- Alt. Name
- Release Date
- Summer 2012
- No. of Episodes
- A-1 Pictures
- Light Novel
Sword Art Online is a 2012 Action Fantasy Adventure anime series from one of the twenty-first century’s most beloved and most childhood nostalgic Japanese animation studios, A-1 Pictures. When anyone enters the world of viewing anime, a solid few are often offered as anime firsts. Though if one goes on any website or video, there are many positive and negative reviews of this series, but why? How could an anime series be so popular and supported while also being one of the most hated anime series within the last twenty years? Does this series deserve all its praise, or are the negative comments about this anime correct in their criticisms?
In 2022, virtual reality has progressed by leaps and bounds, and a massive online role-playing game called Sword Art Online (SAO) is launched. With the aid of “NerveGear” technology, players can control their avatars within the game using nothing but their thoughts and are only limited by their imagination. Kazuto Kirigaye, nicknamed “Kirito,” is among the lucky few enthusiasts who get their hands on the first shipment of the game. While the unfortunate ones who are still waiting in the miles-long line hoping to get their copy, he will be one of the lucky few to get to experience the game, the one he waited to release for so long.
When he logs into the game, he finds himself with ten-thousand others in the scenic and elaborate world of Aincrad, one full of fantastic medieval weapons and gruesome monsters. However, in a cruel turn of events, the players soon realize they cannot log out; the game’s creator has trapped them in his new world until they complete all one hundred levels of the game.
To escape Aincrad, Kirito will now have to interact and cooperate with his fellow players. Some are allies, while others are foes, like Asuna Yuuki, who commands the leading group attempting to escape from the ruthless game. To make matters even worse, Sword Art Online is not all fun and games; If they die in Aincrad, they die in real life. Kirito must adapt to his new reality, fight for survival, and hopefully break free from his virtual hell.
While it is unfair to compare this series to one that is only twelve episodes long, the level of pacing in this story is very detailed. One of the benefits of having a series with twenty-five episodes over twelve is that the story has a more significant level of development. There was a clear roadmap to each event and gave the viewer ample time to get used to the world in a semi-quick but slightly traditional fashion. Another positive that this story had was that it could keep the viewers entertained while chipping away at the plot without overdoing it or adding too many elements too quickly. Having an anime of any genre do something like that is a remarkable accomplishment, considering that many well-known anime films have had this problem.
Another positive that this anime had going for it was that there was a tremendous amount of character development within this story. This was highly expected given the number of episodes. However, it is a lovely touch when this series makes subtle references to characters in the background, quotes, and whatnot and recalls them later. Each character has a good amount of development, and the viewers will feel potentially attached to many of the characters within this series.
Though this story is nowhere near perfect, unfortunately, it had some significant problems that viewers might want to know. For instance, the story within this anime is best described as divided. At the same time, the first half is the more action and adventure aspect of the show; the latter half slows down the elements within the first and targets romance. While this might not be a negative on paper, when Sword Art Online halted the breaks on their very well-written story, they derailed so quickly that the story went from potentially being the best story in anime of the twenty-first century to having an okay one. Though some may say that the second half is just as good, they usually forget that the primary goal of the series was to get out of the game, which they practically forget about being in a fight for half the series.
Another negative aspect of this anime is that the characters devolve themselves once the second half of the series begins. The characters go from being strong and independent to needing someone to help them through teamwork. What makes this even worse is that the main heroine goes from being an excellent swordswoman and independent and somehow turning into a damsel in distress by the end of the series. Perhaps this story wouldn’t have been so bad if they loosened up on their girl of the week saga. Though viewers will enjoy the cute female characters of all types and their stories and well-written for the most part, they just got stale by the last girl.
Considering that the story was one of the most uneven aspects within the anime fans’ views, the art is solid even years later. The style is still sleek and stylish without overly trying to create something unique and over the top. The sharp edges and color tones are well used within this arty style and make Sword Art Online better. The ability to create something that looks better than many of the series coming out even now is really above the average level, even for A-1 Pictures. What makes this series stand out is the different levels of detail for each level the players are on. Each still frame could be used as a computer or a phone; that’s how good they are.
When it comes to any action and adventure anime series, the fight scenes are one thing, but the soundtrack is another crucial factor. While a series of this length has multiple opening and closing themes, each is interesting, and some are better than others. The first opening is “crossing field” by LiSA and is the better of the two openers of the series. The opening animation is wonderfully created, and it is understandable why fans of the series love it so much. The opening is action-packed and has smooth animation without any unwarranted choppy cut scenes. What makes this opener stand out is that the song is such a catchy opener that it’s a no-brainer on why it was chosen.
Though the ending sequences of Sword Art Online have three different songs, and while the animations were pretty to look at, the slowness of the first one somehow did it perfectly. The second opener is called “INNOCENCE” by Aoi Eir, and this is one of those songs that is not a terrible choice but compared to the first, it fails. However, the animation is arguably better than the first and prefers this opener to the first one. The second has sleeker and more human touch than the first one; when a series such as Sword Art Online has high-action episodes where many events are going on, it is always lovely to have a slow ending to wind down before the viewer gets back into the action.
When viewers watch the series, they will become submerged in a large pool of character development. Our main character Kirigaya Kazuto also known as Kirto, was chosen to be one of the one thousand beta testers for the closed beta of Sword Art Online; this was the first-ever Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game for the NerveGear, and later joined the official version of the game. He is best described as not very good at communicating, often choosing to be alone if the option is available, which causes him not to have many friends and closes others off because of his love for computers and his self-interests. Although he is a calm and collected person and stays to himself, he is a kind person whose willing to sacrifice himself to help others.
Yuuki Asuna, also known as Asuna in the game, is one of the rare characters that didn’t care about dying though that changed when she met Kirito. That meeting drastically changed Asuna’s personality and outlook on life. She took most of the things Kirto said to heart, looked to him for help, and even used him as a lifeline. She is a kind and helpful young woman who, similar to Kirito, cannot abandon someone in trouble. However, she tends to be too serious at times and realizes that she doesn’t need to get physical with every challenge to her authority that comes her way. She is not afraid to act on her own and will take matters into her own hands if she sees an opening. While there are loads of other characters within this long series, they were omitted due to either giving some of the stories away or not being considered main characters.
For a series such as Sword Art Online that tries to combine the genres of Action, Adventure, Fantasy, and slightly even Romance, viewers will be surprised that they did a decent job. Though the story takes a sharp right turn at the halfway point, which causes this series to slow down its progress, viewers could enjoy the enormous change. The artwork is better than expected and will be appreciated by fans, new and old. Considering that the biggest complaint that this series could get would be that viewers who are not interested in the genres mentioned above may not enjoy large areas of the series where the story starts to drag a little. Though for all the negative areas within this anime, viewers who have not seen Sword Art Online need to watch this series due to the fantastic animation and well-crafted production. Even the storyline can entice viewers to keep them entertained.
Cody Senpai is the creator of BakaNow, an anime review website that specializes in spoiler-free reviews for everyone. He is an avid anime watcher who has traveled to Japan numerous times to not only experience the culture and history but also to build friendships with people through a common interest. He is an avid animation fanatic from birth and even went on to major in communication to help share the importance of the stories we love to watch and listen to. Cody lives in Denver, Colorado and loves to do anything adventurous.