Sword Art Online – An Uneven Series That Destroys a Good Story in Part 2

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     “Sword Art Online” had a good first half that was nearly completely ruined in the second half when it proceeded to ruin one of the strongest and best characters in the series. This is only part of the bad anime tropes that raise their head in the second half, which is a shame as the first half actually has some really great moments. You can find my individual episode reviews here on the blog but I’ve been waiting a while before doing the overall summary because of how loud the clash was between Parts 1 and 2. It’s almost like watching two different series even though they are still the same show and have most of the same characters.

     The series was produced by Aniplex and animated by A-1 Pictures and based off the light novel series by Reki Kawahara.

       The story involves characters who are strapped in an virtual mmo called “Sword Art Online” and the mystery that unfolds as they seek to beat the game in order to get out. Part 2 deals with the fallout from this and brings us to ALfheim Online where the character arcs are completed.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of being stuck in a videogame is really cool, as it gives the chance of how one perceives oneself (through our Avatars and character choices) and gives a chance to explore some really cool sci. fi. or fantasy ideas depending on the game. As well as the nature of A.I. and sentience too. The first half of the series does a great job exploring this as well. Sadly the second part has to ruin it all.

The Animation – A-1 Productions created a beautifully animated world here and the animation is easily one of the strongest parts of the show.

The Characters – The main characters are pretty strong, though the character assassination that Yui and Ausna go through in Part 2 is pretty bad, and the villain in Part 2 is a wasted character.

Agil – Agil is the wise and older character in the game who ends up teaming up at the end when our heroes are trying to advance further and the big bad of part 1 reveals himself. After we see Agil owns a bar (and in game he gives discounts on his weapons and helps new characters). He is an awesome character who we honestly don’t see enough of.

Klein – Klein is another forgotten character as he is a bit socially awkward and a womanizer but is never creepy. He is a stand up guy who has Kirito’s back and he helps Kirito in both parts and is the first real friend Kirito the outcast has in the game.

Kirigaya – Kirigaya plays the character Leafa in ALfheim online and is Kirito’s adopted sister and cousin. She has a strange arc where she has to deal with her attraction to him, but she gets good exploration in her motivations and we see a protector who protected Kirito from his parents and became the best at everything. She was one of the few good things about Part 2.

Kayaba – Kayaba created “Sword Art Online” and is the big bad. He first appears as a God before entering the game as a player to help the players advance so that they could eventually challenge him at the end. Kirito figures out who he is early and beats him in a duel. In the end we meet a man who was lost in the game as he talks to Kirito about the fact he’d forgotten his motivation beyond power as he’d become so pulled in. He was a fascinating bad guy and I wish he could have been explored more. He gives Kirito the seed to create more mmos.

Kirito – Kirito is our hero character who fights and plays solo. He goes from a character who stays mostly alone to having a bunch of friends at the end who have his back. His arc is building that community and finding reason to be outside of himself.

Waking Up – The ending of Part 1 ends with Kirito waking up and we see a long haired, weak boy trying to walk saying Asuna’s name (who as far as we know died in the game). It’s tragic and powerful and should have ended here.

A.I. and Sentience  – At one point Yui, a program in the game develops sentience and adopts Kirito and Asuna as parents. It’s cool how this is explored as we see the game going active made other A.I. make choices outside their programming too. More could have been done with this.

Okay: Yui – Yui develops sentience and protects Kirito from a big bad boss at one point in the game. Sadly she is neutralized and we never see her reach the power she had before ever again. In the end she becomes a concept and child for Asuna and Kirito and nothing more sadly.

Asuna – Asuna is my favorite character in part 1, that is all ruined in part 2 where she exists to be sexually exploited by King Oberon and some giant slugs and no actions she take mean anything. She goes from Katniss to Princess Peach and from a character who wants to be the best to a person who only lives for her boyfriend. What a fracking waste of a character.

The Cons: The ALfheim Arc – ALfheim arc has a cool idea of different species that are all fighting for control of the world (that never goes anywhere) and is just Kirito and Leafa trying to rescue Asuna. The arc doesn’t go anywhere as we have a villain who is just a creep and nothing more and “save the princess” as the arc. It’s a waste of television.

Suguo/King Oberon – This guy rapes Asuna at one point and before that has her trapped in a cage and is molesting her all the time. He works for Asuna’s father and created the game from “Sword Art Online” and made himself King. Guy is one of the worst villains as he has no motivation or reason for being except to get revenge against.

The Sexploitation of Asuna – The is the entire ALfheim arc and where the anime forgot what made this character a character in the first place. She goes from a fighter to an object and the object is victimized continuously. She never gets to get back at Suguo for anything that happened to her either.

Twisted Fanservice – There are a lot of but and boob shots in Part 2 and none directed at guys. Equal fanservice I’d be okay with, but this was just part of the problem as it was shown at the height in any scene involving Asuna.

Missed Potential of ALfheim – Different factions of faeries are fighting for control of a world…go somewhere with that! Have factions unite and take on Oberon together….but nope, got to make Asuna a damsel and make this story all about Kirito. What a waste.

   This was a series that could have been solidly good, but blew it all in the second part. As you can see from the analysis, the first part actually had a really cool ending with Kirito waking up and facing the full consequence of having been asleep in a hospital for so long and faced with the real word versus the other reality he was once a part of. All of that is lost when Asuna gets damsled up and becomes a tool used for sexplotation. Nothing she does in Part 2 means anything or goes anywhere and over the course of the arc she goes from a great to okay character as her character is lost and she becomes the trophey at the end that Kirito has to avenge. It’s disgusting and ruins the great story of part 1. If you want to see this series, just watch the first part, everything you need about the fascinating idea of being stuck in a videogame is explored well there. After that it is some of the worst writing to come out of any anime.

Final Score: 4 / 10. Reason it isn’t rated lower is due to the strength in the first part of the show.

Sword Art Online – Episode 25 – “The World Seed” – The Real World and the End

SAO Ep 25

    If the show had been more like the finale episode of the series in it’s second half, this show could have been great. Rather than focusing on creepy rapist and the victimization of one of our heroines why couldn’t we have dealt with Kayaba’s dream and the survivors of “SAO” doing that dream rather than the Mario and Daisy mission to save Peach…so much missed potential and this episode showed what could have been for the second part of the series…

    The story picks up with everyone waking and Nobuyuki trying to kill Kazuto but being defeated and brought in by the police as the survivors of SAO go to school together and work on the Seed and making their own MMOs.

The Pros: The Seed – Kayaba in his dying moments or his echo gave Kirito a World Seed so that all people could create MMOs…basically he created an open source system that Kirito made free. Why couldn’t we have seen this guy in the first half? Still, that was good ending.

Kazuto and Asuna – Seeing these two fall in love again is great as well as how they are both awkward to those around them as they are trying to get used to knew things, the affection and love is still there though and it is adorable.

Kirito and Leafa – These two become siblings again and Leafa dances with Kirito after her dealing with being an outsider to some degree to the SAO community.

SAO Reunion – The reunion is great! All the usual suspects are there such as Agil, Rika, Keiko, Klein and others. It is great seeing them party and celebrate the beating of the game…which could have happened in the first half of the season if they hadn’t fridged Asuna.

The Return of SAO – The final bit is SAO returns and Leafa and all the old squad go to beat the game that is back.

  I’ll do a write-up on the show as a whole later but if it had ended on the first arc with Asuna free we could have a favorite anime, sadly the second arc came around and proceeded to ruin all of the good will built up as it ruined one of the best characters in the series…I’ll write about other arcs they could have done for part 2 in the assessment of the show, for now here is my score for this episode.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episodes 13-14 – “Escaping the Game Arc” – Kayaba’s Story and a Reason to Live

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   So we have now come to the end of the first arc of the series, and really the show could have ended here and it would be a favorite. I’m a little worried to see what they’ll do for the reset of the show as it could easily get bad as for what felt like the point of the series has past. We finally get to see what Kayaba’s agenda has been and who he has been in the game as well as bringing the arcs of our characters to a close in a pretty powerful ending. The series isn’t done though so I’m curious where they will go from here.

    The episodes are “Edge of Hell’s Abyss” and “The End of the World.”

    The story involves Heathcliff calling the Knights of the Blood to take on a powerful boss who took out folks from every guild. This lead to an all out assault and Kirito and Asuna being called back from their leave of absence from the Guild. From here they are reminded why beating the game is so important as all people in the game are in hospitals on life support and could die if not freed from the game. In this quest this leads to the reveal of who the final boss is and a showdown.

The Pros: Nishida – Nishida was in charge of the security company for Sword Art Online and failed big time. His way of dealing with being trapped in the game has been to fish and it is in fishing with Asuna and Kirito he finds a reason to live once more. He was a great character, it was nice seeing an older player in the game.

Klein – Klein is back and we see him and Agil doing a great job against the Skull Reaper and how much he cares about Kirito when Kirito is facing the final boss and apologizes for just leaving him when they were playing.

Agil – Agil is the character who helps all lower level players get stronger. He also does a great job against the Skull Reaper and is one of the few folks doing damage against it. Like Klein it was great seeing him again.

The Skull Reaper – This boss is awesome! It looks like a giant centipede made of skulls and bones. It is deadly too and kills most of the high level players in one it. It makes it’s defeat all the more rewarding and gives perspective to the despair the survivors feel afterword in regards to how far they have to go to beat the game. The Reaper was the boss on level 75.

Heathcliff / Kayaba – Heathcliff and Kayaba are one in the same and he sees himself as the Demon King helping level the players up so he has a worthy enemy to fight at the end. His pride and sense of justice get in the way though as he lets Kirito duel him which leads to Kirito just barely beating him, but Kayaba manages to kill Asuna in the process. Later he recounts in the game world as Sword Art Online crumbles that he’s been in the game so long he’s forgotten why he made it in the first place beyond it being something new and beautiful. He is a complex character but in no way a hero.

Asuna – Asuna risks her life for Kirito which makes it possible for Kirito to beat Heathcliff/Kayaba and free the players from the game. She dies happy though as she found a reason to live, found joy in each day in the game and in her relationship with Kirito. She also has time with him after and they swear to find each other again. It’s unclear what dying in the game means right now…but her story did feel done here, just like Kirito’s.

Kirito – Kirito defeats Kayaba! He does it just barely by willing? himself to live and make the final hit, which is alright. He also apologizes to all his friends and nearly says “I love you” to Asuna. He is a great protagonist though. He is the loner who doesn’t get people who has a great community in the game and in the end fights to free them. In the end we see him wake up after his last moments with Asuna as he says her name and leaves the hospital room.

Dying Dream – The dying dream is beautiful. Kayaba, Asuna and Kirito watch a sunset as the Sword Art Online crumbles and they have their last moments together and share how much they loved one another.

Waking Up – Kirito wakes up, his hair is long and we see that he was truly trapped in the game. Getting up he goes into the light saying the name of Asuna.

   This was a great story, though not as good as the Yui arc. At least now since the show isn’t done maybe there is a way to find Asuna and bring back Yui? I just hope things don’t end up too happy. This was such a great ending because we do lose people, people do die and you can’t save everyone. It also completed the arcs that were started at the beginning. I’ll keep watching but wonder how the story that has completed here can be beat by the story to come.

Final Score: 8.7 / 10

SAO 14

Sword Art Online Pilot – Episode 1 – “The World of Swords” – Forcing People to Relate

Sword Art Online Pilot

    The Pilot to “Sword Art Online” is good at capturing the process of an MMORPG and the negative and positive social aspects of it, and it does a really good job, even though we only really meet 3 characters who get air time. For the start of a Pilot I found it really enjoyable and the animation is stunning.

      The Pilot begins with the release of Sword Art Online and the players entering into the game via NerveGear as the players enter the virtual world of Aincrad. It begins with Kirito helping out a noob named Klein but as he is about to leave he finds himself in the game before long what they physically look likes overtakes their Avatars and Kayaba lets them know they are trapped and could die in the game if they do not win it.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of being trapped in a game and having to fight to get out is really awesome. Basically making a virtual world real life is a fantastic premise that has unlimited possibilities only limited by the imagination of the author. This is the art of story.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful. It is dark and colorful and also really light making it feel like a game that anyone would want to play, with Kayaba being shown in dark robes and faceless.

The Soundtrack – Kaijura Yuki did an amazing job on this! It has gaming elements in the theme as well as a soundtrack that would fit in any Medieval Sci. Fi. Suffice to say I really enjoy it so far.

Aincrad – Aincrad is a collection of levels and cities with the highest level being the God Realm from the looks of it when Kayaba presented it. It is a cool world with Medieval and modern looks intermixed and the animals are alien colors.

Kayaba – Kayaba is a meglomaniac. He created “Sword Art Online” so he’d have a world within his control that he fully controlled. He is the God of the world and a horrible one at that. I really like this guy as an antagonist.

Kirito – Kirito is a loner who enjoys escaping to “The only reality that matters.” It takes being trapped in that world to remind him that his sister and mother matter. It’s kind of sad but it is real to his character and it gives him a motivation to get out of the game.

Klein – Klein is a bit of a bro and a good guy who compliments Kirito when his Avatar becomes himself and shows that he values what he learns from others. He also cares deeply for his friends and goes back to the Square to get them after Kayaba’s announcement.

The Cons; Faceless Unknowns – A bunch of people are in the square but I can’t remember any of them. None of them stood out as distinct even though there were some younger people, parents, a couple and others…but they were just kind of there.

For a Pilot it is really solid, the animation, the world and the two core characteres as well as the premise make me want to see how this series ends. I’m glad I got to watch it with a fellow gamer too and as someone who has always had a soft spot for Fantasy MMORPGs, this one feels real.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.