Have you ever wondered whether there is an anime that is popular but also equally hated? That’s SAO for you. SAO aka Sword Art Online is an old anime adapted from a light novel with the same title written by Reki Kawahara. This anime is animated by none other than A1-Pictures Studio for most of its series and movies. The series revolves around VR (Virtual Reality) games and shenanigans that happen in it. The phrase “it’s just a game” is brought to another level. The series has been running since 2009 and does not seem to end very soon. What makes this anime still very much popular to this very day? And why do people hate it? To answer that, first we need to cross the field and enter a time machine.
When the anime adaptation was announced in 2012, massive hype emerged from it. It was the first of its kind that revolves around the world of games. You might think, “Game? Isn’t that already a thing in early 2010?” Well yes, but not many pop-cultures were referencing/representing it as much as this anime. It was very hyped-up due to its premise of “living in the world of games” like Skyrim and other games that I do not know (hehehe). It was big and delivered its premise with action-packed drama on its first arc and that was enough to hook people up to this anime. The series then continues with many sequels, movies, and many other unnecessary spin-offs that are also popular. But that does not mean everyone will agree that this franchise is “good”.
For starters, the story struggles quite a bit. It gives a fair 50:50 chance of being good and being poor due to the lack of “ultimate goal” in the series. Usually a franchise’s ultimate goal is to “fulfill a destiny” or “some epic shenanigans”’ that needs to be told in a long period of time like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other novels that I might have never heard of— the point is, it makes sense for the story to stretch long, but SAO finishes that ultimate goal on the first arc. The narrative only delivers its grand premise on the first arc while the succeeding sequel lacks that portion. This impacts the quality of the writing: the main premise is done while the plot is being prolonged, ruining the consistency of the story in the process. Due to that reason, any subsequent arc or movies feel pointless and forced.
Not only the story, but the characters are also affected. The main and supporting characters are not good. Their character developments stop when the first arc of the series ends. After that, they are basically “soulless vessels” that just short off exist in the series. Again, this happened because of the overstretched story. This could have been tackled by ending the series in the first arc or making a new series instead of a sequel to the existing one.
These reasons do not stop it from being popular though. Remember the idiom “first impression lasts forever”? Well, that applies to this franchise. Sword Art Online has brought something new to the table and everyone was loving it. It is also an early example of what is now known as “ISEKAI” genre (It was basically the Adam of “isekai”). Although the subsequent sequel is not as good, it is engaging enough for people who have already dived into the series to keep on watching and some sequels are quite an improvement from the last writing, but in what way you might ask? Well, you need to see it for yourself.
All in all, it is a decent franchise with some flaws every now and then. It has a great premise with a lackluster sequel following it. The characters are as flat as a flat-earther’s brain but still this anime has a redeeming quality to it. A franchise to love and hate at the same time.