Sword Art Online has a bundle of problems. Written by a very inexperienced light novel writer, Reki Kawahara has even expressed regret at some of his previous material, whilst anime immortalises it forever. Coupled with the dodgy script team “Seven Days War”, the Sword Art Online anime is a let down in many ways. However, the one thing that is the most problematic is its cast of characters. So, here are the Top 10 worst offenders.
Whilst Asuna has redeeming moments at times, specifically in the Mother Rosario arc, her character is thrown from role to role, with many of them featuring very little agency for the character. In the series’ first cour, she’s a major figure in Knights of the Blood and fights to escape from the world of Aincrad. However, her character is defined by her relationship with Kirito, which very quickly diminishes her to a side character or a deuteragonist at best.
But the real issue comes in the Alfheim Online arc, where her role is quickly usurped by Suguha whilst she becomes an incredibly generic damsel in distress. Terms like “generic” are usually best avoided when describing media, but when it’s based on trends that were overused in the 1700s, it’s probably justified. Being trapped in a cage and sexually abused by the villain isn’t an original idea and neither did it do anything for the narrative, with a fairly bland goal.
Character depth is something that Sword Art Online’s never been particularly good at and Sachi kind of cements this. As human beings, we want to understand everything that comes before us. Whilst we watch through stories of fiction, our brains are constantly and subconsciously asking “Why?” every few seconds. However, Sachi was wholly unexplored and her death left far more impact on Kirito than it did the audience. Why was she afraid of fighting? Why did she start? Finally, Why should we care if she died?
Her character served the purpose of showing the protagonist an actual death and whilst the episode itself did just that, the individual characteristics didn’t help at all. The same went for the majority of the guild, with very little characterization to veil their very thin plot significance.
8. Kayaba Akihiko
Sword Art Online always worked better when the very premise and world was the antagonist. The series existed primarily on the idea that the Dragon Quest inspired world we were all familiar with becomes deadly when the risks are raised to the very maximum. However, by introducing an antagonist far before the main characters had really been challenged by the world completely threw this out of the window.
That’s not to mention that Kayaba Akihiko’s character is wholly unexplained, both making audiences aware of the lack of narrative cohesion as well as provide little context for the peril any of our characters have had to go through. Akihiko is one of the examples of a character that probably shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
Speaking of characters that might as well not be there, Klein’s place within the series feels wholly irrelevant. There’s a typical idea within harem series to include a “best friend” character to keep our protagonist grounded. However, not only did Klein never serve this purpose, but he was also hardly ever there. It’s not usually possible to make a list of 10 characters in a show with one main character and the fact that it’s possible here, means there should have been cuts.
Klein’s role within the story does very little to develop any semblance of character, forces him into major plot events and overlaps heavily with other members of the cast. Klein just represents an overabundance of characters that have little narrative weight .
The Sword Art Online series disillusioned some as it entered its second arc with fairies, very little risk and world dynamics that felt surprisingly shallow for the amount of time spent on them. But this wasn’t the only issue, as Kirito’s harem grew once more, this time including his cousin. There were character dynamics that never needed to be explored and an incest romance arc just felt wholly out of place.
What’s worse is the inclusion of a love triangle that just felt incredibly off when you remember the entire point of the arc was to rescue Kirito’s love interest. In a way, she was Kirito’s connection to the real world after an arc where he was so far from it, but the connection itself was toxic and holds very little value to an audience that actually wants to know who Kirito is, rather than explore his odd relationship with his cousin.
Kirito himself is possibly the worst example of a protagonist a show can have. He’s proud, he’s all powerful and he gets all the girls. It’s a character that audiences would very much like to be able to connect to, but rather than provide emotional resonance, he becomes a conduit for our own wish fulfillment as everything seems to go well for him. A good protagonist is someone who grows, someone who goes from being someone like us to our ideal version of ourselves.
Whilst the character does improve in the Alicization arc (Albeit by losing his memory), his existence on screen only seems to serve to make everyone else look better. By any other standards, Kirito would be an obnoxious side character or even a villain, but the plot is far more determined to portray him as the height of goodness.
4. Death Gun
Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet was an attempt to expand the series once again, this time taking place in an American MMO based in a post-apocalyptic world where guns rule the wasteland. The initial idea of a player shooting someone and killing them in real life is an interesting one, but when confronted with the actuality of the character, it was less than exciting.
Not only was it an underwhelming reveal of motives and character, but it was also something that was so heavily inferred in the opening that you’d have to be blind not to have him as your first guess. But more importantly, everything about his true identity detracts from the expansion of the story. At least Kayaba Akihiko was a natural enemy to Kirito, but this villain has very little to do with what Gun Gale Online is and lacks any relationship with our main character himself.
Lisbeth shouldn’t exist. Her relevance within the story has paper thin justification and her core moment was the introduction itself. Light novels can be difficult to sell and unfortunately the introduction of harems can guarantee a relative level of popularity combined with various other tropes. However, when you’re trying to drive a core plotline, dedicating an episode to a member of the harem with little other purpose can feel like an absolute waste of time.
Lisbeth herself has very little personality outside of liking Kirito. She takes up the job as a blacksmith in the world and is the one to create his new sword, but that’s about all there is to it. It’s from there that she just seems to follow Kirito around from game to game, despite their huge lack of any interaction. There’s just no reason for her to be there.
It’s a similar reason with Silica, but instead of her having no reason to be there, it’s instead a case of the show being better if she wasn’t. Immediately introduced as a weak damsel in distress, her only purpose is as a point of comparison between Kirito and herself. At 12 years old, she very much fits into the “loli” stereotype of characters that have been popular particularly among a certain light novel audience and the personality that comes with that is disturbing.
Holding almost no agency of her own, her very introduction episode features her getting attacked and hung upside down by a tentacle monster. Constantly sexualised and with no example of personal character strength, Silica’s existence is at worst, offensive and at best, just creepy. Speaking of creepy...
Yui is a bi-product of one of the weirdest arcs within Sword Art Online, featuring an odd teenage romance within a world of almost certain death. Kirito’s 14 year old relationship with Asuna was creepy enough as it is until Yui was introduced as some kind of daughter figure, shoved in through a bizarre science fiction explanation. She’s gone in just a couple of episodes, but her return shortly after in the next arc got even weirder.
Tapping into a similar market as Silica, Yui’s place within the series and the constant referral to Kirito as “papa” is heavily baiting. Much like other characters in this list, she holds almost zero plot relevance, relies heavily on fanservice and is possibly one of the most annoying existences within the entire series, which is certainly saying a lot. With that in mind, she is most definitely the worst character within Sword Art Online.
So, there are 10 of the worst characters within the Sword Art Online series. Thankfully the franchise does improve somewhat within the Alicization arc, although that is mostly due to the fact that the rest of the cast are pretty much removed from the narrative and are barely heard from. So,if that ever gets adapted (It probably won’t), you can look forward to that.
Let me know what you agree or disagree on in the comments section below.