Been Waiting to Say This (SAO review)

Topic started by Elfenlied1012 on Dec. 23, 2012. Last post by Elfenlied1012 1 year, 7 months ago.
Post by Elfenlied1012 (557 posts) See mini bio Level 15

Twenty some odd episodes and I’m finally done with this. I’ve been waiting to pass judgment on SAO an extremely popular series that episode by episode I’ve been following despite how much it aggravates me. It’s finally time I take the axe to Sword Art Online while it’s still fresh out of the ovan. I’ve held my tongue on it for a quiet a bit, though from previous .hack vs SAO discussions on anime vice (like this one here by one of our very good users takashichea) it’s obvious which side I fervently lean to. Regardless of my feelings let’s look at exactly what SAO is and why it’s both popular and why its something I feel so volatile in my distaste for it.

Kirito and his love interest Asuna
Kirito and his love interest Asuna

First popping into view during the middle of this year SAO went from a series of light novels to this year’s biggest anime hit without a question. Featuring the story of a young man named kirito who after starting to play the new and popular SAO a virtual reality MMO. He discovers (as well as every other player) that there is no logging out and that they are stuck in the game. Worse than that if they die in the game it means being killed in real life. The Show is segmented into two different stories dealing with two entirely different games, it’s like a sequel built into the same long season, first dealing with that and the second with a more magic and flying based MMO.

The stuck in a video game genre was really popular years ago with things like tron popping up everywhere, but the idea of it in an MMO only really became super popular in the late 90s and early 20s with the .hack franchise. With very popular games, mangas, animes, and even movies .hack and its makers, cyber connect, held an almost complete monopoly on the entire sub-genre. However, through completely ignoring the franchise as a whole and mismanaging it, the sub-genre has been left vacant until recently; this more than likely causing the big success that SAO has been for its author, the animation studio A-1 Pictures and all the networks that aired it. I do know historically being an successful anime generally grantees some level of quality, but as my feelings for One Piece and Lucky Star have shown this is not always the case.

Just wait till I start complaining
Just wait till I start complaining

Since SAO is in two parts I feel it’s best to give the pros and cons to both parts separately. SAO is an A=1 pictures anime and to put it straight A-1 is a great animation studio. It’s Young, but everything it’s worked on has always shown high levels of quality in terms of number of frames as well as the uses of both color contrast and color volume to make very striking visuals without being jarring or relying on surrealism. While it’s not exactly creative with its art, it’s functional and beautiful. The Characters, especially the main two (Kirito and Asuna) strike me as both inoffensive and easy to sympathize with, even if combined barely having the complexity or intellect of Hodor from game of thrones (which is to say having none at all). The action is functional and fun to watch, feeling fairly visceral, but the most positive thing about part one is that it has this addictive quality where, despite its flaws, you find yourself following it forward.

The negatives however are bothersome. While A-1 art is of high quality the writing is piss poor. It’s a series raked with established idea that are not only fictional, but make no rational sense and seems to show a complete lack of foresight or understand of the world. Whenever the series finds that itself back into a narrative corner SAO simple drops whatever issue it had and pretends the previously established rules of the series don’t exist. I.E. early in the series they establish there are no respawning quest items or monsters (forcing competition amongst the players), when that’s no longer the angle the show wants to go for people are suddenly talking about farming spawn points and quests. While every little thing in SAO is explained, the explanation tends to just be poorly thought out and general toss aside later to be ignored by the writers. Without a sense of cohesive story telling the illusion of SAO is almost completely shatter, but there is more. The series lacks a cohesive tone as well. Half the episodes seem to focus on this episodic story of a “Lone wolf” out doing random often completely unnecessary tasks while the other episodes focus on a strange couple style duo living a romantic life on the games “front lines”. The issue is that it switches between the two tones, constantly keeping either from being taken as seriously as one would assume it is to be. Lastly the part one ending both makes no sense and ignores every rule or established premise in the series (or in the real world for that matter).

Because that's exactly what we needed to save this show actual god damned fairies
Because that's exactly what we needed to save this show actual god damned fairies

Part two is about the same thing on the positive side. The art remains the same high quality and good use of said art. The Characters and story are more focused (if less interesting) and the tone is relatively consistent. The Main villain is much more prominent and evil in a way we can understand. Lastly the final confrontation is more meaningful and makes a certain amount of sense; a positive change from the previous “final confrontation”.

The Negatives are far more damning. While SAO’s first half was nonsense and honestly stupid, it was fun to watch in a mind numbing sense. Part two is not just stupid, AND it’s boring worst of all. The stakes are lowered to rescuing one person not thousands making the whole thing seem less important. The Lone wolf and love story are replaced with a aggravating wincest love triangle, which doesn’t work because one of the characters in the triangle isn’t even there to participate. The choices characters make as well as the villains simply don’t have much rational sense especially seeing as easier and simpler solutions were constantly available. The second bit doesn’t even do anything interesting with the MMO background to begin with and just to put the nail in the coffen with the combat taking place mostly in the sky and having less of it makes the fight scenes feel incredibly diminished both in impact and in frequency.

SAO to me is a stunning disappointing, worst off not even an interesting disappointment. While it’s not the worst anime out there it’s left one of the most bitter tastes in my mouth despite its A-1 pictures quality given to the art and animation. I don’t like a lot of animes, but I hate very seldom few, SAO I hate. Narratively broken, creatively bankrupt, and childishly written. I’m so happy to be done with the whole mess. I give SAO 2.5 characters using skill sets they just said didn’t exist out of 5. It’s not as dysfunctional as other animes, just left me, M, feeling completely cheated. Sorry for the hate on, hope you all have a merry Christmas Anime vice. Later.

Friends of my podcast may be excited to hear we should have a very special Christmas cast up on Christmas day. I've been promising that for a while, but this time its on the lips of SAOs personal smiling token black man, and he would never lie.
Friends of my podcast may be excited to hear we should have a very special Christmas cast up on Christmas day. I've been promising that for a while, but this time its on the lips of SAOs personal smiling token black man, and he would never lie.
Post by Destinyheroknight (10,171 posts) See mini bio Level 21

I haven't watch SAO yet and not planing on watching it, since I kind of lose interest in it

Post by Elfenlied1012 (557 posts) See mini bio Level 15

@Destinyheroknight: The length is an irritant, but to admit it I don't like one piece because A. The Art is very much not to my liking. B. The story is not really something I can invest myself in or relate to also it is one of those never ending narratives C. Character design just seems, well to be honest childish.

I've seen a few episodes I think I got up to the introduction of the talking reindeer, and well I just couldn't anymore.

I can't recommend SAO less XD

Post by Destinyheroknight (10,171 posts) See mini bio Level 21

@Elfenlied1012:

Ok, thanks for telling me (but One piece does have a ending, it just take a long time LOL!)

Post by Donwun (112 posts) See mini bio Level 12

Excellent review and sum up. Could not agree more

I plan to review this also on the next ep of my podcast but you pretty much hit every point i plan to make...and then some.

Colossal fail this series was and reminds me of the constant problem with newer titles, they seem to care more about the animation and less about the actual storylines. SAO is certainly not garbage but it is very very silly and lackluster.

Post by Elfenlied1012 (557 posts) See mini bio Level 15

@Destinyheroknight: Really I had heard that they found the "One piece" but it turned out to be one of 99 pieces and so things continue, either way I can atleast understand why people like one piece, as for SAO I can't fathom how people can be tricked into considering it "Intelligent" writing and "more emotionally then Fate Zero" I just can't

Post by Destinyheroknight (10,171 posts) See mini bio Level 21

@Elfenlied1012:

You have heard wrong, One Piece is a long way of being found LOL! But it will continue a little bit longer when the One Piece is found, because one of the older characters said that "the world will be turned upside down, when it is found".

I guess because they like the animation or they make up a story for it or it just speech to there taste.

Post by ComicMan24 (8,759 posts) See mini bio Level 12

Nice review. While I do agree with the things you say in there, I did enjoy that anime, mostly because I didn't really have any expectations from it.

Post by Supreme Marvel (5,063 posts) See mini bio Level 12

I think the characters didn't know some things. Like that spawn part. I don't believe they knew that could happen. It's like upgrades they make to a game just after the beta testers have finished. That could have been added after they finished.

Post by Whitelock (28 posts) See mini bio Level 10

You pretty much hit the nail on the head.

good review.

Post by Elfenlied1012 (557 posts) See mini bio Level 15

@Donwun: Thank you

@Whitelock:Thank you

@Supreme Marvel: That could work as an explanation if they bothered to establish that as why, instead they just pretend what they previously established is not true.

@ComicMan24: Glad you enjoy it in spite all that

@Destinyheroknight: Well I don't claim to be an expert on one piece

Post by ComicMan24 (8,759 posts) See mini bio Level 12

@Elfenlied1012: What is that spawn thing you are talking about? Most likely I know but my mind is stuck now lol

Post by Elfenlied1012 (557 posts) See mini bio Level 15

@ComicMan24: early on in the series they claim that no monsters or quests or items respawn making everything finite. then about two episodes late they completely drop it entirely with no explanation.

Post by Supreme Marvel (5,063 posts) See mini bio Level 12

@Elfenlied1012 said:

@Supreme Marvel: That could work as an explanation if they bothered to establish that as why, instead they just pretend what they previously established is not true.

How would they know if it changed? They're not in control of things like that. The creator was inside and possible could be changing things as he went on. Obviously they didn't want people to know so they didn't show who he was until the end. I play games all the time, and my friend has been a beta-tester for a lot of games from Star Wars to updates on WoW. He told me a long while ago they usually add a few new things after the beta is over, so he understands the beta-testers will know a lot but expecting other things.

Post by Elfenlied1012 (557 posts) See mini bio Level 15

@Supreme Marvel: Yeah that's fine if any characters said or mentioned it (this is called "establishing" something in fiction) the thing is they mention and establish it as No respawning early on and dont establish this is no longer true they simply ignore it causing incongruity in the fiction. An Example of this is if in a movie they have a line establishing that X object does Z thing and can't do Y and later in the film they use X object to do Z action without a line or shot to establish that the previous rule is no longer true.

Whether or not betas are different then final games has nothing to do with incongruity in fiction.

Post by Supreme Marvel (5,063 posts) See mini bio Level 12

@Elfenlied1012: It's possible they thought it was obviously not true since we saw it to be that way.

Post by Elfenlied1012 (557 posts) See mini bio Level 15

@Supreme Marvel: then they were wrong. Or more likely they didn't think it through which would be evident by how piss poor their explanations are for everything else in that universe.

Post by takashichea (10,935 posts) See mini bio Level 25
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Dang, I'm late to the review. Thanks for the mention! Am I the only one who enjoyed this show more than everyone in this community? I guess I have simple needs.

I do see how the episodes aren't cohesive when one is about solving a murder case, helping a girl revive her dead pet, and adopting a little cute girl. I wish the SAO arc was a bit longer and give more attention to the minor characters. They didn't do much, and I look forward to seeing them in action more than Kirito and Asuna. Speaking of Kirito and Asuna, their relationship is rushed making it feel shallow and superficial. I couldn't feel anything for them during the finale for both SAO and ALFheim. Even though ALFheim was a slow and lack the looming danger and action, Suguha's little thing for Kirito was amusing for me. I was looking forward to see how Asuna would react at Suguha's relationship with Kirito. Unfortunately, nothing happened.

I totally forgot about the gaming elements such as spawning that were dropped off. Like you guys said, SAO became less technical and threw it overboard.

@Supreme Marvel:

After trying Sword Art Online and Accel World, which you think is Reki Kawahara's better work?

On a unrelated note:

After Sword Art Online, I'll try .Hack and Accel World. Don't know which .Hack to try. Same goes for Robotics;Notes. Once Robotics;Notes, I'm going to try Steins;Gate.

Post by Elfenlied1012 (557 posts) See mini bio Level 15

@takashichea: To be honest the barrier to entry for .hack is absurd if you never played the game but where to start would be sign just dont be afraid to look up anything that confuses you

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