12 Days of Anime #12: My Neighbor SAO

Hey guys! Yeah, I’m participating in the 12 Days of Anime – an aniblogger project where bloggers put out one post reminiscing on some anime-related moment or memory from the year on each day leading up to our day of pagan tree worship and reverence to our god, consumerism. Considering I already put out basically a post a day, this may not be the most intelligent of choices, but I don’t think anyone’s ever accused me of making many of those. I’ll probably alternating these more or less between personal moments of stuff I either worked on, did, or failed to do and straight-up Perfect Moments in Anime, so look forward to a broad scattering of posts over the next couple weeks. Today I’m starting off with one of my many not-so-bright ideas – going on a journey with Sword Art Online.

Bobduh Makes Bad Decisions: Sword Art Online

I mean, it didn’t seem like that bad of an idea at the time. I like writing occasional snarky pieces, I like writing things people enjoy reading, and people seem to enjoy snark about Sword Art Online. Plus, like Clannad, it’s just one of those Big Shows that’s hard to really tiptoe around – you don’t want to be the one guy who hasn’t seen Sword Art, right? And it’s not like I was just going to be ripping into the thing – I’m very against negativity for its own sake, and would surely be able to find plenty of stuff to meaningfully critique in a show that controversial, right?



Sword Art Online

…yeah, things turned out… questionably, with Sword Art Online. There was certainly interesting stuff to critique – but it was mainly in how the show reflected an incredibly myopic and almost proto-GamerGate worldview. Sword Art Online’s best elements are, bizarrely, things like its random fishing competitions, or the times when it actually stops being about goddamn videogames all the time. Many tears were shed over this show, many fingers bloodied as they detailed its crimes.

Sword Art Online

And yet, in spite of that, I have to say I’m kind of fond of the show. It certainly could be stockholm syndrome – I remember a couple Bad Weeks where I had to write up something like four episodes apiece in order to finish it in time for season two, and as proud as I am of stuff like Hardboiled Kirito and Kirito, God-Savior of Eden, I still can’t mentally justify spending that much creative energy on something like SAO. But honestly, the show wants to be good. It’s the puppy chewing on your shoe – sure, it’s fundamentally an escapist power fantasy, but the writer’s being earnest, and the production team do their damnedest to drag it out of the mud. I hadn’t really planned on becoming one of the world’s foremost experts on Sword Art Online this year, and I’ll be pretty annoyed if this show ends up being My Legacy, but I can’t say I’m unhappy about the choices I made. Here’s looking at you, SAO.

Sword Art Online

Now please stop making that face.

39 thoughts on “12 Days of Anime #12: My Neighbor SAO

  1. “you don’t want to be the one guy who hasn’t seen Sword Art, right?”

    Y-Yeah, I mean who would wanna be that guy? Certainly not me. Nu uh, so sir… sweats profusely

    I’d love to know how you ended up reviewing it for ANN. Was it an unlucky lottery draw, or was there just nobody else watching?

    • I’m guessing I’m the only one who included it on shows I’d be willing to cover – I wasn’t watching much that season, so my hands were kinda tied.

  2. Don’t worry, Bob, your work was magnificent and will stand throughout the ages as one of the best criticism of this piece of, ahem, art.

    And I really get what you mean by fondness. It’s one of those shows that you always keep reminding, no matter how silly or bad it was. It may be the fact that it is so popular, or the fact that it has the courage of being very competent about its badness (it looks good and sounds even better, after all). Or that it just sounds so much like that little silly story with a stupidly overpowered protagonist we wrote when we were ten and we would be ashamed to have anyone read out loud, except this one was transformed into one of the most commercially successful anime franchises of all time.

    • That last bit always gets a chuckle out of me. Pretty much anyone could write this story, millions of people certainly have written this story, and yet this particular rendition of the story is somehow a massive franchise. The world works in funny ways.

      • Maybe we should have just had the shameless guts of publishing it. If years of anime taught us something, after all, wouldn’t that be to BELIEEEEVE IN OURSEEEEELVEEES?

        (and that walking on a girl naked in a bathroom will result in physical abuse on the short term but her eventually falling in love with you on the long one. That too)

  3. I know SAO is a objectively bad show and has several major problems, but I am always fond of SAO and always want it to succeed. Despite the pacing, awful main character, bad harem, the entire Fairy Dance arc, etc, I still enjoy it.

    It pains me to see a lot of people bash SAO just because it’s “cool” and don’t look at the show with their own eyes. The second season did improve from the first person, and the writing has improved but it still has a long way to go.

    I hope you continue to SAO III because it’s a fun series to watch and you’re ANN’s expert on SAO after all. Who else would cover it?

    • “I know SAO is a objectively bad show and has several major problems, but I am always fond of SAO and always want it to succeed. Despite the pacing, awful main character, bad harem, the entire Fairy Dance arc, etc, I still enjoy it.”

      “It pains me to see a lot of people bash SAO just because it’s “cool” and don’t look at the show with their own eyes. The second season did improve from the first person, and the writing has improved but it still has a long way to go.”

      Oh it pains you when people bash SAO, supposedly just because it’s cool, when you yourself say that the show is basically complete trash? Weirdly enough you apparently enjoy it despite being shit. How does that happen other than in a “so bad its good” way?

      Dunno if that’s worse or Bobduh’s very apparent lenience on the second season of SAO in order to not enrage the ANN userbase too much. But hey, as you told us we can go look at your twitter account for your real opinion, because who doesn’t like terribly formated chunks of tweets.

      Reading this laughable excuses you still muster up for this show is amusing. The show wants to be good, oh, well then, 10/10.

      “But honestly, the show wants to be good. It’s the puppy chewing on your shoe – sure, it’s fundamentally an escapist power fantasy, but the writer’s being earnest, and the production team do their damnedest to drag it out of the mud.”

    • Yeah, I think after the first season, many people would not have been accepting of basically anything SAO attempted – the “experience of SAO” for them is in seeing what they can attack. I don’t really have a problem with that, though – if that’s what they find enjoyable in the show, that’s how it goes.

      I think both Theron and Hope are also watching SAO, actually, but who knows if that means I’ll escape SAO III…

  4. One day on Wikipedia…

    “Nick Creamer was an anime blogger and critic known for being the world’s biggest SAO fan and also maybe writing a book or something.”

    • “His seminal work on criticism of what is now considered one of the greatest works of arts ever produced by mankind shows the first signs of appreciation for its actual meaning and purpose, putting him at odds with the rest of the criticism of his contemporaries, who deeply misunderstood it because they were too busy being elitist fags [citation needed].”

  5. SAO is in my top 10 Anime of all time and I still enjoy reading your reviews on them. Just out of curiosity are you enjoying Season 2 more than season 1?

  6. Ahhhhhh holiday, what have you become….

    But still, SAO is something. Love it or hate it, i am not sure there’s ever a series like this before. Though i am not familiar with the state of novel both adult/YA so i could be wrong.

    Don’t worry, your episodic write up about it provide me with minutes of fun entertainment, so it’s not wasted 🙂
    And i actually appreciated that you could still give this show credit when it needed and found something somewhat valuable about it.

  7. Listen here, Bob-kun. Tezuka and Astro Boy. Tomino and Gundam. Anno and Eva. What do you have in common with them? They are all renowned creators who grew to hate their most famous creations, seeing their popularity grow wildly out of their hands, independent of the artist’s desires, and into becoming permanent pieces of pop-culture phenomena. These works then in turn came back and dominated their creators’ lives and careers, whether they wanted it to or not. Hard-boiled and God-Savior of Eden Kirito are your children. They are the crosses you must bear.

  8. I think SAO definitely showed improvement in the Gun Gale arc, and for the most part I always felt that at least everything that happened happened because the author thought it was cool and/or meaningful.

    Somehow I’m really not getting that anymore with this current arc, despite the fact that the ending seems more sensible than the ending to any of the other ones. A lot of what they’ve been doing has been kind of exasperating. In the latest episode they played that string instrumental version of the OP three different times, all during scenes that were supposed to be emotional, and had no other music in the episode. It’s stuff like that; not necessarily the writing’s fault, just that A-1 really seems to have dropped the ball with the production that makes me feel like the show is being obnoxiously self-important rather than actually excited about what it’s doing.

    • I meant to add that I still don’t hate the show. I don’t think I could go as far as you and say I’m fond of it, but my hatred is only directed at the shows that hate me right back, like Mahouka.

      • How does Mahouka hate you? Im interested to know. If you are curious, yes i like Mahouka.

        It is actually puzzling me how come people who like SAO or at least bear with it enough to discuss it and post episodic writeups of it (or read those writeups), suddenly do not like Mahouka or even drop it. Well, i suppose its as puzzling as the fact that i like Mahouka, but not SAO, isnt it.

        At the cost of starting a pointless chain of posts (i have confidence in this blog’s followers), let me ask you (or anyone in situation like you) – where is SAO better than Mahouka. No matter how much my mind tries, Mahouka comes out better in most of the aspects i can see. I believe its simply because of the difference between our preferences, but if it is not (and even if it is), please tell me.

        Ill throw in some ideas i have about the reasons. Is it the whole (trapped in a) game thing? MMO? Is fantasy being more accessible to fans than sci-fi? Is it the boobs? Or is it actually Mahoukas fault… The incest? Miyuki being too annoying? One true God Tatsuya Stue being too overpowered? The lack of a harem-in-your-face?

        For now i believe its the game thing, fantasy settings, and main character whose overpowered nature does not transcend to the incomprehensible. All in all, elements that enable viewers immerse into Kirito more than into Tatsuya, resulting in SAO’s ‘power fantasies’ being effective, while Mahouka’s having the opposite effect.

        Remember, im not here to persuade anyone or put my opinion on a pedestal. I just want to know, why i have to whisper, when talking about Mahouka, but not SAO. Ill appreciate some feedback.

        • The problem most people has with Mahouka is that, at a difference with SAO, it transports a lot of political ideas. You may not see this but it only means that you lack context for them, because it’s obvious that was at least the author’s intent (knowing Japan’s politics and stuff). And if you see that and despise those ideas it’s much harder to get past them than it is with SAO, where the worst complaint one can make is that Kirito is overpowered and the anime sells itself as an action story but is actually an harem. Mahouka has all these things, PLUS it’s basically Anime Atlas Shrugged.

          • Ah the political ideologies… Yeah i forgot about that and i didnt pay attention to it, you are right. I mean i guess its in there, yeah, although why should i pay attention? Does it matter who plays the victim and the villain? Or rather, is it really that bad? I mean, to actually answer, do you not need to be kind of knowledgeable in the field?

            I would also say, that similarly to me, most of the people probably do not care about such matters. I mean look at Call of Duty and pretty much any western game. Do the players care who they are shooting and stuff? Do they care about all that massive brainwash? No… The average media consumer is just THAT absentminded and then some more.

            Incidentally i stopped playing such games partly because of this, although i still ignore it in Mahouka. Not sure what that means myself. Just stating. I guess i just dont understand the context here, as you said.

            Mahouka a rip-off? Calling things rip-off is most of the time controversial, because as you probably know, everything is a rip-off to some extent. Is it that bad, that it prevents average viewer from enjoying it (im not familiar with the work)?

            Anyway, thx for the comment.

        • From most of the actual episodic posts on Mahouka, people found the show deadly boring in comparison. Entirely too much talking heads and spoken exposition in Mahouka where SAO actually showed Kirito in action, in glorious A-1 sakuga.

        • Because Mahouka is a power fantasy of the worst kind for right-winged, puritanical, fascist otaku who want to fuck their sisters.

          Yes, it’s that bad on several levels and people should feel bad for even thinking about tolerating it.

          • Heh, ok. Thx for the feedback. Kinda what i was looking for. Shame, that our opinions diverge so extremely here.

      • I’ll acknowledge that it was probably petty of me to mention Mahouka in the first place, but it really is a good example of something that would draw my ire more than SAO.

          • Just know that I don’t buy into the power fantasy of either show. I don’t like SAO at all, I just like Mahouka less, for various reasons that have nothing to do with SAO. I appreciate you asking for my opinion, not so much you assuming what the psychological basis of my opinion is.

          • Well, i like SAO a little and i like Mahouka a lot. I guess i just perceive any kind of a show in at least somewhat positive light.

            You misunderstood my intention. I was asking you for your story, but the assumptions i made were general. I can not understand different opinion just by introspecting… you see. I in no way attempted or could actually hypothesize your reasons for liking this or that.

    • That’s interesting – I actually thought the sound design was pretty effective in that last episode, largely because it was so willing to let many scenes be silent. I felt it was the right call to let a lot of the material speak for itself.

      • I might have liked it better if the whole thing was silent, or if they had only used music once at the end in the scene between Asuna and her mom. The way the silence came in intervals highlighted that the only music they did use was the same song used three times in one episode. The way it built up to its moments was OK, but using that song both made it obvious that they were repeating the same structure three times in a row. For me it really didn’t help that that song happened to be a violin cover of the OP, meaning it was actually played four times in the episode.

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