Sword Art Online – Episode 2

And we’re back for more Sword Art Online. The first episode was… alright. I like the visual aesthetic, and some of the game elements were nicely portrayed, but the characters didn’t grab me and the plot seemed pretty contrived. The villain in particular killed my suspension of disbelief pretty much immediately – it seemed like it was supposed to play as serious drama, but his theatrics were just very silly. You don’t need blood rain to sell a crisis! “I’m going to kill all of you” is actually more scary coming from someone not dressed in a robe and wizard hat.

But that’s all peanuts if they use the setup as a platform to actually talk about something. So let’s see where we go from here!

Episode 2

0:07 – 21st century graphics!

0:11 – They skipped a month? Jeez, that strikes me as a bizarre choice. I’d figure one of the most interesting and drama-friendly elements of this would be the initial, panicked adjustment stage – the sense of urgency Kirito had at the end of the first episode was pretty much the best thing in that episode. Really, really weird choice

Sword Art Online

0:22 – Apparently this is the fuckin’ Dark Souls of MMOs

0:36 – That seems wise. Good to know gamers are as good at cooperation as ever

2:35 – Way to warm up the crowd. I actually like this random, awkward exchange. Seems kinda natural

3:28 – Aw shit he’s gonna get picked last for softballThe worst case scenario

Sword Art Online

3:34 – Ahahaha. Who could this strange, hooded figure be? Might they be willing to join a party with me?!?

3:41 – Seems like it’s just the group situations that really fluster him

3:45 – Yeah, that’s how this stuff goes. I think it’s actually pretty great to have their weakness be an inability to deal with the playground politics that so many people escape through videogames in the first place

That hood, though. Well, I guess if you were a pretty girl trapped in a friggin’ MMO, you would want to hide your face

4:24 – Oh man who’s this troll

Sword Art Online

5:17 – So they’re basically making this guy express his argument in the worst light possible (complete with ominous music and MC suspiciously narrowing his eyes) in order to invalidate it, but the crux of it is a pretty fair point, and actually a really interesting expression of how human decency “interacts” with videogames. Why would they trust people who’ve proven themselves uninterested in helping others? Is it just supposed to be natural that in this situation, everyone would act only in their own best interests? Are we supposed to sympathize with MC here just because he’s antisocial? That was his excuse for not working with others – not that he actually earned the right to leave everyone else behind, but that he was incapable of interacting with them.

I find both this argument itself and the fact that the show’s presentation is clearly trying to villainize this guy equally interesting. Do videogames leave a just society at the door? Are we supposed to sympathize with this kind of Randian utopia, where You Get Yours and I Keep Mine? In fact, the beta tester situation makes this even more of a useful articulation of the problems with such a moral code – because it isn’t a fair society, because certain people jump off the starting block with far more resources and experiences.


Sword Art Online

6:13 – Wait what THEY’RE ACTUALLY DEFENDING THIS POSITION AHAHA. “No free lunches, buddy. We already told you how to succeed!” And the first episode even demonstrated how this system isn’t easy to get used to, and how much it helps to already have hands-on experience in the game! MAN.

That’s FASCINATING. That actually plays into how Objectivism (and Libertarianism) are such popular philosophies among the very young – people who really do think they’ve somehow “earned” everything they’re given, and that a society where every person just worked for their own benefit would actually be both just and a desirable situation. Is that part of the appeal of videogames? Yeah, it actually is, in a very controlled way – because when you have less control of your real life (as young people pretty much always do), it’s extremely comforting and actually empowering to engage in a world where you have absolute control, and all your actions have immediate, tangible results and benefits. Where there’s a 1-to-1 correlation between effort and result.

But of course, in the real world, things are far more complicated. And we even see expressions of that here – Kirito might be really good at SAO, but his inability to speak up for himself and handle a conversation puts him at an immediate, natural disadvantage to those who can. Should he be punished for that? According to a philosophy that says “we’re all dealt the same hand, suck it up,” yeah. So smile at the man defending your right to a societal advantage, Kirito – smile, but know you’re a goddamn hypocrite.

Man, this could even be applied to the toxic sexism of the gaming community. I’d figured that was largely a combination of the demographics skewing young, male, angry and isolated, along with games just not tending to be perspective-broadening cultural artifacts, but this here is championing a philosophy of both entitlement and not seeing things from other perspectives, which generally go hand in hand with any kind of discrimination

6:45 – So all information is immediately made universal? They could do interesting stuff with that

Sword Art Online

7:06 – This is pretty sweet – I can vividly remember going point-by-point through raid encounters back in my own MMO days. I hope they actually plot this stuff out

Of course, the grim truth about raid encounters is you die your way to a working strategy. So I dunno how that’ll translate here

7:28 – Is this show being intentionally cynical about this? Even with all these lives on the line, you still gotta clarify who gets the loot

7:47 – “Man, I said some pretty silly stuff back there, huh?” This shooow

8:04 – Oh no, they’re being corrupted by his wild egalitarian ideals!

9:01 – Heh. Nice little gamey detail

Sword Art Online

9:31 – I like this. Kirito’s ability to socialize is pretty much directly linked to his ability to talk about the game. I’ve definitely known people like that


9:48 – Oh, are we really going deep on this philosophy? “Only those who can seize their own destiny have the right to be human,” eh?

10:40 – Time for a tutorial! Th-then… I was your first time?!??

11:45 – Some pretty solid animation through here

Sword Art Online

12:48 – Aw shit, what’s he doin’?! Friggin’ loot-stealers

13:49 – He died doing what he loved: stealing loot from life-or-death videogame engagements

14:05 – I’ll never forget you, blue-haired dude

14:16 – Well at least he realizes it. That’s better than like 90% of League of Legends players

14:33 – Nice! Maybe this show’s politics aren’t self-congratulatory garbage

Sword Art Online

15:10 – This “switch” stuff is a reaaally condensed version of how MMOs are cooperative games, but it is something

15:20 – zomg she was super cute the whole time

15:50 – Weren’t there like thirty people here?

16:03 – There we go. Never underestimate the power of a dramatic entrance

16:53 – Very nice little sequence

Sword Art Online

17:41 – Frieeendship.

18:01 – Wait, what? That is not very close to what happened!

18:19 – HOW QUICKLY THE MOB TURNS. Seriously, they’re turning absurdly quickly


18:50 – Sort of. You could just explain the situation…

Sword Art Online

18:53 – Wait is he seriously gonna decide Becoming Batman is the solution here. Well, he is a loner… but still, this is so fabricated

19:19 – REALLY? THIS is his best idea?

20:07 – For someone who’s ostensibly terrible at public speaking, he’s certainly hamming this the fuck up

20:14 – That’s right! Being good at stuff is cheating! That’s what all unsuccessful people think!

I didn’t expect this show to be very good, but this is a pretty incredible kind of bad

Sword Art Online

20:17 – Oh god don’t use that name that name is terrible

20:20 – No whyyy

20:36 – THAT’S RIGHT, KIDS. TRENCHCOAT AND EVERYTHING. He’s the most special snowflake of all

20:44 – Black dude is just stunned by this incredibly improbable sequence of events

21:35 – Joke’s on you, Kirito. That badass, tormented speech only made you EVEN HOTTER

Sword Art Online


And Done

Well, that episode was pretty magical, but not really in the way I was expecting. Not only does this show seem to be predicated on a fundamentally self-obsessed worldview, it’s also just pretty ridiculous. Like with the GM’s speech in the first episode, Kirito’s Batman moment here had me laughing the whole time – I could see him being unable to defend himself, but making a dramatic, evil speech to a bunch of strangers? So they’ll, what, “unite against him?” Does that even accomplish anything? And what was the threat here – a few seconds of grumbling, which the guy who’d handled the last rabble-rousing attempt was probably about to defuse anyway?

Am I supposed to think Kirito’s completely ridiculous? Hm

Anyway, in spite of being much “worse” than the first episode in the technical senses, this one was also far more entertaining for various other, likely accidental reasons. So I’m definitely on board for number three!

50 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 2

  1. SAO is actually pretty not bad for the first 2 and a half episodes. When you hit the start of the forth episode though, that vein in your forehead will start to twitch, if you care about storytelling.

  2. “I didn’t expect this show to be very good, but this is a pretty incredible kind of bad”

    I think you hit the nail on the head here – the reason I found SAO so fascinating when it came out was that even though the show was deeply flawed, it was always flawed in interesting ways. Please continue reviewing this anime; I always like your analysis of flawed shows (C3-bu, Kyoukai no Kanata, Free!, etc).

  3. I know this is irrelevant to the anime itself, which should presumably stand alone, but I think taking into account the history of the Light Novels creates a somewhat interesting meta-narrative story.

    In the original story, it wasn’t just a month that was skipped. It skipped two years, to what was basically “endgame”. That’s simply what the story was about, the endgame. It was written for a short story contest and I guess the writer failed to realize that his premise was too big for his story. Anyway, all that was really established about Kirito’s in-game backstory was that he was skilled but didn’t like working with other people (ie: the antisocial loner problems you mentioned). It was his, um, “attractive flaw” in the standard self-insert power fantasy thing you’d expect from a novice writer.

    Anyway, after the series became successful, the author realized that by jumping ahead to the endgame he skipped over a bunch of potentially interesting details. So every third volume or so he’d write “Tales of Aincrad” (that’s the name of the game setting) to cover things that happened before endgame. Which is pretty much what most of the anime is. Which means that Kirito had already been established as “heroic” even when he wasn’t supposed to be back then. Rather than show the story of a pre-heroic hero, the story was sort of retconned to make him “secretly heroic”. Explicitly retconned: he’s actually intending to rewrite the entire story, and this was just a small part of it. It’s a bit inconsistent in that sense.

    The basic takeaway I guess is that the plot of this episode was written years after the plot of the first episode, and indeed years after the main plot of the series was already resolved.

    • I guess that makes the opening of this one not following from the ending of the last one make more sense, then. As you say, it doesn’t make it better, but it does explain it.

  4. Great, hilarious writeup. MOAR. This is why I check your blog like 3 times a day :D.

    There’s an SAO Abridged series with 3 episodes out that’s pretty ridiculous because it makes Kirito an actual(as in, overt) asshole. Give it a try when you’re done with the original series(and tell us what you think???)! Link:

    • I was just about to post that. This series is utterly hilarious. As soon as I heard 30 Seconds to Mars on the opening I knew I loved it.

  5. Despite everything Kirito said, Diabel was still using his party to secure the last hit for himself, thereby hogging the rewards and probably skipping town afterwards. That kind of invalidates the altruistic motive behind gathering everyone together.

    Ah yes, episode 3. Good luck.

  6. Despite enjoying this show quite a bit I’m really looking forward to your take on it. Knowing how you normally approach shows I know it’s gonna be an interesting ride. Provided it doesn’t give you an aneurysm first.

  7. Dark Souls is actually not as long a game as it takes many to play it. My first playthrough was 88 hours. A new one(not New Game+) took just 23 hours. Something to do with the crippling fear of whatever is lurking around the next corner really slows people down, and I think that would be true for SAO as well. As they learn the patterns behind the game and it’s internal logic, they should be able to beat floors faster and easier. First step is generally the hardest.

    I suggest you don’t pay much attention to the way Asuna’s character is developed, for your sake. It’s really not pretty if you think even slightly about it.

    This, if I recall correctly, is the episode in which people started wondering why (a)everyone thought it was a good idea to alienate the guy with the most information about the game, and (b)why the blue-haired dude refused to take the potion.

    You are correct about tangible rewards and gratification (although that holds truer for single player than MMO), and it holds especially true in SAO. Contrast this with Skyrim, where you can never pull off a slick combo, or block while dual wielding, or Zelda, where you can never jump; SAO offers a better illusion of realism than any of these.
    I do think, however, that the insistence on creating the level playing field has to do with how gaming information (and even generally, information) is becoming less and less exclusive; everyone has access to the sao.wikia, and everyone is used to knowing what the best weapon is via wikia. Releasing information is something of a social norm. Hoarding it is frowned upon.

    • Well, Dark Souls is all about teaching you to play it, so it’s understandable that the first try would take the bulk of the hours. I think it’s actually brilliant in how well it makes “leveling” an in-player process of learning its rules, rhythms, and even evil sense of humor.

      Plus its incidental storytelling both blows almost all other games out of the water and makes far more natural use of the medium than the “gameplay plus occasional movies” style of most videogames.

      Yeah, Dark Souls is just the best.

      • I’ve been trying to get through Dark Souls on the PC and it’s horrid. I played on the PS3 and it was pretty good but not my sort of story telling (think Bioware). But yea if you want a challenge try playing on the PC. Controls and camera is the hardest enemy.

      • I am glad that I am not the only one thinking that the storytelling of Dark Souls was brilliant. Story was there, for those who want it, and for those who don’t, they can just play the game. Dark Souls certainly is unique in both Gameplay and Story.

        Are you playing Dark Souls 2 as well?

  8. “That’s FASCINATING. That actually plays into how Objectivism (and Libertarianism) are such popular philosophies among the very young – people who really do think they’ve somehow “earned” everything they’re given, and that a society where every person just worked for their own benefit would actually be both just and a desirable situation.”
    Aw shit you’re right, the story doesn’t really go anywhere with this idea that I recall (with Kirito being, you know, a loner, and also a bit obsessive, think the LN’s said that he was only sleeping a few hours a night in order to constantly stay high enough leveled to not worry about dying) but you’re right on point here.

    And I am looking forward to you suffering through the rest of the show now! 😀 Personally I don’t think it gets out and out terrible until the second half, buuuut I do have a friend who liked the series and even she came running to me when it was done going “DID THEY DO THAT, DID THEY REALLY HAVE TO GO THERE?”

    • Yeah, I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about the second half. Fortunately there are all sorts of ways for shows to be entertaining, intentional or not…

      • Your comment reminds me of when Republicans were castigating Obama (I’m assuming you’re from the U.S and understand the reference) for saying “You didn’t build it” when he meant that Americans have a lot of privileges provided to us. BUT OBAMA I BUILT MY BUSINESS WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS. WHY I GOTTA PAY TAXES TO MAINTAIN ROADS AND A POLICE FORCE GOSH DARNIT.

        • Haha, yep. Turns out we don’t live in a vacuum of individual accomplishment after all! Remarkable the bubbles some people build around themselves.

  9. You know what I think about episode 3. It’s super emotionally manipulative, and it may not work, especially the first time, because they’re still building your attachment, but watching episode 3 after you already care? Man. I love that episode.

    Also, for “Beater”, you have to remember they’re Japanese, so the “English-sounding” shtick is stronk.

    • I actually remember liking the third episode on its own more than the first two, but at that point not being at all interested in watching a series of vignettes about Kirito. It was the structure plus him that killed my interest, not that episode itself.

      • You know how the LNs are constructed, right? The first book is basically first episode, or first two episodes, then a skip to episode 8. Episodes 3-5 were from the second LN, filling up those two years, showing you life during the whole time, ergo, the vignettes. Episodes 5-6 are a short-story from a later book, dedicated to filling out some more Aincrad time.

        Thing is, the first book? It has no vignettes.

  10. I kinda want an MMO based on a socialist system now.

    ”among the very young” eh most old persons still think that way.

    • A depressing number do, but it’s not really a mainstream philosophy in most democratic nations the way it bizarrely is in the USA.

      It is very difficult to imagine how a socialist MMO would work. Some variant of Minecraft, maybe?

      • I don’t know.. I live in Québec which is considered to be a socialist society to some extend by some. And yet I feel that most people here would rather have a more individualistic environment (most people I speak with have this mindset) and that the only way it stayed this way is because of a very active minority. It was very clear during the student strike again’st the rise in price of education (which happened 2 years ago) that most people were against us (them biased medias coverage, and most schools had a position against it by democratic votes) in the end we ”won” but it resulted in an indexation and hiddens cut in schools founding…

        Well an MMO doesn’t truly need a socialist system since its economy is extremely directed by the developers. But it would certainly need a redistribution of wealth system. And maybe a democratic system where people can chose how it is redistributed through services or direct compensations.

  11. The first 7 episodes were okay. It’s after that it starts to go a bit weird. Eventually I just dropped it at episode 14 because of the decrease in quality and hearing (from novel readers) that the second arc is even worse.

  12. I don’t think this is really a Libertarian thing here. It sort of looks like it, but… There’s actually a pretty convincing argument for not revealing they’re beta testers that doesn’t follow that logic.

    I mean, sure, the beta testers could stay back, explain everything, show everyone the ropes… But in this case there’s limited resources on a timed basis. Only so many enemies spawn at a time, as the first episode points out, and they don’t respawn immediately. So if the beta testers run far from town and farm only from the more challenging areas, then there’s more for everyone. And every moment that they’re teaching someone instead of going out and advancing, the respawn resources aren’t getting used. The boars just outside of town won’t kill you before you get a grasp on how to do stuff. Meanwhile, if they’re wandering further because there’s nothing in town, then they’re going to get very dead very quickly. (The first floor contains at least one dungeon where making a mistake and triggering a trap spawns about thirty mobs immune to the Hiding skill who all spit equipment-corroding venom. SAO does not fuck around. In a related matter, you should find and read the First Day sidestory.)

    Plus, they want to get out of Sword Death World, which is also a time pressure thing.

    And by the time that first time pressure wasn’t a thing–people had levels and they’d traveled, so not everyone was spawn-camping the boars right outside of town–another beta tester had already published a full guide, and they’d done it anonymously. The beta testers may have had a good reason to rush out ahead, but that’s not going to make their seeming abandonment of the new players look any better. Saying something imposes a social cost for questionable benefits.

    BECOME BATMAN is dumb, yeah, but it’s the kind of dumb an anti-social high school student might think would work. It’s hard to tell when something is ridiculous on purpose, though.

    • Is there a time constraint beyond “wanting to leave the game”? It seems like the optimization of resources versus making sure people don’t die equation only works out if they have a limited time to take advantage of those resources. There doesn’t seem to be an issue of their actual bodies dying, so I’d figure working to prevent unnecessary in-game death would be a high priority. And in that case, I’d definitely understand how individual people would prioritize their own survival – but I wouldn’t defend that as a morally sound choice, which the show seems to want to.

      Either way, I’m just going off the argument the show itself presents. I disagree with the show’s reasons as it chooses to defend them.

  13. Entertaining write-up. It does feel a bit like you’re trying too hard to be edgy at times, although I’m not really familiar with most of the stuff you write. But I think what you expect out of a Shounen show makes you look almost unfamiliar with anime in general.
    I’m not advocating blandness but you know, motives, depth of settings and character development are sadly something a younger audience just doesn’t appreciate.

    Still, it’s entertaining enough reading through your reactions.

    • Not trying to be edgy, just being honest. I do try to review stuff in light of its own goals, but I bring general expectations of storytelling to everything. That’s not to say I’m anti-shounen altogether, though – I love Hunter x Hunter, for example.

      • I think you meant to say “in light of your own goals” considering the political talk :)? Curious about one thing though, what anime or movie (highly regarded/cult classics) haven’t been “predicated on a fundamentally self-obsessed worldview”?

        • Nope, its goals – as in, if a show is trying to be a fun, lighthearted adventure, I won’t pan it for not being a psychological thriller or whatnot. I’m just saying that doesn’t extend to excusing lukewarm writing for younger audiences – you can still write smart stuff for young people.

          As for the second question, tons of stuff! Most of the creators I respect have messages they clearly think would change their viewers’ lives for the better. Madoka preaches human compassion and individuality in spite of systemic inhumanity, Monogatari urges self-reflection as a path towards greater common understanding, Diebuster is a paean to our communal spirit of selflessness. Great art comes from a place of personal truth, but it can say things that are broad-minded and universal.

      • If that’s how you’re viewing this show, then I desperately need you to keep watching. I hope you haven’t been too distracted by watching legitimately good shows to give this legitimately bad show a try.

        Frankly I think it’s bad in a fascinating way. It’s not a cynical cash-in pandering to its audience, nor is it a thoughtless spectacle. It’s trying to have a message, it’s trying to teach it’s viewers something universal, and the writer clearly has some sort of personal truth he’s trying to share with the world, but it just stumbles over every step it takes. I think viewing it in the light of what the author is trying but failing to say is exactly the right approach to create some thoughtful criticism of it.

        Not that I think your political diversion was necessarily insightful, mostly because I doubt the author was thinking about this much. It’s a bit contradictory in regards to where it stands on selfishness. From what I can tell, the ultimate message is supposed to be something like “other people are always real (even when the world is fake)”, but on the way the characters do some shockingly self-centered things that go without comment. I’m sure that reveals something about the author, but the author is not the story. If that makes any sense.

        Anyway, this is me complaining that you started this up and did 2 episodes really fast, and then suddenly slowed down. Do you have any vague feeling for what your schedule on this is going to be, or is it more of a “whenever I feel like it” thing? Because I’m afraid you’ll never feel like it if you keep watching things like Mushishi instead.

        • Oh, I also highly doubt the author was thinking about the stuff I discuss here – I just think the text accidentally reveals some very interesting things about his base, assumed worldview, something he isn’t trying to consciously promote. Until the show itself starts to demonstrate some thematic ambition, it’ll likely be more interesting to me as an unintentional reflection of both its creator and its audience.

          As for the episode watch rate, I was actually sitting on that first episode post for a few days before posting it, so they ended up kind of artificially close together. I certainly intend to keep watching, though – I just need more time than I do for watching the occasional episode of Mushishi, since these writeups take a while. I should have another up in the next couple days.

  14. If I remember SAO right, the story goes out of its way to make Kirito a misunderstood hero for his Batman moment. As it nominally goes, PVP is allowed in situations like this so Kirito was clearly worried that this big party was about to explode into (fatal) internecine fighting under the stress of the situation and the accusations and counter-accusations and so on. So heroically he turns himself into a lightning rod to defuse all of this.

    On the animation: one of the few things SAO had going for it was a good budget and the resulting reasonably high production values. The fights may not necessarily make sense but boy can they look good.

    • Bleh. That feels like false drama, an out-of-character moment, and is just an absurd solution that ignores the way this conflict was handled earlier in the same episode. It feels like a “how the fuck do I get my protagonist where I need him to be” development, not a natural one.

  15. They skipped a month? Jeez, that strikes me as a bizarre choice.

    As someone else already said, this wasn’t a choice. The author just crammed the entire Aincrad arc into a story intended for a contest with a strict word

    limit. When it was still too much, he published it on his website and added earlier chapters over time. The anime inserted them chronologically.

    So all information is immediately made universal?

    No, there are some players who distribute self-made books (think GameFAQs) and other players can submit info to them. There are also players (information brokers) that buy and sell info.

    Is this show being intentionally cynical about this? Even with all these lives on the line, you still gotta clarify who gets the loot

    This is true everywhere. We can’t even safe Earth because of profit. Mankind is (for good reasons) a bunch of selfish apes. If we can colonize the solar system, we will do so through money and not because of individual foresight. (Well, unless we significantly raise life expectancy.)

    zomg she was super cute the whole time

    Most beautiful girl on the server, hence the cloak. She’ll get unwanted fanboys later on too…

  16. It is just such a ity that the Light Novels are incredibly good. Therefore, people were way too excited about the anime. Truth be told, 25 episodes was way too short to tell even half of the original Light Novel’s storyline for these 2 events. Oh well, I still have hopes for season 2 though. I hope they will make it a little more to the fans’ expectations.
    (I found the anime nevertheless fine. Not as good as sekai sefuku, or log horizon, but it’s got its good points.)

  17. Oh, and one more thing: when you start watching Ep14+… get drunk. Just like that time with Neptunia. It’ll help a bit.

  18. Oh God I just remember the name “beater” is like a ship name of “cheater” and “beta-tester”.
    Pfffffffpfffff – Ahahahahahahahahaha HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    I’m sorry, I can’t stop myself. This name is just so mind-numbingly stupid. It’s ridiculous. XD
    I am somewhere between cringing and laughing hysterically.

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