Hoo boy, if there's one show that's been debated over from what I've noticed lately, it's Sword Art Online. A show that made it's debut here in the states around August 2013 on Toonami, and while it has plenty of supporters, there are plenty of haters too. However, I've noticed that lots of people hate on Sword Art Online from what I feel are some of the most stupid reasons. But, I'm here to do a quick, relatively spoiler-free outlook on the series and give my thoughts.
I'll start off with the story of SAO. Basically, we find that our protagonist, Kazuto Kirigaya, better known as "Kirito", is one of 10,000 people playing Sword Art Online as it is introduced to the general public. However, these 10,000 players soon learn of an ugly surprise--the creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, has trapped them all within SAO, and they can no longer log out. The only way for them to be free is to scale all 100 floors of the floating castle, Aincrad, and beat the final boss. And if any of them should die in-game, they will die in the real world as well. Needless to say, these 10,000 players now find themselves in a struggle for survival, and Kirito himself vows to escape.
Moving on to the characters, I'll begin with Kirito himself. Kirito appears to be your average gamer at first, but early on in the series, Kirito is revealed to have been one of the many beta testers for SAO. This fact comes to bite him in the butt a few times, but eventually the subject seems to be dropped once you get into the later episodes of the Aincrad arc. Yes, there are two arcs in this series, but I'll save that for later. Back to Kirito, he places a lot of emphasis on going about this dangerous game alone, and you soon learn why he's insistent on this. Needless to say, it's a touching scene. However, Kirito won't be alone for too long. He gains some allies in other players, like Klein, a recurring character who helps out Kirito in his times of need at various points in the series, Agil, a merchant who sells axes to other players, and perhaps most importantly, Asuna. Asuna soon becomes Kirito's right-hand lady, and the two become a potent duo, keen on making it through the 100 floors. The characters, to me, are fairly well-developed, and we learn a few things about most of them over the course of the series. Most of it is spoiler though, so I'll leave that for you to witness. I should also mention that eventually, Kirito and Asuna stumble across an AI girl named Yui. However, I won't go further into her character, other than the fact that she becomes significant.
Guess I'll now move on to the episodes and arcs. As I mentioned before, Sword Art Online is split into arcs, two to be precise. The "Aincrad Arc" and the "Fairy Dance Arc". Now, this is where most people start hating on SAO, predominantly because of Fairy Dance. And I will just outright say, their reasons are pretty stupid. Why, you might ask? Well, I'll elaborate. In the Fairy Dance Arc, a major subplot comes into play involving Kirito and his younger sister, which heads into incest territory. Now, I'm no incest advocate. However, people tend to look at this subplot and disregard the main plot point of Fairy Dance instead, and just think that this ruins SAO altogether. I won't deny that this incest subplot does maybe take a bit too much focus at times, but it really is just not that big an issue, and if that's the only reason why you would hate SAO, then you sir, or madam, are a stoop. Another minor detail to mention, people also complain about Fairy Dance due to it taking place in a different game, thereby making the title "Sword Art Online" irrelevant. While this is true, and this show thus invokes the TV Trope of "Artifact Title", that alone also is not reason enough for a show's hate. Shows like "Dragonball" and "Dragonball Z" eventually didn't focus too much on the Dragon Balls themselves after sometime, putting more emphasis on the battles. Yet, these shows are revered as legends, even today. But I heavily digress. Going back to some focus on the episodes, most of them are good, especially once you get into later Aincrad Arc episodes. Story structure is well done, and it goes at a reasonable pace. Though, for a series based on video games, action sequences can be hard to come by at times. There are plenty, but sometimes (Notable in Fairy Dance), you can go a couple episodes without seeing that much action.
So, final thoughts on the series, I would recommend it. But do yourselves a BIG favor--do NOT let others' opinions sway your mind on this show. As I've said before, this show gets spit on a lot for some of the dumbest reasons, and most of them come from Fairy Dance. You won't hear too many complaints about the Aincrad Arc, but it really boils down to the second half of the series with Fairy Dance. All I can say is, try to block out the negativity, and give it an honest go. Once you reach Fairy Dance (If you've decided to stick through the first half of SAO, I would recommend getting through at least 3-5 Fairy Dance episodes before forming an opinion. Sword Art Online I won't say is a perfect show, but it is still really good. It's got it's problems, and while the incest in Fairy Dance is certainly... bizarre, to say the least, try not to let that overshadow the main story. Now as much as I've drilled in about saying give Fairy Dance Arc a chance, I will admit I do prefer the Aincrad half of the series. But Fairy Dance still has its good points. Some rather nifty battles are presented in this arc, and they're worth watching. And while I'll admit some characters lose a bit of credibility in Fairy Dance, one person in particular, it's something I can overlook. There are also some Deus Ex Machina moments. A bit lame, but at the same time, nothing too significant... well, except for one. Go through the series, and you'll probably find out which moment I'm referring to.
Either way, that's all I've got to say about Sword Art Online. Really, give it a watch. And if you don't like it, hopefully it will be for a more understandable reason than from what I've mentioned here. I can hope, anyway.
Sword Art Online, where happening becomes a much bigger deal.
-Wolf of Storms