace took a sudden rise in the random and completely out of place Excalibur arch, which was a show of the great animation and pretty much nothing else. After that, the pace hit something like a brink wall. All of the sudden the story decided that SAO is a slow slice of life anime with a bit of gaming. Although I would not have minded a spin off, OVA, or separate season of this arch, because this arch made no sense in the context of the season. While I’ll admit the character development of Asuna and Yuuki was well done, it doesn’t really fit when you put it up against the GGO arch. The GGO arch is easily my favorite of the series. The premise of the story actually makes sense, as it presents the issue, the protagonist’s opinion of the issue, the solution in theory, and the resolution of the issue. Although it is not a very unique structure, the details in the arch help to make it new and different from other series. The skipping between real life and the game was well done (in both arches, although especially in GGO arch), and I liked the how the arch came to an end. I also liked that the OP level of Kirito made so much more sense. He struggled with working a gun and actually has to base all of his strategy off his sword skills.This seems much more realistic and opened doors to improve upon Kirito’s development. The second half of the season was much more inconsistent in both pacing and character development. First of all, there was pretty much no premise in going to get Excalibur, as that previously (terribly weak) antagonist just kind of asked Kirito to do it without much reasoning at all. Secondly, the execution of the arch was terrible. The entire fighting scene only took about 10 minutes, which is less than one entire episode. It is just stupid to have a super hyped arch in the series if it is just rushed over and butchers the set pace, while simultaneously adds absolutely nothing new or interesting. The transition between the incredibly quick attack arch and the Yuuki arch was not smooth enough and resulted in a bizarre feel from the wack pacing. The Yuuki and Asuna arch was interesting enough in terms of plot and I don’t really have too much to add because there really is nothing much to add about it.
I really loved the start of the series, and felt that Sinon, Death Gun, and the GGO setting were interesting additions to the series. Despite these great new aspects, the series ruined itself in the second part of the season. The Yuuki arch was a pacing disaster that had it’s moments, but was a train wreck in many ways. The horrific dialogue and lack of character development ruined the potential of the anime. Again, you see all the side characters from SAO. They get to fight a little, but otherwise get no new development. As much as I wanted to really love this season, it failed to pull through in the end.
Overall, I think this anime ruined its potential due to poor character development, terrible antagonists, and pacing issues. Sword Art Online had potential to be great, yet dwindled off into a disaster toward the end of each season. Even though SAO is not the best anime, the action and enjoyable nature of the series is very appealing to people who are new to watching anime. Personally, I would recommend Log Horizon to people who are looking for a MMORPG that actually executes an interesting and well paced plot with well developed characters.
I hope you enjoyed my blog! I have a few more Reviews in my drafts for lookout for more posts in the future! 😀