As an avid anime watcher for the past 8+ years of my life, I know that every year there’s one show that explodes across the anime community and becomes the number one show of the year. Back in 2012, the breakout anime of the year was Sword Art Online or SAO. Initially considered to be this somewhat revolutionary anime that portrayed the beauty of the virtual world and of the simplicities of life, SAO eventually lost some steam as more and more people fell out of their initial excitement and began to recognize this anime’s flaws. Soon it became the show that everyone loved to hate, but that’s not what I’ll be doing for this post. Instead, I’d like to turn everyone’s attention to some of the great satirizations that have risen from the ashes of SAO, one in particular called SAO Abridged Parody.
For those of you who don’t know, SAO follows Kirito, who along with 10,000 others, is trapped in the world’s first Virtual Reality MMO. Players must clear all 100 floors of the game to escape, but if a player dies in-game then he/she dies in real life. Early on Kirito meets another talented player named Asuna, and together they battle bosses, fall in love and break the barrier between fantasy and reality by realizing that despite being trapped in an artificial world, the lives and the relationships they build in the game are real.
The show does have some great themes and meaningful lessons to teach to its audience. However, the execution does not meet its potential. Some of the main failures of the show lie in the sporadic character development of Kirito and Asuna. Kirito’s initially as a cocky, self-centered solo player who believes that others would only hold him back. He does join a guild, but his arrogance causes the deaths of its members, including a shy player named Sachi, whom he felt very protective of. This initiates his character development by igniting his empathy towards others. However, the plot rushes his development with an awkward time skip, which completely shifts its focus to the love story between him and Asuna.
SAO juggles a lot of different plot elements: dozens of minor characters with their own backstories, multiple story arcs, the theme of reality vs fantasy and the love story. Seamlessly fitting all these components in just 14 episodes is a challenge, and unfortunately, it’s quite messy. Some arcs are irrelevant, some minor characters receive screen time that could’ve been used to develop the two leads, and even the theme is lost among everything else. The plot just seems confused, not knowing what to focus on and when. At most this show seems to be popular because a majority of the anime community also consists of gamers; Wish-fulfillment at its finest.
Luckily, the wonderful team of Something Witty Entertainment managed to condense the story enough to maintain the plot while emphasizing the themes of the show and the character development of Kirito and Asuna. Behold, SAO Abridged Parody.
This series started about 3 years ago, and recent episodes have been released this past year. Though satirical at its core, SAO Abridged manages to highlight the depth and the potential of Kirito and Asuna’s characters. The original show catalyzed Kirito’s character development after his guild’s death, but then didn’t really explore the effects of that incident. The Abridged Series expresses his vulnerability, trauma and repressed guilt with his random cries of “SACHI!” While it hyperbolizes his arrogant nature, it also exposes his regrets and insecurities while staying true to his character, and not just for conveniently moving the plot along.
Even Asuna’s character is much more explored. Her development in the original felt quite sudden; She transforms from this stern, aggressive warrior into a relaxed, compassionate person in just a couple of episodes. What’s worse is that she doesn’t receive much screen time in the beginning, thanks to some of the supporting characters, and so we don’t get to see much of her until the 4th episode. Her character in the abridged series seems to be much more believable; she shows some growth but occasionally retracts to her old ways whether out of habit or denial. The show emphasizes that she is indeed a horrible person but has room to grow because of that. It’s much more realistic and above all relatable.
Since the abridged series is a satire, I can’t say that it really delves deep into the themes and the essence of the original, and it doesn’t really want to. It’s meant to exaggerate the characters and make a somewhat dramatic show more lighthearted. Yet the character development should not go unnoticed, as it is well-executed and believable.