Sword Art Online – Episode 7

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!

Episode 7

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

Sword Art Online

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

0:30 – Gotta get her sword sharpened for the big date!

Sword Art Online

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

3:27 – Why wouldn’t you trust someone in a full-length black trenchcoat to be really good at a videogame

Sword Art Online

3:55 – Prepare to be elucidated! I love those little stats screens – another nice game detail

4:43 – DUDE. Kirito, supergenius

5:21 – Kirito: his weakness is being antisocial?

5:26 – Kirito is +7 versus The Ladies

6:08 – “Man, why do all the girls give me that weird look? I just don’t get it”

Sword Art Online

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

6:54 – Don’t worry Lizbeth, you’re not alone

6:58 – Goddamnit women stop falling in love with him he’s barely even a character

Sword Art Online

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

Sword Art Online

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

8:01 – Well, uh, that’s absurdly condescending

8:41 – Ermahgerd he’s so good at videogames


Sword Art Online

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

Sword Art Online

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

12:31 – Achievement Unlocked: Girl of the Week

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

Sword Art Online

13:57 – A nice deadpan gag


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


15:09 – Ahahahahaha

Sword Art Online

15:53 – Girl, you are in like fifth place on the harem totem pole. Good luck

17:02 – I wonder if a separate lovestruck girl handles each of Kirito’s crafting needs

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

Sword Art Online

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

And Done

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!

26 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 7

  1. Oh nooo. Not even a max-level blacksmith can reforge a broken heart

    Here, lemme fix that.

    I actually think the vignettes are better than the main story from an enjoyment perspective, even if it meant sacrificing continuity in the process. If anything is going to bring you further down about this show, it’s going to be episodes 8-12. Especially 12.

  2. Lizbeth is great but ultimately completely meaningless to the story. Even more so than Silica.

    Ugh. This show. (also Lizbeth should have been interested in Asuna, but thats a whole different story…)

    • Man, this episode would have been so much better without Kirito in it. The fact that everyone (including the show itself) has to love him just brings everything else down.

  3. Awwww yiss, just in time to distract me from my studies for finals! You know, I really think SAO is overrated – not even in a sense that I think it’s the worst thing ever, just that there is absolutely nothing justifiying the praise it has, except the appeal to gamers – but there are occasionally times where you can see the potential, and these times (at least early on in the show) usually involve every damn time Kirito is not on screen.

    I think the worst flaw of SAO is his main character. Just like Mahouka, and seemingly No Game, No Life, they are perfectly “awesome and badass” that they bore me to tears, if not make me shudder in disgust. The only flaw Kirito is supposed to have is that he is “antisocial”, yet he is an absolute ladies’ man and actually oozes some kind of charisma and subjugate every other player to his charm? Sorry, I don’t buy it.

    Also, I can’t wait until you see the incredible character development Asuna will have in the second half of the show

    • I agree – the further I get into this show, the more I realize how many of its problems stem from Kirito himself. It wouldn’t be a great show if he were a better character, but I doubt it’d get nearly as much scorn as it generally does.

      Granted, Kirito’s also a big part of why the show’s popular, but I never claimed my complaints would make for good business decisions.

    • SAO’s biggest problem (and this is saying a lot) is that the novels basically jumped to the end of the first arc without actually bothering to do any character development, so they ended up with him never seriously having to overcome any trials or anything to become badass. Though I do have to say this; Tatsuya is Mahouka is explicitly an attack on this concept. I’m not sure how well the adaptation is addressing this because I know the stuff they’re skipping over, but Tatsuya isn’t actually overpowered and he isn’t at all supposed to be a wish fulfillment character. I’m hesitant to explain why now because it’s hard to do explaining stuff the show hasn’t finished laying out yet, but everyone who thinks that Tatsuya is the same sort of character, assuming they aren’t throwing that aside in the anime, hasn’t figured out what the author is doing yet.

  4. Sounds to me like the vignette style only works well when your character is Ginko, because apathy is Ginko’s thing. Kirito, less so.
    Or when your character is Geralt of Rivia. Geralt>>Ginko, btw.
    The timeskips are too long. Simple as that, really; they just leave no room for good continuity. Asuna is the prime example of this. On paper Kirito and Asuna have known each other for months. In screentime its been too little time.

    21:38 doesn’t have to be bad writing. I’d like to see a world fall apart, because it’d be a hell of a sight. That’s why I liked Dark Souls so much. So… it kinda fits into Liz’s role, even if the morbidity of it is at odds with the rest of what we got, since this is more the main antagonist’s domain.

    Continuing the Dark Souls analogizing, I think the moral of the story is that when you want to make a Dark Souls anime, the main character should NOT be Ornstein. Maybe Solaire, maybe even Gwyn, Artorias, or Seath, but never Ornstein. Ornstein sucks. **** Ornstein.

    That leads me to another thing. SAO, the game, is an unimaginative one. It lacks the sheer size of Nirn, the interesting peoples of Thedas, the oppressive and single-minded focus of Lordran, or the visual ambitiousness and madness of Final Fantasy worlds.
    Every setting needs to keep reminding you of its distinctive aesthetic tics. SAO is technically a castle in the Sky, but unlike Castle in the Sky, it doesn’t keep reminding you of it.

    • Agreed about the world. SAO actually has a number of pretty shots, but they’re just kind of generically pretty – the world doesn’t really have much flavor to it. Outside of those nice floating island shots from the first episode, there’s nothing I’d really consider “distinctly Sword Art Online.”

      I think vignette style can actually work for all sorts of characters – Spike has a ton of personality in Bebop, for example, but the world doesn’t warp around him the way it does around Kirito. If your protagonist is actually going to be the centerpiece of your vignettes, they have to be damn compelling, and Kirito is anything but.

    • Geralt of Riv was a great characters. The Witcher short stories were really great. Though the main stories was a bit disappointing to me.

      About the actual SAO write up: the fact that those perfect characters are so popular (and power fantasies in general) is kinda sad. Haven’t seen the episode but your write up explained what was happening well so I still facepalmed while laughing at the love confession. It’s nice they addressed the rejection at the end though.

  5. I like how everyone was telling you that it would get better after the vignettes, and then once you reach the last one, the people with the opposite opinion show up to tell you you’ve already watched the best of it.

    Honestly for me personally this was one of my least favorite vignettes. Like you said it wasn’t anything terrible, but it wasn’t that good either. Also between your last episode and this episode I watched all of Log Horizon, which basically showed me all the great things you could do with a similar premise, that this show completely failed to do. I will say this show has way cooler fights, but that’s not a particularly important part of judging quality for me. There is one other thing that I feel SAO does better, but I will leave talking about that till you get further in.

    • Haha yeah. At this point, I can’t be biased about Sword Art Online because my commenters have presented every possible opinion about Sword Art Online already.

  6. 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.

    As I said in the Silica episodes, I like watching battle!super-competent Kirito. Just like it was nice that (at first) Log Horizon side-stepped shounen power-up filler by focussing on level-capped players, so we could move directly to more interesting things beyond getting the Macguffin.
    I enjoy watching curbstomp battles as evidence of elite competence, where the question isn’t “will they triumph” but “how.”

    However, good competence-porn shows either
    1) scale up the opponent to match our cast. As someone else put it, “if you give Frodo a lightsaber, you must give Sauron the Death Star.” Competence must be primarily tactical in nature, the “how” an actual question, and not simply about firepower. (A corollary would be rendering superior firepower irrelevant to the situation at hand, a la Superman’s “world of cardboard.”)
    2) more commonly, (because approach #1 can lead right back into shounen power-up trajectory) the battles in competence-porn shows are just salad on the side to the main course of character development. The bread and butter of drama shows is “He/She’s an expert [insert job here], but in contrast, his/her love/family/social life is a mess.”

    SAO fails because they set up Kirito as the guy who obsessively ensures that he’s levels above the area he’s working on, meaning that they cannot go with approach #1, but as you’ve pointed out again and again, Kirito’s supposed personality flaws are merely informed, so there’s nothing to work with there, either.
    Oh yeah, and at the end of this first half, they attempt to shoehorn in approach #1, so everything is contrived. Hooray!

    As you’ve also pointed out for this episode, some of that might be because SAO is written primarily from a stance defensive of gaming, but the author is too afraid that giving the self-insert character flaws will allow the usual naysayers to use that as a reason to dismiss gaming like before.

    • Yep, agree with pretty much all of this – and it’s kinda funny, because my Kill la Kill review for tomorrow is actually all about the ways you can establish stakes in action conflict, focusing on the two central ones you’ve pointed out here.

      It’s kind of a shame the show shoots itself in the foot when it comes to actually discussing the appeal and value of gaming worlds. If Kirito were flawed, this whole discussion would be a lot more interesting and sympathetic – as is, it comes off as defensive and lacking in self-awareness.

      • Now you have me imaging SAO as a romcom where Kirito is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy instead of a power fantasy, teaching all of the girls to smell the digital roses. .
        It would be at least more entertaining.

      • I think the SWE SAO Abridged parody is actually doing a way better job at this. It’s fundamentally satirical, of course, but it IS portraying Kirito as a broken, antisocial, unlikeable mess, and that makes him a lot more interesting than the original Mr. Perfect. More than anything, it’s not even about Kirito; it’s about people’s reactions to Kirito. The original Kirito IS a bit of an asshole, what’s annoying is that no one seems to notice.
        It all becomes much creepier, however, if you think about it as Kirito having maximized his Charisma stat and the NerveGear actually messing with the other players’ feelings in order to make them fall for him according to the game logic.

  7. I think it was right around here that my patience for the show flew out the window. I quite liked the first few episodes and wanted to like the show so bad, but once Lizbeth confessed her feelings after knowing Mr. Perfect for literally 10 minutes I gave up. I realized that the show was just trying to jerk off it’s video game playing audience and man… I’m just not into that.

    • I’ve just sort of been slowly shaking my head at the show for a while now. It’s kind of liberating to be doing this for the writeups, in a way – I accept it’s gonna make a lot of bad choices, so they don’t really disappoint me.

  8. @17:02
    Actually yes, his later gear was crafted by some cute female tailor who only accepts orders from people she likes. Or something along the lines, it was a couple of phrases somewhere in the LN.

  9. I liked this episode a bunch. When I revisit “moments” in the SAO series, this is an episode I come back to. Not just Kirito and the dragon, but the whole bit with Lisbette in the end. He clearly understands what’s going on, but he can’t commit. And yeah, it felt nice they didn’t completely brush it under the table after he couldn’t hear her in the wind.

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