Anime-Breakdown: Berserk (1997) Series Review

Fantasy, for me, is the least accessible genre. Be it books, movies, anime, or anything fantasy has rarely been an interesting genre to me. Sometime breaking its own establish rules when in a corner or the fantastic ideas far outweigh the actual quality of the story. However, I’ve managed to get into fantasy stories like “The Once and Future King”, “The Hobbit”, “The Alchemist”, and “Gormenghast” which I like allot. I like a good story and great characters regardless what genre it belongs too. Berserk writing leaves a far greater impression than it’s violent, bloody content.

Good: An Absorbing, Fantastically Told Story

This is the kind anime that is deliberately slow paced, progressing leisurely to make everything in the story flow naturally. While you might not always have confidence in Berserk methods when telling a story. The anime is always confident in the direction it’s headed in. Never does Berserk wander off to tell a single side story that has no relevance. It’s singled minded in its goal, ensuring every event serves a purpose. Whether it’s either to display the change in a character with a simple expression or allow viewers to ponder about the cost of ambition, the value of living, and many other topics.

One of the best aspect about the writing is how it uses small details to full use. Character development is also done in similar fashion. Providing an initial impression of a character, then through the course of the series witnessing a gradual change to a character. For example, it’s not until episode 4 where Guts finally receives some backstory providing insight on what turned him into the stoic, tough, simple minded fighter he has become. In later episodes, how he interacts with other characters says allot about Guts progressing as a character.

From a story perspective, seeing the first episode drives home the “man having no control over his own will” theme. Seeing the end results first and solely focusing the road that led to it. It’s because of the first episode that it becomes difficult to know when the breaking point for Guts will be shown. Despite the first episode introducing some fantasy elements, for a majority of its run it characters treat stuff like magic and mystical creatures as myths. The story sparsely uses fantasy element for a more realistic feel. This one element makes the world more relatable. Whenever a mythical creature or object of the sort is shown there’s a new emphasis on mystery and horror behind it. Seeing a creature that shares a quality of a demon becomes as or more threatening than menacing general on a battlefield.

The one fatal flaw that can’t be overlooked is the ending of the anime. It’s a non-ending that will leave some questions unanswered. However, those unanswered questions are not important to the story it is telling. It completes the story it was telling while at the same time leaving it open for another season that never came. It will leave viewers with mixed feelings when face with the closing credits when it reaches the finale, but the post credit sequence that’s seemingly insignificant by itself will guide your feelings towards the anime.

Good: Simple Characters With Plenty of Depths

Berserk second biggest strength are the characters. Guts, the protagonist of the series, is simpleminded when we first meet him. Guts, like the story, is simple to grasp and comprehend. He’s a stoic, battle-hardened fighter wandering aimlessly through everyday existence. As he progresses on his journey the more complex he becomes as a character. Suddenly there’s layers of depths to Guts simple words about his only pleasure in life being swinging his sword in battles. In some ways he speaks the truth about himself, but also when spoken we know there’s more to them than he’s leading on. How he views the world, how he become to value his life, and fuels him in his fight become clear. Best of all, every change he goes through is seen.

In contrast to the seemingly invincible like appearance of Guts is the more angelic presented Griffith. By only his appearance with his long white hair, armor the shines brightly on the battlefield, and a welcoming personality in such cruel time makes Griffith character immediately appealing. He’s smart, slick, and a natural leader without a doubt of hesitation in his action.

Another stand out in the series is Casca. She’s the only prominent female character in the anime and also one of the most interesting characters. What makes her outstanding is due to the setting of the story she has to overcome more than soldiers on the battlefield. Casca has to stand against the role society believes she should have and prove gender doesn’t define greatness. There’s more to Casca than just going against the label given to her by her time, but also what defines her as a person. Her struggle to follow her own path is explored in several episodes making her more than a woman going against expectations of her time.

With three well developed characters it becomes more interesting when the web of relationship becomes more complex. Seeing the characters interact with each other becomes as engaging as seeing a battle unfold. Characters have varied personalities preventing the anime from being serious all the time. No matter the position of a character the anime will give them a motivation that does more simply make them a straightforward villain or hero. Berserk knows when there’s more shades to a character the more they can get tackle, but also knows the proper usage of characters that are simply meant to be good or evil.

Good: Production values overcome budget limitations

In the animation department Berserk is impressive. For a series entirely hand drawn the raw appearances of movement further helps Berserk. During the action the scenes the raw appearance adds to its depiction showing the ugliness and raw nature of war. Characters come in all shapes and sizes offering distinct looks. Sharp lines are given to armor emphasizing the weight and thickness. This also applies to weapons every time a sword pierces through a piece of armor of flesh it can be felt.

Another plus from the animation are the subtractive colors blending together. There are certain scenes in Berserk, where the darken effects of subtractive coloring make certain scenes visually powerful. In particular, episode 6 which mostly takes place inside of a castle where the only source of light are from torches. When Guts faces a against the rumored Zodd the Immortal his appearance is demon like and is painted in the same color as blood. In the few instances where Zodd gets blood on him the contrast between Zodd imposing figure the blood of the soldiers he killed is distinct. Giving Zodd appearance an appropriately unearthly presence.

There are visible examples throughout the series when you can tell Berserk is on a limited budget. No other method than still images are used more frequently. The still images are detailed and vividly drawn. Sometime use as an effect to get across the true power behind an attack or the emotion between two characters. There usage makes for some powerful imagery when required, but are also used in some battle sequences since the amount of soldiers on a field are generally in large numbers. The bigger the scope of a battle the more likely still images will be used. For dialogue scenes it’s usage is more frequent, though sometime the slow movement goes hand in hand with the anime pacing.

Voice acting is a bit trickier to discuss. In Japanese, the cast of voice actors is filled with great actors, but some miscast roles. One strong point the Japanese voice cast has over the English cast is, Toshiyuki Morikawa, is a perfect realization of Griffith whereas Kevin T Collins is some time off with some monotone delivery. Kevin T Collins is still great in the role of Griffith nonetheless. In comparison with the English cast is just as good being emotionally driven and having good comedic delivery in the few instances where comedy is present, but is clunky in some line delivery which in turn makes it feel more natural. An advantage the English dub has is casting is better done with each actor better fitting their roles.

If you have to choose, I will recommend the English dub for two reasons aside from the fantastic voice cast. One is the story is set during the middle ages. Hearing characters speak in English is more fitting than hearing Japanese which can be distracting. Visually you can see the characters, clothing, armor, and the environment is not reflected towards Japanese culture. Second reason is the cast members from the English dub do reprise their roles for Berserk: The Golden Age Arc theatrical films. This guarantees the voice actors you like or hate will appear in the films as well. Being a welcome reunion as oppose to the Japanese voice cast, which are entirely different from the anime series and the theatrical films. If you’re planning to see everything in the Berserk franchise go for the dub, but if you’re only planning to see the anime then pick what better suit your preferences

The soundtrack of Berserk is composed by Susumu Hirasawa and the series frequently reuses great tracks. It’s favorite of choice is “Gatsu” used in the anime most important moments and “Behelit” for any occasion it feels like. Hirasawa score is a mixture of pounding medieval instrument and passionate folk singing are powerful in a collection of well orchestrated music. Perfectly fitting the anime setting, while great, there isn’t variety as it reuses tracks frequently. Prepare to hear “Behelit” and “Gatsu” for over ten episodes. The English J-rock opening theme of the anime, “Tell Me Why” by Penpals feels out of place with the anime. While the lyrics do reflect the central conflict of Guts it doesn’t fit due to its more modern feel compared to the other pieces of music that sound like they belong with the period Berserk is set in. The closing theme “Waiting So Long” by Silver Fins is a more proper fit with the series more in line with the rest of the other tracks.

Personal Enjoyment: It became so engaging time flew by fast

Berserk is not a series I can say I enjoyed. For it’s rare moments of humor there’s a dozen dismembered bodies and dark themes that overshadow those laughs. Instead, I’ll say Berserk was engaging from beginning to end. To the point it rivaled my favorite anime (Death Note) in absorbing me into its story. It introduced me to a fantastic cast of characters and fully realized world that served as a gateway to read the manga. While the ending did leave me wanting more what I got was far more satisfactory than I expected it to be.

Possible Complaints (If you just skip the entire review to vote):
Music reused frequently
Deliberately slow pacing
Supporting cast not receiving much development
The ending, but a post credit sequence prevents it from being as bad as it could have been
Hand drawn animation looks dated compared to digital animation

Calculating Points:

Story: 3/3

Characters: 3/3

Technical (music, voice acting, animation, etc.): 3/3

Personal Enjoyment: 1/1

Final Thoughts:

Berserk is supplied with plenty blood and gore, but the true strength of the anime is it writing. Providing an engrossing story and engaging characters that remain strong from beginning to end. Leaving a far greater impression from the story it told over the violent and dark content it has. What more can you ask for from an anime that’ll leave you wanting more.

10/10

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Cinema-Maniac: Cool Dog (2010) Review

“It’s a kids film” is an easy way to avoid putting effort and criticism in films that are not intended for older audiences. Aside from being a poor excuse to not view a bad film it’s incredibly insulting that there are some who demand very little effort be made for movies specifically targeted toward kids. The film in question today is “Cool Dog” directed by Danny Lerner. Now as a producer I’ve seen some of Lerner films like “The Legend of Hercules”, “Ninja” (2009), “Today You Die” (2005), “Conan the Barbarian” (2011), “The Mechanic” (2011), “Olympus Has Fallen” (2013), and “The Expendables 2 & 3”. His resume is filled with action movies, generally ones that action enthusiasts wouldn’t call decent films even in their respective genre standards. However, he can receive praise for also producing “The Grey Zone” (2001), “Sunday” (1997), and “Edges of the Lord” (2001) which are his best produce films. Ironically, they are also his rare outings from action films. So is a man whose entire career is around producing films generally about a single man killing several others capable of directing a film directly targeted towards kids? Well the answer is clear when you saw the rating and no he can’t.

Cool Dog is about a devoted German shepherd named Rainy attempting to follow his young master Jimmy across the country in New York City. The film begins in the small town of Eagle Rock, Louisiana where Rainy goes around his presumably daily routine of ringing the town bell, helping a cripple man cross the street, and waking up his owner in time to go to school. People in the street refer to this dog as (•_•) , ( •_•)>⌐■-■, (⌐■_■) “Cool Dog”! He’s so cool in fact that everyone refers to Rainy as “Cool Dog”, even if the person is meeting him for the first time. A film opening minutes shouldn’t cast doubt on the audience about its quality which this film does. It introduces a scene where Jimmy and his dad visit their mother grave. It’s pointless since Jimmy and his parents relationship is never a focus in the story of any sort. Before that scene though, Jimmy has to face the harsh reality and move to another State which occurs in the first fifteen minutes. In no way do the writers attempt to incorporate a scene showing an average day for Jimmy in the small town of Eagle Rock. Within those same fifteen minutes Rainy saves a little girl from falling from a train track that goes over a river and is given a parade. Not a whole lot must happen in that small town. That’s saying something for a guy who lived in the uneventful small town of Pittsburg, Kansas for several years.

After the initial first fifteen minutes most of the film is just Rainy journey to find Jimmy in New York. All the direction Rainy needs to get to New York from Louisiana is a postcard. Before even reaching the end of the first act the film has already failed to provide character or conflict worth investing in. Throughout the film (•_•) , ( •_•)>⌐■-■, (⌐■_■) “Cool Dog” is able to perform incredible feats that that no ordinary dog can do in order to get to Jimmy. Rainy is able to play harmonica, banjo, checkers (and win), the piano, understand the English language, knows how to pay for food, has his own I-Pod that he knows how to use which contains the song “Cool Dog”, can skateboard (off-screen), knows how to get to New York by only seeing a single post card, can chew a whole through a door, and is able to drive a boat. Whenever Rainy is involved logic does not apply for he is (•_•) , ( •_•)>⌐■-■, (⌐■_■) “Cool Dog”.

There’s a scene that involves Rainy committing grand theft auto. (⌐■_■), ( •_•)>⌐■-■, (•_•) “Not Cool Dog”. If this were a cartoon accepting Rainy can drive a car (along with other things) would be no issue, but in a live action movie where a little thing call reality that goes against cartoon like behavior. Not only that, but people on the street cheer on (Not) “Cool Dog” while he’s driving a stolen car and somehow manages to do so while putting on sunglasses. This film expects you take the fact that a dog knows driving regulations, knows how to operate a car, knows his way around New York despite never being their, and the audience to be brain dead. Unless the film conveys to the audience in some form it’s meant to be intentionally illogical it’ll be taken as an insult to the audience intelligence.

By the end of the film Rainy gets a key to the city awarded to him by the mayor of New York who also makes Rainy a citizen of New York. The reason being he captures criminals, stops an illegal pet store, and is resurrected from the dead because there’s nothing “Cool Dog” can’t do. The human characters in the film lack development and aren’t as interesting as Rainy. While the human characters never perform feats that requires suspension of disbelief nothing is ever tackle by them. Jimmy constantly complains about the no pet policy in his apartment leading to multiple conversations leading to Jimmy being scolded that it is against the rules. Again, a scene is dedicated to Jimmy going to his mother grave, but the film never bothers to tackle any related issues to it.

Then the landlords of the apartment lack subtlety making the reveal of them running an illegal underground pet store even more obvious. These landlord villains offer plenty of bad jokes, bad slapstick, and a pointless chase scene. Also, the landlords do attempt to sell Jimmy to an oversea buyer. Child trafficking, now there’s some material that’s comedy gold for a film aimed directly at kids. Like everything else involving humans it goes nowhere. Finally comes the token bullies of the film that pick on Jimmy. As oppose to treating Jimmy as a victim of bullying as a subplot it is instead just an annoyance. Even the police in this film are incompetent at their jobs bringing a kid while they chase down Jimmy kidnappers. If you think the police are bad for bringing a child during a car chase then Jimmy parents are far worse since they don’t notice him missing until the end of the film.

Production values are low in this straight to DVD film. What little special effects there are involves cheap CGI effects and practical dog paw effects whenever the German Shepherd is driving, playing the piano, or performing any illogical feat. The editing of the film is unnoticeable with a couple exception where it needlessly incorporate slow motion. There is also usage of some cartoonish sound effects that come across as juvenile, though aren’t used frequently for comedic purposes either. Supporting actors are given little to do performing three actions; performing slapstick, spouting exposition, or telling bad jokes. That’s about it for the supporting cast.

Now since the German Shepherd was trained to perform specific actions it did its job adequately. Jackson Pace delivers his dialogue by whining and spends most of the film being depressed about missing his dog. Restricting Pace ability to display many form of emotions. Michael Pare who plays Kimmy father comes across as stiff and unenthusiastic. One scene that should require Pare to come across sincere when breaking the news to Pace they are moving he shows no emotion. Christa Campbell receives less screen time than Pare and her acting is stiff as well. Rarely being able to deliver certain lines of disdain towards something convincingly. David Jensen sounds like he has a bad case of nasal allergy always sounding like he’s about to sneeze. Finally all Jen Kober is allowed to do is look cranky speaking at times with a high pitch voice. Unfortunately Kober and Jensen are also comedic reliefs hurt by their bad performances. To recap, the German Shepherd is best the actor in this movie.

(•_•) , ( •_•)>⌐■-■, (⌐■_■) “Cool Dog” is a terrible movie especially for kids. It doesn’t feature any sort of vile content, but insulting their intelligence is just as harmful. For instance, it refuses to incorporate the death of a parent into the plot in any form despite being one of the first scenes in the movie. Instead of dealing with the issues of death “Cool Dog” believes it’s much better to show a dog performing over the top feats no ordinary dog can accomplish. Nothing it tries to do is fully committed leaving an empty feeling for the viewers once it’s over. That’s not including the one dimensional characters, plot points that go nowhere, and bad production values that have little thought put into them. “Cool Dog” is nothing more than bad example of how to make a terrible film specifically aimed at kids which is (⌐■_■), ( •_•)>⌐■-■, (•_•) not cool.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: Big Hero 6 (2014) Review

Disney….Marvel….okay how the heck am I meant to write an introduction when two of my least favorite examples on storytelling are involved. I might have my complaints with both, but when they make great movies, more likely with Marvel, I applaud them. Sure the methods are reused, but if anyone can create a winning formula, not change it for over seventy years, still get positive reviews for essentially making the same film, and get rewarded with large revenue it’s Disney. Unlike “Frozen” where it had no idea what it wanted to be “Big Hero 6” suffers from the opposite problem of having no personality. There’s nothing in “Big Hero 6” that attempts to differentiate itself from a typical Disney animated movie or Marvel movie. Like it’s prominent hero Baymax, the original creation has heart and thought put into, but in the hands of another creator it’s just something that can reproduce from an assembly line without the same care or thought put into it.

Big Hero 6 is about a bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada. Just like the heroes of the film, “Big Hero 6” is rather aimless. One of the casualties of this film being an animated film by Disney and based around a Marvel comic book combining cliches from both properties. The Disney protagonist parents are dead, the Disney villain is one dimensional with a Marvel revenge scheme that is weak due to poor characterization, Disney supporting cast are wacky given Marvel powers of plot armor, and a Disney ending that removes Marvel character progression. There’s nothing here that has not been seen and is a tedious experience when it never does anything out of the box. For example, Hiro Hamada is proclaim by the other characters to be a genius. This is simply never made true as Hiro spends a majority of the film expanding on other’s creations rather than making his own, and his genius is boggled down by summaries rather than actual scenes displaying how clever this character is meant to be. However, unlike Hiro expansion on other inventions, the script does not expand on the hero-origin story putting more emphasis on being a by the number product than it’s own creation.

Pacing is non existent in the film. Being a showcase of several ideas and that’s all. They’re just ideas that never get time to developed into proper characteristics or working plot points. Within the first act the protagonist, Hiro, does a complete one eighty on his life with no effort to be convinced to change. This sudden change in Hiro is rushed and so is the catalyst that becomes his motivation. During this rush transformation it introduces the viewer to the rest of the cast. Supporting characters are given a single trait to differentiate from one another. They also have no personality. All the heroes are driven by the same singular goal with the same motivation. Resulting in a cast that have no personality when separated and when together becomes a boring team because the heroes all function the same. There’s no team dynamic either despite only knowing Hiro for a couple of minutes they somehow manage to work together flawlessly. Immediately removing an obstacle to the road of recovery.

The villain of the film is very weak. Not only is his motivation all the amount of characterization he gets, but that gets undone by a twist in the climax. Also, it attempt to make the identity of the villain a mystery. It doesn’t work when there’s only two candidates. By doing so, the film incorporate a twist to throw viewers off, but even with that twist spotting the villain will take no less than the first act. As for the world there’s no detail spend discussing how San Francisco and Tokyo merged into San Fransokyo. At least a single sentence would be fine, but if that’s not important than having a good ending is, which probably got teleported to another dimension since that’s gone as well. Simply put in no spoilers terms, the ending would rather keep a character position static over creating a dynamic character whose significant in the story goes far beyond the basic position from the start.

When it comes to animation Disney balances the mixture of both of Western and Japanese culture in San Fransokyo. Blending the architectural designs of Japan’s Pagoda temples with the interior of a Western traditional home. Mixing up building designs with a combination of both or separately while maintaining a unified look. Streets at night are lit up by neon billboards and Japanese lanterns. Small details like the appearances of both Japanese and English writing down to the clothing make the world feel fully realize. It’s all bright and colorful with great lighting. You’ll get to see plenty of San Fransokyo with two chase sequences, and one flying sequence that’ll display the world. These sequences are well animated, but they could have easily been taken out in favor of sequences that could have been beneficial to the story. One area where the animation fails are the action sequences. All the set pieces are a one sided affair resulting in a party unanimously coming out victoriously regardless what the film character will claim. They are simplistic and slow moving not fully utilizing the abilities of the characters until the climax, but even then it’s for a brief period before the climactic set piece comes to an end.

Ryan Potter provides the voice of Hiro, the hero of the story. His work was fine, nothing noticeable to criticize since the poor script it at fault. With that said, Ryan Potter surprisingly makes every single one of his line delivery come across naturally. He’s able to provide emotion in scenes where the material failed to do so. The stand out voice work goes to Scott Adsit and his portrayal of the robot Baymax. Even through an auto-tune-like filter, Adsit was able to give the character life. While Baymax comedic antics revolve on slapsticks and the rule of three (allot) Adist has good comedic timing. Delivery most of the laughs with what he says over what his character does. The best performance in the film belongs to Daniel Henney for his portrayal of Tadashi. Offering the most ranged in his performance and coming across as a likable individual with good intention.

The rest of cast roles require them to be one-note. Leaving little range for T.J. Miller, James Cromwell, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph, and Alan Tudyk. Their performances are underwhelming, though fitting for their characters. Whatever the character trait is, the voice cast conveys those characteristics strongly. Unfortunately as stated before the roles don’t offer them much range. Minimalizing their time during the more dramatic segments of the film.

The soundtrack is something I honestly cannot judge fairly. It has a song called “Immortal” by “Fall Out Boy”, a band I grew up with. Of course I’ll be enthusiastic if I listen to “Fall Out Boy”, even if it’s a song from the “PAX AM Days” album (which I dislike). Unlike the film visuals, the soundtrack only contains two tracks that blends Western and Eastern musical influence together. The rest of soundtrack heavily feature technoesque sound that seems more in line for a film about a young-goofball hacker than a superhero film. There’s several tracks in the film where it sounds like random computer noise were randomly inserted being out of place in a track. If it’s a track emphasizing the more innocent or comedic side of the film it becomes noticeable working in the scene. However, none of the more bombastic sounding tracks manage to create a mood of excitement during the set-pieces. Having steady raising buildup, but downplaying the pay off with a whimper. Outside of the film, only Fall Out Boy “Immortal” comes closest to standing on its own without the company of the movie visuals. Aside from that one track it’s instantly forgettable.

Big Hero 6 is the result of Disney handling a property without the effort. It takes the laziest aspects of both Marvel and Disney to create a story where personality and effort is non existent. The technical side of the film are generally above solid. Disney created a wonderful, visual mixture of two different culture that looks unified. While the soundtrack goes more for a Western feel and is instantly forgettable it works for the film. Unfortunately what Big Hero 6 ends up being is missed opportunity to provide a story worth investing in, engaging characters, and memorable world.

5/10

SPOILERS: Heartless Ending

The central conflict of the film is Hiro trying to move on from his brother death. How Hiro copes with his depression is his relationship with Baymax. While the other elements of the film were predictable this central conflict appeared to be going in the right direction when everything else was not. Unfortunately by the third act the whole dynamic of getting past death has been toss aside with a twist eliminating the antagonist motivation therefore removing what little character he had. The ending defeated the whole purpose of Baymax as emotional placement for Hiro Hamada too. A physical being that metaphorically represents the soul of Hiro’s brother, at least that it seemed like the film was going for. If Baymax remained dead along with Hiro brother research data then the whole conflict would have had significant meaning. Hiro would have finally moved on from his brother death and therefore Baymax as a character has more to him than just being a fluffy comedic sidekick character oblivious how to properly act in the world. Unfortunately the film ends with Hiro rebuilding Baymax. Making Baymax into a mascot with no depth only meant to sell toy. So in the end, Hiro’s brother death was unimportant to the story and Baymax was only created to sell toys.

Anime-Breakdown: Sword Art Online (2012) Series Review

From the moment I finished the first episode of Sword Art Online all promises of a good show flew out the window. Some problems became immediately clear to me and it first episode failed to capture my attention in any way. Yet, at the same time I stuck with it, hoping it would improve, and in some respect it kinda did. Not enough for me to call it or consider it a good show, but nothing I would consider bad in general either. For all it’s problems it always kept me entertain whenever it did something good or bad. The ideas it had were interesting even if not executed properly most of the time. It’s simply a well produced show that tells a story poorly, but in a very entertaining way.

Synopsis:

In the year 2022, the virtual reality game Sword Art Online is released. Using a Nerve Gear, players can control their characters using their own minds, and experience the world of Aincrad as if it were real. Unfortunately, it becomes all too real when the creator of the game locks everyone out of the real world by hijacking all the Nerve Gear devices so that if you die in the game, you will die in real life. Only by clearing the 100th floor and defeating the final boss can the players win their freedom.

Good: Solid Production Values

A-1 Picture is a studio that I just acknowledge exist. This studio hasn’t made anything that I liked or hated wholeheartedly. However, when it comes to their production values they are consistently solid including the very colorful Sword Art Online. Character designs are simplistic and the locations are diverse. A-1 Pictures take advantage to show off snowy mountains, grassy fields, ancient dungeons, and many more to their advantage. Colors are simple and plain because lightning is rarely a factor to how a scene will look. Don’t expect much shading from this show, let alone gradient. In movement the animation is smooth from beginning to end without any noticeable issues.

One of my two complaints about the animation is Sword Art Online misses depths of perspective. Everything in the show looks flat, making what little use of 3D there is stick out. Another complaint is the action scenes are very weak. The choreography for all of them are simple which would have been fine, but whenever a spell or a weapon makes an impact on a person there is little visual flair or particles effect to add to the action. It’s similar to lighting up a firework and waiting for the true spectacle to occur, but it never comes because it’s a dud. I should add that the first opening intro is very misleading in representing Asuna as an strong component character who is as skilled as Kirito. In the first opening intro it shows Asuna and Kirito beating “The Gleam Eyes” while in the actual show it doesn’t happen. It’s almost as if A-1 Pictures acknowledge in their own way “Yeah, this character sucks. Sorry”.

All the music in the anime is a good fit with the show. In particular the closing song “Overfly” by Luna Haruna perfectly fits the romance side of the series. Of course that could be due to the second outro being more visually creative giving bits of the character relationship in pictures where the first outro is just camera panning down two characters doing nothing. The opening themes aren’t impressive. “Crossing Field” sung by LiSA sounds phoned in (especially if compared to Oath and Sign) and Air Eoi “Innocence” is passable. Any piece of music that isn’t the opening or closing themes fits with the show. It’s never distracting, but at the same time hardly noticeable as it never fuels audience’s emotion to create a powerful scene. It simply works in the show.

Voice acting is good, though not a single performance stands out regardless if you see it in Japanese or English. Both versions have a different take on how the voice actors portray the characters. The English dub cast are (mostly) subtle in their delivery, but in Japanese there’s more emotion driven into the performances. If you have to choose, I would recommend seeing it in its original Japanese language if only because the animation doesn’t deliver spectacles worth your attention.

Mixed: Mixture of good ideas that fail to live up to potential

Sword Art Online first arc (episode 1 – 14) suffers from rush pacing. It’s damaging to the point that on episode 13 it finally decides to address a major plot hole established in the pilot episode regarding how the players’ bodies are kept in a stable condition in the real world. If it takes that long to address a gaping plot hole there’s less chances whatever the material tries to tackle will come out better. For example, Asuna is introduced as a player who is on or close to the same skill level as Kirito holding her own in a fight in episode two. That quickly changes when Asuna is pushed to the sideline and given little to do afterwards. Usually involving cooking, cleaning, and needing to be saved. Another drawback to the pacing is skipping around time. You frequently skip months in the story with the anime usually relying on generalizing events than actually showing. Like how did Asuna obtain a high ranking position in the “Knights of the Blood” made further questionable when seeing her contribution when working alongside Kirito.

When out of focus episodes will go off track from the main story. These side stories flesh out the world by showing how the game mechanics work, but all at the cost of being filler. On the other hand, these side stories do keep the story unpredictable, even if the outcome never changes. Some other positive points about the first arc is there is risks of losing inside “Sword Art Online”. Not anything the main cast will suffer because Kirito’s overpowered, but it is established and touched upon in key scenes. While not as explored as the subject of death, it does bring up the mindset of different kind of players. Showing some diversity to offset the goody two shoes the story focuses on. Another positive is the romance doesn’t end with two characters becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. It shows two characters as a couple and runs with it for awhile. Although the downside being the couple aren’t interesting as stand alone characters let alone when they become a couple.

If there’s one thing that can’t be overlooked is how often it contradicts itself. It’s more than willing to break its own rules to make its protagonist come across as being awesome. For example, Kirito said himself it’s much better to be in a guild, but in Episode 8 single handily defeats one of the toughest bosses by himself. This also applies to gamers in the show who don’t know how to play the games. In Episode 2, it’s established to take place an entire month after the first episode and gamers still don’t know how to play the game. Either leading to speculation that most players of SAO are idiots or don’t bother to learn how play the game knowing their lives depending on it.

Now due to the course of the anime I encourage you to avoid the next two paragraphs to avoid spoilers. I won’t go into specifics, but just the mere mention of it will spoil “Sword Art Online” Aincrad Arc (Episode 1 – 14).

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Episodes 15 – 25 make up the Fairy Dance Arc that takes place in Alfheim Online. A noticeable improvement is the pacing is slower. Allowing more of the story to unfold in real time instead of generalizing important events in exposition. However, some issues in the Aincard Arc carry over to the Fairy Dance Arc. Asuna character receives another downgrade and becomes a plot device to move the story forward. Sadly, that’s all of Asuna contributions in the Fairy Dance Arc. It also does away with the consequence of death that the first arc got across. Stakes are smaller and the scope of what it tackles is smaller. Plus going from a setting that has dragons, ghosts, and Santa Claus gets replaced by a setting filled with Fairies. There’s no competition, which arc has the more interesting setting. It might sound like a downgrade, but it improves in one area with it counts.

Since the story becomes more personal there’s no filler in the arc. Everything done is to move the story forward. It still suffers from the same problem of giving supporting characters little to do, but it is not as noticeable since an entire episode won’t be dedicated to helping out a random character who won’t make another appearance. Then there’s Suguha whose characterization is better handled. From her introduction as an important character we see her progress from her conflict from beginning to end. Unfortunately, there’s never a love triangle that arises from her involvement. Just like every other female in the show, Suguha has to rely on Kirito to do everything in the end.

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Mixed: Likeable, but bland characters

Kirigaya Kazuto or Kirito as he commonly referred by is a bland protagonist. Kirito is overpowered to the point that if there is an ever moment of conflict, he’ll make sure to eliminate it. Every battle and every dungeon Kitiro goes in, there is never any doubt about his survival. Even without the “He’s the protagonist, of course he won’t die” invisible tag attached to his character. Diminishing any worthwhile investment since he easily overcomes any obstacles including boss fights. The worst aspect about this trait is the audience doesn’t even get to see Kirito become stronger. If it was another genre of gaming, it would make sense…except Kirito play games specifically designed for multiple people to play together. Yet, somehow with his lone wolf attitude Kirito is able to get to a higher level than any other player that play in a group. Anyone who plays an MMO will tell you how difficult it can be to level up, especially if you’re a solo player. What’s most questionable about him is the way he thinks. For some reason he keeps how strong he is to himself, despite the fact if he played at his full abilities he can prevent more people from dying. His actions are equally harmful to the people trapped in SAO as a antagonist.

Another (lack of) trait is Kirito suffers little eternal conflict that gets explored. At one point the show explains why Kirito is into gaming, but doesn’t expand on it. Instead of adding on Kirito accepting the game he’s trap in as real life. It’s left as an interesting, unexplored characteristic of his character. Everything always seems to work his way sometimes without his involvement in the solution. This kind of character or wish fulfillment can be done correctly. For example, in Persona 3 you take control of a seemingly perfect character (that you could name him/her whatever you want) with a status of the chosen one. Much like Kirito, Persona 3’s Protagonists builds his/her stats until he/she is perfect at everything. The difference with Kirito is his backstory is never a focus at any point in the series. Whereas Persona 3’s Protagonists backstory is given fleshing them out. No longer are the characters simply overpowered, but developed characters that blend with the cast. From beginning to end Kirito remains static with no major difference from where he begins to where he ends up.

Asuna serves as Kirito love interest. She could have been a good character, but beyond episode two the series does everything it can to lessen her importance. Instead of being an equally strong character like Kirito she eventually becomes reliant on Kirito like virtually every female character in the anime. What makes Asuna case different is how she was introduced as an equally skilled player which is not the direction the story took her in. This introduction makes her the most disappointing in the cast especially with what’s done with her in the second half. Another significant female character is Yui whose an AI or little girl ex-machina. Her contributions are similar to Asuna in which she becomes a plot device to move the story forward in the second half, but early on is involved in a side story about family. To get it out of the way it was rather heartless, but at least it contribute to the main story and one of few times character development of Asuna and Kirito as a couple works.

The last significant female character is Kirigaya Suguha. Despite not appearing in the show as much as the series main love interest Suguha gets better character development. Suguha is a sympathetic character all due circumstances from her placement in the story. Her feelings in a situation are rely to the audience properly to understand where she’s coming from. Making her conflict in her feelings for Kirito that she never thought about much. She doesn’t know if her love for Kirito is right or wrong due to circumstances she’s not entirely sure played a part to influence how she feels. Like the other female characters she does end up falling for Kirito, but unlike the rest of female cast Suguha feelings has some depths. As a character she grows in the story for the better not taking steps backwards.

Male supporting characters won’t be as reliant on Kirito since an entire episode is never dedicated to Kirito helping out another male character on a dangerous quest. The most he does for a follow male is teaching them how to play, despite the person spending tons on money to get the equipment to play the game and having waited three days in line to get it. If it’s a male other than Kirito they’ll spend most of their time off screen. This rule changes if the male happens to be an adult than chances increases they’ll be evil. Most of the adversaries Kirito fight against are mostly male, which in itself becomes tedious. Although, that last sentence should be filed under personal pet peeves instead of a flaw in the show.

Personal Enjoyment: Surprisingly, I was never bored

Well you did just read a couple of paragraphs of me favoring the second arc of “Sword Art Online” over the first. Just because I prefer one arc over the other doesn’t mean “Sword Art Online” quality will change. It’s story is never consistent in quality, but it is always entertaining. Whenever there is a bad scene in “Sword Art Online” I find it entertaining. From Kirito gaining the very stupid and non insulting nickname of “Beater”, any scene involving those useless teleportation crystals, and seeing Nicholas The Renegade (Santa Claus) being a few stand out. Thankfully not everything in the series was poorly thought out as there are actually good scenes in “Sword Art Online” I liked. The ending in Episode 14 titled “The End of the World” was satisfying even if the outcome of it was completely due to deus ex machina. Another being episodes 22 & 23 where the scenes between Leefa and Kirito that made me realize I actually cared what happens.

(Likely) Possible Complaints:
Everything I listed
The main character is Kirito
Everything that isn’t on the technical side if you loathe the story and characters
How popular it is (this one’s superficial)
This review if you absolutely hate it or absolutely love it

Rating: 6/10

Production Values (Sound, Animation, etc.): 3/3

Story: 1/3

Characters: 1/3

Personal Enjoyment (Yes, my enjoyment is worth the least amount points): 1/1

Final Thoughts:

When I got to the final episode of Sword Art Online and sat through the closing credits with still images my thoughts on the show were immediately clear. It’s not something I would call a good show with a story that has good ideas that get squandered by poor execution and characters that receive little character development or get pushed to the sideline after a single episode. However, it was consistently entertaining and always had my interest no matter how it turned out. There’s is one thing that is for certain regardless where you stand on Sword Art Online quality. It’ll leave one strong impression on the viewer before and after it ends.

6/10