Tiny spoiler warning for very early parts of Sword Art Online. I would recommend watching the show before reading this post if you somehow haven’t, primarily so you understand what I’m talking about, but you do you I guess.
Every so often, a joke rolls along in a community that the community loves so much it practically becomes immortal and newer members of the community can mistake it for fact. Anime has a fair share of these sayings as well, such as the absolute fact that a Tsukihime anime has never been made. There is one joke in our niche community, however, that has stayed past its welcome. I don’t find it likely that this will stop any people from making these jokes, but quite a large amount of people have continually insisted on using the fault that a certain show’s writing is terrible to throw the entire thing under the bus, including the few points where the show shines in a way only it can. Today, we shall attempt to put the beating of a dead horse down, in defence of the good points in A-1 Pictures’ Sword Art Online.
I’m not exactly sure where the “Sword Art Online is crap” joke started, but seeing how long ago the show in question has aired, one would assume the joke would die down by now. While people who have been around the online anime community for a long time widely consider making fun of Sword Art Online as doing something that’s already been done and overdone a billion times, it’s still a common thing for newer, younger people who have only recently got into anime to do. I suppose we can all partially blame people like Gigguk and Something Witty Entertainment for being some of the biggest sources for popularising the mocking of a series that’s, let’s admit it, isn’t all that bad, but that’s a point I’ll get into towards the end of today’s post. Until that point, let’s go into some of the reasons Sword Art Online isn’t completely awful.
I think everyone who knows who she is can generally agree that Yuki Kajiura’s music is pretty spectacular. Anime wise, she’s composed music for shows from .hack//, to ufotable’s Fate and Kara no Kyoukai series, is behind the indisputably iconic soundtrack of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, and is the composer for the band Kalafina. Now, what if I told you Kajiura was behind Sword Art Online as well? I know all of the jokes about the changing in some songs for Sword Art Online’s soundtrack, but after getting all of the giggles out of the way, can you honestly look at all of the music from Sword Art Online and say, at the very least, that it didn’t properly support it’s show? While insanely iconic soundtracks help define an incredible series (for example any time that someone who’s seen Steins;Gate hears the incredibly iconic track “Gate of Steiner” or if someone who’s a big Fate fan hears Emiya’s theme, without any doubt they know that’s the song they’re listening to not because of the song itself but because of the place it holds), if a soundtrack helps support the moments it’s written to help add depth to, then is it bad? With that said, is Sword Art Online’s soundtrack and music really bad? Can you honestly say that LiSA’s “Crossing Field,” or any of the openings or endings for Sword Art Online, doesn’t fit the series? If so, why? If not, why not?
Next, why don’t we look at the character designs. In my opinion, if a series holds onto a specific look, one distinct and different from shows like it, it’s doing something right. I also think that since characters are up and front with all attention on them most of the time, their designs are the most important. Now, I’m not an art major, I don’t have any experience in directing shows, movies, or games, nor do I know anyone who does, but I feel like I’m at least a little logically justified in saying this. I hope. Anyways, if you ask me, the character designs from Sword Art Online are all unique and interesting with the exception of Kirito.
While I am playing a little bit of devil’s advocate, I will never defend Kirito’s character design because it’s honestly the most bland out of the entire group. Black hair, black eyes, black coat, black sword, black soul; the kid is boring. I have no idea what kind of aesthetic Reki Kawahara was going for with Kirito, but the entirety of the rest of the main cast out-shines him. The rest of the main cast are all so interesting looking and diverse that I’m sure even people who have never seen Sword Art Online would be able to name at least half of the main female cast just by being in the online anime community. No two characters look alike, but also don’t look similar to many, if any, characters from other anime, well known or not. Along with this, each character’s design complements their personality and does a fairly good job of painting a starting picture of what this character is like most of the time.
Last of the main points in defence of this show that I have to bring up is the extremely well choreographed fight scenes. To put it bluntly, if you didn’t like Sword Art Online‘s fight scenes either you were looking for flaws in an attempt to hate it, or you just don’t like fast paced fights. I feel like whoever at A-1 Pictures was responsible for how those fights looked did their job the best. Every fight is attention grabbing, interesting, and feels alive in a way. They’re not the best fight scenes in anime, but they are by far Sword Art Online’s strongest suit. There isn’t much to say about them other than that.
If anyone is interested in a show that’s honestly as bad as it gets, not only in my opinion but in the opinions of many others to the point where it has a score of 2.38 on MyAnimeList (take that as you will), I highly recommend watching the OVA, Mars of Destruction. Not because it’s good, not because it holds anything of value in the production itself, but because in experiencing this one twenty-minute episode, your eyes get opened up a little bit. It’s not licensed or available for legal streaming for extremely clear reasons, but it’s short enough to where I imagine it’d be easy to find (not that I advocate piracy or illegal streaming), and it is without a doubt the worst anime I have seen from a pure production standpoint. After watching the OVA, if you somehow find a way, try seeing what Mars of Destruction and Sword Art Online have in common. Now, I don’t do this with every show I feel is bad like Mayoiga or Glasslip, since Mars of Destruction is easily on a league of its own when it comes to massive train wrecks, but it’s a bit of a good indicator. Do you feel as confused watching Sword Art Online compared to when you watched Mars of Destruction? How is the music different? How are the characters written differently?
Now that I’ve hopefully made a bit of a background for my opinion, I honestly think that Sword Art Online‘s only bad side is its writing. In fact, its writing is so off that it drags down the rest of the production pretty hard. The premise is initially incredibly interesting, the way it paints itself as a darker series in the first couple episodes was very well done, but there was no build up after that. There was no follow-up from the constant despair except for somehow leaving behind events that were written up to seem like things that would scar our lead for the remainder of the story and completely discarding them in favour of giving Kirito an entirely different life to live.
While I did poke a little bit of fun towards them at the beginning of this post, the way Something Witty Entertainment handles the more serious moments in Sword Art Online with their abridged series is legitimately better than the original writing for the show in that they do one thing very right: Kirito is scarred from watching people he was close to die while he was powerless to stop it. This is the condition I would expect a real human being to be in after an event like that. Sachi, a girl Kirito promised to protect, died under his watch.
How would that not mess him up on some level? How does this not make the game of Sword Art Online a home for terrible memories? How many people, friend, enemies, did he watch actually die there? Only so much can be covered in twelve episodes, but I honestly feel like the number is high. Not because of the large player count the show liked to brag constantly, but because Kirito becomes cold and unopenable for anyone a majority of the early episodes. These were the moments I felt like the story understood itself very well. It understood its characters very well and honestly it should have been explored more. This isn’t even going into the random deus ex Kayaba or other “You’re the chosen one, Kirito!” moments.
But again, I’d like to stress that I honestly do not think that Sword Art Online is a bad show. It’s writing is pretty terrible, but it handles itself well in the first six or so episodes, it’s visuals are nice and unique, the music is extremely complementary in the best ways, and the fight scenes are addicting to watch. The writing has made it a rather mockable show for its bad job handling continuity, but I feel like the remaining jokes about the poor quality of Sword Art Online are due to a bit of bandwagoning. It’s happening here and there to the point where shows like Re:ZERO and Shingeki no Kyoujin have blown up, but one of the worst examples of negative bandwagoning from new anime fans is clearly the one I’ve been discussing for an overly long amount of time (This post is over 2000 words long? Really? Are you sure that isn’t a miscount?) today. I would ask if it was a bad thing as an excuse for a poor transition, but the question is primarily rhetorical, of course it’s a bad thing.
A show shouldn’t be damned just because there’s a bad side to it. I found myself enjoying a lot of the first twelve episodes of the series and I know a few people than genuinely enjoy the whole franchise. Even if you hate Sword Art Online, at what point does an ongoing joke that endlessly rekindles itself get old? I by no means have the answer, and I don’t really know if a push to end the bandwagon as a whole would even be a good thing. Regardless, this is certainly something to think about. Not even about Sword Art Online specifically, but how does negative bandwagoning effect our community? The anime community as a whole? It’s something worth questioning, if you ask me.
Thank you so much for reading today’s longer than usual editorial! It means a lot to me if you’ve stuck around until the end and please, share your opinions in the comments. While I don’t reply to comments to keep them open for conversation between the amazing people who read my posts, I do read each and every one of them and I’m honestly curious as to what you all think about this. If you’re curious as to what I do when I’m not writing too much about a show that aired three years ago, why not follow me on Twitter? I’ll see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by pixiv artist 成瀬ちさと.