A long time ago, in months of yore (I think around February), I was in the mood to procrastinate something or other. My memory’s fairly slipshod, so that’s an assumption, if a safe one. The latest form of free entertainment I’d taken to was Cruncyroll. Before that, my experience in watching anime was scattered at best; the only series I’d completed, to my recollection, were Fullmetal Alchemist, and the remake of Fullmetal Alchemist. I’d delved into several others, but they were either far too long to ever complete (Pokemon, Bleach) or full of embarrassing tropes and cliches (Haruhi, Bleach again). I’d watched a fair few anime movies, but by far the most exposure I’d had to this style was in video games (The Tales series, Ace Attorney, The World Ends With You etc.).
Recalling recommendations from a couple of friends, I started off with Attack On Titan. Shockingly, it was completely devoid of the nonsense that, up until this point, I regarded as a part of the anime package I’d just have to tolerate. No budget animation comedy, no fanservice, no jarring tonal shifts, no Juvenile Asinine Pandering Anime Nonsense. Perfect. FINALLY, an anime I could recommend to friends without hesitation. Well, OK, if said friend was a little squeamish and not keen on shows of a harrowingly dark persuasion, maybe a little hesitation. But I had no reason to be embarrassed about recommending it. Up until that point Fullmetal Alchemist had been one of my outright favourite shows of all time, and yet my love of that series had so many caveats. Watching Attack On Titan impacted my long-held conception that Anime was mostly a guilty pleasure, and I was eager to find more.
That was when I noticed Sword Art Online. I knew virtually nothing about it, other than a vague recollection of explaining the basic concept to me, and me thinking it sounded a bit goofy. But with my newfound optimism, I dived right in.
Analogy time. If a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. If a frog is placed in a water of a more pleasant temperature and the heat is gradually increased to boiling, the frog will not jump out, but will boil to death. Morbid, I know, and trust me, I heard it elsewhere. I didn’t boil any frogs, officer. If Sword Art Online was trash from the get-go, it’s likely that I would have got out straight away. I’ve certainly done that with several other Crunchyroll random picks since then. One that I attempted this morning just left me incredulously repeating “real people don’t act remotely like this”. But on the contrary, Sword Art Online started up with a fascinating take on an interesting concept. And then it got a bit schlockier. Then Aflheim happened and, well, rather than descend into that hole again I’ll just link the piece I wrote in the aftermath:
Unlike the unfortunate frog in my metaphor, I noticed that the heat was turning way up, but my determination to see the series to some sort of conclusion left me in fundamentally the same position. Is it fair to equate watching the second half of Sword Art Online to boiling alive? Well, yes. Even having mostly recovered from that experience, I can’t look back on it without cringing.
It wasn’t until some time after I wrote those seven-thousand-odd words that I discovered that Sword Art Online was actually incredibly popular. Let’s look at numbers! To compare with two other popular shows of equal length, I’ll use Fate Zero and Attack On Titan. Here are the Crunchyroll ratings at the time of writing:
Fate/Zero: 950 Ratings, 823 Five Star Ratings(87%)
Attack On Titan: 1252 Ratings, 1089 Five Star Ratings (87%)
Sword Art Online: 2468 Ratings, 1935 Five Star Ratings (78%)
If I said that Sword Art Online’s popularity and success over much better shows baffles me, I would be lying. The Big Bang Theory, Glee and Two And a Half Men already did the legwork on baffling me ’til I was baffle-numb. I can’t be all that shocked over which shows do well, anymore. I can be annoyed, sure, but not all that shocked. And annoyed I am. I am frowning so very hard. And frowning I shall march on into the, um, sequel (?) that this success demanded. I intend to follow this new installment as long as I can bear. I very much doubt it’ll be as bad as Alfheim, but we shall see.
So. Will there be swords? Will there be any attempt to pick up the shattered remains of the original themes? Will there be any women who don’t fall head-over-heels for macho-boy Kirito? Will Sugu still be in the story, and will they continue to hammer on the incredibly creepy incest-crush? Will Asuna return to her demoted status as Damsel-in-distress? Will she be included in the story at all? How much further will Kirito transform into a wish-fulfilment non-character? Why are they calling it Sword Art Online II, anyway?
Stay tuned for answers to those questions, and also snark! Or schadenfreude! Or both! Or neither? Probably both.
TABLE OF CONTENTS (Will update as each new part is written):