Sword Art Online is a real oddity within the anime community. There are only a handful of other stories that have received its level of lavishing praise and simultaneously garnered as much vitriolic hate. I’ll mention that I’m on the side that believes Reki Kawahara had the writing ability of a crusty bottle of ketchup throughout his time writing SAO vol. 1-8. But, that hardly matters at this point since nobody is going to change their opinions on that after all this time. The important conversation to be had now is how Alicization changes things. Will it convert the haters or scare away its loyal fanbase?

How Does It Compare?

The way that we can try predicting the effect of Alicization’s anime release is by considering the aspects of the previous 2 seasons that people liked and disliked, and consider if Alicization carries those aspects over or improves on them.

While this is simplifying it a bit, the general consensus as far as I can tell is that fans of SAO like Aincrad, were put off by Fairy Dance, were lukewarm on Gun Gale, and were pleased with Mother’s Rosario (Let’s be real, the Excalibur arc was irrelevant). So, let’s closely look at what people disliked about Fairy Dance and Gun Gale and see if Alicization will fall into bad habits.

The Women of Sword Art Online

Screenshot: Sword Art Online (Forum Post)

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Among all of the problems that Fairy Dance and Gun Gale faced, I’m certain that issues involving sexual abuse sneaking their way into the plot could be considered some of the most off-putting to the majority of people. So, does that make a return? Yeah, unfortunately. It’s a quick scene, and while the event itself is necessary to the plot, I don’t believe Kawahara needed to resort to female exploitation to make it work. But the state of the female characters in Alicization is a mixed bag since there is a fair representation of strong women among the significant characters. I can’t see it being that big of an issue.

I’ll do the Main Quest Later

Screenshot: Sword Art Online (Blog Post)

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Arguably a bigger problem for the Fairy Dance Arc was the plot getting sidetracked. It really killed the pace for a lot of people and brought up concerns over Kirito ignoring his captive wife to go play a video game. Luckily, Alicization is fine in this regard. When the ball gets rolling in the plot, it goes at a steady pace. Although, that steady pace was considering the hundreds of lines of text describing special attacks which shouldn’t be necessary for the anime adaptation. Perhaps this is a sign that the plot may move along a little fast? Only time will tell.

Kirito? Is That You?

Illustration: CladCypress (Zerochan)

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Now, onto the other side of the coin. How has Alicization addressed concerns from people that were not fans of the first two seasons? First things first, the protagonist. I won’t spoil why, but if you were not a fan of Kirito from the past few seasons, that’s perfectly alright. The main character is Kirito, but he really isn’t at the same time, and this may be just what some people are looking for. Kirito’s inexplicable ability to attract women wherever he goes has been a real sticking point for critics. But even with those cards on the table, Alicization Kirito is not without faults. His growth is very fast and very rushed, but he does have to take some initiative and struggle a bit in order to get that power. So, it’s possible to say that he earned it. Definitely a step in the right direction though.

The Villain Can Make or Break the Story

Screenshot: Sword Art Online (Anime Evo)

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But an even greater issue that I feel has plagued every major arc of SAO has been the very poorly written central antagonists. Kayaba with his classic “I forgot” line, Sugou being incomprehensible, and the entire concept of Death Gun being a joke. So how does Alicization do on this front? Pretty good actually. She is the first villain that I’ve been able to look at and confidently say that, “If I were under her exact same circumstances, I would probably do something similar.” She has real motivations that don’t come across as delusional nonsense, and if you ask me, that’s enough to say that I recommend it. The villain may very well make Alicization into something special.

Conclusion

Sword Art Online will likely remain a divisive topic forever, but Alicization may just be what is needed to bridge the gap between those opposing views. I should mention that I caught up to volume 15 back in 2015 and haven’t read past there. So, everything I’ve mentioned only concerns content up to that part of the story. I also didn’t mention animation and sound since that isn’t something that can be predicted from the source material. But if you’ve read past volume 15 or just feel that I didn’t consider something, let me know what you think about the upcoming Sword Art Online: Alicization Arc in the comments below.