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Old 09-02-2014, 04:10 PM
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 6,574
Sword Art Online: a case study on how bad anime writing gets (open spoilers)

Oog. Just got finished watching like, the first 15 episodes of Sword Art Online... And had to stop. It takes a lot to turn me off a show with a cohesive narrative like this. I mean, this is literally the first show I've ever started watching and then stopped that wasn't just short bits of whimsy. But this... Oog. It's like a lesson on how not to do basically everything involved with writing a story. Open spoilers, obviously, but who cares - it's awful. This might actually belong in the pit, but this is the more immediately relevant forum...

Setting: The entire buildup of the setting happens in about five minutes. We're told, not shown, by some omnipotent god-thing that dying in the game means you die in real life. You're asking me to really stretch my suspension of disbelief when you assert that there's no way that in two fucking years with thousands of lives in the balance (all of which are apparently on feeding tubes in hospitals, mind you), that nobody found a way to engineer their way around the freakin' hardware. In the Matrix, I'd believe that - you're uploading your whole brain or something. In this though? The reason you can't log out is because there's no log out button, and because the onboard power supply will prevent forcible removal. I can think of at least two easy ways to get past that off the top of my head. But more importantly, we're never shown this. It's just taken for granted that because this guy says it, it must be true. Oh, and obviously nobody is capable of tampering with the source code of the game and making it easier, or installing cheat codes for the players - despite the fact that apparently it took all of a month for the people who hosted it on their servers to create a knockoff version. Remember, we're talking about 10,000 people here. On life support. No fucking way. I'm not buying it. But even if I did, it's a setup we've all seen before, except executed far better, made far more dramatic, and given more life.

Characters: Okay. SAO writers, let's level here for a moment. If you want me to care about a character, you need to at least make them, well, a character. Put some life into them. Make me have some sort of interest in their wellbeing. And no, having them act like a lost child and say "mommy! daddy!" at the main characters for what amounts to like 5 fucking minutes is not characterization. Seriously, the Yui subplot made me damn near quit on the show right then and there. They keep pulling this bullshit. No, I'm sorry, but this cute cardboard cutout who you tell us is important to the main character means nothing to me, and their death, no matter how much you tell us it matters to the main character, has all the impact of a math error on an income tax form. Especially when that character is just bullshit Deus Ex Machina du jour.

And then there's the main character. He at least has a little bit of interesting interplay between him and [strike]eye candy[/strike] [strike]obviously going to die love interest[/strike] Asuna, but as a character he's a complete blank slate. And when you make the show all about him and what he does and why he does it, that doesn't work. Like, apparently he was heavily impacted by his former guild being wiped (spoiler alert: you won't care, because they spend all of five minutes showing you him interact with them, and they're basically cardboard cutout cannon fodder). That's neat. And he's got a huge sense of right and wrong, and will throw his life on the line to protect even random people he barely knows. Huh. And yet he's also lazy. None of this adds up to a well-rounded character; it adds up to a schizophrenic mess who you might as well just name "Mary Sue" because of course he's the most badass character ever. To the point where the one scene where he actually does get beaten is passed of as cheating, and the other scene where he almost gets beaten comes off as completely scripted.

Really, the only characters who are remotely interesting in this are Asuna and a handful of comic relief characters, but none of them are truly fleshed-out either. Asuna is pretty much stereotypical Tsundere, but I guess that's what passes as a female character these days. The black shopkeep (and yes, that's basically his defining characteristic) is at least a little interesting but gets so little screen time that you'd think the writers are ashamed of him. The only character I really felt was interesting at all was the blacksmith who was crushing on the main character (because of course she was), who actually had something resembling, I dunno, an arc. But she's just there for one episode.

Plot: Let's make something clear here. If it's made explicitly clear from the start that "we have to make it to floor 100 and beat the final boss there to beat the game and get back to the real world", and then at floor 76 after a long, hard boss fight it's suddenly revealed that the final boss is a player character and guild member and that for realizing this, you have a chance to fight them and win the game immediately... Yeah, that didn't feel forced at all, huh? And then you manage to kill the boss. Despite, you know, your character dying before you pull it off. That was the point where I said, "you know what? Fuck this shit". What were they thinking? It's absurdly forced, ruins any sense of accomplishment, and is a lame cop-out to the rising intensity of the show. Basically the Anime equivalent of blue balls. It's like if in Dragon Ball Z, Dende randomly kills Freiza with a destructo disc on form one, and then everyone just peacefully leaves Namek with no problems. It's like in Megaman 2 if you beat Wiley's Castle stage 1 and then Wiley said "Oh shit, he means business" and just surrenders and you win. It's... ugh. Just no.

The show is terrible. I mean, dear god. I couldn't keep watching it. According to a friend who watched the whole thing, it gets worse! I don't care. It was awful enough as is. Basically, it failed on every conceivable level. Despite the obvious potential setup, there's very little sense of accomplishment because 99% of the actual progression occurs offscreen and the main character is already an unkillable badass from day one, so what do I care if he seems marginally better? The only part that kind of works is the romance subplots, but given the setup for the show that's both not enough and more than a little of a bait-and-switch. High fantasy action? Ha! Here, have a shitty story, brooding angst-balls, and romance between cardboard cutouts.

In case it wasn't obvious: this show sucks. I just felt like getting this off my chest.
Old 09-02-2014, 04:20 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Newcastle NSW
Posts: 12,800
Well, I could accept the basic premise of the series - it's one of those "a wizard did it" things - and having a bland male protagonist that the (male*) viewer is supposed to identify with is pretty common in anime. However, I agree that the story gets boring, despite a potentially interesting premise.

* It is a shounen series, aimed at younger males.
Old 09-02-2014, 04:34 PM
Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: SoCal
Posts: 6,690
I am not a young man, but I play MMOs and I liked SAO a lot. Sorry you didn't.
Old 09-02-2014, 06:16 PM
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Not Beijing
Posts: 1,641
I haven't read the light novels that the show is based on, but I would assume that some of the quick glossed over events are covered better in the books. But maybe not. Actually, the tower thing ending at floor 76 didn't bother me at all. It was definitely surprising and made me respect the characters for thinking about the situation instead of just plodding on to the obvious 100th floor ::yawn::.

Everything you heard about it getting worse is true. Avoid season 2. It's awful.

Have you watched Log Horizon? I really enjoy that one much more than SAO. It's another show about players trapped in an MMO (but for real, no virtual reality headsets). It has a lot of cliches, but overall it is very well thought out. The main character beats his opponents with brains instead of brawn.
Old 09-03-2014, 02:09 AM
Charter Member
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Collinwood, Collinsport
Posts: 3,255
I liked it. Strangely I didn't notice any of the plot holes you mentioned until you pointed them out. I do have to admit Kirito's character is rather difficult to like, but I think that showing how he starts to care about Asuna and Yui made him seem more human. The ending did feel a bit rushed, unfortunately that comes from trying to cram everything into 25 episodes.
Old 09-03-2014, 02:09 AM
Join Date: Sep 2011
Posts: 3,177
It does get a lot worse in the second half. But I still managed to watch it to the end, although I didn't pay attention and forwarded through lots of it.
Old 09-03-2014, 07:19 AM
Join Date: May 2011
Posts: 6,574
Originally Posted by furryman View Post
I liked it. Strangely I didn't notice any of the plot holes you mentioned until you pointed them out. I do have to admit Kirito's character is rather difficult to like, but I think that showing how he starts to care about Asuna and Yui made him seem more human.
I actually did like the relationship between him and Asuna. It lent them a feeling of humanity and depth of character that otherwise was almost totally absent. That said, Yui? Ugh. I think if it weren't for a certain other example I could think of, that would go for me as "lamest characterization of cannon fodder ever". That other example being, of course, the Black Cats guild from earlier in the show. Kirito might have cared about her, but I sure as hell didn't. There was nothing there for me to care about. There are ways to get away with this - I didn't really know much about Thomas in Attack on Titan, but the show made me care when he died by showing me the effect it had on everyone else. By making it a huge shift in tone and presence. I still didn't care much about the character, but at least it felt like his death mattered. Whereas SAO just tells me that Kirito was really hurt by his guild dying and occasionally shows shots of him agonizing over it that feel very out-of-character. I think Yui is really one of the greatest failings of SAO. Trying desperately to tug at our heartstrings with a character whose sole defining quality is "d'aww..." who just fails on the whole line.

Last edited by Budget Player Cadet; 09-03-2014 at 07:20 AM.
Old 09-05-2014, 10:52 AM
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 2,792
Well, Kirito is basically supposed to be an insertion fantasy for the viewer, so his completely lack of personality is supposed to be "Just imagine this is you!"

Doesn't make it suck less, but perhaps gives you some insight into the target audience.

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