Sword Art Online: Realistic Catharsis

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O hay, the climax.

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11 episodes of ALO, and we’re here. Can’t say that I’m going to love this episode. Kawahara’s a prick for needing to accentuate the “knight-rescues-the-damsel-in-distress” archetype to this extent. ALO has great character interactions. But Asuna-Kirito interactions, the most inexplicably enjoyable aspect of Sword Art Online’s first arc, were arguably the most irritating, depressing, and helpless facets of ALO. Each scene with Asuna during Sword Art Online was fantastic — the viewer knew that cute or heartwarming shit would occur. Those scenes to me were ridiculously enjoyable — I’m a character interaction/analysis guy, not really an action type of guy; that’s my of saying I’m a sentimental bitch. Sword Art Online’s first half made me fanboy the series, far more than enough to dedicate an hour each Saturday morning to writing about it.

In ALO, every other scene with Asuna was awful. Thinking “is Sugou going to show up” or “when does this scene end” was antithetical to the traditional “Asuna’s here, scene’s going to be awesome” mantra that was established so easily during SAO. At last, there’s going to be a little solace at the end of this episode — but before the solace occurs, the climax of everything that was irritating about this season is going to occur. The light novel was fairly explicit as to what will occur. I can’t say that I’m willing to argue for a faithful adaptation/unfaithful adaptation on this specific chapter. Whatever goes, goes. Let’s begin the review, I don’t think there’s a lot of heavy content this episode. I’ll probably spend more time commentating on Kawahara being a tool than on giving insightful information. There’s going to be a lot of quotes, but not a lot of explanation.

Mechanics

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Anomalies: We know for the mechanics of SAO and ALO to be relatively consistent. There is not a lot of room for cheats or hacks — none have been established thus far. But, there’s been a few gaps of “shounen heroism” or incidents of “dei ex machina.” During the first season, one of our characters simply broke free from the inhibitory poison to rescue the other. At the end of SAO, one of our heroes should have died, but she survived. In this episode, something similar occurs.

An unbearable anger pierced through my whole body. Red flames ran throughout my nerves, in an instant the pressure holding my body blew away.

Kirito, driven by rage, discards the virtual inhibition on him. We can argue for this as being “deus ex” — friendship saves the day; it’s endemic to shounen works, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. On the other hand, we can view this recurrent pattern of occurrences as the establishment of another mechanic. Sword Art Online’s on-going motif has revolved around the ambiguous line between fantasy and reality; emotions, could perhaps be the catalyst to breaking the wall. Emotions are constant in the real world and in virtual reality — perhaps the hermetic system of SAO/ALO were bypassed by things such as emotions. An awful argument, but patterns coerce strange theories, even if they’re not there.
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«Heathcliff»: His existence is going to seem like a deus ex machina. It would be fallacious to say that his existence is one, but it is another to say that his introduction into ALO is one. There wasn’t enough foreshadowing to assume that he was capable of doing what he did; but there’s a logical explanation behind it. Typically, logical explanations of deus ex’s tend to be shitty — you’re justifying an otherwise mediocre development. But, this logical explanation [which is done primarily during the next episode], matches his character, which in turn, makes it adequate.
Heathcliff, or Kayaba Akihiko, was characterized as the demotivated genius. He didn’t care for fortune or for riches — he simply wanted to live in the world that he wanted to live in. He’s selfish — but he never held any malice towards the other players. He trapped them inside his world because it wouldn’t quite be “reality” without real players. Artificial intelligence is predictable, he’s a developer, he would know this — if he had verisimilar players, pawns or residents of his fantasy world on the other hand, then he could live his ideal life. He did just that; in this episode, he aids Kirito against Sugou. I don’t want to give explicit spoilers/explanations until the next episode, so I’ll hold off for now. Just juxtapose his character as being the primary antagonist to Sugou — we’re comparing two extremes here. One’s rational, developed with a reason, and likable; the other’s a linear, predictable, derivative archetype of a trite banality accentuated with the cliche vices.

Dat smugness.

Dat smugness.


Realism: This episode is similar to a certain ~gatari’s ending episode, in which the author abandons the etiquettes of a “peaceful” type of storytelling, for a more realistic, visceral one. In a traditional shounen, Kirito would forgive Sugou for what he did, and do little to harm him. But that’s not realistic. In this episode, Kirito did what every other guy in his position would have done. He tortured Sugou repeatedly with literally, the highest amount of pain imaginable to man. It takes “an eye for an eye” to new extents.
On the analytic side, this is fantastic character development. After Kirito passed his threshold of tolerance, he temporarily lost his rationality that he had aptly built throughout SAO and maintained throughout ALO. In this state of “fugue”, he acted accordingly to his innate passions — his love for Asuna, and his lust for vengeance.
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Excalibur: Not a sporadic cameo from a medieval tale. The existence of this weapon was established during the Underworld Arc; while Kirito and Lyfa were riding Tonkii, they caught a glimpse of the sword entrapped within a high-level dungeon. Given the difficulty of the dungeon, it was established [de facto] as the strongest weapon in the game. Kirito simply materialized the strongest weapon from memory. It wasn’t a “I wonder if there’s an Excalibur in this game, o hay, there is.”

Character Interactions

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Kirito:

“…This is unforgivable…”

He utters this line as he enters the “legendary” City of the Sky. He says this because he finds it unforgivable for a game company to play with the dream of players — thousands aspired to reach where he was at the moment, an average person about to transform into a high-ranking fairy. But, it’s essentially an “empty gift box”; nobody’s here to greet him, no quest indicators, he wasn’t even supposed to reach this coveted land. Of course, it’s a bit of a trivial element in the long run — it’s only a game. But thousands of players have made this “game” integral components of their lives — relationships began in virtual reality and transcended over into real life; it wouldn’t be as accurate as to call ALO fantasy as it is a foreign reality.

More words were already unnecessary. Asuna and I closed our eyes and buried our faces in each others necks. Both of Asuna’s hands were behind my back, holding me firmly. A contented sigh from Yui seemed to leak between us. – This is good enough. I thought. If this became my last moment I would have no regrets, even as my life burned out. The life that was supposed to have been over with that world, finally concludes here, just for this…

Making the protagonist think about such before you catalyze his despair is a bit of a douche move.
Sword Art Online does require actual reading to attain the bulk of the content — interior monologue is just so damn important. Characters have the chance to lie in dialogue — nobody lies to themselves during monologue; you have nobody to lie to. You gain unabashed, truthful lines, devoid of basic etiquette. At times, it’s redundant, and others, it’s important.

Asuna looked at me, mouth moving slightly.
“Kirito… -kun…”
‘It’s all right, I will protect you no matter what’, I was going to reply.
At that moment a high-pitched laugh echoed throughout the darkness.

Really, Kawahara’s flamboyantly accentuating a flagrant, obnoxious mood of helplessness. It works wonders, but it’s unbelievably irritating.
This is immediately before Sugou uses his inhibiting spell. This really doesn’t need a lot of explanation.

“You bastard… I’ll kill you!! KILL!! I WILL DEFINITELY KILL YOU!!”

Has anybody ever seen Kirito absolutely livid? Discarding his rational and cool demeanor that he established in SAO and maintained throughout ALO, he erupts towards Sugou. Everybody has their limits, their point before discarding rationality for visceral emotion; Kirito’s reached his.

With that figure in my vision, I felt my thoughts turning white, cut off by a searing white sensation. The flames of anger and despair consumed me. My remaining thought processes were turned to ash. If my soul became like the color of a lump of dry bones, I would not have to think. There would be no need to think. If I had a sword, I thought I could do anything. Because I was the hero who stood at the top of 10,000 swordsmen. I defeated the demon king, the hero who saved the world.

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Sugou:

“Once I fully enjoy this place I’ll go to your hospital room. If I lock the door and turn off the camera, that room becomes a secret room. You and I, just the two of us. I’ll set up a large monitor and run today’s recording and enjoy myself with the other you! I’ll take my time and go carefully. After all, it is your real body. After taking the purity of your heart here, I’ll take the purity of your body there!! So fun, a truly unique experience!!”

Methodologically, we can assume that he’s been harassing Asuna since her departure from SAO to ALO. In this episode, he coerces the epitome of his pseudo-NTR interactions [not exactly NTR, but the feelings induced are the same on the viewer]. It’s a little strange to commentate intelligently on something so blatantly flamboyant obvious and lurid. Not much has to be said, it’s difficult to commentate on a linear, predictable, and trite archetype. He’s mentally unstable, and a reason isn’t given as to why he is. He’s a developed, pure absolute; no causal affliction, just simple postulates. Essentially the bane to rationality, the subject in which one finds a reason for occurrence, a method of reasoning, and a panacea for prediction. Absolute extremes do not need reasons.

Concluding Thoughts

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The worst part of ALO is over. Unfortunately, it occurs so late in the series. The animation quality this episode was awful. I’m glad that they dedicated this episode’s animation budget to the next.


Prior Entries

10 Comments

  1. I always put the anomalies down to an early version of the incarnate system (from Accel World).

    I much preferred the SAO arc over ALO, as you said the Asuna scenes are just not enjoyable to watch at all and SAO for the most part had better animation too so it made the big scenes much more impressive. At least the next season (from the sales of the LN I’m pretty sure we will get one) should have a far bigger budget and with that better overall animation.

    Thanks for doing these! Always a great read :)

    Reply
    • It’s fun to do them =p, although sleeping in would be nice.

      And yeah, the next season should be fantastic too, just hoping for SAO to get a larger budget. Whether that’s possible within A-1, we’ll have to see.

      Reply
  2. It’s just… why? Why are you taking my favorite character of the series and making me dread seeing her?

    Ffs. Every single scene with Asuna in it, I now go “bloody hell, here we go again”, and this episode was obviously no exception. It’s necessary and absolutely unfun.

    I re-watched the first 14 episodes multiple times. I am not going to be re-watching ALO, and that’s sad.

    Reply
    • unnecessary*

      Reply
  3. As an asuna fan I don’t really want to imagine how this episode was in the Web novel…

    Reply
  4. i liked this episode, only because of the realistic torture that Kirito applied to Sugou: “the highest amount of pain possible”.
    I like when the characters are more realistic, like this time. I don’t wanna a dumb-ass hero, with a “pure and forgiving heart”. I want a angry person, that will kill anything that get’s in the way.
    Nice blog!. Sorry for my fucked up english!

    Reply
    • Your English is fine.

      Reply
  5. “— perhaps the hermetic system of SAO/ALO were bypassed by things such as emotions.”

    Good guess ;)
    Actually this is one of the main themes of Volume 10.

    Reply
  6. I don’t understand all of people’s complaints. Part of the reason I feel as bad as I do for Asuna and Kirito in ALO is that the Asuna’s archetype was inverted. She went from being a player of near equal level to Kirito to a hapless prisoner. That inversion, the stripping of power, occurs to both Kirito and Asuna before the end of ALO. And Kirito’s realistic reaction to the events in Episode 24 only heightened what I viewed as a emotionally charged episode.

    Reply
    • Well, if we were to get into the structure of the series, Asuna shouldn’t have had her descent back into despair. The pith of SAO revolved around the symbiotic relationship between Kirito and Asuna — one helped the other in a world full of misery, as a result, they both attained strength. Typically, when you build strength, when you’re given such a standing, you’re not supposed to fall back into it.

      The anime doesn’t go into much about Asuna’s early days [probably a result of the mishap that was Aria, or episode 2's, adaptation], but she was incredibly weak and scared. A long story short [that makes it sound awfully trite and not at all heartwarming or fantastic as it was], she began to gradually get stronger — she was still scared, but having Kirito as a friend helped her through it.

      I don’t love the concept of ALO. It’s awful when pertaining to the characters when looking at it objectively [as in what the author attempted to develop during the first half]; subjectively, it’s even worse. The author of Sword Art Online wasn’t very nice to his heroines, it reminded me of Berserk’s manga [prior to the super bad occurring -- just the "almost" incidents]. A fan typically does not seeing a heroine [which should be emblematic of strength, of power] being degraded into a helpless, caged bird. The vitriolic, banal personality of the captor doesn’t help either.

      You’re not exactly supposed to feel bad for Kirito and Asuna. You’re supposed to be happy that they’ll always have each other as staples. Nothing will ever change that. In the future novels, Kirito will continuously help a menagerie of similar heroines, but his romantic interest will never shift. The stripping of power, as you referred to, wouldn’t have been bad if it wasn’t entirely [literally] forced upon them.

      Reply

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