Sword Art Online is, for lack of a better word, an experience. And a bad one, at that. It’s one of the shows which had a vast amount of potential for exploring a large number of interesting and complex themes, and while it does attempt to tackle some of interesting ones which come natural with the setting, it bungles all of them with lousy exposition and generally poor execution. Further complicating things is that the story is more often than not haphazardly written and finds it’s arcs written into a hole right at the ending, and every single arc is solved courtesy of a deus ex machina (of course!). However, there is one area that Sword Art Online manages to be decent at: portraying the growing relationship between the two lead characters. Unfortunately, this only lasts for less than a third of the series.
What I find most interesting (but certainly not well-done) in Sword Art Online is how the net of relationships constantly expands and contracts throughout the series. Calling a Sword Art Online a harem anime would actually be wrong: the story constantly writes love interests in an out in a flash and then quickly switches up the game. What starts off as a budding romance between two strangers will quickly turn into love triangle which turns back into a couple which turns into a square which turns into a triangle which turns into a harem which turns into a couple. While the outcome of the who gets Kirito’s dual swords (sorry, I couldn’t resist) is completely obvious, no relationship is set in stone because several characters come and disappear for reasons unknown. Since each peg of the relationship is completely removable as each girl who falls in love with Kirito doesn’t last for more than an episode, Kirito’s net of relationships has no definite shape, and finds itself as an amorphous, constantly evolving polygon. No dynamic is ever final because every girl who falls in love with Kirito is wished away as soon as she’s used to advance Kirito’s development (which is incredibly misogynistic now that I think about it), or at the worst moments, the story.
While the amorphous shape of the love polygon is fairly interesting it itself, it’s by far Sword Art Online’s biggest crux. After all, Sword Art Online was originally intended to be one novel about one couple’s budding romance, and it’s obvious from the episodes focusing on the relationship two characters when elaborated on in the very first novel is quite easily the biggest strength of the series. It’s far more well-realized and far more subtle (Asuna’s desire to cook likely stems from a recipe Kirito gave to her in the second episode) than the messy inner workings of the story and helps stop the show from buckling under its own weight if not only for the sheer force of the character’s interactions. This, however, makes it easy to distinguish which parts of the show were just added up for the sake of continuation: further installments only seek to dilute the romance aspect by introducing more and more girls into Kirito’s harem, adding more stress into the love polygon when they both appear and disappear.
Adding new potential love interests to spice up the entirety of Sword Art Online doesn’t work because these candidates lack the chemistry that Asuna had with Kirito, and that’s where the show really suffers. Because after all, you have to remember foremost that Kirito isn’t really character, just a black blob of dual swords who just bounces off the character you put next to him. There is no core personality and an interesting character is absolutely necessary to keep the relationship portions on its own two legs. When Asuna is taken away from the dynamic and the Suguha love triangle is introduced into the story, Sword Art Online has nothing to keep itself standing since no character is strong enough to keep the ever-changing relationship dynamic alive; it simply implodes and crashes hard, without a single point to keep any of the built-up stress on.
The constantly changing love dynamic between the characters is fairly interesting to watch if only for the unique swinging motions between a two-man romance and haremhood. Unfortunately, it’s just not good enough to make the cut.
- Totally not a sign that I’m running out of post ideas for 12 Days, nope, nuh-uh
- Given how much of my ire this show has received, know that I owe this show a review when it’s over.
- Episode 24 was a disgrace to humanity, stay away from it all costs.