Sword Art Online (SAO) is a Japanese light novel series that was adapted into an anime series in 2012. Its first season was one of the most highly anticipated anime releases of that year, and upon release, it quickly became a fan favorite. The show’s popularity even led to a resurgence in the popularity of anime worldwide, especially in the western world. I remember Sword Art Online being extremely popular when I was younger, with many of my classmates even dressing up as Kirito, The Black Swordsman!
The first season of Sword Art Online takes place in the year 2022, where a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game (VRMMORPG) named Sword Art Online is released. The game is a complete immersion experience, with players using a headset device called the NerveGear to enter the game world. However, the creator of the game, Akihiko Kayaba, traps the players inside the game, and the only way to escape is to clear all 100 floors of the game’s tower. If a player dies in-game, the NerveGear fries their brain, killing them in the real world.
The premise of the show is intriguing and unique, and it immediately draws the viewer in. However, as the show progresses, it becomes apparent that the execution of the idea leaves much to be desired.
The plot of the first season of Sword Art Online is divided into two main arcs. The first arc focuses on the players’ struggle to clear the game’s tower and eventually defeat the game’s final boss. The second arc takes place in another game, Alfheim Online, where Kirito, the show’s protagonist, must rescue Asuna, the female lead, from the clutches of a nefarious guild.
The first arc of the show starts off strong, with Kirito teaming up with other players to clear the tower. The tension is high, and the stakes are even higher. However, as the arc progresses, it becomes apparent that the show is more interested in Kirito’s personal journey than the overall story. The show spends an excessive amount of time on Kirito’s romantic relationship with Asuna, and the actual gameplay and story of the game take a back seat.
The second arc of the show is even worse than the first. The story feels disconnected from the first arc, and the new game feels like a cheap knockoff of the original. The villains are one-dimensional, and their motives are unclear. The second arc feels like a tacked-on addition to the show, and it does not hold up to the standard set by the first arc.
Kirito is the show’s protagonist, and Asuna is the female lead. The two have a romantic relationship that takes up a significant chunk of the show’s runtime. Kirito is portrayed as a skilled and aloof player who is the best at the game. Asuna, on the other hand, starts off as a strong and capable player, but as the show progresses, her character becomes more of a damsel in distress.
I remember as a younger girl really wanting to like Asuna. After all, she was the female lead, the woman who marries Kirito, and one of the strongest in the game; and yet, for some reason, I just couldn’t. She was so horribly bland to me, even as a child, that I felt completely disconnected from her as a character. To me, Asuna feels more like a prop than a character. Perhaps I’m more critical of Asuna’s character than Kirito (who, others have stated, they feel similarly about) because I am a woman, and I try to see myself in every woman protagonist.
The show’s side characters are another weak point. They are introduced and quickly forgotten, with no real development or backstory. The only memorable side character is Klein (AKA Tsuboi Ryoutarou), who acts as Kirito’s friend and ally in the first arc.
The animation in Sword Art Online is one of the show’s strongest points. The show is visually stunning, with beautiful landscapes and well-animated fight scenes. The character designs are unique and memorable, and I’d like to applaud the show from steering away from the scantily-clad stereotypical “woman suits” that Fantasy RPGs tend to dress them in. They’re nice when it’s optional, not so nice when it’s forced upon women.
However, the animation cannot make up for the show’s weak plot and characters. As the show progresses, the animation feels like a crutch that the show relies on to keep the viewer interested.
The show’s soundtrack is another strong point. The music is well-composed and fitting for the show’s various moods. The opening and closing themes are catchy and memorable, and they set the tone for each episode.
However, like the animation, the soundtrack cannot make up for the show’s weak plot and characters.
In conclusion, the first season of Sword Art Online had a lot of potential but fell short in execution. The show’s plot and characters were weak, and the show relied too heavily on its animation and soundtrack to keep the viewer interested. The first arc of the show was compelling, but the second arc felt disconnected and tacked-on. Overall, Sword Art Online is an enjoyable show, but it is not without its flaws.
What do you all think? Does SAO withstand the test of time, or does taking a critical look at it reveal cracks beneath the surface? Let us know in the comments below!
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