Recap: Everything’s over, so everyone parties in real life and plays video games together until the end of time.
Hey, just in case you didn’t think Sugou was enough of a slimy asshole villain, now he’s attacking Kirito in the parking lot of the hospital! I mean, seriously? I was just complaining last week that his characterization was completely lacking in any subtlety or nuance, but making him out to be a creepy raper guy apparently just wasn’t enough; now he assaults teenagers in parking lots. Not that it matters, since Kirito is still our unstoppable superhero of a protagonist, and he uses his Aincrad-learned martial arts skills (sigh) to disarm Sugou and smash the guy’s face into a car door. Because it’s not like the fight is between a grown adult and a teenager who is in the middle of physical therapy due to being in a coma for two years, or anything like that. Still, Sugou did just get chopped up on the interwebs and he was utterly hopped up on painkillers, so I can perhaps forgive a lack of motor skills.
Anyway, Kirito and Asuna finally reunite in the real world, and everybody’s happy again. All the teenagers who were trapped in SAO get to go to a fancy prep school set up by the government, Kirito gets his harem of ladies in real life, nobody who had their brains tinkered with by Sugou have any lasting damage, everyone goes to Agil’s sweet bar to have a party, and there are no meaningful consequences for anything that has transpired in the show. This is perhaps more of a gripe with anime in general, as I feel like the vast majority of anime does this (feel free to correct me) but the ending is always one that goes full circle, and not in a good way. There is something to be said for having the ending be a call back to the beginning, or even for “and the adventure continues!” endings, but so many anime end with nothing lost and nothing gained. It’s annoying as all hell.
I guess I’m not being completely fair to Sword Art Online; all things considered, the ending was a fitting send off, despite the rampant silliness (or perhaps because of it). Agil, once again proving to be the true hero of the story, uploads the magic World Egg Kirito got from Kayaba Akihiko’s magic ghost onto the internet, allowing anyone with a big enough server to create their own Virtual MMORPG world and connecting all of them into one giant shared MMO space (really? really? It’s not like 4000 people died thanks to all of this or anything ), allowing everyone to enjoy their video games for all time. As for Leafa (remember her? me neither), she gets to live with the knowledge that while she’ll never get to commit incest, she’ll still always be close with her brother in the world of the Internet.
And I suppose, for all the show’s faults up to and including the ending., there’s still something poetic everyone gathering at the top of Yggdrasil in Alfheim, watching Aincrad – the castle that gave them so much grief and exhilaration in equal measure – descend from the full moon. The top of that castle was an endpoint they never reached, an impossible goal that 10,000 people strove for but still couldn’t reach, even after beating the final boss. It’s time for a rematch. Roll credits.
And then I get to throw up my hands in sheer joy that I never have to watch any more of this ever again.
This episode feels super redundant. Barely anything of import happens in it, and while we get a few nice character moments, it’s nothing that couldn’t have been incorporated into say, an epilogue to the previous episode. instead, what we get is about ten minutes of worthwhile content padded out to full episode length, and its a little bit of a draggy and anticlimactic way to round out our adventure.
Sugou’s sudden appearance in the car park is actually a semi-decent twist, and it would be an effective scene is it had been handled better. There needed to be a raw edge that distinguished it from another in game combat sequence – a bit of blood doesn’t really cut it. There’s no real desperation to the fight, and when Kirito finally manages to grab the knife and then comments on Sugou’s ‘poor choice of weapon’ it pretty much instantly kills any drama there could be. Iro makes a decent point about the (lack of) one-sidedness to this fight too, and the bit where Sugou fails to stab Kirito because of poor depth perception is just funny in an entirely inappropriate way. I also was slightly confused as to whether Kirito actually killed Sugou, since the animation makes the scene ambiguous. I figured he didn’t since it’s shonen anime, but it would have been a kind of viciously cool twist if he had to be honest.
After that, it’s mostly a consequences free romp through how good life has become for everyone. It’s nice that we get to see some familiar faces, and the little scene with Lizbeth and Silica is pretty neat, but the bit where everyone throws Kirito a party because he’s so super awesome is sort of indulgent, even if he genuinely did save them all. And don’t get me started on how silly the whole ‘World Seed’ concept is. The idea that it can be freely distributed all over the world, allowing people to begin their own virtual realms is admittedly a very cool one. But let’s take a step back here – mere minutes before this we’re being told how VMMORPGS were being shut down and companies were going out of business, and this is the same medium that has so far yielded a mass murder and a series of insane human experiments. Yet you’re really telling me people are totally OK with playing a version run by some guy off a server in his garage? Seems…daft to say the least. Why hasn’t the government banned this crap already? I get you need a way to continue the series, but there are better solutions (such as making the whole ALO incident a coverup for example). The ‘any character, any game!’ thing also seems a pretty blatant excuse for future plot wrangling as well.
What’s also odd is that ultimately the final scene is an exchange between Kirito and Suguha, not between Kirito and Asuna, who has after all been the driving plot throughout the show. If you plan to make one relationship central to your story, then it only makes sense to focus on them as you show closes. And while Aincrad descending from the sky is an absolutely epic visual signoff, it doesn’t really make much sense. It’s like a Vietnam veteran saying “Hey, you know what would be a good place to go on holiday? Hanoi!”. What better way to honour the deaths of thousands than resurrect their killing ground and use it for sport? It’s clearly aiming for a poetic ‘the circle is complete’ ending, but, as it so often has, Sword Art Online just falls flat on its face.
A lovely send-off for a lovely story. I’ve been waiting to see Kirito and Asuna meet up in the real world since episode 14, and I was not disappointed when they finally did. In the end everyone got some resolution, even Suguha was shown that she can reach the rest of the cast if she tries. Kirito really loves his imouto in an it’s-hard-to-believe-this-is-platonic way, but I guess a good portion of Alfheim Online was about her, and so this was a more meaningful piece of closure with her than I would have expected.
Lifesong’s Final Impressions:
Sword Art Online has been one of those shows that has made a name for itself as a must watch anime this past year. It’s also garnered a lot of hatred from those who are not so happy with it. As for myself I’ve sat in an interesting spot between the two extremes. Personally I’ve enjoyed Sword Art Online quite a bit, but my friends are very much split down the middle on it. I basically have two circles of friends that I hang with, one of them absolutely adores Sword Art Online and the other abhors it.
If you have been reading the Sword Art Online glorioblog recaps you can probably guess which one hates it, but let me talk about the group that loves it. I played World of Warcraft for years, it was my life for a long time. Was being past tense, it is now something I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. That said I made a lot of close friendships that I still maintain to this day thanks to World of Warcraft. I also learned many life lessons from playing that game, my ability to romanticize MMO’s will probably never go away even though I seem to be incapable of enjoying them anymore.
The friendships gained in an online environment are the type that can only come about when people are forced to work together toward a common goal. If you have never had the chance to experiencing a raiding guild in an MMO let me fill you in on the basic reality of it all from the perspective of someone who was in various leadership positions in a World of Warcraft guild: It is not a friendly environment at all. People are at each others throats over the smallest things, and being a jerk is often idolized because it gets things accomplished, which can make the player base more than a little bit unapproachable.
The interesting thing about friendships gained in an online environment is that they are tested from the get go. You can learn things about a person from a few games of capture the flag that years of talking to them won’t reveal. The same goes for raiding, I can’t possibly express how much raiding strains relationships. Also, I played a healer so whenever anything went wrong it was always my fault, sometimes it really was, often it wasn’t. The bonds you forge under fire are made out of stronger stuff. Up the ante a bit and make it so that you die in game, you die in real life, and you have a situation where characters in a story have every reason to become closer with little motivation beyond that at all.
Why am I telling you all this in my final impression of Sword Art Online? Because I get it. Go ahead and call Kirito a pair of pants for dumb MMO gamers or whatever other insults satisfy any deep seated hatred you may have for Kirito if you like, but personally I feel that is missing the point. Instead of being a pair of pants that an MMO gamer can slip into Kirito is more of an idol. He is that far away goal that anyone who has spent time raiding in an MMO raiding can relate with trying to be. Not even so much an idol of what is liked, but what is expected. Kitito is not so much a pair of pants as he is a paragon of MMO gamer ideals.
Does all of that make Kirito a Mary Sue? Maybe it does. Does it make him an awful character? Some would say yes. Kirito is where I see the majority of the split between my two circle of friends. We at glorioblog regularly get reblogged on tumbler by Angry Sword Art Online fans who often can barely spell let alone properly organize their thoughts into a coherent argument, but one thing they have said about our recaps has stuck with me; To paraphrase: “These guys just don’t get it.”
I have things about Sword Art Online that I would like to critique, but I feel I first need to admonish both the fans and the “critics” of Sword Art Online for missing the point, or for not getting it as I said above. I should be able to celebrate my love for this story without needing to go to war on the internet to defend it from fans and foes alike critiquing it in a way that is more about personal agenda than any sort of meaningful statements about the anime itself or the story it told.
Fiction is created to be be enjoyed, or maybe more accurately I should say fiction is an artform that shares a complex expression of experience. If you want to know more on what I mean by that feel free to ask. Honestly there are many different ways we can define the different elements of what makes fiction work, but there is one thing that all fiction has in common: Fiction creates a veil of imagination that requires an emotional investment on the part of the reader. If that investment is denied by the investor the magic is broken.
Show me any particular piece of fiction, and I can show you a way to break that veil. All someone needs to set off at destroying it is something about the story they don’t like, and that veil can be broken. Something that makes them uncomfortable or offends them perform this trick the easiest, but all it takes is a slight distaste, and you can break free. This is true for real world stories as well in fact, but that is a topic for another day.
Stop and think about your favorite piece of fiction, it is no exception to the above principle of investment. Activating your own imagination is an important part of enjoying any story. If you won’t do that then you won’t experience the charms of a story no matter how well they are presented.
With Sword Art Online Many are having seizures about “plot holes” and broken internal consistency, but personally I think those are minor problems with Sword Art Online. They are real issues, but not to the extent that has been claimed. Why? Because Sword Art Online always leaves enough room to easily fill in the blanks. Personally I don’t really care that the door to reach the upper area of the Alfheim Online tower didn’t actually have a physical console on it, or that Asuna didn’t die immediately when she was killed by Heathcliff. These events and those like them range from minor oversights to intentional choice.
Alfhiem Online in particular was between a rock and a hard place when it came to depicting the fights. They could either have mid air chanting battles or cool choreographed fights. The thing is people would have complained either way. Better to make all of Kirito’s abilities look like skills without explaining them than have him sit around chanting, ruining the excitement of his fights. If you don’t believe me go look at Campione!. One of the biggest complaints against that anime was the way it was all chanting instead of choreographed fights. You can’t win.
Sword Art Online pulls out a lot of things where it just couldn’t win. It really isn’t hard to see why people take such offense at it, though I do think it’s a bit pathetic how personally offended some people are by this anime. Asuna’s max cooking ability, Kirito’s leet gaming skills, Kirito impressing all the ladies with his leet gaming skills, Sugo and making Asuna a victim of assault and the list goes on. All of these are situations where the anime couldn’t win, and yet my only disgust is with the reaction people have had to it.
Most of the “plot holes” of Sword Art Online can be solved by exposition that simply isn’t there. My own imagination is not so lacking as to need those things explained, and the direction of the story is never so complex as to be confusing without explanation. The most intelligent argument I’ve seen come out of this basically boils down to this: That isn’t the way storytelling is supposed to work so it isn’t okay. I can respect this position, having absolute standards for enoying fiction is not something I am willing to hold myself to, but I can understand that point of view even though I disagree with it. That said I am not hearing that argument from most of the people critiquing this anime.
I could go into a rant here about how experiences don’t need to be reasonable to be shared successfully, and I would feel pretty justified in that. Instead, what I want to stress here is that the goals of the author were clearly met. Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online feels a bit like a first draft that could use some editing. Some of the details could use some work, but the experience is complete. Because of that I highly doubt that fixing any of those issues would change a single opinion on this anime. I am reminded of the human mind’s ability to read a paragraph where the letters in words are in the wrong order.
To call the “plot holes” of Sword Art Online the major issues the anime suffers from feels incredibly silly to me. They range from minor oversights to obvious choices made by the author of the original story and those responsible for turning it into anime. To give one of the major examples Asuna’s non death may be a deus ex machina by technicality, but if so it was a deus ex machina of intentional design which defeats any meaning that critique holds for me.
To cite another example Sword Art Online has issues defining what a console is and is not in Alfheim Online, but in all seriousness that is not a major plot hole, it is a minor oversight. Change a few words and it all makes sense. For that matter is the word console even an accurate translation of the Japanese? I assume it is, but if not that would explain one of the biggest unintentional “plot holes” of Sword Art Online.
The important thing to realize here is that the flow inside any particular episode is never broken or cheapened by these “plot holes”, at least not unintentionally which is important to recognize when critiquing something. Are these problems that Sword Art Online should be critiqued for? Absolutely, just not on the magnitude they have been or with the implications that have been attached to them.
It has become a serious problem with anime “critics” when they hold their own enjoyment and personal taste up on a pedestal above what an anime inspires to be and then again over what it accomplishes. I’ve half the mind to just get out of writing about anime here and now thanks to all the frustration and headache this brings when I want to write about a popular show myself.
The critical gaze that many Sword Art Online watchers have cast on the anime has reached a ridiculous level. There is a lot of missing the point going on, and to be fair it is not just the haters doing it. A large majority of the fans who have come out in defense of Sword Art Online are just as guilty of misunderstanding what the anime has done right and what it did wrong as the people who abhor it, which finally brings me back to my own personal critique of Sword Art Online.
Sword Art Online did a lot of things right, and a few things wrong. Reki Kawahara is a master of atmosphere and world building. The passion he put into making both Aincrad and Alfheim is nothing short of incredible, and A-1 should also be commended for the work they did in bringing them both to life. As I mentioned before Kirito is like a paragon of MMO gamer ideals, and Asuna is like every MMO gamer’s wet dream right down to having her cooking skill maxed out, but what makes them interesting is their interactions with the world and each other.
Honestly I didn’t like Asuna much at first, and it wasn’t really anything she did that changed my mind, it was the world itself. Reki Kawahara created a lot of fairly simple characters for this story. At first glance that may seem like a flaw, but personally I don’t think it is. Character growth may be the primary way to make a character interesting inside a story, but sometimes just seeing the way a character reacts to a given world can be enough to justify that characters part in it, and really when you stop and look at what can be taken away from playing an MMO that is what it’s all about. It’s not about players and the way they grow; it’s about the world and how it challenges them. This also means more awful things happening to characters, more people upset, and less winning all around, at least on the internet with “critics”.
There is an argument to be made for poor character motivation in the Alfheim Online portion of this anime, and it’s one I am inclined to agree with. The well defined character motivations end with Aincrad. One of the most jarring moments is when the people who help Kirito make it to the top of the tower in Alfheim Online just show up out of the blue and help him make it to the top. Logically this doesn’t make much sense. Supposedly this is better explained in the books, but I can tell you right now that is was not a mistake to skip out on explaining that in the anime. Some things are better left unsaid. Drawing any more attention to those characters than was absolutely necessary would have been a bad idea.
One thing I think should be pointed out here is that Sword Art Online often addresses the audience directly. This is probably to help cover up the simplistic motivations of the cast. Why make us question things that are obviously completely lacking in depth? To do so would only cheapen the experience.
For better or worse Sword Art Online is a story all about Kirito. The entire world inherently understands that Kirito is a paragon of MMO gamer ideals. Call him a mary sue if you must, but point is the world is aware of it whatever title it is that he has. In Aincrad this was established by the way the world gave him duel wielding capacity. In Alfheim Online this is established by the way Kirito kept so much of what he achieved in Aincrad. Both this world and this author love Kirito. This is both the strongest and weakest point of Reki Kawahara’s storytelling. You will either come to love Kirito or you likely won’t enjoy this anime much at all.
Reki Kawahara is great at world building, and passionately understands MMO’s and how to tell a story that comes from an online world, but most of his character might as well be NPC’s, and in Alfheim in particular it probably would have worked better if they were. Even at the end of Alfheim Online the story is all about Kirito, even when it arguably should have been about Asuna it was about Kirito. All the hatred, all the critiques laid upon this anime all come back to that one focal point, Kirito. You either accept what he is, or you don’t.
Reki Kawahara also has something of an imouto fetish. Personally I would have rather the people from Aincrad assist in getting Asuna back. The motivation was already built in, but then Reki Kawahara is not very good at character motivation. It’s a shame on a certain level, but I am not interested in critiquing Sword Art Online for what it is not. Many of the moments that people seem to hate about Sword Art Online so much are because they make them feel uncomfortable, but… in most cases, they were supposed to, providing more examples of situations where Sword Art Online simply can’t win.
A lot of what this rant stems from is that I do not believe that many of the people criticizing Sword Art Online are doing so for the reasons they say they are. I am not even sure if they are aware of this, in many cases I think not. Misunderstanding that something uncomfortable or “offensive” is the actual reason something is hated seems to be common practice with popular anime, but is irritating every time it happens on a large scale nonetheless.
If you are looking for missing exposition from the books it is pretty clear to me why it is missing. Exposition brings logic to the table that doesn’t always need to be there. Compare Sword Art Online with Accel World and you have two stories that on paper should clearly favor Accel World. It is without all the little “plot holes” that plague Sword Art Online. Everything about storytelling best practice tells me that Accel World should be the better story. Even the protagonist of Accel World is better defined. I can easily see the ways that Reki Kawahara has improved as a writer between Sword Art Online and Accel World, but Sword Art Online still manages to be a lot more fun.
Exposition and explanation in the dramatic moments of Sword Art Online would have completely ruined what Sword Art Online had going for it. In fact many of the “plot holes” of Sword Art Online would be better off if the story had never addressed them in the first place and to the credit of the anime staff Sword Art Online avoids giving us more than the bare minimum of what we need. Change the first use of the word console to area and suddenly one of the biggest “plot holes” is fixed. A-1 made the right choice when they avoided exposition toward the end of the anime as it would have brought focus onto the character motivations of the rest of the Alfheim Online cast. How can I say something so audacious? Because for better or worse this never was never their story.
Something I learned somewhat Ironically from playing MMO’s is that it is usually a good idea to build something toward it’s strengths. It is better do a few things great than a lot of things poorly. When playing a priest who can do a lot of different things spending skill points on holy damage is probably a bad idea. Holy damage is, or at least was pretty damn useless in World of Warcraft. This same principle applies here with why I can say that I am very happy with A-1’s adaptation of Sword Art Online.
A-1 took Sword Art Online, a story that while a bit messy, clearly had a lot of passion in it. They played up the drama it had to the best of their abilities while avoiding the weaker aspects of the supporting cast’s character motivations. They played up the world building that Reki Kawahara is so good at in a way that put emphasis on all the little implications the world had on the people in it while avoiding drawing attention to the little inconsistencies that plague the overall story, and avoiding focusing in on the side casts dubious motivations.
In the end there is only so much you can ask of an Adaptation, and I do not think Sword Art Online could have been done much better than it has. I do think a bit more attention to detail was given to Aincrad than it was to Alfheim, but personally I will take what I can get, and do believe that those details betrayed the goals of this anime much at all.
If you have not picked up the anime I will say this: temper your expectations, Sword Art Online is not perfect. Sword Art Online is a case where you will find problems if you go looking for them, but if you can turn down your critical gaze for a bit, and ignore those storytelling best practices you think you know so well you just might be in for a treat. Watch a few episodes and decide if you can get behind Kirito’s character. If not drop it then and there as I can more or less guarantee you won’t like the rest. If you can get behind Kirito as a protagonist then you just might be in for one of the most exciting stories anime has given us in some time.
Zigg’s Final Impressions:
When I look back at Sword Art Online, I see a tragedy. I see a show that anchored itself to a smart, clever, incredibly compelling idea and then proceeded to eat itself alive with poor character writing, duff plotting and rampant deus ex machinas. I see a show which I wish was much, much better than it was, and that makes me sad. Most of what I want to say has already been said in the various blogs that we’ve posted over time, but I think it’s worth reiterating a few things.
Firstly, to make me interested in a show, you absolutely must have compelling characters who are good fun to hang out with. Some shows, like slice-of-life shows, get by on basically nothing else. Sword Art Online failed to generate anybody I’d be willing to spend any serious amount of time with. Kirito is a cypher, as close as I’ve ever seen to a character with null personality. He’s not particularly dislikeable or offensive, but neither does he have any features which stick out in the memory. Even the shallowest of shonen heroes tend to have a character flaw which they must overcome (it’s very often stupidity – see Kamina, Goku, Natsu or any number of punchy dudes) but Kirito doesn’t really change at all over this arc, despite the show’s best efforts to convince us otherwise. The supporting cast is awful – Asuna pays lip service to being an action girl but really is one of the most tiresome damsels in distress of recent years, while Suguha doesn’t even get that far, stopping at ‘boring, mildly offensive stereotype’.
The other major issue I had with SAO is plot consistency. In every narrative, you agree to suspend your disbelief over certain impossible things to allow the story to take place. But it’s the show’s responsibility to ensure that the internal rules of the fiction are obeyed – as long as that happens, the illusion is complete and some of the more unbelievable elements can be safely passed off. It’s only when the rules are broken that the facade falls away and exposes how silly an awful lot of the other things about the story might be. SAO does this far, far too many times for it to retain any sort of coherence in my eyes. Too often the show simply takes the easy way out, offering either half-arsed excuses, or no excuse at all for some its wilder plot twists. The ending of the original SAO arc is one of the laziest, most illogical pieces of writing I’ve had the pleasure to see, and throughout it’s peppered with similar examples of poor writing and planning.
Which is a shame, because there’s also some genuinely good bits and bobs in here. I think it’s absolutely reasonable to say that the Sword Art Online segment is much, much stronger than the Alfheim Online segment, simply because the core thrust of the plot – you’re trapped in here – makes for much more interesting, visceral stories. I would have appreciated much more interplay between the real and virtual worlds, and while I think the decision never to return the ‘camera’ to the real world was the correct one, it would have been nice to see a bit more of how people struggled to adapt to what was effectively an unpoliced jail. I’m not expecting the Stanford Prison Experiment or anything but the show seemed unwilling to add darker, more serious edge to the experience of being trapped in a virtual world, instead preferring what I felt was a naively optimistic tone.
Most of these criticisms become null and void in the Alfheim Online segment merely through the removal of the ‘real death’ mechanic, robbing the show of its most unique feature and potential dramatic point. The interaction between Kirito and Leafa is tired and uninspired, Sugou is a terrible villain who barely ever appears, and the entire thing basically becomes a boys-own romp with little real feeling of danger. Sure, there’s the whole ‘human experimentation thing’ but since we never see any consequences (and as the last episode demonstrates, there are none) it’s basically just something we’re told with little actual evidence to back it up. For me it’s this last stretch of the show which took it from ‘flawed but interesting’ to ‘bad’, with little real impetus to watch and nobody to really root for.
No illusion works if you can see the strings, and with Sword Art Online I saw nothing but strings, be they to support the implausibility of the story, preach to us about the likability of the characters or simply attract the biggest audience they could (what’s with all the bits in the ALO arc where Asuna’s getting molested?). What this show is is fodder, anime as a commercial product designed to be sold to the largest number of people possible. Nothing wrong with making a successful show of course, but Sword Art Online feel like it was written by a machine and a marketing manager, neither of whom were very good writers. It’s a show that offers interesting ideas but lacks the panache to execute upon them, that serves up an intriguing situation but doesn’t have the heart and soul to engage us in it. Appropriately for a show about virtual worlds, it’s ultimately a hollow experience.
Iro’s Final Impressions (or, Iro’s Excuse to Rant About Writing):
Oh dear, where to start? It seems like so long ago now when we first started The Glorio Blog at the beginning of the Summer 2012 anime season, and I was assigned Sword Art Online because I had nothing else to cover. Back then, Jel was covering Hyouka, so along with Random Manga Theatre, SAO was the only thing I was writing for the blog. And, since I had a lot of free time, I decided that I would check out the light novels for this show, since judging from the first episode, it seemed pretty cool. Well, I was certainly in for an unpleasant surprise.
As I plowed through the first four volumes, which the anime is adapted from, I could feel the sour taste in my mouth grow worse with each passing chapter. The setting of Aincrad and Sword Art Online was well made, to be sure; it was a fascinating world, and Reki Kawahara clearly had a strong grasp of how MMOs worked, and how they would probably work even in a virtual reality. The idea of people being trapped in a video game was one I’d seen before, of course, but it was well realized in this story, probably better than any other example I’ve seen.
Well realized, but poorly utilized. It’s remarkable how… botched the plot progression of this series is. To put it bluntly, the writing of SAO is not great. The most glaring issue at a glance is that the people we’re supposed to view as protagonists are flat and uninteresting; Kirito is by far the worst offender in this area. He has no actual character, existing solely for the people watching to slip into his fancy black clothes and dual-wielding prowess and pretend that they are the best players in the game. He’s infallible, never legitimately loses a fight, is the only character in the game who can dual wield, gets all the ladies, and beats all the bad guys. Kirito acts with the foresight of the author trying to make his pet character succeed at everything, and that makes him dull and uninteresting.
If you want that out of your protagonists, then more power to you, I guess. I just want the stories I consume to be about actual people (or reasonable facsimiles of people, since it is fiction). I’ve maintained throughout the entire run that the show would be significantly more interesting if it were about other side characters, who all seem to have at least a cursory motivation, which is still more than anything Kirito has. If you recall the first episode, Klein gives up a chance at a highly effective partnership with Kirito to make sure his own posse is going to be okay in this terrifying situation they’ve all found themselves in. This is far more humanizing and interesting than what our supposed hero does, which is run off and become a mysterious all-black-wearing player who works alone and plays by his own rules. Klein might not be a round character either, but he has something he wants (to make sure all of his friends stay alive) and that is at odds with the goal of every player in SAO (escape the game as quickly as possible). Would it end up being an entirely different story, probably with completely different themes and progression? Yes, and I still think it would be way more engaging than what we actually got.
As for the plot itself, I’ve already been over the numerous plot holes in earlier posts. I’m sure if you’re curious, you can take a look. Suffice to say, it’s also poorly constructed. I’m not going to claim to be an expert on the subject (so enjoy feeling smug and self-righteous if you’re going to play the “let’s see you do better” card as Reki Kawahara himself reportedly has), but when I see inconsistencies on the level of those that plague Sword Art Online, it frustrates me. How can someone write while so blatantly ignoring what they’ve already written into the story, not even coming up with a bullshit reason for these things happening? It stinks of a bad first draft, an unedited work, a product of amateurism and laziness.
My understanding is that SAO was originally independently web published in 2002 before being published in print form in 2009, the latter version of which the anime was based on. What fucking author thinks it’s okay to publish the shit he wrote seven years ago as-is without editing it and fixing the inconsistencies which so blatantly rear their heads in the work? This, more than anything else, is utterly baffling to me – the problems are there, and I think anyone with any storytelling sense should be able to see them plain as day. Why weren’t they fixed? Why wasn’t the story adjusted, molded into something worth being proud of?
In the end, I suppose I don’t regret watching Sword Art Online, as it’s shown me an example of how to do certain things excellently while screwing up the important bits that actually make a story into a story. It’s been a fascinating train wreck over the past half year, but Sword Art Online is still the first complete show that I’ve covered, and I guess it deserves a smidgen of credit for that.