Ditch the Source Material – Sword Art Online and Kokoro Connect

Untapped potential.

Now that the anime summer season of 2012 has ended, it is time to look back at a few series that aired during this time. To start, let us look at how Sword Art Online and Kokoro Connect became so much worse due to strictly following their source material.

When it comes to the most interesting anime concepts of this year, I would not hesitate to nominate both Sword Art Online and Kokoro Connect. Their concepts may not be deep or convoluted, but depending on the way they are used, it could result in rather intricate and intellectual series.

Lucky then that both series decides to do jack shit with them.


“In this world, a single blade can take you anywhere you want to go. It’s a virtual world, but I still feel more alive here than I do in the real one.”

You see, the idea behind Sword Art Online is that 10 000 players get stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG. If they die in the game it will be game over in real life, meaning that the only way out is to actually beat the game’s 100 floors. As I am writing this, I have already been able to come up with a bazillion of potential idea of a story. Imagine the potential for gripping moral dilemmas, character relationships and more! There is an endless array of possibilities lying in this very simple concept of being trapped in a game.

This makes it even sadder that author behind the light novels, Reki Kawahara, fails at even understanding the potential of his own concept. Of moral dilemmas we have none, the same applying to any kind of character development. In fact, it does not even feel like Sword Art Online takes place in an actual game at times. Switching the setting from a game to a, say, medieval one would not have done much difference at all for the plot. Yes, there are a few game mechanics here and there, but they are so rare and often ignored it is mind-boggling. Why even create such a concept if you do not want to take advantage of it?!


“Each one of us implicitly has a soul, mind, and a personality which contributes to our identity. Now that Nagase Iori’s soul is inside Aoki’s body, the result is identified as Nagase Iori. However, souls and personalities cannot be seen or touched.

That’s why we typically use physical appearance to identify a person. That means our bodies are the foundation for the identity. But if our bodies lose their significance because of the personality switching, will we still be ourselves?”

A similar problem is shared by Kokoro Connect, a series involving the five main characters experiencing various strange phenomena such as body-swapping and reverting back to their younger selves. In contrast to Sword Art Online, author Sadanatsu Anda actually touches various complex topics such as “What defines a person?” and “Is it worth risking friendship for love?”. Sadly, it never dives much deeper into these particular topics than merely mentioning them.

What is worse is that these two series actually continue beyond their original concepts and introduces more of the same instead of actually fully realizing their original ones. In Sword Art Online there are multiple virtual reality MMORPGs and in Kokoro Connect we have more than one strange phenomenon. The consequence is that both series are very shallow, which is a damn shame, because I really like the ideas.

At least not as bad as Sword Art Online.

To make it obvious, let us take a look at how many episodes these two series had as anime. Sword Art Online’s first arc had 14 episodes, with over half of them being side stories. Kokoro Connect, on the other hand, had three arcs during the span of 13 episodes. Five episodes for the first arc, five for the second and three for the third. That does not leave a lot of room for any deeper stories, does it?

In a perfect world, the studios adapting these two series would have completely ditched the source materials. They would keep the concepts, but ignore everything past that. Sword Art Online would be 25 episodes consisting of only one game, fully exploring its concept.

As for Kokoro Connect, it would only focus on body-swapping as that is the concept with the most potential. If done correct, introducing new phenomena further on would work without feeling tacked on as now, where it jumps from one thing to another.

I want to live in that world.

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16 thoughts on “Ditch the Source Material – Sword Art Online and Kokoro Connect

  1. Click says:

    While I can’t speak for KokoCo since I’m too far behind on episodes, Sword Art Online is probably as detached from its premise as one could get. What makes the show so offensive (and hilarious) is that while the side stories are supposedly there to set up rules, later episodes just proceed to break every single one of them, just as you said.

    Even when some semblance of an ethical dilemma (player killers in Ep4) or philosophical notions (Kayaba’s speech at the end of Ep14) is brought up, it’s handled in a clumsy, bumbling way or blatantly read out in a horrifyingly silly fashion. A common motif shared by Kawahara’s Accel World, which is even worse, is escapism, but it’s tossed around so poorly between the two that it’s mind-boggling. It’s unbelievable that the premise was the major selling point of the anime, when it’s so underutilized and clouded.

    But hey, at least making fun of it on Twitter makes the show worth watching.

    • Marow says:

      the side stories are supposedly there to set up rules, later episodes just proceed to break every single one of them.

      Makes me wonder why people said these side stories flesh everything out, when truth is they didn’t add much at all.

      philosophical notions (Kayaba’s speech at the end of Ep14)

      Did I miss someting?!

      (regarding Accel World, I haven’t seen it, but everyone says it’s bad)

  2. Leap250 says:

    That world would be mind-blowing indeed

    But, I’ll cut both series some slack because I think adapting light novels demands a certain “quality” in terms of concept. A lot of stuff can be lost in adaptation because of the restraints of animation; internal monologue for example.

    Guys like Shinbo from SHAFT seem to have it down though, but I guess it’s because Nisio Isin’s works compliment adaptation so well.

    • Marow says:

      I’m not going to cut them slack. While the source materials may be better (and most likely include certain details that weren’t in the anime), they turned out to be bad/mediocre anime and, maybe, adaptations. But even if the source material does shed light on certain details, it does not take away from the fact that the key events are the same and those are the ones that are poorly handled.

      And internal monologues can be implemented in anime, there are tons of those! As for why they weren’t here (apparently SAO did have it) beats me.

  3. Andmeuths says:

    To be fair, Kawahara Reki, SAO’s author is planning on rewriting the entire of SAO. Covering every single level, and every single moment. None of the other arcs are as disjointed as the Aincrad Arc – I’d say, expect an Early Accel World level of quality for the next arc, Fairy Dance (two volumes, 3 and 4). GGO is something else, and Mother’s Rosario may as well be written by a completely different writer – arguably, it is, since an author pumping up over a dozen novels in the space of a decade is bound to be a different level of writer by then.

    Given how well SAO is selling, I think we’d see GGO and Mother’s Rosario animated too. I really think that those soured against SAO will still bash that too though, and I am looking forward to those laughs.

    And the Dusk Take arc, IIRC was written FIVE Years after he wrote SAO’s First Volume. It shows. Don’t be surprised that even the Dusk Taker Arc was better. If Reki didn’t improve in Five Years, Japanese publishers and readers are a bunch of tasteless fools, and SAO the Twilight of Anime.

    • Andmeuths says:

      P.s: Have you even read the LNs to begin with? If not, how can you be so sure that some of the flaws, especially in the Side Stories is actually the result of the Animators choosing to axe vital perspectives out of the stories itself? Or failing to convey something that is powerful on paper into something powerful into the Visual medium?

      • Marow says:

        Nope! I am going to read his first volume of Sword Art Online, though, just to see how much different it is (since it is said to be much better).

        The thing is… let’s face it, SAO is one volume (plus one more of side stories). Light novels are not long at all. In other words, it is a rather shallow experience. Yes, the anime most likely skipped some content, but would that make it much better?

        I doubt it.

        The problem with SAO is, as mentioned in a reply above, the key events. The deus ex machinas, for example. There is no way they are different in the light novel.

        Or the fact the story did a timeskip. And so on. It’s shallow writing.

    • Marow says:

      I had no idea he planned to rewrite SAO. In fact, that just makes it even more sad. First he creates side stories to flesh out the story and now he has to rewrite it?! That is a bit embarrasing.

      If Reki didn’t improve in Five Years, Japanese publishers and readers are a bunch of tasteless fools, and SAO the Twilight of Anime.

      As I don’t have much experience with his works, so I cannot say if it’s better or not.

      • Andmeuths says:

        I recommend that you skip ahead and read volume 7, Mother’s Rosario – that’s really more indicative of why SAO readers like SAO IMO, because it’s probably more indicative of the current ability of the author. The first volume was the work of a complete amateur trying to beak into the industry, and it showed. It’s been described by various people as “someone’s fanfic” that proved surprisingly popular, and then became a series. Or you could read Aria, and see how the animators butchered parts of SAO out in the first place.

        Actually, apparently, he began to write several Side Stories that were clustered around Post-Aria (which the Anime horrendously butchered by axing context and immense amounts of content and cramming a 100+ page story into less than 30 minutes.

        And after that, it was announced (before the anime) that he was planning to do a proper re-write called Progressive. I’d like to see that as possibly a more mature and competent author deciding to attempt to fix the disjointed and less well written and “noobish” nature of his first work into something more coherent. But apparently, it IS going to be a long project.

        You can’t really ditch the source material completely mind you (unless you hire a very good writer of Urobuchi’s standard) largely because it IS the First Arc. Should A1 Have been more creative in modifying the plot though and fixing it’s flaws, while preserving the basic outline? Yes.

        Did they bother? No.

        Then again, the SAO LNs are through a very long arc called Alicization, which runs for far longer than all the material written for the Aincrad arc so far, if what I’ve picked up from Light Novel discussions elsewhere is correct….

        • Marow says:

          Thanks for the recommendation, but I will read the first volume! Otherwise I couldn’t compare it to the anime, could I? 🙂
          And it’s funny how you mention that it’s described as “someone’s fanfic”, when I only see lots of people worship it… (another reason to read the first volume)

          And of course you can ditch the source material! It’s as I said, only keep the concept, skip the rest. No need to worry about the sequels or anything. Just do your own thing with the concept.

  4. Overlord-G says:

    So what you’re saying is SAO has too much filler and KC was too short? I haven’t seen KC yet (After midterms) so I’ll see for myself. As for being loyal to their adaptations, can’t say much for either one. I initially ignored KC because it reminded me too much of the X-Change series and Body Transfer, but of course, my bestest buddy convinced me to give Kc a try, so I will.

    • Marow says:

      The main story is 6 episodes, meaning it’s shallow. That’s what I mean! It’s crazy the side stories have more time than the main one.

      KC isn’t really bad, it’s quite enjoyable, but it becomes lacklustre after a while when things happen so quickly without much development.

  5. ahelo says:

    I’d like to live in that world too. Thing is though, only a godly staff, a very creative and daring one, or a very motivated one will ever do such a thing.

    • Marow says:

      Speaking of that, I think KyoAni did their own little spin with Chu2Koi’s first episode. I cannot confirm it, but it sounds cool. (especially since you mentioned godly staff)

  6. Gustav Pettersson says:

    You could be right about “Reki Kawahara, fails at even understanding the potential of his own concept.”. I don’t really know. I not very good when it comes to analysing stories and stuff like that, so I’m not gonna go any deeper into it. All I can say is that the novel was terribly adapted.
    What I really wanted to say is that it’s not very fair of you to Criticize Reki when you not even have read any of the novels. Even if SAO strictly followed it’s source material, it differ so much from the novel in so many other way.

    I cannot really speak for Kokoro Connect since I haven’t read any of the novels at all. Really like the concept, and the first 2-3 episodes were pretty good. Then it pretty much went downhill when they decided to overdramatize everything.

    • Marow says:

      What I really wanted to say is that it’s not very fair of you to Criticize Reki when you not even have read any of the novels.

      Yes and no. Yes, in the fact that, yeah, the novels may have certain aspects the anime lacked. That’s no surprise. There may be some details, narrating or whatever that was skipped.

      No, as I’ve said in a reply above, because the overall story is the same. It’s the same key events. The same deux ex machinas. The same shallowness. It will only be slightly different portrayed, with one or two details added. Not a world of change. Not doing the concept itself justice. Taking that into account, I would say it is acceptable to criticize it.

      But as I’ve said, I will read the first novel, if only to confirm if I’m right or not.

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