At the risk of making some enemies, here’s this.
Spoiler Alert: It’s not the reason you probably think.
I’ve been asked, several times, why I hate SAO so much. And the simple fact of the matter is that I don’t. If and when I make fun of it, I’m merely being hyperbolic. Which can certainly be misleading and I completely own that and take any responsibility for the impression that can leave on those who actually take me seriously. But let me be clear. I’ve only seen the first arc of SAO. Once. And I hated it. I deeply, violently hated it. It offends my storytelling sensibilities on far too many levels for me to ignore. But that isn’t why I’m probably never going to watch it again. Because, wonder of wonders, I’ve powered through worse before and found greener pastures beyond. No, the reason for my choosing to, at least for now, abstain from bothering with SAO anymore? The community around it. Both the pro and anti-SAO communities, in fact.
Simply put, the most vocal groups in the communities for and against SAO have, at this point, just driven me away from it entirely. Mind you, this isn’t my first rodeo. I endured being a Pokemon fan in the early 2000s despite it very much being an “uncool” thing. I was openly harassed over this a great deal as a kid and it had a rather negative impact on my willingness to talk about that series at all, despite my unconditional love for it. I don’t enjoy talking about it, purely because of how toxic both the fandom and the detractors could get. The same goes for many franchises I love – Sonic, Marvel & DC, Dragon Ball, and god forbid you have an opinion about Star Wars.
The problems with SAO – especially early SAO, from what I understand – are numerous. They are plentiful and not even difficult to spot. Your willingness to overlook those problems may vary. Different strokes and all that. But these communities have, in my experience, been so doggedly, overwhelmingly uncompromising to the very idea of hearing opposing thoughts that I just see no point in discussing it. What will it accomplish? You’re either a brainwashed imbecile or a hateful zealot, apparently. No middle ground seems to be allowed. And that’s not good for me since I can probably count the number of series I’m that passionate about in either direction (at least, in their totality) on one hand.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this divisive “us vs. them” mentality spreading around SAO on Twitter, YouTube, and beyond. A lot – and I mean a lot – of people who defend it are just waaay too defensively hostile about it. Mocking everyone who dislikes it and throwing around rhetoric that means to utterly dismiss any dissenting opinion. If you don’t like SAO for any reason at all (beyond the generally agreed-upon portions that no one likes), or dare to even call it bad, you’re a “hater.” Real talk, that s–t is toxic and hurtful. It sends a message that “if you don’t agree with us, your opinion doesn’t matter. You’re irrelevant and no one should pay you any attention.” And the sad thing is that I know exactly where it comes from. Because it is literally just a case of people becoming the thing they hate after having to put up with it for too long.
It’s been my observation that a large portion of the anti-SAO community has been extremely aggressive, for their own part, making sure to treat SAO fans as lesser and taking every opportunity to ridicule the series and its following… and even creating whole new opportunities to do it, if they’re just bored. Does this make it okay for so much of the pro-SAO community to mirror the exact same toxic behavior, but in reverse? Just dismissing any and all opposing opinions because “Oh, their opinion doesn’t matter”? Of course it doesn’t. But the anti-SAO community does have to own that one, in part. Because while they may not have been entirely the cause, they certainly fostered it in large part based on their own actions.
That leads me to the ultimate point of this, I guess. Someone liking or not liking a cartoon – no matter how important it may seem to you – is NOT that serious. Opposing opinions are NOT all personal attacks. This works both ways. If you’re using your opinions to be a personal attack, then get over yourself. Your opinion is special just like everyone else’s. If you’re taking every opposing opinion as a personal attack, also kindly get over yourself because it’s very possibly not about you and could be that someone happens to disagree on the matter. If you use that as an excuse to get hostile in the defense on your position, then you’re not much better.
Well, for one thing, I don’t care. Not in that way. But setting aside my aversion to being disliked, the problem I have is this… I like to talk about things. I want to be able to talk about things simply to understand other people and be understood by people, whether we agree or not. And I would love if every conversation wasn’t treated like some kind of Boss Level, where the objective is to change the other person’s mind at any cost. That is not a conversation. It’s not even a healthy debate. It’s attempted brainwashing. All I want out of any conversation is to be able to express my opinions and hear those of others in a non-hostile, no-pressure environment where disagreements stop at that stage – disagreements. Where I’m not an “idiot” or a “hater” for thinking a certain way. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind and if you try to change mine, let me tell you, you’d better pick another hill to die on. Because that only happens when I take the initiative to reevaluate. On my own. That is not your job.
With that in mind… who would I even talk about it with? I see no point in engaging with either community. Because I’m not interested in putting anyone down for thinking opposite to me. What few friends I have either don’t watch it or hate it far more than I do. So where does that leave me but in a position where the main thing I get out of watching it – the conversation – is entirely, or at least largely, moot.
I started doing this blogging thing because I like to talk about anime, about movies, about stories. I like to Geek Out, come up with “What If?” scenarios, poke fun at the parts I found silly, and all that stuff. But I think I’ve already made it abundantly clear that I’m stressed out enough as it is. I don’t want there to be pressure. Because on top of it honestly being an energy drain and really bad for my already-low self-esteem, it sucks out all of the fun. It just feels like the best-case-scenario is my being totally ignored by both sides (because, let’s be honest, I am a small fish) and no one engaging with me at all, which would suck. Meanwhile, the worst-case-scenario would lead to me getting openly lambasted by either (or, if I’m really good at my job, both) of two opposed communities. I don’t want that either. So I’ve just elected to not talk about it at all. It’s disheartening, honestly. Because I don’t really want to have to blacklist shows for reasons like this. Typically I only blacklist things if they offend me on a personal level, I genuinely hate the content that much on a technical level, or it’s just not “on-brand” (I will never talk about Highschool DxD or Monster Musume on the main site, for example, and I reasonably enjoy both). It’s especially sad because I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about it. But if that curiosity is just going to be rewarded with a lot of divisive rhetoric, then… is it really worth it? I don’t think it is.
Ignoring that I got the numbers wrong (Aincrad is 14 episodes, not 12. I just forgot since it’d been a while, but I checked again) that was 5:30 in the morning on Christmas Day. That is the level of stress this has been causing me. And, if I’m honest… I don’t need that. It’s not healthy.
I’d like to think all this comes from a place of wanting to foster an atmosphere that’s inviting to anyone’s opinions without hostility. Without mocking those we happen to disagree with or feeling the need to get defensive over those differences of opinion. Where we can like things without being labeled a peon and dislike things without being branded a hater. But I dunno. Maybe I’m just a coward, coming up with an excuse to go hiding my head in the sand.