After seven episodes of stagnant character progression, it’s pretty safe to say that Sword Art Online’s character dynamic is the weakest link of the show. While I’m thoroughly convinced that Kawahara Reki is able to make interesting video game worlds, he’s poor at writing advancing character relationships, especially within the lead characters. While this is far more prominent in Accel World’s Haru, who has a liquid personality which just changes to fit the plot’s container, it really shows here with Kirito and Asuna. Even minute characters such as Klein and Liz have gotten more depth and introspection than the pair of leads. When the two do get development, it’s revealed in a poorly thought out and contrived manner. Kirito may appear to be a cool character, but underneath the hood there’s a severe lack of depth and characterization, outside of his brief stint with Sachi.
Kirito just another empty shell and the pinnacle of a wish-fulfillment protagonist. He’s an incredibly resilient and strong player in Aincrad and also unabashedly bad ass to some viewers (that doesn’t include myself), but there’s little depth to him. How many times have we seen him screw up? Once, and that may have been the only decent look we’ve gotten at his psyche. He lacks any outward or internal flaws, making him hard to relate to and less interesting. The author just leaves him as a Gary Stu so that he can throw a bone to those wish-fulfillment lovin’ hyenas who want to become him. While the whole escapist angle to his personality is admittedly fascinating, it’s hardly been elaborated on or acknowledged by the plot. He’s been featured for seven whole episodes, but I still know less about him than all the other pop-ins and guests. Among the six ministories, I could only name a few where information about him was revealed and yet even then, most details were blurted out without subtlety or sly. While one could argue that all characters and stories are made to illicit a certain emotional response, the said character’s progression have to at the very least feel organic and natural. Hint hint, here it’s not.
In the end, a character can only be as good as his character dynamic and one undeveloped bond between two major characters is almost always a severe hit to the show. In Sword Art Online, the weakest link is clearly between Kirito and Asuna. While the two do have some chemistry, they lack any real or meaningful interactions. In the three episodes which focused on the couple, only a few of their discourses have held any real meaning. During the Grimlock arc, the two work together for the entirety of the two episodes and yet, we learn absolutely nothing about the pair. Aside from Asuna adding Kirito to her buddy list, there’s been very little progression in the relationship.
When a chip in the cast’s network is as major as this, it also presents problems in the development of the side characters. Episode seven is the perfect example of this. If Liz falls in love with Kirito and only backs off because Asuna’s also mutually attracted to him, then at the very least have the decency to show me that Asuna is attracted to Kirito. If the players inside the screen are able to see that these two are in love, then the audience should also be able to see it as well, through the time that they spend together. But instead, we are merely told that they like each other, (conveniently through Liz), instead of being actually shown. If two character’s are an item, then you actually have to show me that through their interactions. Show, not tell right?
When the two main characters are this poorly undeveloped, it’s inexcusable. While it’s become clear that the director changed the order in which information from the light novel is revealed into standard chronological order, the set of side stories by Kawahara have done little to polish the attitudes and personalities of the two main leads,or even contribute to the main plot. The first seven episodes could have easily been used to bring to light Kirito’s personality or his relationship with Asuna, but instead we’re stuck with a completely embryonic cell of a main character and his undefined relationship with his girlfriend. The focus has gone to explaining patches in the setting and giving insight into the sidekicks, but at the same it ignores the main characters. Regardless of whose fault this is, it’s a clear strike against a show’s watchability. When the main couple’s relationship is both undeveloped and acknowledged by characters, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at the at the screen.
Sword Art Online has a classic case of “show not tell.” If Kirito and Asuna are becoming a hot couple, show me. If Kirito is breaking out of his shell and becoming less reclusive through Aincrad, show me. The best way to elaborate on anything is to show it, and so far Sword Art Online has been clumsy in i’s efforts to do so. So until then, I don’t think my relationship with Sword Art Online is going to work out.