Sword Art Online is still incredibly popular, but its mainstream success has gained it a litany of detractors. Largely seen as bringing about the overwhelming trend of isekai in anime, manga and light novels, the series is also criticized for its own failures and quality. Despite those issues, there's one version of the story that improves everything -- by making fun of the series.
Witty Entertainment's Sword Art Online Abridged operates much like how Team Four Star's parodies of Dragon Ball Z and Attack on Titan do, albeit for a much more contentious series. It succeeds mainly due to it outright lampooning the source material's many flaws, especially its plot contrivances and character issues. The result is a series that has fun with the original show, sometimes at its expense, creating something for both SAO fans and haters to enjoy.
Sword Art Online Succeeds By Pointing Out the Original Show's Flaws
Sword Art Online is emblematic of the issues plaguing the isekai genre, as it features the typical MMORPG reincarnation world as well as an overpowered protagonist with a lot to be desired in the personality department. Sword Art Online Abridged rectifies this by outright laughing at the series' flaws, in doing so actually correcting them. The parody's version of Kirito is far smarmier and much more of an antisocial jerk -- something the Abridged series constantly points out. Compared to how the true version of the character is utterly boring and yet constantly praised, it's a step in the right direction. This is a good inversion of the "power fantasy" isekai trope, and it showcases how someone might not want to go back to their old life.
The same goes for other smaller plot issues, with SAO Abridged using comedy to explain things such as why Kirito survives monstrous assaults that slay all those around him. Everything is played for laughs and called out, be it story threads being unnecessarily extended or a variety of plot contrivances that simply throw victories Kirito's way. Asuna and Kirito's relationship feels more organic, primarily because they share a somewhat misanthropic worldview. Their one-upmanship drives the plot several times instead of trying to make them both out to be noble heroes. Most importantly, it feels like a genuine exploration of being trapped in an MMO, whereas the traditional Sword Art Online only paid lip service to this concept, largely falling more on fantasy novel tropes than games. In this way, it truly is the distilled version of the franchise, cutting away the fat and improving everything by looking at it from another angle.
SAO Abridged Is the Best Abridged Series - Because the Original Is So Bad
There's no denying that shows such as Dragon Ball Z: The Abridged Series are classics, but so are the shows they're based on. Despite its faults, many still hold Dragon Ball Z in high regard, which makes sense given that it cemented the archetypes of many modern shonen battle franchises. Sword Art Online, however, has just as many if not more detractors as it does fans, at least in the West, especially since its anime is largely seen as inferior to the original novels. This makes said anime the perfect series to get a good lashing. It helps that isekai as a genre is one that rarely explores the full implications or potential of itself -- something that SAO Abridged does to a hilarious degree.
Obviously, viewers who can't stand Sword Art Online will get a kick out seeing it mocked. After all, pretty much everything that the series is criticized for is there, albeit turned upside down for a good chuckle. At the same time, even fans of the series will like its parody, as it takes the story they already know so well and inverts it into something new and fresh. It could almost be seen as a fandub or similarly original take on a pre-existing story. Watching it without any knowledge of the original Sword Art Online is also interesting given how it colors the franchise as a whole, transforming one of the most popular isekai anime into one of the best anime comedies out there.