March 2017 Update: Sword Art Online and Naruto are Good, Actually

sword art online ordinal scale

I’ve never understood the hipster mentality. While it’s true that not all popular things are good, I don’t see the point of getting mad about the duds or attacking the fans for being mindless sheeple or whatever. Take Sword Art Online, for instance. This series has a laundry list of flaws but the Youtube reviews in particular blow them way out of proportion. What is it about SAO that inspires so much ire? I have no idea, since its narrative flaws exist in just about every mediocre anime ever. Even if I disliked the series, it’s just not worth the energy to rant about.

The above paragraph is fairly moot since I actually like SAO, and I wrote multiple articles this month apologising for it. On Anime News Network, I wrote a piece on Reki Kawahara’s career, arguing that he’s improved as an author over the years and that SAO is mostly the product of his amateur web novel author days. On Crunchyroll, I praised SAO‘s visuals and pointed out that the anime is a good adaptation of the novels, all things said and done.

All this SAO talk was in anticipation of the Ordinal Scale movie. I was particularly looking forward to it because I got the opportunity to write interview questions for the creators, and I knew beforehand just how much love and hard work had been poured into it. The film was a pure fanservice from start to finish, but let’s not interpret that in a negative light. I think iblessall put it best in his review of the movie:

…it was delightful to see Ordinal Scale speaking a language only those who care about this franchise—warts and all—can understand. In the moment when we see Starburst Stream unleashed once again or Yuuki’s spirit embracing Asuna as the Mother’s Rosario Sword Skill appears in a burst of purple lights, the film clearly, unavoidably asks but one thing of its audience: “Remember. Because if you remember how you felt when you watched Sword Art Online, this is for you.”

I’m sure that this film has its fair share of detractors, but Ordinal Scale was unquestioningly Sword Art Online at its best (to me, at least). Can we finally agree that SAO has its legitimate good points?

Speaking of popular anime that attracts far more more hate from self-proclaimed critics than it deserves, Naruto ended its epic anime run this month. The ending of the anime was a fairly protracted affair, nor were the contents a surprise given that the manga ended over two years ago. But it still feels like the end of an era. This month, I looked back on Naruto and remembered it fondly as my gateway anime. This ended up being a weirdly popular article, especially given that I barely talked about the plot of Naruto itself. This has less to do with me being a hater and more to do with me having not watched Naruto in years. Nevertheless, it’s still very possible to have a conversation about Naruto and what it means as a cultural icon and gateway anime.

After reading this post thus far, you may feel reassured to know that here at, I don’t just exploit popular anime I don’t care about for clicks. I might have watched the most popular Winter 2017 show in Japan, but since nobody in the West bothered to glance at it, it’s a crummy show to write clickbait articles about in English. That’s right, I’m talking about Kemono Friends. I first took an interest in the series after reading Kastel’s piece on how the show became big on Japanese social media, because Kemono Friends sounded like the very definition of a Fantastic Meme. Some of the reactions mentioned in the blog post fascinated me so much that I ended up translating a thinkpiece written by a Japanese sci-fi author about why Kemono Friends is good sci-fi.

kemono friends sugoi
Very sugoi show

Unfortunately, I got on board with the series a bit too late to participate in all the memes and speculations, but it was very tanoshii until the second-last episode, which was very tanoshikunai.

And before you think I’m the kind of person who only likes things that are popular in America or Japan, the actual best anime this season in my humble opinion was Akiba’s Trip. I know I hated on it before, but it grew on me a lot. The anime is worth watching for the Yu-Gi-Oh! parody episode alone (episode 9), but in general the series is a great exploration of otaku culture in Akihabara that doesn’t simply retread the usual topics. And despite exploring niche subjects every week, the show also goes some lengths towards challenging the hipster mentality too. As Dee puts it in her article about nerd culture in Akiba’s Trip:

Our antagonist is literally a militant nerd gatekeeper, and Akiba’s Trip sees him for what he is: A jerk, both nuisance and threat to other fans and the culture as a whole. In a moment of true heroics, our flawed protagonist unhesitatingly shuts him down, reminding him that “You have to treat newcomers well. That’s the only way any content can survive.” He also points out that “everyone started off as a casual user,” which the Militant Gatekeeper frantically tries to pretend isn’t true but obviously is.

tldr; I don’t understand the hate on popular things. And this is coming from the perspective of someone who likes things that are not very popular. It’s not as if the existence of a popular thing will take recognition away from other things. Even when they’re not well-written, popular works can spark interesting conversations, but “this thing is overrated” is just a boring opinion to me…

What do you think?



  1. “This is overrated” is certainly a very dull, often grating phrase to espouse, due to how relatively meaningless it is, but there is something worth noting here. Two of the most prominent of those Youtube SAO haters, Mother’s Basement and Digibro, don’t use that line of complaint in their many, many critiques of SAO, and I know for certain that the latter of them specifically is very unhappy with “over/under-rated” as the go-to critique it tends to be for many.

    I find the assumption of bandwagoning or insincerity around SAO hate somewhat odd as well. Certainly that will be the case for some, even many, but it is also not only possible, but frankly to be expected, that there will be viewers who do legitimately HATE the series. Just declaring all hatred of it to be insincere or overblown is a bit hasty in my eyes, as again, with at least those two examples, I am fairly confident that they legitimately feel SAO to be exemplary in its poor quality, noteworthy for how bad it is. One of the concluding points of Digibro’s Asterisk War Sucks series for example was how he wanted people to come away realizing that there is a substantive difference between a 1/10 and a 2/10, so there’s a passion there for not simply grouping a bunch of series into a broad “not good shows” category that makes little critical distinction between them.

    • TBH, there’s no way I can judge how “sincere” someone is being with their personal opinions. But even if someone is sincere about hating something, full-blown hate is just not something I can fully understand. I can understand disliking something and thinking it’s bad/problematic or even offensive. But I can’t understand strong hatred or the idea that it’s the WORST ANIME EVER. Hatred is different from just thinking something is overrated, but still baffling to me. So yeah.

  2. There are stories that I like a lot, stories that I just like, stories that I don’t like, and all the color scales in between. But I have yet to see a story that I can say I trully hate. To hate a story I would need to see it completely, and if I don’t like it, why I would torture myself to see it completely?

    I’m too lazy to review even the things I like a lot, why I would waste time writing hate post of thing that I don’t care?

    And just because I don’t like something, would that make it a thing that is useless and must never have existed? Of course not. Who care if is popular or not. The more type of stories exist the better!

    That is the reason I’m grateful that there is so many web novels and fanfiction.

    • “I’m too lazy to review even the things I like a lot, why I would waste time writing hate post of thing that I don’t care?”

      Well that’d be the key difference, these are people who do write about things they like a lot, and things they find interesting, and a whole bunch of things besides. Being public figures they have huge numbers of people pining for their thoughts on these popular series, and in service of those fans will go through a series that they may dislike to provide those thoughts.

      To be clear, Digibro at least agrees with the “And just because I don’t like something, would that make it a thing that is useless and must never have existed? Of course not. Who care if is popular or not. The more type of stories exist the better!” line of thought in general terms, as he laid out in the beginning of his first SAO video, expressing happiness for the many people who were able to find value and enjoyment in it.

  3. People discuss things positively / negatively. The degree of passion and depth of these discussions stems from:

    1) The popularity of the thing in question (i.e. both SAO and Naruto are extremely popular even outside the anime circuit)
    2) The feelings evoked from said thing(s)

    “I don’t understand the hate on popular things.” is an odd way of saying “I don’t like people hating [X] thing that I like.” I’m sure you do understand that whether the consensus on something is mostly positive / negative or divisive, that it being (extremely) popular is going to keep it in the spotlight of everyone’s attention for a long time.

    While many do hate SAO (and Naruto) after realizing their flaws, it’s not fair to call anyone “hipster” or invalidating their feelings about something. And if you’re someone who likes something that has amassed such attention, regardless of the negative connotations surrounding it, you should focus on the fact that so long as it remains popular it will keep coming out, and so long as it keeps coming out it will remain popular. These discussions, rants, critiques, and analyses all aid in keeping these shows alive. So, if you’re on the side of liking these sort of things, then you’re on the winning side, really (since you’re getting more of what you like).

    ~ Ace

  4. I don’t understand the hate on things *simply because they are popular* either. Because often anyway they had some reason to become popular. To me, frankly, if we’re talking the Big Three (I’m of that generation too), well, One Piece has always been good and still is, the way of course a fun action-adventure romp without extremely high literary ambitions can be. And I find it hard to justify views suggesting that Naruto and Bleach are ALL bad either. They gained a following because they weren’t. Naruto started off with some really solid storylines and excellent worldbuilding; Bleach leaned more on a general sense of cool aesthetics and fights but still, it managed to be solidly entertaining and occasionally awesome for a long time. Growing out of this stuff shouldn’t mean becoming blind to why we liked it in the first place (and why people might like something similar today). However, Naruto and Bleach DID get significantly worse, and that played no small part in why they haven’t really been the main gateway anime any more for a long time now. As for SAO, well, I hate it, sure, but I used to like the first episodes. I guess my problem with it is that it did the Bleach parabola but bigger and better: it started pretty good, then quickly went to shit, all in the arc of two cours, and ending in a point even lower than the lowest Bleach has ever touched. As such what made me hate it more wasn’t the content itself – it was disappointment for having my expectations crushed so swiftly.

    I don’t think a “gateway” or “popular” anime has to be low in quality at all though. I loved “My Hero Academia”, and I’m sure that’ll be a great gateway show for a lot of people. I loved “One Punch Man” and “Yuri on Ice”, which surely drew in a lot of non-anime watchers. I liked enough “Attack on Titan”, for all its flaws. There are cases where you really need to be fixated on the idea of hating popularity for its own sake to deny that a show is, well, good AND popular.

    …BTW, screw SAO. Accel World season 2 when?

    • Yeah, I think the disappointment played a big role as well. When a series started nicely and ended up being horrible, you’re more likely to be angry. Combined it with fanbase hype and you got plenty of disappointed watchers who will easily turn into haters. That’s why Bleach and Naruto received much more hate than AOT or One piece.

    • But the thing is, in Bleach and Naruto the good times lasted long enough that I developed at least an emotional connection with them and their characters. I’m sad that they got worse (Naruto sort of confusing and forgettable, Bleach outright terrible), but I still remember fondly the beginning, and after all, I have a few arcs I can still look at as good self-contained stories with a few loose ends. SAO didn’t even get that, the “good times” lasted approximately 3 or 4 episodes, then it quickly started going down and in the end majorly screwed up the ending to its first arc. So there’s nothing I can remember about it that isn’t tainted by its flaws.

  5. Well, being popular is precisely the reason why the likes of Naruto and SAO inspire so much hate. For blogger and Youtuber, criticizing SAO is the easiest way to earn clicks (=$). The fanbase is to blame as well, with their incessant “why haven’t you review X?” comments. And yes, popular thing WILL take recognition away from other things. Try to find somebody online talking about Concrete Revolutio vs talking about SAO. For websites relying on up/down vote system like reddit, it’s even worse: you find a dozen thread about a popular show on front page and one or two for others. Popularity breeds popularity. You see it in Hollywood as well, a much better film can be overshadowed by mediocre blockbuster, leading to the former’s poor box office result.

    That said, hating on popular thing is almost only popular on the Internet. I’ve talked to many real life anime fans: most say they like Naruto. I suspect that people hate popular things on the net because they can’t do it in real life. People who like SAO or AOT can easily find real life friends to talk about those series. They don’t need to complain.

  6. “Even when they’re not well-written, popular works can spark interesting conversations”. That goes without being said considering as the top commentor (that probably is not a word in the English language) pointed out the videos of Mother’s Basement and Digibro as prime examples of the controversy behind discussing Sword Art Online, as those particular videos are some of the most viewed videos on their channels. Love it or hate it, Sword Art Online has made its impact in the pop culture theater and will live in the minds of this generation of anime fans for probably the rest of our lives.

    In my personal opinion, that is an accomplishment worth applause, no matter how bad the tentacle rape scene was. With that in my mind I see Sword Art and other popular shows such as Naruto with a positive light and respect. Even if something in the show doesn’t appeal to my tastes, or even if it’s a victim of horrid writing, creating an effect and giving an impression that will last a lifetime in a large number of people is a testament to itself and pop culture for better or for worse, and will also be a basis for future works for years to come for better or for worse.

  7. A lot of people seem to be not understanding Frog-kun’s point, at least as I see it. This has nothing to do with “people hating things I like” or “people hating popular things”.

    It’s about the particularly toxic and virulent hate that SAO seems to have attracted. Whenever news about SAO is posted on ANN, nine times out of ten the majority of the early posts in the discussion thread will be people hating on SAO and the people who like and enjoy it. While SAO 2 was airing, a forum thread hating on SAO floated about the first page of the Crunchyroll forums right alongside the discussion thread. Etc… etc…

    Hating on SAO seems to practically be a badge of honor in some corners of anime fandom, and no other show even approaches the level of negative attention it garners. The loud and crazy surrounding it is essentially unique.

    • It’s not the only show having that kind of disdain, though it is one of the main ones. But I think the issue with SAO is that it was the perfect storm of A LOT of different things that get people to hate shows. Popularity is one of them – there’s always a number of people that jump on the “I’m 2 cool 4 this” bandwagon and love to flaunt their superiority by purposefully being disdainful of things the common n00bs enjoy. But with SAO there also where a lot of other reasons. I mentioned another one that was major for me: disappointment, since the show presented itself with a premise but then basically never really delivered on it, favouring romance of questionable taste and harem-like shenanigans to what seemed to be an obvious set up for an action-adventure story. In retrospect, that was so surprising only because we still were relatively unused to the tropes of Light Novel writing. Then there’s a crowd that hated it just for the general bad writing. Another one that got enraged by the abysmal treatment of female characters and representation of sexual abuse in the latter half. And so on.

    • “The loud and crazy surrounding it is essentially unique” definitely is a true statement to Sword Art Online. I also agree with your statement “hating on SAO seems to practically be a badge of honor in some corners of anime fandom”, especially in forums and discussions, this mentality of hating SAO seems ever so present in the atmosphere of those websites. Also among the sentient meat sacks behind the avatar connected by the wire and monitor, in response to the “hating SAO phenomenon” “some” people not all get the “hate badge” idea in their head and start to see those who agree with them as what they think as “proper and ‘mature’ anime viewers”. (You can clearly see I love using quotation :D) I think to some hating SAO is becoming just as much as a norm as reguarding Evangelion as a masterpiece.

      This is all from simple observation and subjective speculation and please don’t be offended by “sentient meat sacks” it was my attempt at being poetic.

    • In my video overviews of the SAO discourse this “badge of honor” aspect to hating it is definitely one of the more interesting points explored. I theorize it to be akin to Twilight or Tansformers, where in a society obsessed with “good taste” there’s a desire to signal one’s “refinement” by preaching endlessly about how terrible these “bad” pieces of media are. The societal brownie points sought after by putting them down has become prevalent to the point of being a meme in things like “still a better romance than Twilight.”

      • Yeah I got caught up in your uptake about how Digi killed SAO. Great vid man. Keep it up! And thanks for stopping by!

  8. This is an interesting post. And one that I can wholeheartedly appreciate. I just actually wrote a post on my blog, that I was considering sharing on Facebook where most of my interaction is, about why Attack on Titan is actually good. Due to this same sort of behavior. I won’t share it here because I need to rework through it at least a couple more times, and it’s simultaneously too long, and not in depth enough, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, there is this toxic, and very frustrating disdain and condescension that permeates most discussions of very popular shows. In the case of SAO, I personally do not like it either. The writing is very bad, and Reki consistently demonstrates that he doesn’t understand most of what he is talking about, how the government works, the human body, computers, the brain, etc. I am unfortunately unable to look beyond those flaws. I harbor no resentment toward it, and will never enter a discussion looking to express disdain toward another for enjoying it though. I used to, but after experiencing the same thing from others, it gets really old and is not fair. I’m a massive fan of Attack on Titan, and maintain that it is legitimately good. It is tightly written, the pacing is entirely deliberate, the massive cast of characters are all incredibly well personified given the amount of time, and the plot/action/music is all top of the line fare. Once again though, I guess that’s beside the point. We need to stop this off-hand, “ugh, I can’t believe they’re making more of that trash” “Oh, the sequel is only 12 episodes? Good, I hope the fans suffer.” “I wish such and such Studio would stop making that” “You like that show? wow, I don’t think we can be friends” “Everyone is freaking out about such and such and I’m over here, not giving a f*ck because my elitist hipster anime is getting made”. Comments like this are everywhere. And I unfortunately see them even from people who I want to respect. In the case of AoT, what particularly frustrated me, as someone who watched it as it was airing, is that many of the blogs, podcasts, and forums, that I follow were praising it throughout its run, but just a few months afterwards, a very large number of those SAME people, were talking about the show as if it was just okay, or outright attempting to trash it. As if being associated with it as a fan was no longer cool. THIS is the biggest problem to me. We shouldn’t have people publicly changing their opinion on a show simply because they don’t want to be associated with the fandom, or because they are worried about being a fan of something that is too mainstream. That’s really sad.

  9. On people joining in on the hate train: I think it’s more like the anime community that grew up during the anime/manga boom in the early 2000s have a lot of nostalgia for older stuff and have moved onto more serious media, thus not particularly having as much attachment to the newer Shonen Jump series and are jealous of the hype of “lesser” series in comparison to their faves. In addition, SAO had so much potential AND THEY WASTED IT! I think that gets people even more angry when they realize that they wasted so much of their time watching it, hoping for it to impossibly improve. (aka I watched like the SAO arc until a few episodes of Elfheim).

    I know people hated YOI because it was a good show that eclipsed other very good shows of the winter season. You can’t claim that it was best animation in the online voting system of the CR Awards with its absurdly low quality ice skating scenes later on, while other shows like MP100 and Flip Flappers had all the sakuga fans crying with joy. I love the show to death, but I gotta admit it had major dips in animation quality.

    Final offnote: RWBY is about to air in Japan, so I’m guessing it might do well since it has the buildup of the prequel manga drawn by Shirow Miwa in Ultra Jump and Kemono Friends style of 3D animation, along with a popular following in the West. I literally only considered watching Kemono Friends since all of anitwitter & Japanese fans are loving the show.

  10. I haven’t seen much of Naruto, but what I’ve seen I liked – ranging from just plain fun to actually genuinely emotionally engaging (the water village arc).

    Sword Art Online? I have a complicated history with it. Its first episode disappointed me. I’d watched Accel World, and I was aware that this is the same author, so I didn’t expect a masterpiece. On the other hand, I liked the genre: in anime, I’d greatly enjoyed .hack/sign, and that after reading a lot of SF (including the 80ies cyberpunk movement). So after only a few minutes of episode one it was clear that the show wouldn’t be satisfying SF, not even to the level of Accell World. Dealbreaker? No, I stepped down my expectations and continued watching the show, moderately enjoying it. (Yuki Kajiura, IMO, delivered a better soundtrack for SAO than for Fate Zero, so that was nice.)

    So, here you are moderately enjoying a show that disappointed you. Then you hear everyone praising it, and, well, you feel like a grumpy old bear retreating into its cave to hibernate. What really got my goat, though, was when I suddenly heard people praising Asuna as a strong female character. Huh? What was I missing? I saw her as a pretty standard action girl/customisable girlfriend character. Nothing special at all. Where did all the admiration come from. I tried and failed to explain myself, and retreaded back into my cave to grumble to myself, and then suddenly the ALO arc happened, and everyone was raging. And I stared blankly at the comments, thinking: but that’s always been how the show treated her; it’s just more obvious now. The irony is that I saw an actual characterisation opportunity for Asuna in the ALO set-up; treated right this set-up could have explained a lot about Asuna’s motivation to play SAO in the first place. Sadly, it was all about being proud and believing in her boyfriend, so…

    All that praise, it’s a bit like relatives fondly remembering a joint vacation where I had one small misfortune after another. SAO isn’t that bad; I just don’t want to remember it. It’s sort of hard, though, to escape something that popular. And one way to deal with this is counter with hyperbole. If you can’t beat them, go down a martyr. It’s silly, but the alternative is grumping alone in your cave. Now, as an introvert, I actually prefer the retreat option, but I can certainly understand the need to lash out.

  11. It’s really not that it’s terrible, but there are just better anime out there many people rather watch. Also, many people think the fanservice when overboard, but if you like that kind of thing, then that’s okay.

  12. I basically have the same opinion. It’s not that I can’t understand why people would want to rant about things they dislike – sometimes venting can feel pretty good – but I don’t really get where people find the time, energy, and motivation to rant about something for the simple fact that it’s popular. And I think SAO is a good example of that; I now basically see the show as the anime fandom’s favourite whipping boy.

  13. […] Of course, SAO was far from the only story that forced players to confront the reality within games by making it impossible for them to log out. As critics liked to point out when the anime first came out, .Hack beat SAO to the punch. But instead of coasting along on just one good idea, SAO remained at the top of the anime world because it continued to explore new frontiers in tech as it progressed. The Ordinal Scale movie centered on Augmented Reality just as the Pokémon GO craze was taking off around the world. A fortunate coincidence perhaps, but it helped that it was just a darn good film. […]

  14. […] After all, SAO was removed from the one story that pressured gamers to confront the truth inside video games by making it not possible for them to sign off. As critics appreciated to level out when the anime first got here out, .Hack beat SAO to the punch. However as an alternative of coasting alongside on only one good concept, SAO remained on the high of the anime world as a result of it continued to discover new frontiers in tech because it progressed. The Ordinal Scale film centered on Augmented Actuality simply because the Pokémon GO craze was taking off all over the world. A lucky coincidence maybe, but it surely helped that it was simply a darn good film. […]

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