I am about to say something that could destroy my blog and marginalize me within the community of fandom: I like Sword Art Online. In English Dub.
Put. The Pitchforks. DOWN. Let me explain myself.
I know a lot of people like to tear this anime to shreds and act like its the worst anime of all time. It has had its fair share of moments where it ended dropping the ball, whether its with the characters or the writing. Even so, I think that, when done right, Sword Art Online is an amazing franchise.
I had refrained from watching the new season thus far, but with the English dub of Sword Art Online: Alicization (try saying that five times fast) now airing on Toonami, I thought that now’s a good time to get into it. First, though, I wanted to talk about why I like Sword Art Online, and give my thoughts on what I hate about it.
Why I Love SAO
#1- The Premise
For as long as I can remember, I have been a gamer. Growing up, there were never that many kids in my neighborhood that I could or wanted to hang out with, and I wasn’t always motivated to play outside. So to pass the time after school, I’d play video games. Some of the best memories I have from my childhood were playing video games.
I don’t remember exactly when I was introduced to the concept of Virtual Reality, but I think it was a Season One episode from Fairly Odd Parents, “Power Mad”. Timmy wishes for the ultimate video game, but Cosmo and Wanda end up using most of the city’s power to make it. His friends Chester and AJ start playing it without him, but if they lose their lives in the game, they’ll die.
Oh my gosh, I just realized that that’s the same premise behind Sword Art Online. No wonder I like it so much! It also gave a glimpse into the idea of setting foot in a virtual world.
My interest in Virtual Reality has carried over into adulthood. I even wrote a research paper for my college on the possible applications of VR in education; specifically, teaching history. That led me to becoming very familiar with the history behind the technology and the concept that powers it, and everything about it is interesting.
Given the premise behind it, it makes sense many of the portrayals of Virtual Reality involve video games. VR may even be the next evolution in gaming, like Sword Art Online and Ready Player One say. The concept just appeals to my love for both technologies and fascinates me to my core. It’s why I like the show so much!
As I said before, the idea of the death game was not new to me; I had seen in The Fairly Odd Parents years before, but it remained a fascinating and terrifying concept. How would people really react if they found out a game they were playing became a battle of life and death? What they do to survive and get out? It leaves me on the edge of my seat just thinking about it!
#2- The Voice Actors
I’ve never taken sides in the sub vs. dub debate of anime. Honestly, I like both; they both have their merits. I think it comes down to preference. In this case, I like the dub.
Choosing the right voice actors for characters in animation can make or break the show, and I think that Aniplex made some good choices for its two main characters.
For Kirito, we have him voiced by Bryce Papenbrook, who does the voice of Eren Jaeger in Attack on Titan. I don’t know much of his other work outside of this, but he does a good job as Kirito. He manages to bring out all of Kirito’s main qualities. From his cocky attitude in a battle to his incredibly strong will, Bryce brings out the best in the character. He even manages to tick me off when Kirito messes with his friends. Getting someone to feel genuine emotion is a sign of a good actor, in my opinion.
Then for Asuna, we have Cherami Leigh. I had seen Cherami’s work a couple times before, most notably as Lucy Heartfilia in the dub for Fairy Tail. I don’t know what it is, but something about her voice just draws me in and makes me want to hear more of it. Lucy is the role I knew first as, but her work as Asuna is what solidified her as one of my favorite voice actresses. I enjoy hearing her voice on screen, no matter who she’s playing; and she’s played a lot.
Even the other main characters are played by noteworthy talent. Yui’s voiced by Stephanie Sheh, Sinon gets her voice from Michelle Ruff (given her role as Yoko, it’s not much of a change), and more. The cast is great! Except for Todd Haberkorn as Sugou. I love Todd too much to see him play as a scumbag villain.
#3- Fights and the Soundtrack
A show is only as good as its best scenes. Say what you will about the writing, but the fight scenes are monumentally dope. Case in point:
I get goosebumps every time I see that. Just listening to that music alone is enough to make me pumped for what’s to come!
The music used in a scene can dictate what emotions the audience will feel. Something sad will make us want to cry, while something exhilarating will make us feel pumped for what’s happening. Sword Art Online understands this quite well knows just what to play to match its action sequences. Look at the movie Ordinal Scale:
The timing and pacing are perfect, the emotion is real. It has all the hallmarks of a great story!
What I Hate About SAO
#1- The Way they Treat Their Characters
One of the stumbling points in the franchise is how they treat some of the main characters at times. Case in point is Asuna herself. In the first half of Season One, she was this badass swordswoman who helped lead the charge in clearing SAO. She was good enough to fight evenly against Kirito. She wasn’t just another love interest, but someone who stand side by side with Kirito in battle and in life. It was perhaps inevitable that they became close friends, and then, lovers.
Then, came the Alfheim Arc. I hated this arc, but I will get to that later. The thing I hated most about it, though, was seeing Asuna sidelined as a character. She spent the entire arc trapped inside Alfheim Online as a prisoner of Sugou so he could marry her in real life. I hated seeing her like that, and I can’t even look at episode 24 without cringing in disgust. Thank god that didn’t break her at all.
Another, lesser example would be Kirito. People have criticized his character in the latter half of the Aincrad arc for being too perfect: he’s selfless, brave, loyal, and funny. The only complaint that I have, though, is the fact that he enjoys teasing his friends just to get a rise out of them. Especially girls. I find that part of him to be insufferable at times, but not enough to hate him.
#3- The Writing can Stink at Times
The first twelve episodes of the show were some of its best, but then, we got the Alfheim Arc. To be honest, I remember very little about this arc, because I was so focused on seeing Kirito do two things: rescue Asuna, and beat the snot out of Sugou. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m glad I watched that season on Netflix. That way, I could binge through the whole thing and get to the end.
Then I sit through that cringe-inducing scene with Sugou torturing Asuna right in front of Kirito. That was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of horrible things in fiction! Thank god that this is never brought up in the story again. Nor do we ever see Sugou again, since he’s rotting in prison for the rest of his life.
The writing gets better, though, once Season Two comes around. A new villain, new location, new heroine that I really like. The Phantom Bullet Arc is my second favorite part of the series behind the original arc. It shows that the creator of the series, Reki Kawahara, was making an honest effort to undo the mistakes he made. For some, though, the damage was already done. I think the hate for the Alfheim Arc is what led to people hating on the show as a whole.
I Still Like It.
So Sword Art Online is not a perfect anime, but there really is no such thing as a perfect anime, is there? I understand why people can hate the show: it has an amazing premise, and it can fail to deliver on it at times. In my opinion, though, when it does deliver on it, it is one of the best anime I have ever seen. I like Sword Art Online and I’m not afraid to say so.
Besides, the best part of the entire franchise is being adapted into anime form: Alicization. more than fifty episodes split up between four parts over the course of a year, fans are going to be in for a wild ride. I know I’m late to do it, but since Toonami has started airing the dub, I feel it’s time for me to throw my sword into the fray. I’m going to be reviewing every episode of Sword Art Online: Alicization, starting this week!
Check back in the next few days or so for updates as I work on publishing my review of the one-hour season premiere.