Sword Art Online – Episode 5

And I’m back for more Sword Art Online. Which I now know will continue to be episodic for a while longer, and continue to not really build on the character of Kirito as presented, and… well, a whole lot of other stuff I shouldn’t necessarily know. You guys are merciless in your comments – I try to be fair to this show and come at it from an honest perspective, but at this point I think it’s gonna seem great just by comparison with the grim spectre you’re all painting in your reflections.

Anyway. Last episode wasn’t good – it basically discarded all the character development of number three, and instead focused on a new vignette that didn’t really amount to anything. As I said at the end of that post, if you’re going to make your show a series of vignettes riding on plot alone, those plots better be goddamn fantastic – you can’t rely on building tension and character focus if nothing’s building and your characters aren’t consistent or deeply articulated. Apparently I’m now entering a two-parter, which I’ve heard actually elaborates on this world’s society in a fairly interesting one. I’m very ready for that – most of this show’s best moments have been when it hinted at the larger world Sword Art Online has become, so a more full exploration of our not-so-artificial society seems like a solid choice. Let’s get to it!

Episode 5

0:02 – March 6th, huh? So this one’s actually only a couple weeks after the last episode. Hurray for continuity!

0:04 – HOLY SHIT CONTINUITY. Klein AND Asuna? Good to see some familiar faces

Sword Art Online

0:42 – That’s… true, right? They’re just bits of programming, responding to certain commands with certain responses? Given they’ve been in this world for well over a year now, this probably shouldn’t be an open question – there’s no “are we monsters ourselves?!?” tension if the answer is just “no, that’s silly”

0:47 – Asuna always refers to herself this way. Exposition!

1:12 – All our friends! Very happy to be back with these guys

Though I guess it means the long-term consequences of Kirito’s episode two speech didn’t really hurt him that much. Guess it’s just the lowbies who harbor resentment towards the “beaters,” then? But in episode three, the leader of their mini-guild was all about how brave and noble the front-liners are. So…

Alright, I guess I could eventually stop doing this. People just tend to say and do things in this show, events don’t actually have repercussions. Storytelling!

1:17 – Pff, THIS guy knows what’s up. Can we just follow him, instead?

Sword Art Online

1:30 – Jeez, that sure sounds like an interesting story you’re summing up in graceless exposition after two episodes that didn’t affect the plot in any way.

3:13 – Aaand there goes another month

3:33 – Kirito doesn’t PLAY by the RULES

3:52 – So that’s a pretty efficient summary of the difference in their perspectives. This world is real enough for Kirito, at least

Sword Art Online

4:07 – Kinda funny that this is generally the sort of language you use to make someone stop playing those damn videogames. Almost darkly comic, that – it’s pretty much a truism that the more stock you put in seeking icons of accomplishment, the less you’ll actually grasp happiness, and that you kind of have to chill out and enjoy life as it comes to stop being stressed all the time. But that generally isn’t translated into “waste all your time playing videogames” – there’s sort of an unspoken assumption there that “enjoying life as it comes” involves magically appreciating life in the way that’s popularly defined as fulfilling – actively participating, engaging with others, enjoying the world around you. And now these two are engaging in that argument on the next level down, where Asuna’s demanding he seek those icons of success even in the game (in order to eventually be able to engage with the socially-accepted world again), while Kirito is perfectly happy to embrace everyday happiness in his current mirage. So does this justify gaming, or does this counter the “learn to be happy with what you have” philosophy?

On a personal note, my psychology doesn’t allow me to avoid the struggle. I only feel happy when I’ve just completed something I consider worth making – I am extraordinarily bad at smelling the roses

4:34 – Oh god here we go again. Kirito just too damn sexy

5:16 – Pretty

Sword Art Online

5:43 – Man, the show itself really is in love with Kirito, huh?

5:59 – So she’s just a textbook tsundere. Bleh

6:44 – Okay, this is incredibly awkward exposition. Sometimes you have to accept a little gracelessness in the exposition just to get some information to the viewer, but these two are straight-up reciting information they both know at each other. Gotta do better than that

Also, guess these episodes are gonna be about a murder, huh?

8:36 – Murder mystery, I guess. Quite the convoluted kill here

9:31 – You’re a loose cannon, but goddamnit you’re the best we’ve got. Partners?

Sword Art Online

9:35 – No cameras, please. An investigation is currently under way.

10:03 – Man, identifying key witnesses is so easy in anime-land. You there! With the pink hair, single oversized bracer, and talking bird!



10:50 – I love how they share a meaningful look after that revelation.That’s right, he was killed by… someone. Ghost kills: ruled out

Sword Art Online

11:04 – Cameraman that is incredibly appropriate this is a super-serious scene


11:15 – See? Crazy eyes.

11:54 – Goddamnit man, we’re partners now. The past is the past

12:25 – I have to say, the concept of sticking a random murder mystery/crime procedural in the middle of this show is pretty adorable. I admire the strangeness of the choice, at least

Sword Art Online

13:43 – Of COURSE. GRIMLOCK’s the killer!

14:08 – The bastard’s leaving us a message. But that just might be the clue we need to crack this case wide open…

14:31 – Was the killer… ASUNA’S butt? This just keeps getting dicier

14:37 – Damnit man, you’re letting this case get to you! Keep it cool!

15:11 – She knew Grimlock? KNOWING LOOK

Sword Art Online

15:45 – Is this episode supposed to be exciting. Because this is pretty much the least interesting episode of Law & Order I’ve ever watched. And even Law & Order was basically designed to be a show you have on in the background while making spaghetti

16:07 – I like the base concept of this all revolving around things the players invest real significance in because they’ve had to accept this world as their reality, but as an observer, I’m just not invested in the same way


16:38 – A good alibi. Almost… too good

Sword Art Online

17:06 – This is not subtle visual storytelling, show. It’s either directly telling us she’s the killer, or directly lying to us so the killer will come as an artificial surprise


17:29 – An interesting distinction to make. These people really are “in the game” in all relevant ways, right? I suppose that, just like with the bad guys last episode, there’s always a weird blurring of the line of what roleplaying means in the context of this reality

17:52 – Don’t trust her for a minute, heroes! She wanted Griselda for herself!

18:31 – So you can murder him like you murdered the others, you murdering murderer?!?

Sword Art Online

19:05 – They’ve certainly got the aesthetic of this genre down pretty well. The weather, the creepy shots through windows to make it feel like the characters are being watched, the unnerving low-angle cinematography. It’s a very tired story, but they know the tools

19:43 – That’s part of why people like games! Getting back to the ideas I kicked around in the second episode, the illusion of a level playing field is quite the drug

20:36 – Goddamnit lady, that’s crazy talk! We ruled out ghost kills hours ago!


Sword Art Online

22:01 – DUN DUN DUN

And Done

Well that was pretty silly. Wasn’t really expecting this show to suddenly veer into C-tier CSI shenanigans. This is almost purely plot for its own sake right here, and the plot just isn’t that substantial – even with actual crime scene drama shows, the appeal is largely in spending time with characters you already know and like… even when done well, it’s a pretty dire genre. And you have to be good at that kind of writing to do it well, too – you can’t just send the characters on a treasure hunt where one clue has the name of the next clue written on it.

If this actually were revealing a great deal more about their world or philosophy, I’d probably be less forgiving of the plot being so bland. But it’s really just occasional cute details here, and Kirito and Asuna are possibly the least interesting characters in this show, so they’re not giving me much to work off of.

Well, it’s still pretty, at least!

30 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 5

  1. I did tell you, this episode and the next are my least favourite.

    The fact they have so much exposition and the mood is so different here makes sense, LN wise this was in the 8th book, I think, a book with 3 short stories, and this was one of them. So it was supposed to stand on its own and remind you of Aincrad which you’ve left behind several books back.

  2. Oh god I totally forgot about these two episodes, shows what impact they have on the overall plot then. >< (also it’s so strange to be reading your posts and remembering SAO when watching Log Horizon, it just makes their differences seem even more apparent).

  3. I have to be honest here, I like these episodes because the whole concept of an MMO murder mystery is hilarious to me. I’ll admit the plot and the characters and the worldbuilding aren’t that great, but I respect the fact that this exists.

  4. Its a little weird really. These vignettes were mostly written some time after most of the plot-centric episodes had been written, and the author just put a timestamp on it to show where in the overall timeline it took place.

    Because of that, your comment from the last episode write-up is very accurate: these side-stories are fan-fiction written by the author. He had a short story idea he thought was neat, and decided to use his characters and world to tell it in.

    To make matters a bit more muddled, the anime decided to adapt all those side-stories, but to also stick very closely to the source material. They decided not to include anything from the side-stories to the main story.

    6:44 – A strange choice in adaptation here. I am fairly sure this information was conveyed in narration in the LNs. The anime is pretty hesitant to make use of narration though, so chooses to have characters speak the exposition instead.

    • It’s very strange to me that they decided to just throw all these vignettes in in a row right after starting the actual plot. You’d think they’d also realize it would kill any sense of urgency or focus in the anime.

      • I would like to be able to say grumpy, cynical things about the SAO anime here, such as asserting that it was clearly made for an audience that had already read the LNs and wanted the same thing but animated. However the uncomfortable fact is that the anime worked (regardless of what I think of it); it’s is well liked by any number of people, including plenty who didn’t read the LNs (eg all of its quite numerous fans in the west). So either the material is so powerful that it resonates with the audience it found despite defects like its plotting, or the defects we see so clearly here aren’t seen by its enthusiastic audience.

        (Maybe if you really feel for Kirito from the start you’re happy to get more time with him and to see his life progress before the serious plot action starts. I don’t know.)

        • I think it’s just the kind of show its audience wanted. I wouldn’t equate that to the material being “fundamentally powerful” or anything – just fundamentally appealing to a certain demographic. As I said before, for many people, Kirito being loosely defined is a feature, not a bug. A lot of people evaluate characters in terms of “do their actions entertain me” or “would I want to be/hang out with this person,” not “do the pieces of this character add up to a compelling human being.”

  5. I’m pretty sure that this is when I dropped the series. I remember hoping that they would present some kind of challenge that Kirito couldn’t overcome, or introduce a meaningful antagonist, something like that. Basically what Brotherhood did to Ed. I ended up getting so bored that I finished the essay I was procrastinating on instead of watching an episode of anime.

    • Yeah, the show would probably have lost me at this point if I weren’t enjoying the writeups and talking about it with people. Bad writing + zero focus is not a good combination.

  6. “I like the base concept of this all revolving around things the players invest real significance in because they’ve had to accept this world as their reality, but as an observer, I’m just not invested in the same way.”

    I think this is something the story should’ve dwelt on a little more closely: it’s not just that you need in-game money or items to play the game. Rather, if you intend to make a meaningful contribution to the effort to clear–to return to the real world–you need those items and currency to be able to stand with the other progression players. Since the story didn’t dwell on this point, it’s kinda easy to feel like, oh, they’re just a guild having an internal discussion about stuff that doesn’t have any overall weight to it. I don’t feel that’s the case, but without the story reinforcing the point, it’s easy not to think about that aspect of it.

    It’s quite amazing how, despite Kirito having seen death first-hand in this game, Kawahara doesn’t capitalize on what would be a natural reaction from Kirito here: to react strongly and be emotionally invested in the outcome of this story. For what reason do Kirito and Asuna investigate? Because it’s simply too weird and unusual to ignore. This was a good opportunity to explore Kirito and Asuna’s differing viewpoints. Instead, the topics they discussed under the tree at the beginning of the episode fade into the background and don’t really connect to the rest of the story. Indeed, there could’ve been a lot of room to explore how seriously people treat the game, how real they consider it. A murder over an in-game item forces that issue to the fore, yet it goes largely unexplored.

    • Yeah, when Asuna initially brought up the “thanks for guarding me” thing I figured that would be an opening into how Kirito feels responsible for the other deaths we’ve seen. And as you say, the actual significance of money in this world could also tie into the issues of pride and willpower discussed in the third episode. This vignette formatting is squandering a whole lot of fertile material.

  7. For all that most people recognize that characters should be well fleshed out with flaws and Mary Sue/Gary Stu bad, etc., etc., I still have a strong preference for competence porn in my media. I like to watch people who are good at what they do, doing what they’re good at doing. I still enjoy a good Harry/Shinji/Naruto gets a backbone fanfiction every now and then, and I’m not even in those fandoms. (And I am also aware that such fic completely miss the point of the original canon, but that’s one of the purposes, and in some ways, advantages, of transformative works.)

    So yes, in my popcorn-enjoyment of SAO, I did like Kirito and Asuna because they were so overpowered. The part in the last episode where the PKers futilely attack was really entertaining to me.

    Then they nerfed Asuna. Although in hindsight, her best moments personality-wise, her little speech in ep 3 and at the beginning of this ep, were written long after the main plot, after Reki had the time to really fall in love with the character and learn her motivations. One of the reasons I got so irritated with the show was how in the back half of Aincrad her good traits disappeared as her affection for Kirito increased, but really, it’s her regressing to how Reki initially conceived of her as the obligatory love interest.
    As for Kirito, I was kind of giving him a pass in the early episodes, in the hopes that he would be developed later to make up for his Gary Stu-ness. As with my comment in the ep 3 review about RWBY, I expected that such traits would eventually be revealed as flaws later, but yeah lol no, they were just more reasons to everyone to want in his pants. Blarg. On top of that, his uber-competence began to break the show’s in-universe rules, so it wasn’t even true competence anymore, but plot armor.

    As for some of the rage against this show, I think it’s both a combination of hype backlash, as it’s pretty good as a gateway anime, so there were many proclaiming it THE BEST ANIME EVER, and some self-disappointment in hindsight. “Really? This was the Big Popularity Champion before Attack on Titan? Really?” Not that AOT is such a masterpiece, but like if The Dark Knight and Thor had received the same levels of acclaim. (I still can’t decide if Thor was better or worse than Green Lantern.)

    • Yeah, one of the strangest things about this show’s formatting is seeing the level of writing sort of bounce back and forth depending on the story or the time it was written. Three was quite solid, but is unsupported by the rest of the show. This one is bland, but at least understands what kind of story it is. The first couple both had serious amateur moments.

      I actually like shows that reveal a lot about their creators. I don’t think it’s a “value” in the same way good characterization is valuable, but it’s enjoyable as a viewer to get this kind of human transparency.

  8. 0:42: In the light novels this apparently leads to a real plot where Asuna is proven right over Kirito and taking the time to talk to the NPCs gives the team vital clues for tackling the boss encounter. In the anime? Dropped. The entire scene goes nowhere and exists purely to reintroduce us to Asuna, never mind that it leaves plot-bits all over the floor.

    1:30: Apparently literally yes, as in Asuna’s story was written up in the LNs (I believe at some length). It’s not in the anime, of course.

    The anime had already dropped a number of things from the LNs by this point; for example, apparently the first floor boss fight was actually relatively planned out instead of the slapdash way it was in the anime. But this is the point in the show where I started noticing that the seams really showed.

    I actually like the core plot of these two episodes a fair bit for reasons that are spoilers to discuss. Kirito and Asuna pretty much might as well be lumps, but the ideas involved were interesting.

    • 1:30: Apparently literally yes, as in Asuna’s story was written up in the LNs (I believe at some length). It’s not in the anime, of course.


      • It turns out that I’m wrong here. Asuna’s story (well, her version of the story) is apparently being written up in the Sword Art Online Progressive manga (according to the TVTropes SAO entry), but that only started publication a year after SAO aired.

        I’m not sure where I picked up the story about Asuna’s story being in the LNs (or if I simply basically misremembered and made it up). All my LN knowledge is indirect, picked up from what random people said about them while SAO was airing. I don’t even know myself if the LNs even say anything about what Asuna did between the first floor and now. I’d hope that they did and I have a memory that they do, but then I thought that they actually had Asuna’s story so who knows.

        • I’ve read most of the LNs, they hadn’t. I got one of the manga books because it came with a small Asuna figure, it’s actually the one covering episode 2, I think. Can’t read it though.

    • Wait, they decided to adapt a random murder mystery plot instead of an also-existing story that actually covered stuff going on at the front lines? DAMN YOU SAO.

      • To be fair to the anime, I suspect that the bit spinning out from the meeting may well have not been enough for a full episode; it could have just been a page or two of an aside or something in the original LNs.

        (The murder mystery is definitely a full story in the original LNs, as far as I can tell.)

  9. “4:07. I think it’s neither. It’s more of a coping mechanism– you can’t get away from here in any foreseeable future, you need some rest from time to time simply not to go nuts. Besides, Aincrad is actually a beautiful place.

    Also, laughed hard at you chewing out the crime procedural part. When I first watched it, I didn’t have any expectations about it at all (there are… well, better examples of writing a decent detective story) and focused more on Kirito/Asuna antics.

  10. Ah, yeah, the Murder Mystery episode. Let alone CSI, this is as tense as Scooby-Doo on a weak episode. Back then I remember I tried to guess what was going on. Of course I was wrong, due to the fact that, contrary to what every honest, well written murder story should do, this one does NOT give us all the details we need to solve the mystery ourselves. Let’s just say that this is the better episode of the two parter.

    • Oh boy, excited for part two, then. Though for the record, not all mysteries do that – plenty of them just design mysteries purely as magic tricks/spectacles, where the audience is just supposed to be dazzled by the detective. All of the Sherlock Holmes stories take that model.

      • I know, but I’d argue that, while decently written, the Sherlock Holmes stories aren’t very “honest” really XD.

        Seriously though, at least with a regular murder mystery you know how the laws of nature work (usually like in our world, while in Case Closed there’s the addition of fishing wire having a resistance tenfold the real thing and almost no friction against any surface). Here even that is not the case, as the MMORPG has its own rules, which we still don’t know entirely.

  11. First off, let me thank you the wonderful job you have done with this blog. I have discovered it today by chance (funnily enough your eva piece comes up as the first hit for ‘we have rebuilt and once more are great’) and spent majority of my evening happily submerged in your prose. It’s been most enjoyable.

    As for my arbitrary need to comment on SAO: The jabs in your write up really take me back to the time I watched it overnight in one go. The sheer amount of stupid and hilarious being thrown my way kept me predicting the next trope to occur all the way to the end. Exhalted by the cheap yet effective ride the show provided me with, and to no lesser extent by the nostalgia of the days of mmo past it evoked, I checked out source material.

    From my point of view the show’s biggest drag factor is its to the fault faithfulness to the source. BI am all for filling gaps in the original arc that contains almost as much timeskipping as the MC brooding but it’s does not work to just throw them in all vanilla and go with it. Integrate them, make references, perhaps make them leave impact and consider leaving out those that have none. But no, this way, when the plot decides to pick up, I am left wondering why the supposedly socially maladjusted MC spent first X episodes picking up token love interests like collectibles. Especially when there was some semi-decent brooding that gave a measure of insight into MC’s dark knight complex that got left out. Indulge in more world building, add some chemistry between the two leads or explore more of the interesting ways the familiar mmo mechanics/interactions translate into the setting – which was already done quite well.

    I guess all I was asking for is a more tightly presented, continuous narrative that would’t rely so much on its meta entertainment value to carry me through some of the more hideously boring content (oh god save us from fishing). None the less it gave me some of the most solid laughs any anime gave me, whether it was the intention or not. The wibe I get from your write ups tells me, that there are some good laughs to be had for you too… that is if you survive the fishing.

    Anyways thanks once again for the quality free entertainment and reminding me of the best times in the worst times I’ve had with this show. Cheers.

    • Glad you enjoy the work! Completely agreed on SAO’s issues, at least so far. Jumping from one central narrative to all these vignettes has just destroyed any sense of urgency or continuity – this adaptation needed to be far more bold and confident in its choices.

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