I’ve been meaning to do this post for the longest time, but until today, I’ve never found myself in the mood to write this up, nor has the topic really felt relevant.
It still doesn’t feel all that relevant, but after seeing yet another ridiculous and over the top, hate-filled tweet about this show, I decided: “Why not now? Now’s as good a time as any.”
So here we are. I’m going to talk about Sword Art Online. I’m going to talk about what a large percentage of Anime fans consider to be “the worst Anime ever made” and I’m going to completely tear their arguments to shreds in the kindest way possible because I honestly feel that a lot of the hate is misguided and a little bit silly.
It’s okay if you hate this show. I won’t judge you for hating it. However, I think it’s time someone on my side of the debate provided a solid and concrete argument for Sword Art Online along with actual responses to the criticisms that people tend to use when ridiculing this mediocre at worst series.
So let’s just get stuck in:
Haters Claim: “Sword Art Online is the worst Anime ever made and is totally soulless.”
Is it True? : Not even close.
This is one of the most common claims made about Sword Art Online in the Anime fandom, and it’s something that honestly baffles me every time I see it.
The worst Anime ever made? Sure, I can understand if it’s your least favourite Anime, but the worst Anime to ever be created? What nonsense.
What do I even use as my counter point here? There are so many things I could use to disprove this idiotic claim that I’d be writing about them all night…
…I guess we’ll go with the presentation. That’s the easiest one. So much heart and soul has been put into this production. The effort is evident in countless moments and the directing and choreography of almost every scene is handled stunningly. The series may not be perfect, and may sometimes fall flat on its face, but it’s always trying.
And the fact that it tries so hard to get you invested already catapults Sword Art Online miles above what you could consider a candidate for the worst Anime ever made. Look at Big Order as a recent example of this. It’s messy, it’s ugly, it has no heart and it genuinely feels like no one even remotely cared about its production.
Are people honestly trying to tell me that Sword Art Online feels as soulless and dry as Big Order?
No? I didn’t think so.
Sword Art Online is a very inoffensive series and I honestly feel this claim comes from people trying to be “cool.”
It’s cool to hate Sword Art Online now. Remember when it was airing and everyone loved it? People love to ride the bandwagon. Don’t ride the bandwagon. Form your own opinions and arguments instead of copying others.
Haters Claim: “The series is just empowerment fantasy for gamers.”
Is it True? : I guess, but it’s not a good criticism.
This one is something I’ve always found to be incredibly stupid. Empowerment fantasy is not an argument because the majority of Anime is, in some way, empowerment fantasy, an agent of escapism or wish fulfilment.
From Gurren Lagann to K-ON! and all the way back to Neon Genesis Evangelion, Anime is primarily aimed to be a form of escapism from the mundane, stressful and potentially tragic lives of its audience. That’s one of the biggest functions of any form of entertainment: to suck us into its world, teach us something about ourselves and motivate us to do better. Sure, that’s not the message of all media, but it’s definitely a prominent one.
Sword Art Online is no exception to this. It is indeed empowerment fantasy in some way. But why is that necessarily a bad thing? I have no idea. Wish fulfilment is only a problem when you consume it in such heavy doses that you prevent your actual growth as a person. So what are people even trying to say here? I have no idea! Do you?
Haters Claim: “Kirito is an overpowered protagonist who gets all the girls.”
Is it True? : Yes, but it’s completely justified.
Is Kirito overpowered? Yes.
Is he overpowered for no reason? No. The series makes it very clear why Kirito is overpowered.
Kirito is probably the highest levelled player in the game during the series. He’s achieved higher stats in most combat skills in a faster time than anybody else. Now, that may sound convenient, but there’s a reason why.
In Sword Art Online, most of the other players work together to fight mobs and gain items and experience. This means when they do, their experience, loot drops and other things gained from taking our NPC’s is divided up amongst the team.
Kirito on the other hand has been battling these very same mobs of NPC’s by himself. This means he gets all the experience, loot drops and other things that are normally divided up amongst groups of three or four people, for himself.
Sure, you can argue that this sounds a little far-fetched, but it’s a logical conclusion that the series explains time and time again over the course of its run, and it makes sense for Kirito’s character. He’s a socially awkward guy who doesn’t like interacting with other people. He prefers to be alone and therefore, he does it all alone. He’s also a former Beta Tester for the game, meaning he had a huge advantage at the start of the game, knowing where a lot of the starter content of the game was and how to beat it quickly.
You could definitely argue against that, and call it “convenient”, but that doesn’t make it bad or illogical character writing. “Convenience” is a part of life.
I should probably mention that he doesn’t even always win. He got wrecked by his little sister at kendo and lost against Yuki in the Mothers Rosario arc.
As for the “getting all the girls” argument, it doesn’t hold up all that well when you really look at it. The girls are all teenage girls. They aren’t mature in the slightest, they’ve been put into a life or death situation and their first interactions with Kirito were always through him saving them from some kind of imminent danger.
Unlike most Anime leads who “get all the girls”, Kirito actually earns their respect by actively doing something to gain their affection. He doesn’t just stand around and do nothing, he actually performs tasks that could be considered flattering and kind-spirited. It’s completely normal for a girl to fall for a guy who is nothing but nice to them. Does it a seem a little shallow? A little, but these girls are teenagers. What are you expecting?
As for Asuna and Kirito’s relationship, it speaks for itself. It’s one of the only romances in Anime that was ever fully realised and made perfect sense.
Haters Claim: “The writing is bad and predictable.”
Is it True? : Absolutely not.
However, what I’d like to know is what’s so bad about the writing? No one ever really seems to be able to actually tell me other than “it’s bad lmao”, “Kirito just wins all the time lol” or “its all so predictable roflmaololxD”
As for it being predictable, cut the nonsense.
You’re honestly telling me that from the first episode it was obvious that the final boss fight was going to occur more than 20 floors earlier, that Kayaba was actually Heathcliff, that Asuna and Kirito would enter a fully realised romantic relationship and that by the halfway point in the series, that characters would be in an entirely different game without real death mechanics?
If so, congratulations on having ESP. I’d love to know your secrets.
Seriously though, while you can most certainly argue that the directions the plot took were bad, you can’t call them predictable. Because they weren’t and they still aren’t. No one saw that coming.
Haters Claim: “Asuna becomes a damsel in distress during the Fairy Dance arc.”
Is it True? : No.
Asuna gets captured in the second arc and people suddenly decided that ruined her strong, independent character that was established during the Aincrad arc.
What people seem to be forgetting though is that Asuna actually plays an instrumental part in her rescue.
Remember the key card that Kirito finds that ultimately lets him into the tree to save Asuna? Remember who dropped it? Remember who formulated an escape plan and who actively managed to get far enough from her cell through manipulating her surroundings to drop that key card down to the world below?
Asuna did, and without her actively doing those things, she would never have been rescued and would have become Suguou’s brainwashed waifu.
What kind of damsel in distress actually assists in her own rescue? None, because Asuna isn’t a damsel in distress. She was just limited to what she was able to do because she was imprisoned by a villain who was literally the god of the world she was trapped in without any means to fight back. Considering those circumstances, she did a heck of a lot more than any of us would have in that situation.
Haters Claim: “Suguha being in love with Kirito is disgusting, fetishist incest garbage.”
Is it True? : Did people even watch the show…?
I don’t really want to have a debate about incest, so instead I’m just going to talk about Suguha’s feelings and how they differ from most “disgusting, fetishist incest garbage”.
In most Anime, incestuous relationships are fetishised like crazy. The siblings grab each other, they lust for one another, and it often gets very uncomfortable and creepy.
But Suguha has real, genuine feelings for her brother which develop in a very realistic and logical way.
She spent most of her life disconnected from Kirito, and when he gets trapped in SAO, she comes to the realisation she might never see him again. She visits him every day, and during this time, she finds out that they aren’t really related, they’re cousins.
Then, when Kirito comes back after being away for two years, a more mature and grown up person, she winds up confused. She no longer see’s him as the annoying, weird brother she used to have, but a responsible and adult man who she wants to take care of and never lose again. And this, combined with the realisation that they aren’t even real siblings, makes her think “this could work.”
But despite this, she doesn’t want to fall in love with Kirito. She actually hates herself for it. She views herself as a disgusting person who doesn’t deserve to be loved back, and she tries to escape the reality of herself by playing Alfheim Online, where she meets Kirito in-game without knowing he is Kirito. Then she decides “hey, this guy is nice, maybe I can finally stop loving my brother”. Then she finds out that guy is Kirito, and the cycle of self-hate begins again.
This isn’t some simple “Oni-sama sugoiiiii” aspect of the story that’s there for the sole purpose of fetishism. This is a genuinely well written and emotional insight into Suguha’s character. It’s a realistic look into what can really happen to people in these situations and how many people like Suguha really feel about themselves and their feelings. To label this as “disgusting” is discrediting it, and if you failed to see the deeper meaning, I pity you.
Haters Claim: “The game mechanics don’t make sense.”
Is it True? : …I don’t care.
I don’t give a toss if the game mechanics are illogical. The series is about full-dive virtual reality technology and you’re complaining about game mechanics when it comes to logic?
The game mechanics are actually pretty well thought out and unique. Do they all work? We’d need to apply it to an actual game to find out, but they’re far from illogical. Take a Game Design class.
I studied Game Design by the way. Just wanted to throw that out there. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m right, but hey, I’ll take it for what it’s worth.
Haters Claim: “The lack of perma-death ruined the second arc.”
Is it True? : Yes, if death is the only stake that matters to you.
I never considered this a problem, since the second arc revolved around a completely different set of stakes that had nothing to do with death.
Sure, Kirito can’t die any more, but that’s not what’s at risk here. Asuna and several other players are trapped in ALO, and need to be saved before their brains are used for cruel, inhumane experiments.
In the case of Asuna especially, Kirito is limited by time. He needs to save her because he loves her. She’s his everything, and without her, his life will be ruined.
But sure, there’s no risk at all since no one can die now. Yeah, nothing is at stake any more. Death is the only risk in life.
Haters Claim: “Sugou is an irredeemable, cardboard villain”
Is it True? : Yes!
I’ll give you this one.
But isn’t that the point?
Alright, I think I’m done here.
Sword Art Online is a mediocre at worst series. It is far from the worst Anime made. It is one of the most inoffensive shows ever produced in the medium and I am sick and tired of seeing everyone dump crap all over it.
Go watch Big Order or Mars of Destruction. Maybe then you’ll appreciate just how good you’ve had it if you consider this to be the hellspawn of your Anime experience.
8/10. I thought it was great. Feel free to disagree. Do so responsibly.
Thanks for reading everyone!
What are your thoughts on the criticisms of Sword Art Online?