Here recently I finished one of the most controversial animes that aired in 2013, and that is Sword Art Online. Personally, I enjoyed it (you can see my thoughts on it here), but when I went to look at other reviews I was rather stunned by the reactions I was seeing. The one that struck me the most was how there was a very large dislike of SAO’s main character Kazuto Kirigaya, aka Kirito. There were all sorts of complaints about how he had no personality, how he was overpowered for unexplained reasons, and how he caused the female cast line to fall into the background as tired tropes of female sterotypes. The analytics of Kirito were pretty much all over the place. Personally, though I could not understand where the frustration was coming from, and I was asking myself: “What’s so wrong with Kirito?” I liked him, and I thought he was pretty badass in a lot of his sequences.
That being said, Kirito is not a perfectly rounded character, because he does have his faults. Predominately being the one thing that gives most people a problem with characters like him, and that is a sense of something to relate too. When it comes to Sword Art Online you don’t really get a sense of what Kirito is all about, other than he’s just badass for the sake of being such. Does that make him a bad character? I would think it doesn’t. Despite the elements that Kirito lacks, we the audience, still don’t want him to lose. We effectively want to see the hero win, and seeing that character overcome extreme adversity is really what the badass hero is all about. It’s the embodiment of the human nature aspect of wanting to see good overcome evil.
To understand the aspect of these characters you have to understand their key elements that make them up. A badass hero is above all else confident in his/her ability, courageous in the face of overwhelming opposition, and has a moral compass of some kind, even if it is slightly broken. Kirito from SAO still has all of these elements, but what is it about Kirito in particular that causes viewers to not connect with him as they would Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop, or Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist?
I believe that it is because the badass hero aspect is a tried stereotype that has been done over and again, and it has been done better in many cases. Also it is the fact that viewers want to see unique aspects to characters, so they can be awesome and relatable at the same time. Spike is a chill dude that can kick ass, and Edward has a height complex and a short temper (no pun intended) while still being able to kick ass. Kirito on the other hand is just able to kick ass. So in a way the audience is sort of asking: “What else can you do?”
Is that fair of us as viewers though? We still take a lot of appreciation in seeing the hero win. I know I was on the edge of my seat and all excited when I would see Kirito fight in the amazing action sequences of SAO, and I was happy to see him fall in love with Asuna, despite the nature the show took with the relationship. I believe it is fair, because as human beings some of us will like things that others may not.
In the end, I don’t think Kirito can stand up there with great badass heroes that we all know and love, but I don’t think that makes him a bad character either. Kirito is just a decent character that can do awesome things. So in a way we the audience like what Kirito does throughout SAO, but that is not the same things as liking Kirito himself, and that I believe is what a large part of where the dislike for Kirito comes from, and what is ultimately “wrong” with him.