Sword Art Online: Mirrored Collapse: ALO-SAO

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Well, the Mayans didn’t specify which world would end.

They also specified the beginning of a new era, did they not?

Whoa, the animation doesn't blow this episode?!

Whoa, the animation doesn’t blow this episode?!

Last year, I covered the ending of Fate/Zero’s first season around this time [granted, it was a cumulative review, not an episodic one]. But, contrary to Fate/Zero, Sword Art Online is a summer series. Today, the second arc of Sword Art Online, ALO, ends. I can’t say it’s been as inexplicably enjoyable as SAO was, but it’s certainly not bad; it focused on the complex characters that SAO created, but the spotlight just wasn’t the optimal one. This episode certainly does not have the typical character development, nor does it have the typical mechanics; I’ll refrain from my typical structural review, and just focus arbitrarily on portions.
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During the last episode, when Kirito threw Sugou a sword, it really wasn’t out of respect. He wasn’t trying to make it “fair”; he wanted to exacerbate Sugou’s helplessness. Prior to the scene, Sugou was mocking Kirito; he had power while Kirito was powerless. More than that, he was harassing Asuna. To ameliorate this disgust, Kirito throws Sugou a sword. In his character monologue, Kirito stressed the importance of how he had power when he had a sword; but, now, he’s powerless — the security of the sword was a false one. By throwing Sugou Excalibur [the strongest sword in the game], it’s done as a bit of a cruel joke; prior to the throw, Sugou attempted to materialize Excalibur; Kirito throws it to him to humor him. Kirito was fighting with pain absorption while Sugou had none; the former had no chance of losing. In a way, he made Sugou feel utterly helpless even though he was wielding the game’s strongest weapon.
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Of course, Kirito’s position of potency was due to the intervention of one particular individual: Kayaba Akihiko, or as he was in SAO, Heathcliff. As I mentioned in the last review, he’s entirely antithetical to Sugou — one’s driven by power, avarice, and self-importance, the other’s driven by a quixotic fantasy with little care for material worths. Kayaba created SAO to emulate his quixotic fantasy — he wanted to live in a world that was entirely like SAO; he was intelligent, but he didn’t care so much for worldly matters — Sugou, the opposite of him, aspired for all that. When Kayaba had the resources and means to create this world, he did it — but, a world couldn’t truly be real if people didn’t take it seriously; to amend this, he evoked the death penalty, paralleling the inevitable results of real life and SAO. As a result, the majority of Sword Art Online’s recurrent motifs and themes reflected the ambiguous line between reality and virtual reality.

Players certainly acted different in real life than they did online. But, we see the characters gradually decide that life is as meaningful online as it is offline. We see the majority of players in SAO respect this unsaid tenet; but, we also get a few who mock it [the PKers]. We saw the materialization of Yui; the product of the ambiguous line between reality and fantasy — she, an emulated artificial intelligence, managed to “become” human [as we saw during her episode]. Kirito certainly didn’t love Kayaba for what he did; but, he indisputably respects him. He stayed true to himself; he never wavered. He never did anything blatantly disgusting; he just simply did what needed to be done. He always kept his word and he never sought to personally destroy Kirito. Sugou on the other hand, attempted to be something that he was not. Kayaba was the epitome of intellect in his eyes; he had riches as the primary producer of SAO, and he had the girl that he was in love with. As Kirito mentioned in the last episode, Sugou sincerely attempted to be Kayaba. Sugou’s sycophantic in real life; the type to please — online, he’s a power maniac. Kayaba in real life cares little of what others think, online, he’s essentially the same.
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But the primary thematic principle of SAO/ALO that was accentuated in the last episode was the power of love to bypass traditional systems. Of course, we could view this as a generic shounen mechanic — but, Sword Art Online managed to integrate this mechanic effectively, which in turn, attenuated the anomalous dei ex machina. In Sword Art Online, the Kawahara’s writing style is a mix of colloquial dialogue+monologue, with technical narration — the narration builds the world while the dialogue/monologue builds the characters. The adaptation waived past the technical narration, but it is a fact that Sword Art Online is a heavily developed world. We’re given “postulates” [Like the Cardinal System] that transcends throughout multiple worlds, but we’re also given idiosyncrasies [such as the particular races in ALO and the Sword Skills in SAO] that are limited to one world. By writing like this, Kawahara manages to emulate a hermetic and logical world. But, the “power of friendship” did subject Sword Art Online to some inherent ridicule — the structure of the story manages to effectively “justify” this principle, rather than justify it as a means to close a loophole [the power of friendship does tie in with the primary motif of ambiguous worlds].
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For example, let’s look at Kayaba Akihiko’s situation. He’s essentially an entity right now that transcends through digital data. When he “became” data, he did so with a high margin for fatality/error; but he did it regardless. His motivation for doing so stemmed from Kirito’s display of affection for Asuna — within such a dark, perilous world, two individuals manage to maintain their sanity with the power of friendship. Of course, it’s a lot less cheesier than I put it, but it’s basically the rudiments of his reasoning. If Kayaba had waited till the hundredth floor, he would have “beat” his game, but along with that, his world would “end.” His very notion of a euphoric world was SAO; he wished for nothing more — but if SAO had ended there and then, his dream world have ended. But, he achieved “immortality” by gaining the ability to literally, cross as many worlds as he wants to as an omnipotent “God.” He didn’t save Kirito and Asuna out of generosity, it was an apt reward for making him realize this possibility. Kayaba was a man who wished to simply live in his world; when he “died” and became a “God”, he left behind his romantic affiliation, the girl that Sugou strived for; he simply did not prioritize her above his own self. We have our antithetical antagonists in SAO and in ALO; one’s arguably great, because his reasoning isn’t exactly monochromatic, the other’s literally a manifestation of all the vices conceived during biblical times. Kayaba’s seed allowed other similar peoples to realize the same dream that he had. Sugou, like Kayaba, aspired to be a God– Kayaba beats him once more in something.
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Suguha’s character was perhaps the largest surprise in ALO. Most people would have expected SAO to take the traditional adorable imouto route; ALO kinda did that [large boobs are arguably adorable], but they made her a character rather than an archetype. Kawahara has a bad habit of developing a multitude of fantastic female characters [if you think it's bad now, it's worse in GGO], none of them can simply be categorized into a traditional archetype; they all have a certain importance that utterly decimate tradition. She was a strong female character — if you read my episodic reviews, then you must be aware of her inner conflicts surrounding her brother Kirito throughout the series. Prior to the ending scene, Kirito does make it relatively clear that the only heroine for him is going to be Asuna — this tenet will never, ever, ever, ever, budge. Kirito’s the most faithful guy out there, even if Asuna’s not that present. The successive arcs after ALO will be similar to the ~gatari series in that our central pair will not be the focus of the interaction, but their love for one another will remain constant [think of Koyomi and Senjougahara; replaced Koyomi with Kirito and Senjougahara with Asuna, and you essentially have the basic structure of how things will go]. I like to think that Kawahara did this primarily because it’s difficult to develop the pairing further than they already are, but he probably did it because it’s so damn enticing to add another female heroine and not a male. At the end of this episode, Kirito made it clear to Suguha that she, his sister, will always have a special place in his heart. He isn’t going to simply abandon her after her importance; she’s always going to be extremely important to him. It’s not a romance, but it certainly butchers the title of unrequited romance for Suguha. Plus, she always has Recon friendzone to depend on.

Concluding Thoughts

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Q: Hey, MDZ, why did you give a blatant holistic summary of what occurred, while not focusing on all the cutesy sentimental stuff that occurred during this episode?

A: Because it’s difficult to simply say “shit’s cute” on repeat. This episode will probably be is extremely enjoyable, but constructively, it’s difficult to comment on. It’s similar to the fishing arc of SAO. When I first mentioned it as my “favorite arc” [Ch 16 -> recall to the front lines], some were probably surprised. Some would argue for it as simple “filler’ and nothing more. But it’s the simple lighthearted mood that makes it a favorite. SAO and ALO are relatively dark in some portions, and it’s a recurrent pattern for Sword Art Online to only get darker. The developments in the newest volume’s web novel could be argued to have been written by Urobuchi Gen [joking]; it doesn’t get happier per se. We’re told the story from the eyes of the protagonist, Kirito — the fishing chapters were probably his fondest memories, as a result, they’re kinda mine too. I like simple, sentimental interactions; but it’s difficult to truly say “why” they’re fantastically great and heartwarming, so I’ll simply just focus on everything else objective that it does right, so I can be analytic with that portion.

——————

This effectively ends the dual-arc, first season of Sword Art Online. The next arc should be GGO [which I'll cover, given that what I'm doing around the period of release isn't impractical or impossible]. I don’t really intend on ending my focus on the first season of SAO with this post; I did mention two more entries on it — Sword Art Online’s Anime Review [a little unorthodox, just comparing the novel to the anime, but it's nothing that you guys couldn't have ascertained from my episodic entries], and Sword Art Online’s Character Interactions [which should be, in theory, ridiculously long; I may do this still, since I promised on doing it].

But aside from SAO, I have quite a bit to do this winter break. I’d like to read some visual novels [I really only read them thrice a year: Winter Break, Summer Break, and Spring Break]. If I do read them, I’ll probably stream them. The stream isn’t exactly for the crowd attention [I'll probably be reading at my pace]; but there’ll be a chat box. I’ll be open to simply talk if ya’ll want. At the end of December, I have to cover the new ~gatari; but prior to that, I have to read Kizu and rewatch Bake. I dislike reading because I’m awful at maintaining an attention span. Visual novels are an exception because they’re interactive and stuff. But I do intend on reading the prequels; I like having information before I preach intelligently about something. There’s also the matter of Kokoro Connect’s final arc airing on the 30th — KC is probably my favorite Summer 2012 show.


Prior Entries
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10 Comments

  1. A option is missing in the poll : C) did you disliked both of them ? Sorry if i sound like a troll, but a la Kirito, try to make it fair. Anyway, glad to have read your posts.

    Reply
    • Pfft, added.

      Reply
      • pffft, voted.

        Reply
  2. Ah it’s always a great read everytime I come here for the SAO episode analysis. It’s a nice way to start (or end) my masochistic run of reading neverending SAO negative reviews online. For some reason there’s a vast vocal array of critics denouncing the series as simplistic or at worst, sexist. On the other hand your reviews have certainly described and analyzed SAO in a way that I couldn’t verbalize. I really appreciate your work and might share it with others to show why I love the series like an obsessive fanboy.

    Reply
    • Anything is simplistic or “bad” if you attempt to find everything that’s bad about it. I like to focus on the larger picture; I don’t necessarily love the adaptation, but it’s not exactly a reason to denounce it. Glad to hear that my attempts at “justifying” an otherwise ineffable enjoyment work.

      Reply
    • PLOTHOLES
      1. Online plot? What a good game where YOU CAN EVEN RECOVER FASTER THAN A BUNCH OF PK-ERS GANGING AND SHITTING THEIR ASS TO KILL YOU. YEAH, YOU AND YOUR JESUS YAMATO.

      2. Character who “cheat” by not sharing information.
      – What is the meaning of cheat?
      – Why it’s so hard to just sharing information (it’s internet dude, information iz everyWHORE. It is sword ass ONLINE for god’s sake).
      – Ridiculously strong from the start, even the whole party annihilated, you can survive no problems (again, very ridiculous for online game concept)

      3. Heh, fall in love with the female lead, have harem consist of female blacksmith, little girl, etc etc.., surely romantic, sure. His wife even stripping first in their first night sure, romantic. so you just wonder around lifting each other in online world, again VERY ROMANTIC HA!

      4. So you can taste super good cream, I bet you droll both in VR as well as in real life way to go online, pffft.

      Where’s your thanks fanboy.

      Reply
      • I figure I need to set a few things straight after reading about whitedevil’s “PLOTHOLES”

        Counter Arguments:

        1. In the scene you are referring to, it’s important to take a few things into consideration. First off, Kirito was around 30 levels (or more) higher than the toughest of those fighters. In a real life mmo, if a group of PKers that were 30 levels lower than you ganged up on you, it is quite possible that you would take almost no damage (if anything, you could say that Kirito took too much damage).

        2. For the first part of this argument: the players considered that beta testers to be cheaters because of resentment, not because the beta testers actually cheated. They thought it was unfair that the beta testers kept this information to themselves instead of spreading it around so that everyone had the same chance at survival.

        – Another thing, did you not pay attention to the first episode at all? They are trapped in SAO. They can’t just take off the Nervgear and march over to the computer to look up information. The only way to exchange information while in game is through in-game mail or face-to-face verbal communication. They may be online, but they can only gather information using the means that the game provides them (google can’t save them).

        – As for the last point of your second argument, you are probably referring to the second episode when the <> were wiped out. Kirito had kept his level hidden from them. He was actually much higher than the rest of them (they didn’t realize it when they invited him). They were in a dungeon that was level appropriate for most of the group but was too low for Kirito himself. The only reason he couldn’t save them was because there were too many monsters (if he was truly OP, then he would have at least saved Sachi).

        3. First off, Kirito is too dense to realize the others feelings for him. Second off, he and Asuna knew each other for just about 2 years (ever since the first boss fight). They are definitely well acquainted with each other before the first night (not to mention that they both had a near death experience that day, so emotions are definitely running high). For the last part, they are simply trying to be together and are having fun in the process.

        4. Admittedly it is not explicitly explained in the anime how they can taste things (it is in the LN). However, the reason why is probably because they figured it would be obvious to most people (you apparently don’t fall into that category).

        – The way the Nervgear works is by intercepting, blocking, and sending signals to the brain (ie when you try to raise your hand, the Nervegear catches that signal and instead sends it as data to the game, causing your avatar to raise it’s hand). Two of the signals sent to the user are audio and visual (the play can see and hear the game as if they were actually there). Keeping that in mind, if the Nervgear can send audio/visual signals, why can’t it send signals involved with taste, or touch?

        Well, that’s pretty much the end of my rant.

        Reply
      • =[.

        1. I think I’ve iterated about 10 times that SAO at its core, is a shit design for a game. It’s linear, and the system is typical of a jRPG, not an MMORPG. I praised how its psychology mirrored that of an actual MMORPG, and how its character development, was fantastic.

        2. I don’t think you read my entries. It’s okay, I would not either, they’re long. I typically dislike reading long things. I noted that it doesn’t matter if it’s actually cheating, if the majority declares that it’s cheating, then the majority wins, veracity is superseded. That’s the MMORPG/survival game mentality.
        We cannot view SAO as a game when it comes to information sharing. Think of it as several nations competing for power. The Army, the largest, with some elite groups [e,g. Asuna's guild], vying for power. Information ensures that one side gets the advantage, while the other, not. Sure, it could be shared [on multiple boss fights, it was, because that was the optimal route of the time], but it’s prized. You cannot just look up information on SAO as you cannot simply ask North Korea for the locations of their nuclear armaments.
        MMORPGs are infamous for scaling anomalies. I can be level 60 in a game, and I could easily kill 10 level 40s. Power spikes grow exponentially within MMORPGs, typically, meaning, a level 70 would be immune to anyone below level 40, being able to literally kill most things instantly. Such is the balance of a MMORPG.

        3. I’m not sure if you lack mastery of basic sentence structure, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you woke up a little late after a heavy night of glue consumption, and playing in traffic [it can be exhausting, but worry not, I care].

        Kirito and Asuna knew each other for over a year before their night together. That’s longer than a typical relationship [modern-day standards], prior to that action. In their case, we had to accentuate a greater degree of propinquity because of the dire circumstances [that survival environment]. In which case, it’d almost seem logical had they done it the first night. But they did it in a year.

        The harem is just that auxiliary element. The romance never shifts out of the spotlight, with every other infatuation being monochannel.

        4. I don’t understand your question.

        I suggest taking it easy on the paste.

        Use this as a reference: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/english-grammar-for-dummies-cheat-sheet0.html

        Thank you for your feedback.

        Reply
  3. I just finished watching both Sword Art Online and Accel World, and I don’t think any anime that isn’t based on Kawahara’s work will ever be good enough for me again. As you have repeatedly asserted, the true brilliance of SAO was in the complexity of the characters and their interactions. I was just talking earlier today with my boyfriend, who introduced me to the anime, about Kawahara’s ability to create amazingly complex characters and especially strong female characters, and so it surprised me to see Netto’s comment above that indicates some find SAO simplistic and sexist. That’s why I felt compelled to respond, because I’m grateful that you have made such an articulate and profound review of the series, highlighting its complexity and powerful female characters. I stumbled upon your reviews here as I was looking into reading the Sword Art Online light novels, and your analysis has convinced me that I should. Thanks for everything. :)

    Reply
    • Pfft, it’s a pleasure to do so. Sword Art Online gets darker, but I’m fairly certain that it remains as great as it is [via light novels].

      Reply

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