Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Anime Review: Sword Art Online

Alright, sorry for the sudden schedule shift, I was just really tired and decided to push everything back, although for this title there's already been so much talk about it online that I'm probably not really adding anything to the discussion. But that's fine by me, if I tried to have an entirely new take on everything I reviewed it would take me longer to come up with that than it would take me to say watch a 25 episode anime series.

Sword Art Online

Summary: Sometime in the near future full immersion gaming technology has finally appeared and the first MMORPG created for it is what everyone is talking about. So when the lucky 10,000 users who got a copy log in on the first day they expected a few bugs but not one where the logout button has vanished. But quickly enough the truth is revealed, the game was a trap and now those 10,000 souls have two options, die in the game where they die in real life or survive until someone beats all 100 levels of the game and releases them all. 

The Good: Yes yes yes, people have done the "oh no they're trapped in a game!" story before, that's hardly a reason to knock the initial premise of the show. And, while there are some logical failings for how this all happened there are enough little details (sadly most of them were in the light novels but didn't make it to the anime, which was a bit of a bizarre choice for some of them) to make me buy the premise. And I am also fine with the way the story is set up, having more or less a two year timeskip since it makes sense that in a game with 100 levels that something important isn't going to happen very often. So I guess you can say that the premise is alright and the characters are okay, most stay flat-ish but have moments of development, I just wish the story had been a bit more polished (and a lot more edited) since with this foundation it could have had a much better story built on it.

The Bad: I've heard that the author, Reki Kawahara, is planning to rewrite the Anicard arc (the first arc which takes up two novels and half the show) to which I must say, why didn't they wait until he did that to make this?!? Or better yet, why didn't the screenwriter/director take initiative and smooth out the story themselves! I know why the first two volumes were originally written strangely* but that still doesn't excuse the anime in my book. The first half had odd pacing problems and the villain of the second half was the flattest character I've seen in a long time. Honestly while I could recommend this show to a lot of people I don't think I would recommend it to any of my close friends since there's nothing that hasn't been done elsewhere and generally better.

The Audio: A lot of people, especially early on, were quick to say "oh this sounds just like .hack//Sign!", especially whenever someone mentioned that the novels were originally written around the same time. Frankly I don't find them that similar at all but I am rather amused to see that they do share a composer, Yuki Kajiura and honestly the two scores are pretty different. Where .Hack went for over the top choral songs that almost drowned out the story here Kajiura reserves the ominious chanting for just the most tense moments. I liked both of the soundtracks and I've been told (by people who can actually recognize music) that the background music for the second arc is just reworked music from the first arc which I think fits perfectly. No real comments on the voice acting, the way the characters were written varies quite a bit so there's a limit to what the actors could work with but no one sounded out of place or terrible and that's always a good thing. 

The Visuals: This is a great looking show, from the character designs and the backgrounds to the many action scenes, I think that the visuals are by far the best part of the show. Although, really there's not much to actually say about them, I like the color schemes and all the details but it doesn't do anything wild or inventive, it's simply great looking yet it probably won't be remembered in 10 years as a great example of animation/art.

So a 2.5 out of five for SAO, would I buy this? Nope, would I watch more of it? Weeeeelll, yes I would since it does look great and it works fine as a popcorn flick (especially when I watch with friends and snark the entire way through it), although it would have to be a medium to empty season as well. Probably for the best, Aniplex has the license so while it is streaming on Crunchyroll I'm sure that when they put out a box set it's going to be for more than I'd want to pay.

*he was trying to submit the novel to a contest with a page limit so he had a big two year timeskip and later filled in what happened to try and flesh out Kirito