Sword Art Online is a strange beast of an anime. It remains one of the most popular anime series’ worldwide and has a dedicated and loyal fanbase. At the same time, it is prone to scorn and derision from the anime critic community. In an interesting twist on modern fandoms, both the fans and critics agree that its first arc -Aincrad – is still the show’s best 3 seasons in.
That said, neither side of the fence are wrong. You see, Aincrad represented the dramatic and thematic potential of SAO. An anime centering on thousands of players trapped in an MMO – and who die in real life when they die in the game? The very concept lays solid ground for effective and tragic storytelling. Aincrad is the most emotionally-fueled Sword Art Online story arc for this reason and even during it, it doesn’t achieve what it could’ve been.
Given that, here are 10 reasons the whole Sword Art Online anime series (not just the SAO Progressive movies!) should get a reboot, putting our heroes back in the Aincrad arc once again. Without further ado…Link Start!
10) Everything That Came After Aincrad Sucked
There aren’t many TV shows you can name where the first season is considered its best. Sure, it happens – but often you’ll find that TV shows start flawed before getting better later on. I consider My Hero Academia a good example of this in practice – its second season tops the first by a mile.
The hilarious thing about Sword Art Online is that even its most ardent fans agree the first arc is its best. What comes after the first 14 episodes ranges from bad to merely decent. Time and again, the show struggles to find the quality it had with its compelling initial premise. If there is ever a good reason to reboot, this is it.
9) Why Did Kayaba Create SAO?
Kayaba’s motivation to trap 10,000 players in a virtual MMO is important. After all, it tells us why Aincrad exists and why he would go to such great lengths. That is, in theory. In reality, however, the anime doesn’t give satisfying answers to these questions. Even when Kirito is questioned by the government about Kayaba’s reasoning in Extra Edition, his conversation partner is dumbfounded (“To create a world of my own design? Is that all he said?”).
To be fair to the series, the Extra Edition ignores the end of the Aincrad arc where Kayaba admits building a castle in the sky was his childhood dream. Admittedly, this does make Kayaba a tad more sympathetic, but so much more can be done with this. For starters, why not explore Kayba’s mental state (a sane person would not trap thousands of players in a virtual world, after all). Why not further explore the key moments in his life that led to his decision? Alas, Kayaba just gives this brief explanation and disappears.
8) Make Aincrad the Point of the Series
We can suspend our disbelief re: Aincrad because it’s an unexpected situation caused partly by new technology. However, after the arc finishes, the series encourages us to believe VRMMOs would continue to thrive despite SAO‘s nightmarish scenario. Sorry, but this is ridiculous – Sword Art Online would prove a PR nightmare for VRMMOs in general and they’d be off the market before you could say ‘Link Start!’
However, by making Aincrad the sole focus of the entire series, SAO can avoid this. Instead of making Aincrad an arc, make it the setting where the arcs take place. Don’t just skip two years and sweep it under the rug – follow the trials, tribulations, and tragedy endured during the whole two-year time span. There is so much fertile ground for powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking storytelling.
7) Flesh Out the One-Off Characters
Aincrad is SAO‘s best arc, but it sure had a big problem with one-off characters. The deaths of Diavlo and Sachi were sad, but more time could’ve been spent fleshing them out beforehand. Upon re-examination, these characters feel wooden and cliche, and much more could’ve been done to make them more lovable and, therefore, make their deaths more impactful.
Now, I’m aware that the SAO Progressive novels do this (the information broker Argo being an example), but we need to see this rebooted in anime form. What causes these characters to continue despite the trials ahead? Who exactly are Thinker and Yulier? Why should we care about them? The Sword Art Online anime doesn’t give us a reason why, but maybe a reboot can.
6) Go Deeper Into SAO, the Game
The problem with the Aincrad arc (and indeed, all of the arcs that follow) is that it leaves much unexplained. For example, how is Kirito able to return from the dead to kill Kayaba in the final battle? Why didn’t Kirito log everyone out via the GM console while saving Yui?
While I’m aware some of the series’ WTF moments are explained in the light novels, viewers shouldn’t need to read them (or consult a wiki) to work out what’s going on in an anime. By rebooting the Sword Art Online series back to Aincrad, the writers can expand on these confusing moments (well, in regards to Yui, maybe they can omit her, period).
5) Fix Asuna
Asuna is one of the most likable characters in the series. It’s surely for this reason that she is has a bigger role in SAO Progressive. What makes her a novelty in the Aincrad arc is that she undergoes a huge amount of development – she goes from a non-gamer to a fully-accomplished swordswoman.
The great thing about this is that it’s partly fixed already in the SAO Progressive novels. Indeed, we can see this in the latest movie, Aria of a Starless Night. But come on now – this kind of character expansion is better suited to an episodic format as opposed to the occasional hour-and-30-minute film. Seeing her struggles to adapt to the game as a noobie play out week-to-week would improve upon being glazed over in movies.
4) Fix Kirito
Look, it’s evident that Reki Kawahara isn’t the best when it comes to writing three-dimensional characters. In a 2013 SakuraCon interview, Kawahara claims he doesn’t “tend to put [himself] into [his] characters”. He would later admit in a 2017 Inquisitir interview that he doesn’t “make a character, setting, or anything” before he starts writing.
The above implies that Kawahara doesn’t put much thought into his characters. This is clearly shown with Kirito, who is a perfect swordsman who effortlessly wins the affections of every female character he encounters. If that wasn’t bad enough, he has incredible hacking abilities and masters every game he plays (even outshining those who’ve played it longer than he i.e. Sinon in GGO). A reboot of Aincrad would allow the SAO writers to tweak Kirito to make him more relatable and human as opposed to a power fantasy.
3) Make It Longer
SAO‘s Aincrad arc is only 14 episodes long. However, the reason is somewhat understandable. Author Reki Kawahara originally wrote it for a short story competition – but ended up exceeding the page limit. This motivated Kawahara to publish his work as a light novel instead and thus, he expanded the concept to fit the demands of the medium. Alas, SAO still resulted in a rushed Aincrad arc with the original two-year time-skip intact.
Look, two years is a long time. And Aincrad is the series’ most tense and emotional arc. There’s so much more Kawahara could do with the setting. What exactly happened during those two years? An SAO reboot has the potential to take its time and explore that.
2) Revisit its Themes of Mental Health
Aincrad is SAO‘s best arc by far not just because of the death-game concept. Rather, it’s one of the few arcs to explore real-life issues despite its fantastical virtual world setting. This is unfortunately only touched upon in Episode Three when Kirito finds a suicidal Sachi under a bridge in town. Sachi makes it clear she’s depressed and implies she’s not strong enough to survive the game.
By rebooting the series, the writers have the opportunity to flesh out the mental health issues explored in SAO. Getting trapped in a virtual death game is bound to affect you on a psychological level. How does this affect the characters and their relationships with each other? If SAO Progressive can expand this, then so can an anime reboot.
1) The Underlying Tension
Whether you love or hate the Aincrad arc, there is one thing you must admit. The basic premise – if you die in the game, you die for real – did provide some underlying tension in the series that is noticeably absent from later arcs. Episodes two and three do a good job of driving home the serious stakes of SAO through the deaths of Diavel and Sachi.
By revisiting the Aincrad arc, the writers have an opportunity to recapture these high stakes. The truth is, the tension and danger of Aincrad haven’t been successfully recreated since. By returning to the beginning, the Powers-That-Be can regain the tension that makes a series binge-worthy.
Alas, those are my thoughts. Do you think that Sword Art Online needs a reboot back to Aincrad – and are you going to watch SAO Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night? Be sure to let us know!