Even though I don't usually watch series as they air anymore, I decided to dip in to Valvrave the Liberator (watched the first episode this evening) and Attack on Titan. Are you following either of them? Valvrave reminds me a lot of Gundam and Code Geass. I don't think I'll ever get bored of shows like those.
I've seen Madoka and thought it was fantastic. I suppose Kuroyukihime and Homura are similar as far as overall attitude, given that both are very much in control thanks in part to their overall knowledge. Homura wasn't as compelling a character until near the end, though, probably in large part because she has a cold demeanor and is shrouded in mystery throughout much of the series. Kuroyukihime was compelling right from the start. Character designs probably have something to do with it too, though. Modoka's character designs were good, but a bit unique. Accel World had more standard anime designs, sex appeal and all.
I may not have been able to relate to Haru exactly, but his character designs were pretty important. If he had been drawn any other way it might not have evoked as much sympathy, and his character would have felt different.
Looking back on it, I think you're right - As dragged out as the Noumi arc was, and as much as it drained a certain pleasant lightheartedness from the show, it was definitely worth it in the end. And yes, I felt that the backstory they gave Noumi was good. It was enough to make me understand and sympathize with why he became the monstrously bullying villain that he was, but not enough to change my desire to see Haru soundly defeat him. In many instances, I think that's the perfect note to hit with an antagonist/villain - You don't truly hate them any more, and you see why they're doing what they're doing, but you do want them to ultimately be defeated.
And I definitely do see how KYH is a tremendously well-rounded anime character. I'm not sure if you've seen Madoka Magica or not, but KYH to me is Homura Akemi with some of the rougher edges smoothed out. It makes for a very compelling and likeable character.
And I am glad that Haru's character design is what it is. I'll admit that I could relate to him a bit more that way, given my own real life issues (especially as a teenager).
Recently finished Accel World, loved it. Perhaps even more than Sword Art Online. I noticed that there's a series called Log Horizon that's due to start airing this autumn, and it's also about people getting stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG. I guess virtual reality has flared up as a new fad in anime.
I skimmed some of the reviews on MyAnimeList and found that seemingly many people had issues with that part, too. Some also viewed the series as three arcs, with the second being when Asuna and Kirito married and temporarily left the front lines; they had issues with that segment as well.
I initially wondered if I should stop where Kirito awakens, and not go any farther. The idea of entering a new MMORPG and having Kirito start from scratch was pretty unappealing. Also, having everyone go fairy-style was a bit of a shock, particularly since I wasn't expecting it. But I actually ened up really enjoying that part of the series, too.
Part of what made that aspect enjoyable was Sugu. Her entire love conflict was pretty clear from the start and there were no surprises there, but it was still beautiful (if somewhat heart-wrenching) to see it play out. I really liked her character, though.
What I found a bit jarring (aside from suddenly being thrust into fairy land) was the sexuality within the series. I felt that much of SAO was pretty tame as far as anime series go. Sure, there was one scene where Kirito accidentally performed a boob grab on Asuna, but that was it. There was little to no cleavage, no characters with oversized busts, fairly few chest shots. Then came the ALfheim Online segment, and it was cleavage galore. Sugu was the biggest offender (sadly), but the sequences with Asuna were just weird. The sexual abuse was disturbing enough, but I had to roll my eyes at the purple tentacle monster avatars that caught her when she was trying to escape. I mean, seriously? Keep those types of things in hentai films. The sexuality (fanservice, if you could even call it that) really exploded during this segment, but it just felt so out of place given the way that the first half of the series had gone.
But I think what I liked the most about SAO was the way that they really made it clear that everything was taking place in a game. I remember watching .hack//Sign a few years ago, and I had high hopes for it. Unfortunately, despite stating that it was taking place in an MMORPG, it quickly began to feel like a standard fantasy-based anime series. SAO kept the game feeling strong. I've sworn off of MMORPGs long ago, but this rekindled some of those feelings of fun and excitement that I had while playing them in the past.
I've heard that Accel World is somewhat similar to SAO, at least as far as the virtual reality and the technology behind it. Have you watched that one already? I'll probably watch it next. I'm not sure if having SAO fresh in my mind will diminish my enjoyment of it, though.
I'm really glad you enjoyed Sword Art Online. However, I have to admit that I had real issues with it after the Aincard part. Still, I did think it was very good through the Aincard part (i.e. the part where everybody is in "Sword Art Online' itself).
Currently on episode 14 of Sword Art Online, and I must say that this is one of the most philosophically interesting, beautiful series that I can remember seeing. I thought it was wildly popular but then saw that it received some majorly lukewarm reviews on MyAnimeList (although I didn't read through them for fear of spoilers). I haven't seen Accel World yet, although the story concept of virtual reality and getting trapped in it isn't a new one to me... but I wonder if Accel World may have dulled some of the novelty of SAO to some people.
Have you seen the series? What did you think of it?
Thanks for the write-up. I enjoy the mahou shoujo genre, but some of them come off as being too formulaic to me. Based off of your recommendation I'll add Nanoha to my ever-growing list of things to watch.