You thought this would be some fancy concept writeup. BUT IT WAS ME, DIO!
Glad to be back covering this fairly silly show. Sorry it’s been a while – I’ve been busy with all sorts of crazy projects and essay stuff recently, so I haven’t had the time to sit down and Sword Art Online.
Last episode’s writeup kind of got utterly consumed by my silly high concept, so I didn’t write what I actually thought of it – well, in short, it wasn’t very good. The scenes developing some kind of rapport between Kirito and Asuna were solid and important – which is great, because I think that’s the only thing that will matter going forward. All the bits developing the actual world, on the other hand, just seemed largely invented at random – instead of fleshing out Sword Art Online’s solidity as a believable fantasy world, they actually made it seem even more like an arbitrary authorial construction.
Plus it just failed entirely as a mystery narrative. Mystery narratives generally fall into two categories – either they make you feel smart, by laying out all the clues if you’re careful enough to find them, or they make you feel the detective is smart, by not revealing all the information but letting the detective reveal it all in a way that makes him seem like a total wizard of deduction. Sherlock Holmes does this second route – you can never actually solve a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but the details they present that only he picked up on, and the way he puts together his theories, make him a compelling character to follow along with anyway.
We were given extremely little information here, so the only way this could have played out was Holmes-style – unfortunately, the actual “hidden information” all seemed like stuff these characters would obviously both know already, and thus made them come across less as impressive detectives and more as temporarily amnesiac gamers. And this, again, broke my suspension of disbelief – the more the narrative contorted to create “reveals” that seemed like things the characters would clearly always know, the more it felt more like a series of events being constructed by an author than a natural story.
And on top of all that, it also played shamelessly (and fortunately, for my writeup’s sake) into Kirito’s inherent super-awesomeness, making him even more cool and brave and intelligent and less interesting of a character. As someone noted in response to that writeup, the angle I was going for for his internal voice was perhaps too close to his actual theoretical internal voice to come across as parody. That is not a good thing.
Fortunately for Kirito, the Mahouka protagonist actually really does seem to be that Platonic Power Fantasy from which all other gamer power fantasies are derived, so Kirito actually looks pretty reasonable in comparison. And also fortunately for Kirito, this absurd detective arc is over. So let’s see what new adventures await!
0:02 – Alright, calendar time again. Looks like we’ve run through a month and a half since the end of our Junior Detective Adventures. Unfortunately, by the looks of this Thomas Kinkade pastoral shit, we sadly may not be back on the front lines
0:09 – This is the kind of thing CG works perfectly well for – symplistic mechanical stuff that you don’t want to animate in full motion. A good choice
0:24 – Yessss
0:25 – Noooo. God damn you, Sword Art Online!
Though I suppose it’s cheap of me to complain in this particular instance, since this is legitimate character development. Asuna’s learned to smell the digital roses
0:56 – Tsuns gotta tsun
1:10 – “Something important to you.” An interesting focus in this videogame world. Games are often escapism – they pass hours in a comfortable neutral, where experiences are safe and consequences are few. They can substitute for the pain and passion of truly investing in and caring about the world for a time, but they can’t replace it. And in this world, where the “game” elements are slowly giving way to the fact that this is basically just another reality, people ultimately have to acknowledge that the same rules of social interaction and need for companionship apply. If the world you escape to becomes your real world, you eventually have to realize that the needs you’re escaping from aren’t exclusive to the reality you’ve left – they’re something internal, something fundamentally human
2:52 – I do like the cute details of how game crafting works visually. Also, wait, now we’re following this girl? Goddamnit SAO
3:55 – Prepare to be elucidated! I love those little stats screens – another nice game detail
4:43 – DUDE. Kirito, supergenius
6:08 – “Man, why do all the girls give me that weird look? I just don’t get it”
6:19 – That’s the only name you gave her! Though I’m guessing this is actually in response to her lack of an honorific, which the subtitlers couldn’t be assed to translate in a way that makes sense
6:34 – Holy shit, they’re actually acknowledging girl armor makes no goddamn sense. Though I didn’t realize they could actually feel temperatures here
7:31 – This is likely my favorite refrain of the show – how they keep coming back to how beautiful this artificial world is when you stop to embrace it instead of powering through it. I think it plays off a few things in interesting ways – the general tendency to dismiss videogame worlds as simplistic escapism, the counterpoint of “people need legitimate, honest contact,” which the show seems to be arguing is perfectly possible in an imagined world, and even the power-gamer tendency to completely ignore the overt aesthetic of these gorgeous worlds, and instead quickly reduce them to a series of graphs and charts to be mastered and conquered. Sword Art Online doesn’t seem to represent the reality of gaming – it represents the idealized dream of it
7:37 – And here’s Buzzkillito ruining the mood. Kirito occupies an awkward spot in this narrative – he’s the fantasy a lot of people watch it for, but he also sometimes has to act as the mouthpiece for these other ideas. Both an actual core gamer and someone who can sometimes appreciate that casual sense of wonder
7:54 – So are we back to a Kirito consumed by guilt over letting other people die? Kind of hard to keep track of who he’s supposed to be
10:05 – Alright, we are seven episodes in and Kirito has done nothing but be flawlessly awesome and then occasionally get screwed over by other people being less than perfect. Did viewers not actually have a problem with this? I mean, I know he’s supposed to be the guy you cheer for, but… generally, you cheer for characters because they aren’t perfect. Because they have human flaws that make them relatable, and thus when they triumph, they’re triumphing over themselves. They’re proving we don’t have to be perfect to be great.
Kirito just is perfect, and so him beating up stuff that has no chance against him is both not relatable and also just kinda boring. There’s no tension, there’s no character arc. It’s just really bad writing
10:27 – Not a useful attitude, Liz
10:36 – Goddamnit Liz. Now the show’s doing the exact same thing it did with the dragon with the dialogue instead – the girl rambles uselessly while Kirito puts his superbrain to work. Bleh
11:06 – Heh
11:23 – And again, more smelling of the roses. Though it’s also again weird that she’s the one articulating this to Kirito, since he already set this attitude out two episodes ago
This scene’s actually fairly solid – it builds on my favorite version of Kirito and is a fine, natural response to this potentially deadly situation. It’s just the structure of the show has taught me to distrust this stuff – all these vignettes with various girls mean this isn’t an important moment, it’s just this week’s emotional moment with this week’s girl
12:32 – Bam – getting back to the first thought of this episode. If you accept this reality as honest, you can have honest human experiences within it
13:57 – A nice deadpan gag
14:29 – KIRITO, DRAGONRIDER
That’s about as classic of a Kirito moment as you can get – surfing on a dragon while carrying a girl like a burlap sack
14:48 – Gotta enjoy the moment. Dang, this episode’s really leaning on that theme
15:06 – Wait, REALLY?!? THIS FUCKING SHOW
15:09 – Ahahahahaha
15:53 – Girl, you are in like fifth place on the harem totem pole. Good luck
17:55 – Oh nooo. Not even a max-level blacksmith can reforge a broken heart 🙁
18:34 – :((((((((((
19:01 – Liz #1 bro
20:33 – Dang, I’m glad they’re actually having this conversation. Normally these shows just sort of pave over the hurt feelings with obliviousness. And if this is intentionally a subtle way to indicate Kirito’s growing relationship with Asuna, that’s great as well
20:56 – So… what, has he now finally moved past the death of whatserface that we forgot about for the last few episodes? Goddamnit, this vignette style does so much damage to storytelling…
21:38 – That’s… interesting. She was the one embracing the beauty of this world throughout this episode, so…
I swear, talking about bad writing is harder than talking about subtle, good writing. Stuff just happens and there’s no reason for it and then the ending tacks on a moral and then the story’s over. It’s infuriating
Well, that was an episode. Not a particularly great one, but not really bad, either – certainly better than the murder mystery arc, as well as episode four. I was happy to see us more directly engage with the questionably artificial nature of this world, even if the ending didn’t seem to directly follow from the events preceding it. Perhaps Kirito’s presence was supposed to be the important factor? With a real person beside you, it’s possible to appreciate the beauty of this artificial world? That seems like a stretch – Kirito was actually completely apathetic to the beauty of the world this time, in stark contrast to his behavior in episode five.
Well, either way, from what I’ve heard, we’ve now run through all the girl-saving vignettes of the first season, meaning the story can actually start now. I guess it’s time to find out what Sword Art Online is actually about!