Editorials · Stray Thoughts

A Surprisingly Non-Sarcastic, Genuine Thank You to Sword Art Online; A Reflection on Aniblogging, Bad Anime, and Enjoyable Discourse

The only character who even came close having a personality, artwork by しょういん at Pixiv

Well, I certainly couldn’t imagine myself writing this post when SAO started.

If any of you have been keeping up with my blog or especially my Twitter account, you may have noticed that I do not think that Sword Art Online is a particularly good show. Okay, “not good” is probably putting it extremely mildly. In truth, I strongly believe that Sword Art Online is an amazing piece of shit which only rose its ridiculous level of popularity due to it’s fairly attractive premise, which remains despairingly underutilized. In fact, the entire world envisioned in Sword Art Online is constantly bent and distorted in order to cheaply put emphasis on our bland Gary Stu of a protagonist, Kirito. Game rules are bent to ensure his survival, tens of female characters swoon as he passes by, and he even gets dual swords, ’cause fuck it, he’s the best at everything and that’s the way that our that preschooler of a writer, Kawahara Reki, wants it to be.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. If my unrelenting vitriol directed at the show is what you wanted, then you might as well scroll through my Twitter timeline instead since you’re almost guaranteed one complaint every 2 hours at the very least. And if you desire my sarcastic drip instead, then I also assure you that you’ll get none of it here (again, Twitter timeline). And I’m certainly not going to bash or demonize the fans who like this show, because even I can recognize the attractiveness of the setting and the almost magnetic pull that it has had on the mainstream audience. Ultimately my goal with this article and as a blogger is not to destroy the fans (an activity that some, including myself, indulge in far too often) but to expunge whatever thoughts, insightful, positive, or neither, that float to the top of head.

In several ways, Sword Art Online is to anime as Dane Cook is to comedy: unintelligible babble hidden by spastic animation and sometimes feasible bursts of quality. And while I can see the appeal of both and have even come to respect the vast generality of their work (less so for the former) and their fans, it’s ultimately just not for me. However, although the two can be entertaining to some degree in a purely sarcastic manner, several times do I find myself shaking my head, lolling to sleep, and vastly offended by the pure essence of ass (both figuratively and literally) contained in a single showing. Well, whenever I watch it alone that is.

During the first half of Sword Art Online, I had found myself in an odd place. Before Sword Art Online had aired, I admit that I had raised expectations for the series and was, at the very least, somewhat excited for the first episode. However, as a chain of horrendous episodes and unintended chaos had streamed along, I was forced to concede that the show was simply bad and had completely averted all my expectations. While the show wasn’t even close to the complete hilarity and charm of beloved terribad classics such as Mars of Destruction or The Prince of Tennis movie, both of which I strongly recommend, watching Sword Art Online from the beginning was most certainly painful. It was dry, tasteless, and just plain hard to watch.

It wasn’t until I had founded my own blog and subsequently created a Twitter account, which is for all purposes God’s gift to discussing anime, that I had come to truly enjoy the awfulness that is Sword Art Online. Instead of wallowing around in the muck, there were now people I could talk to, complain with, and cajole. But more than that, actively blogging and using Twitter has allowed me to converse with others with completely polar opinions and those who enthusiastically support the show giving me a different perspective when it came to approaching the show. Although I still firmly maintain the belief that Sword Art Online is crap, watching and discussing it with other viewers has made the experience so much more vibrant than the previous droll viewing sessions of before. Whether they liked the show or not, I loved the discourse and the valuable pieces of perspective our discourses provided me.

Now I find myself heading a Skype viewer group for Sword Art Online and one of two of its proud founders. It’s been a rather enlightening experience. We groan, we mock, and we laugh, all at the appropriate moments, waiting for the next hilariously mistimed shot at Leafa’s cleavage so we can all drink our shots. And even when the episode ends, we still keep going, hours on end. We fly off tangents, discussing the best and worst of anime, our expectations for the new season, and even subjects beyond the medium itself. I’ve realized that I’ve only got 3 more weeks of Sword Art Online, and as shameful as it is to say, I’m a little sad.  For me, viewing Sword Art Online has become less about the god awful show and more about sharing moments with a community of interesting, enjoyable people whom I  love to talk to.

While some see anime as a means to escape, ever since opening this blog I have been forced to acknowledge that anime is entirely the opposite. In reality, any forms of entertainment is a social activity which allows for discourse and discussion, not reclusion. In the many years before, whenever I’d watch something terrible, I’d do it alone, without people to discuss it with and without the comfort or intimacy of open discussion. When I look back at some of the worst, most painful watches in my anime viewing career, such as Shuffle! and Omamori Himari, I realize that ultimately, I was alone when I had watched those shows. While no amount of friends would have changed how objectively bad the shows were (and man, those were some shitty shows), I can’t deny the possibility that watching them with others would have changed my experience drastically.

While I originally wrote this post as a thank you to Sword Art Online, I can’t help but give my real thanks to the anime community as a whole. With the right people, something awful can become a masterpiece, and with the wrong, even the best of things can become a chore. Through some bizarre, small change in my viewing habit, the show I loathed the most has become my most awaited. Lead was turned to gold, and the tiresome days of watching bad anime alone were over.

Thank you.

Stray Snippets

  • If you actually want to hear us mope about Sword Art Online, pay a visit to Flawfinder’s blog Standing on My Neck. I assume that he’s just recording us speaking for masturbatory purposes, but that’s just me.
  • If you do decide to listen, then I’m the guy yelling “HAIL SATAN!” and “Kirito, MY DOG!” every two minutes.
  • Finally, if you have something to say about any show, positive or negative, feel free to speak to me any time. I would love to hear it. And yes, that includes comments about Sword Art Online.
  • Edit: I’d also just like to say thanks to everyone in SCCSAV. You’ve changed the way I’ve watched anime, and I can never go back.

12 thoughts on “A Surprisingly Non-Sarcastic, Genuine Thank You to Sword Art Online; A Reflection on Aniblogging, Bad Anime, and Enjoyable Discourse

  1. I was reminded for some reason of this post I saw the other day.

    Point is, there’s always something you can get from a movie or an anime or a book (or a game, or a comic, and so on). Even from the worst of the worst.

    And the bad stuff’s often more fun to talk about than the good stuff.

    One of my favorite games ever (Deadly Premonition, if you must know) is actually pretty damn awful in a lot of ways, but I played it all the way through with some friends of mine, laughing and smiling all the way, and seen in a group context, it is a freaking goldmine for discussion and comedy and all sorts of wonderful stuff. Part of the reason it works so well is that there’s no need to approach it with any sort of reverence, and no worry about talking over it.

    1. Since I’m amazingly stubborn, I’ll never drop a show no matter how painful it gets. It’s a terrible personal philosophy, but fuck it, as long as a show inspires feeling (positive or otherwise), I’ll continue to watch something, alone or not. Regardless, watching or playing something awful with others can make something otherwise painful alleviating provided you have the right group of people with you.

      Although there are plenty of objectively terrible shows out there, what matters most is your personal subjective experience. I’m proud to say that having others around me while watching something mighty awful has made those experiences far better than they should have been.

  2. >While some see anime as a means to escape, ever since opening this blog I have been forced to acknowledge that anime is entirely the opposite.

    That line really hit the spot. The entirety of my five years watching anime has been defined as much by the people I’ve watched my anime with as by the shows themselves.

    It really is amazing how much a good group of people can change your perception of a show. If you share a like or dislike for a show, it can heighten the highs of a good anime or help you through the lows of a bad one. When a friend recommends a show to me that I didn’t care for when I tried to watch it, sitting down and watching it with them lets me see what they like about it and gives me an appreciation for the show I may not have had before, even if I still don’t like it overall.

    Great post; I think you really captured the importance of the community side of the anime fandom. And thanks to SAO for being so bad it managed to make this particular community happen.

    1. As seasons come to pass, I admit that I forget more than enough series. Titles fade from my memory, the names of likable characters are forgotten, and even my tastes inevitably change. Similarly, very few shows have had a drastic effect on the way I think because ultimately, the worlds that anime characters live in are far too idealistic and fake. My fictional heroes are few and far between (Juror 8 from 12 Angry Men is one of a small few who spring to mind) and even less so in anime; most of my idols like Louis C.K. and Bill Waterson were alive and tangible.

      But what I haven’t forgotten are the fans. I look up to them the most, far more than any awful clad-in-black bishounen with dual swords (coughcoughKiritocough). Every meaningful discourse with the fans and every absurd, silly exchange in the community has stayed with me and has been internalized in some way, like it or not. More often than naught, it is the things written by our community, not the shows themselves, which adds to my gradually growing perspective and helps me see both anime and reality in new rays of light. Simply put, it’s an enlightening experience.

      By the way, you’re a crusader for not being scared off by my food guns and poop talk (both figuratively and literally) during your first Shonen Saturday. You deserve a medal.

      1. In the end, it all boils down to this: if I couldn’t watch anime with friends, I would have quit watching anime a long time ago. The overwhelming majority of the fun I have with anime comes from talking about it with people.

        Dude, the food guns pretty much made my night. I just wish I’d realized my mic was muted sooner so I could have pitched in. I was wondering why everyone kept talking over me. This was typical lunchtime talk between my animebros at school, so I’m decently used to the type of conversation that seems to come up every week in Shounen Saturdays.

        …I’ll still take that medal, though.

  3. With my group of friends, it’s never really about watching bad anime on purpose. We just end up watching what ends up on screen, and us being too lazy to just quit right then and there we amuse ourselves with the same exact method you use to cope with SAO. I like to think that a weird set of standards exists for people who willingly watch bad anime, in which there’s a desire for the media to improve and validate their time spent watching while at the same time they are quick to exploit what makes it so, so bad.

    Maybe we’re just tsundere for the kinds of anime that polarize the anime community, a sort of Guilty Crown or Code Geass syndrome, if I may put it in that sense.

    1. Watching bad anime on purpose is an… oddly enlightening experience per say. The biggest challenge in watching something “consensus bad” is being able to express criticism without cynicism and to ultimately give it a fair trial. Saying that it’s fairly difficult would be an understatement: few gems shine in the coal black mountain that is terribad and even fewer are beloved by the community. It’s even harder to do this when several bloggers have made this their blog’s cornerstone and have built their blog’s around it.

      But what makes awful anime so interesting to watch is that it ultimately forces you to make your own opinion. It’s easy to agree or disagree with a show everyone cares about because you’re already given the templates to create something which is ultimately yours. Picking from the bottom of the muck is odd, sometimes bitter, and oftentimes downright painful. But if you can share that moment with friends while forming a genuine opinion which you can call yours, then you’ve succeeded. You can have your cake and eat it too; it’s just really fucking difficult to do it.

      Also, Guilty Crown was a masterpiece. The perfect storm of advertising, visuals, attention, and complete hilarity. It’s by no means good (I struggled to give it it’s well-deserved 3 on my MAL), but I genuinely love it and all it’s catastrophic developments. Come at me bros!

  4. I couldn’t get past the 3rd episode and I had already decided it was terrible during the 2nd episode. I dont remember the characters names (boring as they are) but the main ‘da fuq?’ moment was when that chick began to fight yet BEFORE SHE EVEN ATTACKS, the main character says “Omg she so amazing shes flawless and a pro”. Rushed much?
    The 2nd episode then ended with the MC making some…weird unneccessary revelation which was never picked up on in the 3rd episode.

    The 3rd episode was…umm..a time skip?…and then a time skip after 5 mins and then another time skip topped off with another time skip at the end?

    I mean come on this anime is just so bad. Ive seen anime thats terrible because its literally just fanservice, and some anime that are terrible because of dull characters…but SAO?

    SAO is like the jack of all trades of everything wrong with modern day anime: its not the worst in each sector, but all that is bad is prominant.

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