That’s right fuckers, I’m watching some Sword Art Online. I actually dropped this pretty early back when it came out, but what with its crazy popularity and that second season coming out, figured I might as well give it another shot. Kind of hard to avoid the weight of the internet’s consensus on this one, but I’ll do what I can – if it’s interesting to talk about craft, I’ll talk about craft, if it’s more appropriate as a subject of roast, I’ll break out the marshmallows. Alright, that’s enough chit-chat. Let’s Sword Art Online!
1:51 – This whole opening bit’s pretty good. Dropping us straight into the premise, the exposition/suspense of the wordless login, and then this first-person device to make us feel “entering a world” in a very visceral sense. All solid choices
2:01 – “Returned?” Hm. Seems like a strange choice – Log Horizon had to introduce a whole secondary cast to establish the combat rules of its world in a graceful way, and having the main character be a novice is easily the most convenient way to both align the viewer with the character and make tutorial-esque explanations come across as natural. Guess we’ll see where they go with it
3:03 – Welp, that answers one question. Dump a noobie on the MC for him to explain the rules to
3:14 – Aw yeah. Clearly a Cool Dude
I’ve explained this before, but I generally think there are two schools of thought when it comes to fiction-fighting. There’s the “rule of cool” system, where battles are basically just an excuse for visual spectacle, and the weight isn’t attached to the specifics of the fight itself – stuff like Gurren Lagann or Madoka would fall into this category. Their priorities aren’t related to making the fights exciting as visceral back-and-forths – their conflicts fall on other axes (generally character-development ones – characters win fights when they overcome mental hurdles, not because they outplay their opponents), and so the fight doesn’t have to be engaging on its own terms. And then there’s the “weighted battle” system, where firm rules, powers, and danger are established, making battles inherently exciting on their own terms – stuff like Hunter x Hunter or Girls und Panzer (and many other sports shows) would fall into this category. Because the viewer actually understands the full context of the fight, they can see why what a given character does is impressive, foolhardy, or clever, and thus actually be invested in the fight the way they would be in a competitive sport. Based on this fairly touchy-feely explanation here, I’m assuming Sword Art Online will fall into the first school – fights as spectacle used to illustrate character changes, not as tangible battles.
4:04 – Yeah, this is nonsense. Vague enough to allow anything to happen
4:29 – I like the interface stuff. Combat system aside, this does feel tangibly game-like so far – the technology and world all seem to have a somewhat coherent aesthetic
4:48 – Dude, when are boars ever fucking mid-level bosses? Fuckin’ lowbies
5:07 – The core concept here is pretty damn compelling. Move with your body, and it automatically maps to an array of badass skills
5:43 – Dang. Pretty
6:54 – So are they gonna explore how this is, uh, not a good thing? “For two months, all I thought about was SAO” – this little speech reads like a paean to escapism, but I haven’t heard of this show actually exploring that kinda stuff in-depth, so…
7:32 – Alright, good, we are going somewhere. MC-kun is kinda isolated, obviously
9:45 – Yeah, really. Zap one kid’s brain and class actions all up and down
9:47 – Every gamer’s worst nightmare. Your life at the mercy of the GM’s competence
10:07 – Wait, seriously, we’re going here? Fuckin’ gamers…
11:44 – Actually laughed out loud at this. THE TRADITIONAL DEBUGGING BLOOD RAIN
12:00 – That is the most metal summoning animation. I AM GRAGTHAS, BORN OF BLOOD
14:07 – Man, what is this guy’s deal? What a jerk!
Yeah, this is all some incredibly awkward, arbitrary scene-setting. It’s something battle royale-style stories often engage in, but A. it’s pretty much always hammy and ridiculous, overtly drawing attention to the “gaminess” of a story, and B. most of these stories at least take the time to establish some context for these situations in the first place – compare this silliness to something like The Hunger Games or Battle Royale itself, each of which provided a proper context for their death games. Here, it just feels like this is the kind of story this writer wants to tell, and so he’s fast-forwarding through the justification as quickly and nonsensically as possible
14:41 – DESTROY YOUR BRAIN
15:17 – Wait, but what’s this guy’s motive? Hell, what’s MC’s motive – the one human detail I’ve picked up so far is that he’s antisocial. Plot can’t just happen for its own sake – it has to emerge naturally from human desires
Well, I guess “not die” is a human desire. Not a particularly compelling one, though. Purely plot-driven shows are just not that substantial
16:16 – Aw that’s just petty, GM
17:00 – Man, this guy sure loves theatrics. But yes, actually, that’s exactly what I’d like to know
17:09 – THAT’S IT? His motivation is “MWAHAHAHA”? Goddamnit, show
17:22 – “I’ll get you, evil bad guy!”
17:39 – Hah, nice effect. And our villain lags out
19:17 – Jeez, really? That doesn’t fit with any MMO I know, but it certainly adds some tension. Probably a good call
20:21 – Nice shot
20:51 – He’s not really particularly socially inept. If he can gracefully respond to “I like your cute face,” I’d say he’s ready for anything
22:08 – Wait, that’s going to be his outfit? A black trenchcoat covered in belts? Hm…
Yeah, pretty much what I expected – solidly produced, but just kinda generic. The MC isn’t particularly interesting, the premise feels very arbitrary, and I don’t see any ideas twinkling yet, so I dunno. Maybe they’ll go somewhere with “playing god?” I guess we’ll see – I wasn’t really grabbed by anything, but I’ll give it another episode.