Sword Art Online is the ultimate love it or hate it anime. But my feelings on it are kind of… eh? I watched it a couple years ago working a late night job, and it was entertaining enough to keep me awake during my downtime. After the first arc, though, the writing issues became more apparent. And I hated what they did with Asuna’s character! I dropped Sword Art after the end of Season 2, but I don’t think it’s the worst anime ever or anything. Not in a world where both Master of Ragnarok and Hand Shakers exist.
But a new upcoming anime, Sword Art Online: Progressive, might actually convince me to pick the show up again. It’s essentially a Brotherhood-style remake, where author Reki Kawahara goes back to Aincrad and shows us all 100 floors of the castle in full. I read the first volumes of the light novel and manga, and they both improve the story in a variety of ways. The pacing is more consistent, and the setting has more depth and mystery. And in the manga, Asuna takes center stage as the lead protagonist!
The elegant Asuna Yuuki has always been my favorite character (if you can call it that) of Sword Art Online. She can cut baddies to bits and have perfect hair while doing it. She’s a tsundere, for sure, but she has a dynamic energy that’s missing in the show’s actual protagonist, Kirito. Sadly, the show itself has not always been good to her. She went from the commander of an army to a damsel in distress in the second arc, and the ending of that story was just disgusting to me. Since then, she’s mostly been an auxiliary character, while the anime prefers to focus on Kirito and his ever-expanding harem.
Progressive fixes that and finally gives Asuna the story arc she deserves. Now she’s not just Kirito’s girlfriend – she’s his equal, working together to make it through each floor of the castle alive. Her triumphs and failures are on her own terms. And her past is shown early, helping us empathize with her and explaining why a beautiful rich girl would get sucked into a virtual MMORPG.
Asuna’s character arc is about the burden of high expectations. Her parents are rich CEO types with lofty ambitions for their only daughter, but they never seem to care about what she really wants. She borrows her brother’s console for a temporary escape from reality, and gets stuck in a hostile alien world with nothing but a virtual sword and her wits to survive. It’s not the most original backstory ever, but it’s way better than the half-baked “teenage boy who likes fixing computers and video games, I guess?”
The pacing is also improved, as the duel focus gives the narrative a tighter flow. Instead of getting distracted with meandering characters and subplots, the story focuses on the adventures Asuna and Kirito take together. It establishes their friendship early on and gives their eventual romance more depth. There are some new faces, such as Argo the Rat, a beta tester who peddles secrets about the game to the highest bidder. But she has her own goals separate from the other players, adding a layer of mystery that was missing from Aincrad before.
Even Kirito is better here , although not by much. He has a bit more of a sarcastic streak, and he’s not quite as OP from the beginning. But I still found Sword Art Online’s leading man to be the least interesting part of the whole thing. He’s very clearly a character meant for young male audiences to project themselves onto, which doesn’t allow him any interesting character traits beyond being awesome at video games and, occasionally, a douche.
Sword Art Online Progressive is not perfect, but it still improves upon the anime’s Aincrad arc in a variety of ways. I’m cautiously optimistic to see what A-1 Pictures could do with an adaptation. Giving Asuna more focus in the story, along with the stellar animation and music of the most recent seasons, might be just what SAO needs to excite longtime fans or bring back people who’d given up on the series. At the very least, it will give us more scenes of sword girls going all stabby-stabby to an epic Yuki Kajiura soundtrack. That’s always been the best part of the anime for me.
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Hand Shakers has two dubious honors. It’s the show I dropped the fastest (about 10 seconds) and it’s the only show to make me feel physically ill.
Pretty impressive, in its own way!
“At the very least, it will give us more scenes of sword girls going all stabby-stabby to an epic Yuki Kajiura soundtrack.”
Those are the two things I’m looking forward to the most. I mean, Asuna was the second in command of the Knights of the Blood Oath — one of the largest, best organized, and most powerful of the clans in the assault team. We didn’t get to see nearly enough of that.
And honestly, if we see more Kirito, I want to see the Kirito that was at the end of the third episode. I want to see how he climbed out of that despair he was in.
And I’d like to see how Asuna helped him climb out!
The first three episodes were probably my favorite. I really liked episode 4, but the change in Kirito’s character was inexplicable. So I’d like to see what happened.
I’m still chuckling about “stabby-stabby…”
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