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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.