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

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    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 – Episode 23 – “Bonds” – Alliances Payoff

SAO ep 23

     This…was actually another good episode. We don’t have any of the victimization yet and we see some great teamups and a lot of potential to show what the second arc could have been (Alliances and Raids in action working together). So I’m going to cherish this blip while it’s still around because the next episode is really bad.

    The story involves facing the Guardians again except this time Alicia and Sakuya have arrived to help as together they face off against the Guardians to get Kirito his opening so he can reach the top of the World Tree to save Asuna.

The Pros: The Action – The action is great! It’s quick and flowing and really makes the most of the three dimensional space as well as showing just how threatening the Guardians are but also showing the players power as well.

The Alliance – Cait Siths have dragons and they are awesome! The Sylphs have swords that shoot lazers too, so that is pretty cool. It is great finally seeing an Alliance in game too…I wish that had been the focus of part 2 not Asuna in the place of Princess Peach.

Kazuto/Kirito and Leafa/Suguha – This is the episode where they fight it out in the game and later find a new way to relate to one another as Kazuto admits that he regretted being distant from her and everyone and that why he is trying to beat the game and save Asuna is so that he can move on. Suguha admits that after she find out she became attracted to him because of how kind he was to her after he came out of the game. They later make a great team up against the Guardians. They and the Alliance eventually break Kirito through and he uses the Admin Card to get through the locked door and enter the top of the tree.

Recon – Recon returns as the Red Shirt whose sacrifice shows there is chance to break through the Guardians and also buys them time before the Alliance arrives. It was a cool moment.

This was a solid action episode, the creepyness is coming up though. I’m going to cherish these action moments while I can before the dive into the abyss of some of the worst that anime has to offer.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episode 21 – “The Truth About ALfheim” – Gratuitous Victimization

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    This is where the series takes a sharp tonal shift and where it lost all potential to be great as it went for cheap victimization while downplaying the victimization and stealing Asuna’s agency just as she claims it this episode. Yeah, this episode was terrible and sadly it isn’t the worst example of what happens to her, the worst is yet to come in regards to one of the most empowering characters on this show. Okay, here we go…

     The story involves Asuna’s escape and her discovering the lab where the 300 other players are being experimented on by Oberon. She makes it her mission to free the other trapped players. Elsewhere Kirito and Leafa arrive at the World Tree.

The Pros: The Trapped Players – Seeing them as brains floating over a metal tube reminded me of something out a Philip K. Dick novel so I enjoyed that, shame more wasn’t done with those other trapped players.

The Cons: The Slugs – Who the crap makes their avatar a purple slug? Really? They are already made to look bad and being uninteresting and what come is worse.

The Rape of Asuna – One of the Slug Scientist rapes her with his tendrils…yep, it happens and the only way she gets to fight back and show us the Asuna who is Kirito’s equal is biting the tendril making it drop her and stealing the Admin Key. It is still played off as no big deal by the animators though and even played as a joke given the other slug calls the one who did a perv. God damn it anime…

  There was almost nothing good about this episode besides Asuna stealing the key and managing to fight back at the end. The scene was gratuitous and pervy and did nothing but establish what we already knew…Oberon and his men are bastards. If only this would be the last time this happened…

Final Score: 2 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episode 20 – “The General of the Blazing Flame” – Alliances and the World Tree

SAO Ep 20

   After finishing up “SAO” this is an episode that I wish we could have had more of. This was an episode that politics, showed character advancement within the game and dealt with politics between people as well as showing potential for future plot advancement to avoid the Kirito Show. It hadn’t lost all it’s dignity as some of the episodes near the end did that really showed the worst of what can come out of television and anime.

    The story picks up where we left off with Sugu and Kirito racing to save the potential Alliance from the Salamander attack. They arrive just in time leading to a faceoff and Kirito’s first real opponent within the game.

The Pros: The Peace Conference – The Peace Conference between the Cait Sith and the Sylphs is awesome as we see them come together against the main threat and the Sylphs deal with their betrayer as well after Kirito’s duel. It’s awesome and we see their Alliance go towards it’s original purpose of tackling the World Tree.

The Duel – The Duel between the General and Kirito is awesome and we see Kirito get hurt until he uses Leafa’s sword to use his duel wielding ability he had in the last game. This is the only way he is able to beat the General and his Demon Sword stopping the Salamander army.

Kirito – Kirito shows awareness in this and he seems to be receptive to accepting help realizing he doesn’t really fully know this game.

Asuna’s Escape – Asuna having memorized the pass code uses it escape her cage. Finally a moment of empowerment for Asuna has been trapped and victimized way too much in this series thus far as it is.

The Faction Leaders – Sakuya of the Sylphs and Alicia are awesome! We see that they are smart, independent and see the bigger picture of the end game. Wish they could have received more development.

The Cons: Kirito Alone – Kirito does the duel alone, I would have almost preferred the other leaders being involved too since they were the ones being threatened.

    This was the last great episode except maybe the final episode of this series. The rest from here really take a major tonal shift downhill…and were hard to get through because so much of it was gratuitous. I understand why one of my friends stopped watching the show soon after this episode.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episode 19 – “The Legrue Corridor” – The Chance for Peace

SAO 19

     This episode shows us that Kirito or the Spriggans can do much more than illusion and also that there is a larger plot going on as the Salamanders have been the main threat and are acting in accordance with a Sylph leader, including the hunting of Kirito and Leafa.

    The story involves Leafa and Kirito finding they are being tracked by a Salamander raiding party who are working for a Sylph who wants to end the treaty that is going to be formed between the Sylph and Cait Siths leading Kirito with the choice to work with her and help the peace conference from being destroyed or continuing his path the The World Tree.

The Pros: The Salamanders and Fairy Politics – The Salamanders are the Fire Nation of this show, from being the primary threat and their constant hunting of the heroes as well as their dark motif. They are the largest of the factions it seems as destroying the peace conference will get them the equipment and power they need for a run at the World Tree.

Nagata/Recon – Nagata is really into the game as in the real world he reaches out to Suguha after he gets captured by the betrayer Sylph and the Salamanders and left in the sewers to die. He shows he is courageous when he finds out about the betrayal and their attempt to break up the possible treaty.

Yui – Yui shows how great she is as a guide and sets things up so that Kirito’s spell will do the most damage and that he will be shielded from the Salamander attack through the shield Leafa casts. It’s really great that she isn’t just an observer.

Suguha/Leafa – Leafa shows how invested she is in the big picture of the game as she goes back to protect her Fairy leader when she knows the leader and peace conference are at risk from the betrayal and Salamander attack. It was well done.

Kirito and the Battle – Kirito is very much the Kirito of old as he is willing to put himself at risk for strangers and he talks to Leafa about how he was much more selfish. He also uses his ability to change into an awesome Gleam Eyes type monster that reeks havoc showing that Spriggans or at least Kirito’s power lies beyond much more than illusion.

This was a great episode with the only thing that didn’t quite work was the cliffhanger ending. We aren’t to the peace conference yet, but besides that fact there are great moments between characters…be they Recon and Leafa or Kirito and Leafa. Nothing but good payoff this episode.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episode 18 – “To the World Tree” – Going Renegade

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   ALfheim Online has interesting politics and some really interesting characters too who we had never met before. Suguha/Leafa and her relationship to her party, as well as her people, the Sylph’s relationship to the Spriggan, and the constant threat of the Salamanders. This episode does a good job with all of that, with the weakest part once again being Oberon.

   The story involves Leafa going renegade when her party attempts to force her to stay and keep her away from Kirito. Things get more complicated when Recon warns her that the party may not be all that appears as a Salamander tracker tracks them.

The Pros: World Politics – The Sylph hate the Spriggan and the Spriggan are apparently more aligned with the more aggressive damage based fairy species. It’s really cool and the drive for the World Tree is a great drive.

Recon/Nagata – Recon goes to Suguha’s school but tested out because he was so smart. For him life and the game overlap and the was animated as his avatar, which is why I’m writing his avatar name first. He’s annoying in a lot of way but not useless…so far more comedic relief than anything who crushes on Suguha. Hope we see more and that he grows.

Suguha/Leafa – Leafa continues to crush on Kirito while developing a friendship with him. She is all about her agency and freedom and it makes her awesome. When Recon is a creep she smacks him and she challenges her party and goes renegade because she believes in Kirito’s quest. She is one of the best parts of the series.

Kirito – Kirito continues to be a great guy and having learned from his experience with Asuna’s guild he stands up for Leafa and calls out the leader by telling him that players are not items. It was really powerful and shows how unselfish he is.

Asuna – Asuna is watching Oberon and finding out the code for the cage. She is also given hope when Oberon mentions that Kirito is alive.

Yui – Yui continues to speak bluntly and is comedic and smart as she enjoys just being around humans and seeking to understand them. It is awesome.

The Cons: Oberon/Nobuyuki – Oberon continues to be creepy. The only good thing about is his eventual defeat.

  This was a great episode that I’d recommend. It is wonderful seeing the politics come to the forefront and show that things are more complicated than they have ever been. I’m curious to see where it goes and how the world unfolds as we have 9 different species and people have two lives now…both inside and outside the game.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episode 17 – “Captive Queen” – Asuna’s lack of Agency and Obviously Evil Villain

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   In this episode we find out who Leafa is in the real world and get to know the world of “Sword Art Online” better but also see that the problem at the start of this arc is still a major problem. Asuna’s in a cage with no agency and the villain can’t even be bothered to be compelling. I got a feeling this will be a problem through this arc.

    The story involves Leafa taking Kirito out for a drink and him learning that reaching the top is the way to beat the game as King Oberon will give the winner the ability to have constant flying and not have to rest. After this we learn that Oberon is really Nobuyuki and that he can wipe away the minds of the characters he controls like Asuna making the mission more dire.

The Pros: Leafa/Suguha – In this we learn Suguha and Leafa are the same person and that like Kirito knew “Sword Art Onlnie” she really knows “ALfheim Online.” She forms a friendship with Kirito pretty fast and teaches him how to fly without the controller and tells him about Oberon’s quest and that is what they all need to beat the game.

Asuna – Asuna threatens Oberon/Nobuyuki and fights him as best she can having no weapons and being in a stupid cage. She also watches the lock showing that isn’t remaining passive. I hope she gets to destroy him.

Kirito – Kirito is great as usual and we see how complicated his friendship with Leafa could become as she doesn’t know about Asuna. He’s very much the good guy in this and we see his protector instincts when he is with Yui as they are both trapped in the game. He is also the one who figures out that it will take a person from each race to reach the top of the World Tree or defeat the Guardians protecting it on the lower level.

The Cons: Oberon/Nobuyuki – Creeper is creeepin and threatening rape. Can’t wait till this character gets killed. Weak writing and weak character.

This episode was alright as Asuna did fight verbally even though she couldn’t physically. Still hate the fact that she needs to rescued and that is what is driving this plot, but the world of ALfheim online is interesting at least.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Sword Art Online – Episode 16 – “Land of Fairies” – Adaptation and New Rules

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     “Land of Fairies” is when we finally enter ALfheim online and Yui returns as well as being introduced to a pretty cool game that I would play. The world of ALfheim online is pretty complex and captures the modern MMO far better than “Sword Art Online” did. The character designs are pretty great as well.

     This episode begins with Kazuto meeting up with Andrew (Agil from “Sword Art Online”) meeting so he can learn more about the game and the screenshot. He promises to save her and enters the game as Spriggan due to it’s dark look and taking the name Kirito. He soon finds himself trapped in the game once more with none of his items but still all his skills. He is later pulled into a fight to protect a player named Leafa from the Salamanders and the story unfolds from there.

The Pros: Alfheim Online – The world is really cool. There is a giant moon and tons of forests and temples that make up the area where 9 different Fairies live and battle. It really is a rich world.

The Different Fairies – The fairies have different specialties, like Leafa’s race can heal, and Kirito’s race can use illusions. It’s a great dynamic and all of them compliment each other.

The World Tree – The World Tree is in the center of the game and at the top is where Asuna is being held captive. It’s far away and has lots of enemies to fight to reach it, showing that it is meant for the end game.

Andrew/Agil – A bartender in real life and a blacksmith in the game and an all around great guy. He has Kirito’s back and gives him the first information of what he’ll be up against in the game. “AndAndrew

Yui – Yui is back as the tear when activated made her a guiding PC who helps Kirito learn the basics of the game. It is great seeing her again too, even if she doesn’t have game breaking powers anymore.

Leafa – Leafa looks like Asuna’s avatar and is great fighter as she only loses when she is outnumbered and being targeted from a distance. She is tough and a great leader.

Kirito/Kazuto – It is a lot of fun seeing Kirito learn how to fly and fight and seeing that his stats transferred from “SAO” even if non of his equipment did. He has to start at the beginning again which is new for him but it makes it great too as he has to have an arc because of it.

This was a solid episode that makes me excited to see more of Elfheim online and meet the other Fairy races. The world is rich, well designed and the aesthetics are really cool. Leafa and Yui are both great characters as well.

Final Score: 9 / 10