How to Fix Sword Art Online

Alright, I got into a furious Facebook discussion on why SAO is terrible and it got me thinking, SAO is actually pretty easy to fix. So let’s take it from the top with a (relatively) short blog post.

What is Sword Art Online?

Sword Art Online is known to be a popular anime produced by A-1 studios based on the light novel of the same name by Reki Kawahara. Some people have read the light novel. I have not. So everything here will be based on the animation. And I’m doing this from memory so if some of the details are a little fuzzy, my mistake. Not going to go rewatch it. Make of that what you will.

So the animation features Kirigaya Kazuto. He is a gamer in high school. He is incredibly excited for the release of Sword Art Online (SAO). SAO is a fully virtual MMO where you really feel like you’re Batman Spiderman in the game. He is fortunate enough to receive 1 of only 10,000 copies sold. He logs in immediately like any normal person does. Meets his totally-not-homoerotic friend after which he is told by a Game Moderator that no one can log out and if you die in the game you die in real life. The only way to get the logout button back is to beat the game. Thus begins the struggle to beat the game without dying once.

What’s wrong with Sword Art Online?

Well, a lot, actually. Many people I talk to online say that things went down during the second arc (Alfheim). I disagree. I think it was wrong from the get-go. A lot of this next bit might sound familiar if you’ve literally seen any coverage of SAO but I have to put it in for completeness. Also I’m going to keep it to the Aincrad arc because I did say we’d have a relatively short one. If I do Aincrad + Alfheim you’ll be here all day reading this.

It has a pretty good starting premise and for 1-3 episodes it’s actually pretty good. However around episode 4-6 or so, it begins undercutting its premise by making Kirito (oh yeah, Kirigaya Kazuto’s IGN is Kirito) overpowered. He gets mobbed by like 10 guys and they can’t do enough damage to outpace his natural regen. What the $#@! And it only gets worse. Kirito goes through the motions of having a hard time but he always seems to come out ahead and it never feels satisfying. Feels like he got out easy most of the time. Even at the end of Aincrad he loses all of his HP and dies but somehow can break through the death and deal a killing blow to the final boss.

That’s not to say that overpowered characters are bad by design. We can take a look at Superman for a relatively overpowered character that is well done. Superman is effectively god. There’s really not a whole lot that can actually stop the guy barring Kryptonite (we’ll get back to that). So when your character is overpowered, nothing can kill them, how do you manufacture conflict? In the case of Superman, morality is used. Superman’s greatest foe is his own sense of morality and justice. His greatest enemy is his own naivete.

When your gimmick is “If you die in the game, you die in real life”, don’t make us follow a character that can’t die. Make us follow someone that actually struggles and fears for life.

 

Dying

“Hold up Artemis, there are at least 3 times he almost died and on the third time he did actually die,” I hear you say. Well, let’s actually look at those.

The first near-death for Kirito is against Gleam Eyes, or is it. No. It isn’t. This chump lets a ton of people die because he doesn’t want to show his two-handed skill for no reason. He could’ve won the fight at any time without incurring as large a loss of human life if he had not waited for everyone except tsundere-chan to die.

The second near-death for Kirito is when he’s paralyzed by poison and his assailant takes his sweet time killing him 1HP-by-1HP. Which buys Kirito enough time to pull a deus-ex-machina and have tsundere-chan arrive to save his ass. And then Kirito kills the guy even though it would have been more satisfying (from a writing perspective) to have tsundere-chan kill the creep.

The last near-death experience is at the end of Aincrad when he dies and somehow manages to magic his way through death when no one else can. It’s bullshit. Now you’ve done one step further. For 99% of this series there was no risk of death and when there actually is death, it doesn’t even matter?

Tsundere-chan

Let’s take a moment to talk about tsundere-chan. At the beginning of the series we’re introduced to tsundere-chan and she comes out strong like a total BAMF. She’s made to seem like someone who is naturally almost as good as Kirito. Bear in mind that Kirito had some 2 months or so to play the game in beta while this grill did not. So she’s been given a high initial rating. You see her 4 episodes later and she’s been totally domesticated. She’s cooking and stuff. Cowering behind Kirito from a creep she should easily be able to take out in seconds. Kawahara neutered this character. And he does it with every character. Any time you want a character to come out strong and define themselves they turn into harem bait. Even the guys. The guy from the beginning, his name is Klein. I just remembered it. I ain’t editing this after I finish writing it so if his name is still Klaus from paragraph 2 or something that’s what it’ll be when I hit publish. Anyway literally everyone becomes “X person”. “Blacksmith girl”. “Dragon girl”. “Black man shopkeeper”. “Best guy is a girl”. I think there was one more harem member but it might’ve come after the series. *Shrug*

The Writing Makes No Sense

I’d like to take this moment to point out that this game is definitely rated PG-13 at least. Probably rated whatever the highest rating is because you get naked and (probably) have sex. So now I gotta ask the question, why are there like over nine thousand 5 year-olds in it? Did Mom and Dad let drunk Uncle Rick watch the kids that day? Because after 2 years there’s still like a bajillion 5 year-olds and they’re all being watched by full-time starting town people.

Honestly Kawahara loses track of how many people are supposed to be alive in this game which also kinda takes away from the series.

About half-way through the series Kirito and girlfriend encounter a program (yes, a program) that looks like a little girl that they decide to ‘adopt’. Then, holy shit, she’s as broken as Kirito is. She can delete (yes, right click, delete) boss enemies and chooses to do so to save Kirito. Why, why does such a program exist. Why does it have that power either? It was designed as a psychology robot, being able to delete other programs should be well beyond the scope of its power. Then Kirito suddenly becomes expert hacker, familiar with the system intimately, and manages to save the program as an item. What? Where did all of that come from?

This guy has literally no struggles. The authors try to frame things as struggles but they can’t do it properly because the characters that they’re working with are broken. The source material has to be fundamentally broken by design. There’s no excuse for this.

How to Fix It

Alright, I could go on all day about how the series is bad. We see sub-plots that lead to absolutely nothing, yadda-yadda. But we’re already at 1300 words and I want to keep this relatively short.

Break things down as simply as we can, what is SAO? SAO is a shounen anime with no threat and side-stories that go nowhere. Without the struggle, there’s no point to making this a shounen series. The most enjoyable scenes of this anime were the slice-of-life scenes and the whodunnit episodes in the middle. So how do we fix SAO? Simple. We focus on what it does well and drop what it does poorly. If SAO was purely a slice-of-life anime it would actually be quite decent. The action scenes (while well-crafted) are pointless because we know Kirito will win. Every. Single. Time. Remove them. This life-or-death game isn’t life-or-death. It’s just life. And since it’s just life, just make a slice-of-life anime about a man and his waifu in a medieval world. The music is excellent. The stories are fun enough. At least this way, I’d be forced to give you a 6 for being meh rather than a 1 for being awful. Do something about your characters. We see some characters for all of one episode before they’re relegated to the harem and exist to be an extra voice in a later scene.

So yeah, that’s my fix. Make it full-on slice-of-life. Problem solved. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

 

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How to Fix Sword Art Online

Rant: Sailor Moon Opening

Okay, this was not the blog post that I had planned to work on today but whatever. I gotta get this off my chest. Why the FUCK did (and I’m just gonna guess here, feel free to comment if I’m placing my blame incorrectly) Viz Media change the theme song so drastically for Sailor Moon? This is really important! Listen to the Japanese opening

I don’t know what feeling you get off of this, but I get this kind of romantic Swan Lake, rock/romantic fusion, Phantom of the Opera feeling from it. I don’t even need to understand Japanese to get the meaning. I don’t even need to have watched the anime to understand the feelings. It has this wistful touch to it, as if the romance is fleeting. Like, you only get one night to be with the one you love and after the night has passed you’re sat there just reminiscing about what was and imagining what could have been, what should have been. It’s painful. Now let’s listen to what Viz Media did to such a treasure

I don’t want to say that it’s bad. It’s not bad. Standalone, it’s fine. There’s not much wrong with it. They picked an okay singer. Tolerable. There’s a pretty cool guitar solo. But it feels like it lost something. It feels like it lost the emotion from the Japanese version. Maybe it’s because the singer is much younger, and has lost that ‘matured’ timbre that I associate with the Japanese version.

The lyrics also seem to have taken a very distinct change. The Japanese lyrics, again, maintain this wistful feeling.

I’m just about to cry — moonlight
I can’t call you, either — midnight
But I have a simple heart, so what can I do?
My heart is a kaleidoscope.

I want to, but I can’t. I can’t stop myself from feeling this way. My heart is a kaleidoscope what does it even mean? That’s the point! A youth not understanding her feelings, so she has to find other ways to describe her feelings. Contrast that with the sort of battle-focused lyrics of the English version. Why. Why did you change the song from a beautiful soliloquy into some generic ‘power of friendship’ song?

My hypothesis and I don’t have anything to back this up is that to my knowledge they both aired on Toonami (which is where I watched it) around the same time. It might have been changed to sort of be ‘DBZ for girls’. Which is a damn shame if you ask me, Sailor Moon is far superior to DBZ. I said it. Come at me. While we’re at it, Sailor Mercury best sailor scout. Fite me irl.

But I’ve never read the manga, I didn’t watch the entire series. It was a villain of the week series to my recollection, similar to InuYasha? Maybe I should go back and watch the 200 episodes? Maybe not. I just appreciate good music.

So that’s my piece. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Rant: Sailor Moon Opening

Aho Girl

Aho Girl is about a girl who is totally fucking retarded. The show is totally fucking retarded. Yet I can’t stop watching it. What am I doing with my life.

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Aho Girl is a short anime (I think every episode is like 15 minutes). It’s a collection of short little stories (5-10 minutes apiece) and they’re all dumb. The characters are all degenerates (except Sayaka, you’re an angel).

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Akutsu is a violent domestic abuser in his early years thanks to his experiences with Yoshiko. Yoshiko (‘Aho girl’) is a retard with a magical ability to make everything around her get dumber. Sayaka is a pure angel that has no reason to be in this anime. Yoshiko’s mother is a degenerate who (on screen!?!?!!!) admitted to effectively raping Yoshiko’s father. Oppai Incho (yeah, who remembers her name anyway?) is a delusional stalker. There’s some delinquent that also suffers from stupidity. Oh, and I guess Akutsu’s sister also has that curse. And there’s a dog that is pretty much a bro? Dog’s cool I guess. His name actually is Dog. Guess whose pet he is.

There isn’t an overarching story. It’s just the lives of these people. This anime being short is actually a point in its favour because it’s so bad that you can’t get attached to characters (except Sayaka, and she only sticks out because she’s normal) but it’s also so bad that you have to watch it. Also, the opening theme is extremely catchy. It’s like this rap that at one point goes all opera and then becomes a rap again.

I guess this anime subscribes to the ‘Family Guy’ approach to comedy. Hit the audience with something mildly amusing, and then move the attention to something else mildly amusing. Since you never have too much time to stew on how stupid what you’re laughing at is, it’s good enough to keep you amused for the 15 minutes.

Overall, I’d say watch it. It’s so bad it’s good. Thanks for reading.

Aho Girl

Date A Live

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So I am a member of certain Facebook groups that share images. Some of these images get me a little interested in the source material. Date A Live seems to have some really cute characters so I decided to look it up. Tags… MECHA?!

SOLD!

I’m not sure that the ‘mecha’ tag is being applied properly. Mecha usually involves GIANT FUCKING ROBOTS THAT MANLY MEN PUNCH OTHER THINGS WITH. But in this show the only things vaguely mecha are the outfits that some of the girls wear. And quite frankly, that doesn’t cut it for me. And they’re not even used all that much to be honest. Most of the girls in this show are fodder.

In Date A Live, the world is being ravaged by ‘spirits’. They’re supposed to cause ‘spacequakes’ when they arrive but apparently that gets turned optional real fast. Probably because doing an evacuation in every episode would be a waste of time and totally boring. A boy promises to meet his younger sister (ugh, siscon) in front of a restaurant even if a spacequake evac occurs. Whoops, you can probably guess what happened. The boy, I guess we can call him Shido, it’s his name after all. Shido goes to the restaurant and whoops, there’s a fight going down. Then his sister bails him out and he’s told that he needs stop all of the spirits (conveniently female) from rampaging by dating them. I… what is this plot even…

Now you can probably see the problem right away.  Women don’t always take kindly to guys dating other women. And apparently his ability to stop them from rampaging is entirely dependent on making all of the spirits love him simultaneously so I dunno mayne. This is just a disaster. And of course there’s a human interested in him and that causes problems to. And it gets so terribad that at one point he is dating 3 girls at once and you can tell the writers have never been on a date before because you can’t leave your date unoccupied for 30+ minutes and ‘nothing happens’, mmkay? Ain’t no way that girl gonna be okay with you unless she’s not interested in you. But yeah, that happens.

Quite frankly, I think there’s too much filler. The highlights of the series can be chopped down into 2-4 episodes really. You really only needed maybe 4 of the ‘core’ characters. to tell the story (if we’re calling it that). Maybe that’s the problem. There are characters introduced as main characters that literally turn into side characters. Abomination. I feel like the show may have been entirely filler. I didn’t get a clear sense of direction. What am I being told? And where are my giant robots?

That being said, we do have some shining light. Kurumi is one of the cutest things I’ve seen and she’s crazy to boot. Why do I like ’em crazy? I don’t know. I just do. Sue me. Anywhere, here’s a picture of her.

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The other shining light is the music. Seriously, the music to this anime is way too epic compared to the quality of the anime itself. It just soars majestically into the horizon on the back of a flying MECHA dolphin.

Without a clear sense of direction, terrible dialogue, terrible characters, I cannot in good conscience recommend this anime. That’ll be it from me though. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Date A Live

The Testament of Sister New Devil

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[Image taken from CrunchyRoll]

This review covers Seasons 1 and 2. It is implied that there will be a Season 3.

This show is all over the place. So the premise of the show is that Basara (not to be confused with Subaru who was often called Basuru from Re: Zero) apparently always wanted a little sister and his father up and found two sisters for him. I… I’m not making this up. The two sisters wind up to be demons fleeing a war that were attempting to use his father to secure safe lodging. The next part of their brilliant plan is to forcibly oust Basara and his father from their home. Just like the current migrant crisis (political humour… check). Unfortunately for the girls, Basara and his father are in fact not retarded and highly resistant to the charm magic they were using. So they were sorely mistaken if they thought Basara and father were going to take that shit lying down (like the United St…). But get this, Basara is so cucked that he lets the two demons stay in his home after he kicks their ass out. Because… they’re family now? I don’t even…

The redheaded broad is apparently a princess whose power is the envy of the demon realm so she has to hide. Only she’s shit at it because everyone and their dog seems to know where she is. So much so that some people were already observing her from the demon realm and the hero village. Shit man, why even mention that she’s in hiding if it’s all moot three episodes in.

I should probably mention that Basara is a hero village exile because he blew shit up when it hit the fan. This dude stole a sword and went on rampage so Basara blew him up (somehow) and now Basara uses the sword (not sure why). Apparently the sword has a special ability which erases magical power but the caveat is that it can only be used as a counter attack. Which… doesn’t explain why the sword’s power didn’t stop Basara’s explosion… huh. On top of that, the ‘counterattack only’ rule kind of goes out the window by episode 4 or something which is kind of a drag. It even gets mentioned in Season 2 where the dude literally says “I THOUGHT THAT WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE USED AS A COUNTER ATTACK” and I’m shouting at the screen “I KNOW, RIGHT?”

If there’s any consistency in the show, it’s that the rules are inconsistent. The plot is inconsistent. And I think some key pieces of source material may have been left out. Basara’s father saves a poor kid falling out of a building and that kid has one or two lines. And that’s it. Mind you this kid was saved during episode 1 or 2 in a 10 episode season. Like… what was the role of this kid? What point did he serve? Why do I even care? And the fight scenes are absolutely terrible. Jesus christ, a fight scene is poetry through fists and these fights are just a fancy effect or two and done. There’s little to no background to the fights other than “Me gud, you bad”. Our characters are very reactionary. Were it not for the demon realm trying to get their hands on princess, this show would just be a bunch of sex scenes. There’s nothing motivating the characters to move forward. They just seem to want to hold their ground.

Honestly, I’m wondering if the adaptation was made for its sex scenes but its sex scenes are mostly used as plot convenience or dialogue dumps and I don’t even understand what the point of it all is. Most of these scenes don’t even have proper setup.

Anyway I’m trying to think of something good to say about the series but I can’t. This series is terrible and I cannot recommend it to anyone. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

The Testament of Sister New Devil

Re: Zero

This one has been in the queue for a while because I’m always late to the party but really because it has impressive plot. I mean, look at that plot.

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No, not everything I do can be motivated by cute anime girls, gimme a break (Seriously though, Rem best girl).

A lot of people have hyped this one and I figured with cute battle maids, it can’t be all that bad, right? Right.

So Re: Zero tells the story of a useless idiot that for some reason is called to a fantasy world. He expects the whole protagonist thing where you’re ‘The chosen one’ but finds out that he’s totally fucking useless. His only power seems to be to return to a very specific point in time every time he dies with all of the knowledge of the life he had before. I know there’s source material that I haven’t read, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say that his power is to rewind time but rather to send his consciousness back in time. It is through repeatedly dying that Subaru solves the various problems that come his way.

Subaru is the inversion (yep, gonna have to use that word again) of the typical video game (not saying that this is a game) protagonist. Comparing Subaru to SAO’s Kirito or Log Horizon’s Shiroe, he’s useless. He’s closer to Kazuma from my recent KonoSuba review. His only talent (and it’s a damn good one to be quite frank) is his ability to send his consciousness back in time (I swear that has to be his real ability despite openings suggesting otherwise). Because it allows him to navigate ‘Dead Ends’ similar to the quickload function in my visual novels.

This sort of power is kind of a mess to deal with because it’s so easy to make it seem like a deus ex machina device and in reality it kind of is. What I like about the way it’s executed here is that Subaru has to die first. And it might seem terrible but I think that’s the most important part. In other series this power might be activated like a ‘Get out of jail free card’ but Subaru actually has to experience the full death in order for this power to activate. Which can be excruciating because it can take a while to die.

Unfortunately when your character can return to a save point, it can make relationships between characters difficult to effectively establish because you’re playing with cause and effect. What this means is that you have to rely more on character interaction itself.Not saying that it’s a bad thing, just that it’s something to consider and all things considered I believe Re: Zero effectively executes this. And I do like how the various tragedies that happen to Subaru turn him from this otaku that was happy to find himself in the magical world into this man that has died several times and quite frankly doesn’t want to deal with this bullshit anymore. And the transformation is effectively communicated because you can easily see the intermediate steps, very well done.

My main complaint with the show is motivation and plot. Quite frankly, there isn’t any. At the end of the second season I find myself asking ‘What was the point of all that. What have I learned’. And I don’t think I’ve learned anything. So it feels like everything was pointless. Now you could point to the Royal selection process and say ‘Aha! That was the plot you nimwit’ to which I’m going to have to say ‘No, no it is not’. You are confusing ‘backdrop’ with ‘plot’ Understandable, yes, but they’re not the same thing. The backdrop is something that may set things in motion and continuously acts from behind the scenes. The plot is our reason for moving forward and quite frankly, there isn’t anything. Nothing feels natural.Most of all, Subaru’s feelings for not-best-girl. Subaru says he’s motivated by Emilia’s smile and whatnot but something weird happens and it gets to the point where what was once sweet and charming becomes downright deluded and creepy. And there are things he says that make me cringe. Jesus Christ dude.

Okay, maybe I’m being unfair to Emilia because Rem is just everything I need in a woman and also because her character is probably the most fleshed out one of the main cast post-resets. But the amount of character in the characters is remarkably tiny. We only really get development of Rem. I’ll also remind you that Rem probably has one of the most beautiful, heartfelt confessions in anime history and her character is also great and Subaru still turns her down. SUBARU. WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING.

Overall, a very beautiful anime with some epic music. While the anime wasn’t as great as I was led to believe, I definitely enjoyed watching it even if it didn’t really make any sense. If another season comes out, I’ll probably watch it. Those are my thoughts, thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Re: Zero

KonoSuba

Is overrated.

As a nerd that lives in their mother’s basement, true to form I watch YouTube videos about anime. There seemed to be a consensus within the community of YouTubers that I watch that KonoSuba is a pretty funny anime. I beg to differ. Maybe I watched it the wrong way, maybe I wasn’t supposed to wait for the humour. It’s not a gag anime like Gintama.

KonoSuba is the tale of Satou Kazuma after he is killed in episode one Yusuke Urameshi style. In purgatory(?) he is told that he can reincarnate in a fantasy world. He’s an otaku, seems like a pretty sweet deal. So he takes it. The Goddess in charge of his reincarnation says that he can choose anything to take with him. Now Kazuma is a pretty serious guy and he doesn’t want to die again in the next world so he’s taking his time. Goddess gets snippy. He demands that he get to bring her with him. Apparently that was allowed! So in a fashion reminiscent of ‘Ah! My Goddess’ his story begins.

Kazuma is the inversion of the absurdly competent hero trope. Instead of being able to transcend the limits of his world through sheer willpower (*coughBullshitFloor79cough*) he spends his skill points in useless stuff that only become situationally useful. Because of this, instead of winning fights through ability, he often has to pull things out of his ass. The four main characters all seem to have been designed to be as terrible at their job as possible and the story itself has been written in such a way to make their uselessness not so bad as to end the story. In fact, if I had to sum up KonoSuba in a word, I’d say inversions. It seems to be a series that is comprised entirely of inversions and aversions.

That’s not to say that it’s bad for setting itself up like that. I just don’t see the direction. Normally these ‘standstill’ anime are comedies. You stay in one spot until the comedy is done and then you all take a bow. But those often rely on being… ya know, funny. KonoSuba isn’t funny, at least not to me. And I’m someone that rolls on the floor laughing at Gintama. There are plenty of other anime that are funnier and much better executed than KonoSuba with more consistently good humour.

Maybe my hopes were set up too high thanks to the YouTubers I watch. That’s not to say that KonSuba is terrible. I’d say that it’s even a little fun. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible. I’d say give it two or three episodes and if you’re not sold, drop it. Because the formula doesn’t change for the other 17. That’ll be it from me though, thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

KonoSuba