Anime is incredibly popular amongst certain geeks. Now even MMO gaming is getting in on the anime action. However, how do we measure what the best anime is?
For the last year Sword Art Online has been all the rage among the anime community. It focuses on the idea of a massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing game as a setting. Fans of the hugely popular .hack//Sign will recognize this as a setting with infinite potential. As a fan of the .hack series myself, I was very excited about the idea of a new anime series focusing on MMO gaming. Not to mention that many people were calling SAO the best anime of the 2012. I mean, is it possible for such a large portion of the anime community to be so far off base? In short, yes.
SAO is an anime about a new MMORPG that gets released on virtual reality device. When the players log in they find that they are unable to leave. Not only that but if they die in the game they will die in real life as well. This certainly seems like it could have been a great concept for a show. It certainly had the right ideas to become the best anime of this genre, but somehow missed the mark.
People have been saying that SAO is the best anime based on MMO gaming. SAO does a good job making references to qualities of MMO games but these seem to come and go. For instance, I was amused when in order for the main character to give someone an item he opened a menu to transfer it to their inventory. This however only happens a few times and the rest of the time people are just handing items back and forth without having to access the menu. These little nods to gaming could have had a huge positive impact on the anime but instead it just seems inconsistent.
The main character Kirito is plenty likable and as the lead gets the most screen time in the entire anime. Maybe, that's why he's the only character I could even get into. Some anime suffer from overusing the dues-ex-machina effect narrative tool. SAO however just made their protagonist the deus-ex-machina himself. He always seems to figure it out or have just what's needed to succeed. He shows up in the nick of time, every time. He's constantly a higher level than everyone else and gets to be the only character to possess a secret skill in the game. He's clearly the best character in this not so best anime.
All of the characters seem to show up for an episode then disappear or die. It's as if the show just expects you to care about anyone who shows up for no reason, not really a quality I look for in the best anime of the year. Aside from the love interest who sticks around and two others who basically only cameo, it's just a revolving cast. I want to get to know my characters in an anime, not trade them out every week.
At some point the anime devolves into a strange love story and leaves the action behind. For several episodes I watched Kirito and his wife live in a cabin and adopt a daughter. This didn't actually add any depth to the characters because there were boring plots going on the whole time. Instead it was just a flat section of nothing that was not needed.
Once our hero finally escapes the game, the anime isn't over. That's right, maybe people think it's the best anime because it spans two MMOs. After leaving the game Kirito finds that his in game wife is still somehow trapped, but in another game. So, he jumps on board and begins playing another MMO to find her. This one however has no risk of death so all the tension is gone. He can die and log out whenever he wants, that makes it hard to care about the situation.
Now don't get me wrong, SAO isn't a bad anime by any means. It is not, however, a ground breaking examination of the effects of online gaming in the real world either, as people have claimed. SAO online is certainly NOT the best anime of the year and seems to be more of an exercise in mediocrity.
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