Note: All reviews by Blackchain119 are based solely on the anime itself and ignores all related manga; if the story does not hold up in the anime, no matter what length it is, then they failed in their efforts to make an effective, engaging show.
This review will be an odd one, due to the fact SAO had four arcs (SAO, GGO, ALO and Alicization) of varying quality. In response to this fact, I will judge each separately. I highly enjoyed the first season and third season, but ALO and Alicization disappointed me, both lacking a sense of urgency despite attempts to make you feel one.
Voice actors: The vocal choices are well considered, and they invest you deeply in the characters. Well done throughout.
Visuals: Energetically vicious to beautifully serene, the world of Aincrad is stunningly well drawn. It has such a wide variety of locales to where it is reminicient of games like The Elder Scrolls, Gun Gale Online of Fallout, and Alftheim Online of Maplestory and Tera. All brilliant visually.
Character Development: Strengths and weaknesses (emotionally speaking) are laid out fairly well and the level of seriousness the characters maintain reminds the audience that, despite appearances and qualities of the world, they are indeed fighting for survival. I believe the development in GGO to be superior in all respects to all other arcs.
Story: While done before in many various forms in other stories, like The Matrix or KILLABYTE by Piers Anthony, I felt the story had a very uniquely intriguing premise. The recent addition of VR to the real world video game community adds to the realism a fair amount.
Sexist Cliche: While not as prevalent as in other animes, the female lead is once again subjected to Damsel-in-Distress syndrome in the ALO arc. This goes against the strength Asuna displayed throughout the season, but it should be noted that Kirito was the first to be saved in the first arc, so maybe this can be ignored as just the cultural sexist influence taking it's toll on the series. This was not such a problem in GGO as the female lead there is an indepentently strong and physically capable individual.
Fanservice: What the hell was with that near-tentacle-blob-rape thing in the end of the ALO arc? People often forget the near-plant-tentacle-rape moment in the SAO arc, and forget how fanservice is in nearly every show whether they notice it or not. Simple fanservice, however, is denegrating to the strong portrayal of the characters the show had built and was of a great disservice to such interesting, developed characters.
While not the best show in all of anime, it delivers an interesting and well developed story with characters you can care about and root for. The world is gorgeous, the goals of the realm are clear, and the victories of Kirito are exciting to witness. Clearly superior to shows like Log Horizon, SAO has what gamers understand too well, and provokes their curiosity about what they would be like in Aincrad.
"This must be the choice of Steins;Gate!"