The final anime series I watched in 2012 is the spiritual prequel of Accel World, titled Sword Art Online, but I only get to write the review for it a year later. While aired later than the former, the latter’s source novel actually comes out in Japan first, which makes sense actually. This review will be the only second entry in my blog, since Starship Operators, that will not have any screenshots, Starship Operators is an excellent sci-fi space anime title that has earned a very respectable score of 9 out of 10. If Sword Art Online can repeat what Starship Operators have done, it may have a great chance to dethrone the current Anime of the Year 2012 holder, Another, which incidentally also has the same score. You must be wondering now if this anime, apparently HorribleSubs’ favorite title in 2012, can actually do so or not. Therefore you should just continue reading this blog entry.
20 years before the events in Accel World, people in Japan are still hanging on their iPhones and Samsung Galaxies (and maybe Nokia Lumia too?) touch-based smartphones. But any semi-intelligent shareholders of Apple and Samsung should have started to short their shares in those companies, because a certain genius guy named Kayaba Akihiko has invented a certain device called Nerve Gear (which I believe is the precursor of the neuro linker in Accel World). The killer app for the said Nerve Gear is the virtual-reality MMORPG titled Sword Art Online, which is also created by Kayaba Akihiko. Sold out faster than iPhone 5, 10,000 players then login into the game’s world, and right on the start, those people within the group of 10,000 that has played the (ancient by then) .hack JRPG series will start to have the feeling of déjà vu. I wonder if the main male protagonist is one of those people.
Imagine the crossover between the main male protagonists of Sacred Seven and Little Battler Experience, and you will get the main male protagonist of this anime. Or if you haven’t seen both of those anime titles, this anime main male protagonist is comparable to an overpowered Squall Leonhart of Final Fantasy 8 J-RPG. In fact, if you ask me, this anime’s main male protagonist is more similar to Squall Leonhart than the hero of Sacred Seven is. And this is true, character-wise and also story-wise.
The reason why I focused on the main male protagonist’s similarity with Squall Leonhart is because, just like Final Fantasy 8, the ups and downs of both Sword Art Online and Final Fantasy 8 correlates with the blatantly identical character regressions of their main male protagonists, with romance (a.k.a. the main female protagonists of both titles) being the main culprit in both occasions. Man, this anime ripped off Final Fantasy 8 more than it does the .hack franchise. At the start of the anime, the main male protagonist is the brooding emo type of character that is shrouded in darkness (and this has nothing to do with his dark outfit) and during that period, this anime is actually better than Accel World. But when the writer of this anime take a leaf from Final Fantasy 8 and turned the ‘lonely emo boy Kirito’ into ‘lover boy Kirito’, this anime’s chances to become better than Accel World in the end evaporated.
This anime’s storyline can be roughly divided into 3 phases; the first one taking the first 7 episodes or something. As I watched this phase that takes up the first seven episodes or something, I have started to wonder whether this anime will take a very divergent path away from Accel World and tried to become episodic slice-of-life anime series instead of Accel World’s typical shounen genre. Still, in this phase, the main male protagonist is still in his ‘more acceptable’ form. But just like in Final Fantasy 8, the poison that is the main female protagonist started to infest the series and the main male protagonist with her vileness.
This is startlingly apparent in the second episode in the second phase – the phase where Sword Art Online was finally completed – when the main male protagonist does what Squall Leonhart has never done, and that would be soloing a boss fight. It was at the aftermath of that boss fight that I realized that the clinger that is the main female protagonist’s sole function is to try her hardest to turn this anime into the romance territory, dragging the main male protagonist down the rabbit hole with her. Unfortunately for this anime, he meekly acquiesce, just like Squall Leonhart did in Final Fantasy 8. The less said about the third arc, where the main male protagonist has to save the main female protagonist in another Nerve Gear-based MMORPG, the better. At that arc, I’m pretty sure this anime has become Final Fantasy 8 Mark II already. Why the Nerve Gear isn’t banned after the Sword Art Online was finished is beyond me, the Japanese government in this anime sure are masochists unlike the version in real world.
In the second phase, this anime do stop its slice-of-life tendencies seen in the first phase and started to have a real proper storyline where the toxic duo finished the game that trapped 10,000 people. This second phase alone have more plots in it than the whole of Accel World, and this is one part where this anime has done better than the latter. The story is actually quite good too if I were to ignore really hard the two main protagonists that is literally connected at the hip (you will know what I mean if you watch this anime yourself). Even better than the one shown so far in Accel World. The story in the third phase is even better, again if you can ignore the two main protagonists here. In the third phase, the main male protagonist is a hopeless case already, but the plot in that phase is even better than the one in second phase.
But while the storyline in this anime is better than Accel World’s, this anime do have many issues that the latter also has. One of them is deus ex machina moments which shows the writer’s inability to manage the overpowered main male protagonist. The writer is not alone though, his/her counterpart in Little Battlers eXperience also does the same mistake. But the second Accel World’s issue that this anime also has is forced melodramatic moments, and this anime does this way worse than Accel World has ever managed. Remember the scene after the boss battle I mentioned above? That’s one of them. Other cringe-worthy scenes that can also be included in this list is the one between the main male protagonist and his sister after their online identities was revealed, and also the one about the A.I. fairy after the two main protagonists get married. At least there are no plot-holes though.
Also unlike Accel World, this anime has a better mix of character developments and storytelling. It (the mix) could have been better if not for the fact this anime has quite a glacial character development relative to many anime titles out there that I have reviewed that isn’t Accel World. For example, the main male protagonist’s character development is glacial when compared to the Gundam AGE first arc’s protagonist, and comparable to the overpowered main protagonist of Little Battlers eXperience. Also just like the main male protagonist, the main female protagonist also has woeful character progression, although if I consider her actual role, that should be expected. Now which character has good developments in this anime again? Oh wait, there none that I can remember!
Still, this anime didn’t repeat Accel World’s mistake of neglecting storytelling, and that’s can only be a good thing in this romance-infested title. Therefore, I decided to just apply the romance genre handicap to this title, because the romance elements in this anime has a more central role unlike in Accel World. It has been more than two years since I last used this tag. Two long years! Maybe I should watch more romance genre anime titles in the future.
The pacing of the storyline in this anime is excellent, and the same thing can also be said for the flow. The ending is ruined by yet another deus ex machina moment in the final battle, but that’s nothing compared to the scene of the reunion between the two main protagonists. What a waste of a good story in the third phase of this anime. If this anime has a second season, I will definitely give it a pass. And if Accel World have a second season with a more fleshed out plot, I hope Accel World will not regress the way this anime is.
Character design in this anime is similar to what is seen in Accel World, which means it (the design) isn’t exactly outstanding. There are no characters in this anime that is remotely similar to the main male protagonist of Accel World though. Kayaba Akihiko’s decision to make players adopt their real look in Sword Art Online is a good one too, and assuming that the imprisoned players sports their real hair colors, it seems that black hairs are rare in Japan of that era.
One of this anime’s few advantages it has over Accel World is there are no character-ruining voice acting gigs in here. The voice acting of this anime’s main female protagonist is far better than her counterpart in Accel World, and is actually above average. Yes, this is also the only aspect where the main female protagonist is better than her opposite number. In general this anime’s voice acting gigs are better than Accel World’s, with more normalized overall voice acting quality. This anime’s main male protagonist is just average in this regard, not unlike his counterpart in Accel World. Good voice acting gigs here can be heard from the aforementioned main female protagonist and also the villain of the third phase arc.
If voice acting in this anime is better than the one in Accel World, the reverse is true when it comes to soundtracks. At best, the OST of this anime is simply forgettable, and nowhere as good as Accel World’s. Damning for this anime too is the fact that all of its OP/ED themes are not exactly different than the OST too. All the shit thrown to the wall and nothing sticks. At least Accel World still has couple of victories in this department.
This anime doesn’t use the blurry animation technique that Accel World employed, so that’s a big win for this anime. The quality of the animation is good, and that’s about it. Choreography of action scenes in this anime is better than in Accel World too; another win for this anime. The directing in this anime is better too; a great feat considering the train wreck of a relationship.
4 out of 10. This anime is so totally ruined by the worst theme of romantic relationship I have ever seen in an anime title. Will not look forward to a second season, unlike Accel World, and just like Minami-ke. But I will make an exception if this anime pulled a leaf from Princess Lover playbook and make a special OVA exactly for that ‘scene’. Princess Lover also scored 4 out of 10, but its unrevieweable OVA is better. Sword Art Online OVA anyone? By Subdesu-H fansub group?