Sword Art Online – Episode 8

Hello hello hello again! It’s been a while – I’ve been both on vacation and busy writing essays on shows I actually really like, because I’m apparently not just a cranky asshole who only talks about things that are terrible. Not that Sword Art Online is terrible, of course – I don’t think it’s very good, but it’s still enjoyable, and I definitely get the impression of creator passion from it. Considering we’ve apparently just emerged from the Enchanted Forest of Twenty Minute Love Interests, I guess it’s a fair time to take stock of what we’re dealing with here. So what’s Sword Art Online so far?

It’s okay, I guess. The vignette structure has absolute killed tension, pacing, and character development, but some of the individual stories are actually perfectly fine in their own right. The fantasy world is pretty generic and kinda loosely defined, but the game-evocative elements are pretty nicely integrated into the whole. It has an unfortunate penchant for melodrama, but that luckily only crops up every other episode or so – the first episode’s conclusion, the “Beater” speech, the manic ending to CSI Aincrad. The show’s biggest, most obvious, must unavoidable problem is Kirito – he’s inconsistent, barely a character, without weaknesses, and apparently in possession of a devastating animal magnetism that all the show’s women are powerless to resist. Watching him do things is boring because there’s no personality or tension there, and the way the rest of the characters treat him versus the way he’s presented to us regularly breaks immersion and reminds us this show is fundamentally a power fantasy.

That’s frustrating, but it’s also partially due to the vignette structure, and so I’m hoping a return to continuity will offer the chance for him to undergo some actual consistent development. According to my very helpful commenters, the sequence of episodes I just left was both the best and worst part of the show, and so is the sequence I’m entering, and so is every sequence, so I’m actually kinda feeling like I can enter this without too many preconceptions. So let’s get to the front lines!

Episode 8

0:08 – Oh wow, this shot’s awesome! Where did that come from?

Sword Art Online

Kinda makes me wish this show had gone more dynamic and otherworldly in general with its world design. As others have commented, outside of the overt gamey mechanics, Sword Art Online really just feels like “generic fantasy world” – the fact that it’s an invented reality doesn’t really hit home that hard because it’s an invented reality that we’re already extremely familiar with. Some of my favorite moments of the show are the times when it leans on the theme of embracing this reality as a legitimate platform for human experience, and I feel that theme would have been better served by a more distinctive world. Take your cues from stuff like Dark Souls, not stuff like Everquest

0:31 – Oh dang I wonder who’s gonna win this fight.

This is pretty much always gonna be a point of disagreement between how I think stories should work and the fantasies this show is specifically playing to, but goddamn if it isn’t really boring watching someone be totally invincible like this. Games don’t start you at level 100 for a reason – there’s no tension or excitement when the hero’s a god, and watching someone triumph is only gratifying if there’s a real chance they won’t

0:54 – Jeez, time flies. I’m liking the shots they’re using here – this definitely feels like a prologue to an actually important narrative, and not another vignette

Sword Art Online

1:05 – I remember him!

1:10 – This is actually an interesting question! More of this please!

1:31 – This week, on a very special Sword Art Online… we remember the plot

3:05 – Aw shit it’s romance o’clock. No time for the front lines now!

3:10 – Another nice environment

Sword Art Online

4:06 – The cheap answer is, “whoever it is, I bet they’ve got boobs,” but the show’s actually made “learning to cook” Asuna’s standard-bearer character trait that symbolizes her integration into this world. I’LL ALLOW IT

4:36 – 7/10 tsuns

4:54 – DON’T TAKE MY COOKING SO LIGHTLY. I actually also really like this. Asuna isn’t just “tough like the boys!” – she’s a character who has her own passions and strengths. A common way to write poor female characters is to just make tough dudes in sexy women’s bodies – but there are a million ways to be a strong person, and very few of them fit into traditional macho-man value systems

5:17 – Asuna’s knocking it out of the park this week. This is way better than the simplistic tsundere nonsense

Protip: if a list of your female protagonist’s desires begins and ends with “the male protagonist,” you have not written a character at all. Romance is great, but people are people before they are love interests. This is one of the central reasons why, fantasy-pandering aside, I basically can’t get into almost any anime romcom – the side characters are generally “single defining attribute” + “desires male protagonist.” What do these people think about politics? What do they think about music? Nothing – as they are written, they are only reflective of the desires the show is playing to, not reflective of human nature. I can’t relate to characters like that, and I also can’t relate to a main character who finds simplistic devices like that romantically desirable

Sword Art Online

5:41 – This guy’s still my favorite though

5:56 – 4.5/10 tsuns

6:14 – Echoes of how weird and arbitrary this societal structure is. Recently, Mahouka’s kind of dominated this discussion because of how up-front it is about its politics – it straight up believes in libertarian ideals of “everyone succeeding according to their own merits and efforts.” This is a fantasy for people who think the world is “unfair” because it lacks this system of evaluation – in a world like Mahouka or SAO, people can just run the numbers and see how talented you “really” are, and thus how successful you “deserve” to be.

This is nonsense for a few reasons, of course. First, it assumes everyone actually starts at the same starting line, which is so far from the truth that espousing any meritocratic system in our current world is beyond laughable. Second, it assumes that the protagonist/audience is put down because “the system is broken,” instead of them just not being the most special/talented. Fortunately, SAO at least admits that the system just incorporates elements of social mastery outside of a simplistic leveling paradigm. Finally, it assumes that a “the strong rise, the weak sink” system is actually something fundamentally valuable, which is certainly one opinion, but far from the only one.

Sword Art Online isn’t particularly invested in exploring this idea, but understanding the base appeal of this worldview is kinda necessary to make sense of some elements of the central fantasy.

Sword Art Online

6:30 – And this is how shows predicated on this fantasy tend to characterize the opposing perspective – as angry mobs that are just jealous of the protagonist’s “earned” mastery. It’s a strawman that basically invalidates the debate before it begins, but these shows are a fantasy playing to the crowd, not a political essay

6:59 – Pretty!

7:11 – This is interesting. Why would Kirito be poor? He’s one of the highest-level front liners, right? Shouldn’t he be swimming in cash relative to most of the players?

It feels like there are two interesting and one much less interesting possible explanations for this. On the interesting side, this could be indicative that in this world, you either can’t thrive alone, or that those who simply master the combat systems are mastering the “world” to a much lesser extent than those who embrace commerce and become merchants or whatnot. Both of these possible explanations would say interesting things about what this game really represents

The less interesting one is that he’s poor because that’s an easy, kinda meaningless weakness to have in a narrative sense

Sword Art Online

7:21 – This seems to play to the first explanation – freedom is a tradeoff


8:41 – Fortunately he happens to have an all-black casual suit as well. Goddamnit Kirito

8:53 – You’re going to turn the rarest meat in the world into a fucking stew?! Asuna, did someone powerlevel that cooking stat for you? Stews are not for S-level meat!

9:08 – I still find this show’s representation of crafting pretty adorable

10:02 – First of all, goddamnit Asuna I’m still mad you turned that meat into peasant-food. But more importantly, looks like we’re putting the capstone on “Asuna appreciating life in this world”

Sword Art Online

10:26 – This stuff is fascinating. Earlier episodes sort of framed this as “if you squint a bit, at its most beautiful moments, this world could be a home as well.” But at this point, you don’t even have to try anymore – after a while, people can become accustomed to and find meaning in anything

10:52 – This line, and various others like it (the third episode was big on this) play in weird ways with this show’s underlying politics. “It’s fair for some people to be stronger than others, because the strong people will take care of and show the way for the weaker ones.” Some kind of uncomfortable stuff there


12:17 – Look Kirito, I can’t explain it either. Maybe it’s the hair?

Sword Art Online

13:38 – I’d assume so! If he’s taking pointers from the real-world versions, actually manipulating this world wouldn’t be playing fair – people construct their own “real worlds,” and can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell

13:57 – Oh anime

14:04 – OH ANIME

14:10 – WOMP WOMP WOMP. Just in case you forgot this was a light novel adaptation

Sword Art Online

14:48 – I like Kirito’s unenthusiastic impression here. Much less impressed by the fact that we’re apparently about to follow up a boob joke with a battle for m’lady’s hand

Well, I guess Kirito was gonna have to earn that trenchcoat at some point…

15:12 – Wow, this guy. It’s a good thing there’s a big strong man like Kirito here!

…this episode’s going downhill real fast

15:46 – Isn’t she the vice-commander of the most powerful guild in the world? The lunacy of some random guy having to “protect” her aside, how did that happen if she folds the moment her subordinates act unreasonably, and has to be saved by Kirito?

This is kind of the opposite of Kirito’s problem – unlike him allegedly being a social misfit but actually being charming, here the show says Asuna is strong, but it’s actually portraying her as a weak character the protagonist then gets to protect

Sword Art Online

16:02 – A DUEL, YOU SAY?!

Once again, Kirito is easily this show’s biggest problem. This actually could be an interesting conflict, maybe, but instead it’s just a device to show how awesome Kirito is as he saves another helpless woman. We’re not going to resolve this through dialogue that actually reveals more about the guild structure, we’re not going to have Asuna demonstrate her own competency – we’re gonna have her hide behind Kirito as he defends her from the scary sword guy

17:17 – Holy shit, Kirito’s sword-dick cut right through that other dude’s sword-dick

And again, I have to ask – was that supposed to be exciting? They ran past each other, and apparently Kirito’s equipment was so much better that it just cut through the other dude’s sword. The end

Sword Art Online

17:48 – Welp, there she is. Wonderful. Let’s put this ridiculous scene behind us

18:05 – This is exactly how I’d have hoped the scene would end before, but we had to make time for an awesome Kirito moment. Man, just cut him out of the show!

19:20 – All of this would WORK if they didn’t actually make him AWESOME AT EVERYTHING. Seriously. Goddamnit. The difference in the philosophy between solo players and guild players, their ambivalent feelings towards the world – everything would be better if Kirito weren’t this stupid fucking hero-savior who everyone has to turn towards and worship a few times every episode. It is really, really frustrating to see what could be a fairly reasonable show so hamstrung by this ridiculous non-character

19:36 – 2/10 tsuns

21:15 – You know, those crystals that only work when it’s dramatically appropriate

Sword Art Online

22:05 – Oh no, a giant monster! The last thing we predicted

And Done

Well, that… that was Sword Art Online, I guess. I actually really enjoyed the first half of this episode… and then it dissolved into a puddle of its own power-fantasy terribleness. There are some potentially interesting ideas here, and the other characters are fine enough… but Kirito just drags everybody else down with him. Hell, even aside from his inconsistent articulation, nonsense magnetism, and boring in-world perfection, even his story isn’t interesting – I’d much rather hear about the give and take of guild politics in this world than have the Mysterious Loner always solve things all on his Mysterious Lonesome. Kirito, you are ruining this show.

Well, whatever. Next episode promises a big fight scene, and this show certainly has an animation budget, so that should be entertaining. A shame the main character is still going to be Kirito.

82 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 8

  1. Looking back at my entry on this episode, I was actually fairly positive on it. I actually bent over backwards to give the show the benefit of the doubt re: Asuna and the duel with Kuradeel.

    In hindsight, this was really the opening salvo of what the real problems with Asuna as a character are. And you will not believe what happens with this boss fight.

    • Well that’s not promising. I wonder if I’m slowly going to be adopting a “I only watch it for the action scenes” defensive stance here…

  2. 6:14 – Arbitrary World is Arbitrary and Unfair.

    You know, the reason it’s much easier to take it in here than in Mahouka is… well, it’s a video game. Having levels is an object you can actually refer to, it’s ontologically there. That’s how games work.

    Also, it’s arbitrary and unfair. The show actually doesn’t try to pass it off as how things “Should be”. Remember in Silica’s episode, where Kirito told the other dudes the world is unfair, and he’s going to haul their asses to jail 😛

    I think with Sachi (episode 3), when asked about the difference between the strong and the weak, he said it’s that the strong monopolize the good points, so the weaker players can’t catch up. On one hand, it’s self-deprecating. On another, it’s actually exactly how things work in real life. It’s also what happened after episode 1, which is covered in an LN side-story that wasn’t adapted, which we see as Kirito leaves Klein behind – he’s running to farm all the safe bits, and leaves the weak players to not only fend for themselves, but without the easy quests being available to them.

    That’s what he blames himself for in episode 2.

    Yes, when it comes to actual characterization, it’s very much “Woe is me! I am so strong that it’s killing my heart!” – But as a social message? It’s actually honest.

    7:11 Poorfag Kirito

    No real idea. I thought it’s because he spent all his money on his equipment, rather than “nice things”. The alternative is indeed, not being in a guild, he doesn’t get to reap the collective resources. I also didn’t think of it as an “Easy weakness”, I didn’t really think of it at all, honestly, just a random detail.


    The anime added a lot of fan-service. It’s actually interesting. In Mahouka, the fan-service is all there in the books, if anything, there’s more of it in the books. In SAO, most of it is anime-original. Makes you wonder if indeed, the Mahouka author learned to write from reading other LNs/watching anime.

    Duel, Asuna the weak, etc.

    Well, I don’t think you’re wrong here :17:17

    No, this wasn’t the exciting fight. I agree. It was sort of the Mahouka “shortest fight ever”, where Tatsuya wins against the 4th strongest person in school in about 2 seconds flat, just to show how strong he is. Here though, it’s sort of par the course. Asuna already pointed out Kirito is at least ten levels stronger than Kuradeel. In Mahouka, the fight was to show us how strong Tatsuya is.

    If anything, the fight here is even worse, in that it told you nothing of Kirito. Him winning was a foregone conclusion, as open knowledge, in-world. If this fight had any real meaning, it was to keep driving in how much of a zealot and how unreasonable Kuradeel is.

    Next Episode’s Fight Scene.

    Yes, Kirito is going to be uber-cool. But you know what? It’s going to get lovely art, and lovely music, and it’s going to be awesome. Definitely on the spectacle-front.

    • If anything, the fight here is even worse, in that it told you nothing of Kirito

      Thats not even the worst part. The worst part is what it told us of Asuna

    • The anime added a lot of fan-service. It’s actually interesting. In Mahouka, the fan-service is all there in the books, if anything, there’s more of it in the books. In SAO, most of it is anime-original. Makes you wonder if indeed, the Mahouka author learned to write from reading other LNs/watching anime.

      Huh, wasn’t that boob grab thing in the novels?

      • Baka Tsuki took the novels off, hard to confirm. There’s some, especially situational, as this case is, but not the “male gaze lingers endlessly on the girls.” There’s also some art fanservice in the novels, but again, most of it is anime-original, and mostly done by “gaze”.

        2nd season upcoming will be much clearer in this.

      • I believe it was, but I would have to take a read again to say for sure. But I’d say Guy is still right that quite a bit of the fan-service was added on the anime side. They also included many of the side stories from the 2nd and 8th novels (see previous episodes), which I personally believe was a detriment to the original story, which was (in my opinion) really more about the relationship (read: “love story”) between Kirito and Asuna and how the world of Aincrad shaped that relationship. The anime rather turned it into a quasi-harem, everyone-love-Kirito-because-he’s-super-awesome type story.

        Admittedly, Kirito was indeed written as a feel-good, good-at-everything-but-relationships character, but in the novels he’s not nearly as shallow as he is portrayed in the anime, and in fact, has regular and helpful insight into the inner workings of the world in which he resides. It helps that the novels are written from his perspective, so that the reader is basically in his head all the time. I’m sure it’s much harder to tell the same story from an outsider-looking-in perspective as an anime is wont to do.

        That said, the first novel has been translated to English by Yen-Press and is currently available on Amazon. The second novel, the one a bunch of the vignettes shown in the anime, is set to come out in August.

    • That bit about Mahouka’s fanservice being there in the books always cracks me up. The MC’s supposed to this stoic badass guy, but he constantly gets caught up in slavering descriptions of all the female characters. That author…

  3. Seriously. Goddamnit. The difference in the philosophy between solo players and guild players, their ambivalent feelings towards the world – everything would be better if Kirito weren’t this stupid fucking hero-savior who everyone has to turn towards and worship a few times every episode. It is really, really frustrating to see what could be a fairly reasonable show so hamstrung by this ridiculous non-character

    I actually liked the show but… you’re kind of right there. It would be much improved if Kirito was less of a power-trip. Though at the same time, I think want you want is probably beyond the author’s capabilities.

    By the way, have you seen Log Horizon?

    • Yep! I enjoyed Log Horizon, and think it’s a lot better than this show. It’s still not crazy-impressive or anything (it’s aesthetically pretty weak, the pacing is a problem, some arcs are much better than others), but it definitely digs into many more interesting elements of its premise than SAO has.

  4. Man, I am really loving your commentary on these episodes. Keep it up! They’re quite refreshing.

  5. I just started SAO yesterday and caught up to episode 7 and your post on it today. I thought “huh, I’d love if he posted more because I’ve been loving his write ups on this.” Lo and behold, a few hours later and this is released! Funny how that works.

    Anyways, the animation this episode was pretty subpar. The fights were just full of stills and very little animation. For a show lauded on its animation, the only good animation was during the first boss fight. Hopefully this upcoming boss fight is just as good.

    • The fighting also suffered from one of Titan’s big problems – it looks more like “fighting to pose” than “fighting to win.” But I suppose this all really is less about depicting good action than making sure the characters look “badass” while doing it.

  6. I think in order to understand the full context of the duel, you have to consider that it’s actually the first fight scene in the novel (other than grinding on lizardmen). This is the first time we see that Kirito is powerful, and without it his power would have been a violation of “show-not-tell” writing. That doesn’t make it a good scene, but it wasn’t pointless when it was written. I would blame the anime studio for not knowing how to rewrite things for an adaptation.

    Speaking of which, while you seemed to enjoy Asuna’s intervention because of what it does for her character, that scene always really annoyed me because it undermines immersion in the game setting. While stepping between two fighters makes sense in real life, what kind of game would allow intervention in an official “declared within game mechanics” duel? Maybe you’ve already given up on taking the world seriously as a game, but it’s something I’ve always thought was important. In this case though it’s a scene that the anime added. Again I would blame most of that on the animation studio. For the opposite reason I guess.

    • I don’t think she actually stopped to duel in a game mechanics sense. She just told him to stop the duel and he surrendered.

    • Wait, so is the opening of this episode actually just straight-up the beginning of the LN series? That’s pretty interesting.

      And yeah, at this point, I really just see this world as a fantasy world with occasional game-style elements. None of the combat really feels like a game in the way Log Horizon definitely does.

      • The first volume goes directly from episode 1 to this episode, so yeah, this episode is the actual start of the “plot”. Everything else before this was in volume 2 which was a collection of side stories.

      • To be more specific, the first scene with the lizard-man was the first chapter, while Episode 1 was Chapters 2 and 3, before jumping back to Kirito capturing the Ragout Rabbit in Chapter 5. (Chapter 4 was mostly a “Since then, this happened” summary)
        Like Anonymous said, most of what was in between was from Volume 2,except Episode 2, which is content the author wrote right before the anime started airing (and wasn’t actually published until later that year), and Episodes 5 & 6, which are from Volume 8..

  7. Hmm, the comment on 19:20 (on the screencap, not your commentary) actually made me think “Man Kirito is so Japanese” with his idea that he’s somehow a lesser person/player at least for not being a “team player”. I mean, I know in the US we value that as well but I feel like we also place way more respect on doing things on your own as well and that his attitude is just, very indicative of the source culture for this?

    Which I think just helps to support the claim of “Kirito’s problems aren’t real problems, they’re the kind of problems that the viewer wishes they had”

    • True, it’s definitely more relevant to a collectivist society than an individualist one. But Kirito doesn’t play by the rules!

  8. So… four things.

    I )6:30 is not just true of the gaming fantasy. Otherization, demonisation, and the underhanded rhetorical practices that follow from that are things people have been doing ever since they built fences.
    6:14 – Following the same argument, the real world also has a tendency to standardize merit in absolute, quantifiable units that are held to be representative of skill/merit/ability/strength. GPAs, grades, average earnings, the name on your degree, complexion, the company you keep, medals, all are things that have been used as equivalents of “levels”.

    II) Despite myself holding that SAO is ‘generically pretty’, there is one key moment coming up soon enough when the world looks utterly fantastic, so its not all that bad.
    What SAO is doing consistently and well, is ceiling-imagery, which is prevalent throughout the show’s urban environments. Its a nice translation of the gamer’s fear of reaching the maximum level and then getting bored with the game, as well as the human fear of running up against an insurmountable wall. The first is undercut by the fact that the number of skills in SAO are infinite.

    III) Oh God yes “11:15 – It doesn’t look like you’re close to any other girls” is going to be my wallpaper for the next century.

    IV) Considering what you said(the non-cynical explanations) about Kirito’s poverty, the bit at 10:52 about merchants isn’t particularly uncomfortable. The front liners have a monopoly over violence, but not over the best weapons, armor, houses, food, and potions.
    Its a weird economic structure to be sure. People here generate raw material by combat, so the front-liners are actually miners as well, but they need to pass their produce(raw loot) to other people for value-addition (unless they have the requisite skills as well, but they already mentioned that the game has a theoretically infinite number of skills and thus presumably no cap to value-addition, even though skills do get maxed out). So the merchants are, in theory, not inferior to the front-liners. The evidence of this is inconsistent, though, so odds are the merchant class is inferior in terms of stats/social status/value to the war effort/money.
    All this makes me think that SAO could easily have been a very balanced society, but the game design/writing makes it so that Kirito, and the class he lies in, look like the most righteous and badass.

    Also, when you hit episode fifteen, I’ll be joining you in an attempt to finish SAO. Maybe I could do episodic posts on them too. Or maybe not.

    • Your hypothesizing about the structure their economy takes here is interesting, and really makes me wish the show actually explored this stuff. You know I’m not a worldbuilding person, but I’m beginning to see why worldbuilding fans would get so annoyed by this show. There’s so much interesting stuff to explore here, and SAO takes the least interesting possible angle on it!

  9. I think this and the following are probably the two best episodes in the whole run of SAO, so enjoy them to the fullest. This is the show at its peak.

    On another note, someone said it above, but given your considerations about guild politics – you probably should give Log Horizon a try. The characters are quite boring – not Kirito-boring, but they’re single dimensional and rather stereotypical – and the comedy is cringeworthy and rather ineffectual, but there’s some wit in terms of world building and confronting themes like the way the players get used to a game becoming their lives, the politics and power balance of such a situation, and so on.

    • I actually did watch Log Horizon, and enjoyed it. It’s not amazing, but it certainly plays to the strengths of its setting, and has a fair share of interesting ideas.

  10. It’s a strawman that basically invalidates the debate before it begins

    It’s not a strawman. The argument addressed is made by real people in real life, and also by real people in MMOs. Envy is a thing. That doesn’t mean it is a strong argument, or that there aren’t stronger arguments to the same end that SAO fails to address, but so what? It’s unreasonable to demand every author with libertarian tendencies be Robert Nozick.

    • I’m not really trying to have a debate with the show here – I’m just pointing out how its choices play into its fantasy.

  11. And again, I have to ask – was that supposed to be exciting?

    Not exciting, satisfying. For people who like competence porn, it’s very satisfying and entertaining to watch people who are good at what they do, doing what they’re good at doing. Isn’t that the reason New York Yankees fair-weather fans exist?
    Excitement comes from a unique execution of craft , but that’s just a bonus.

    But like I said the last time, you have to accompany competence porn with other aspects, which Kirito does not have.

    That said, this duel was seriously dumb. Wouldn’t a basic stat-compare have revealed the outcome? Are we still at a point where asking people about their levels and stats is a social faux pas? It’s a fucking death game. You’d think making all information available to everyone would be in the people’s best interests, for survival purposes through collaboration. How doesn’t concealing levels and stats help anyone? Why are they still doing it? Didn’t anyone learn from the Diabel fiasco?
    Speaking of which, the Sachi episode gets so much more dumb when you consider the existence of insta-publishing, as with the newpaper and the beginner’s manual that the beta-players put together. Why didn’t the players start compiling an internal wiki, so that dumbass newbies don’t go into a dungeon without knowing that the one treasure chest in that one room is a trap, with monsters of this level? This episode even showed them mapping this dungeon, presumably so that they can share said map with the other players for future reference!

    The next run of episodes actually addresses some of the same issues Log Horizon’s initial arc examined, so it should be interesting to compare in retrospect.

    • For fuck’s sake, the Black Moon Cats were a PC research club, but evidently that doesn’t include being cautious with their lives and researching the dungeon full of things that could kill them.

      PC research club my ass.

      Even if the betas stopped putting out updates of their knowledge, you’d think someone on the next level down (non-beta front-liners) would have thought “Hey, let’s not be like those hoarding beta testers and share information!”

    • I think the implication was that no one had found that particular room before. Which doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Especially if everyone who’s the appropriate level for it gets caught in the trap and dies. Dead men tell no tales: it took Kirito being overpowered to survive it.

    • For me Sword Art Online has the feel of original World of Warcraft, before any expansions.

      In early WoW, there were some websites with information on quests and items but it wasn’t particularly extensive. High level players did keep a lot of information to themselves, especially about high level bosses and such.

      Besides, wikis are collaborative efforts, you need a shared, accessible platform for them to work. Not one a few people working together to publish a book.

      • Yeah, on RandomC they did talk about how SAO was written during an earlier era of MMOs, when the collaborative effort was actually more necessary to complete raids vs. soloing the game, but the community website/wiki infrastructure of the internet wasn’t present yet. Ah the good ol’ days of Geocities and Angelfire. So if we retroactively set SAO during that time period a la Harry Potter, then it makes more sense.

        In episode three it’s shown that there’s a group of players who do spend their time publishing a newspaper. In which case, it’s very logical to set up a system in which players turning in evaluations of completed quests to a group of players dedicated to putting together a referential database.

        As I said before, you’d think that the resentment against beta players hoarding this information would spur the others to do this, in order to make up for their disadvantage.

      • After 2 years, I doubt the beta thing is very important. Rather, you have a number of high level guilds that are clearing the content.

        Most the serious players who would actually think about distributing that information are probably already in these high level guilds. Undoubtedly they share this information internally, and may trade information between themselves and other high level guilds. I would say that are probably concentrating on clearing the game, rather than worrying about lower level guilds screwing around.

        • Maybe it’s just to show how much of a scumbag he is, but Kuradeel complains in this episode about Kirito being a beater. (Which is weird, considering Kirito set himself up as The Beater to absolve beta testers from discrimination, yet it’s implied here that Kuradeel didn’t know who Kirito was, but Kirito is also supposed to be somewhat famous, at least on the frontlines, as The Solo Frontliner, and gah this writing is so terrible.) But yes, even by ep 3 the schism for the “general public” was more between those on the “insular atmosphere” frontlines and those not.

          But as a non-gamer who occasionally dabbles, I’m paranoid about dying in games, so whenever I do play, I do my research and obsess over how to optimize my stats and set-up and such, so I do wonder why these non-high-level players who have an actual death to fear wouldn’t also want a resource to protect themselves. No matter how the hierarchy builds, if the highest level, beta or guild or frontliner or whatever, hoards the information, the next levels down still have an incentive to create their own database independently. It’s like how most software has an equivalent free open-source version online somewhere.

      • You’re no doubt spot-on in terms of player dynamics, but in terms of world, as a player of Warcraft games that came before the original WoW, I can’t see the similarity. WoW had a colossal, colossal, amount of backstory that you didn’t need to know, but played into the world at all times. I think the ‘Founding of Durotar’ campaign in WC3 TFT epitomises this.

        That, and the fact that I had been there to see Sylvannas, Muradin and Kael and so many others love, fight, betray, die, and worse makes WoW a different experience to me, and presumably other longtime Warcraft players. Its more Gundam Unicorn than SAO, if that communicates it well.

        …which is where the inevitable complaint that SAO is a bit lacking in the in-world backstory department crops up.

      • Maybe it’s just to show how much of a scumbag he is, but Kuradeel complains in this episode about Kirito being a beater.

        He needed some excuse to get his precious Asuna from Kirito. That’s all it was.

        Which is weird, considering Kirito set himself up as The Beater to absolve beta testers from discrimination, yet it’s implied here that Kuradeel didn’t know who Kirito was, but Kirito is also supposed to be somewhat famous, at least on the frontlines, as The Solo Frontliner, and gah this writing is so terrible

        I doubt Kirito is the only one that ended up being labelled as a beater.

        Kuradeel not knowing who Kirito isn’t that unusual. Kirito isn’t quite so awesome that every single person in the game knows about him.

        But as a non-gamer who occasionally dabbles, I’m paranoid about dying in games, so whenever I do play, I do my research and obsess over how to optimize my stats and set-up and such, so I do wonder why these non-high-level players who have an actual death to fear wouldn’t also want a resource to protect themselves. No matter how the hierarchy builds, if the highest level, beta or guild or frontliner or whatever, hoards the information, the next levels down still have an incentive to create their own database independently. It’s like how most software has an equivalent free open-source version online somewhere.

        1. You are assuming there are some way of making a wiki. That probably isn’t the case since they don’t have access to the internet. Any information would have to be written into a book. Writing a book and adding something to a wiki are two very different things.
        2. There are hundreds, if not thousands of quests. There are only 10,000 players. There were millions of people playing World of Warcraft, and even after 2 years the information online available wasn’t that comprehensive.
        3. The type of players who contribute to MMORPG wikis aren’t “casuals”.
        • The beater thing is also weird in general. I really don’t understand how Kirito ever thought that was a good idea to begin with.
          At any rate, it all just makes this duel situation look that much dumber because they didn’t just do a level/equipment stat compare so that Kuradeel didn’t lose a weapon he had to spend time/money on. The duel function seems like it should only be used if both participants are equal in stats enough to where the skill in skill-use is the deciding factor, not when one guy is 10 levels above the other and has the strongest monster-drop sword. (And how did they know that, anyways? Strongest known monster-drop sword of the floors cleared so far? WHERE IS THIS DATABASE)

          A. Bobduh interpreted the beginner’s manual in episode 2 as “All information is immediately made universal,” and it somewhat makes sense. If the books had to be made from raw materials, I doubt any of the players would have had the crafting skill at that point, or how they spent the time harvesting the raw materials to make enough books for everyone to get a copy (“Everyone had access to this information”) if the beta players were supposedly skipping off to camp on the best quests and spawn points. Episode 3 had the newspaper, which REALLY wouldn’t make sense if creation was craft-skill and item distribution had to reach players scattered across so many floors.
          The newspaper could be a SAO-generated thing, but the beginner’s manual definitely was not, so I’m leaning towards a capability for players to share information fairly easily.
          B. I’ll have to check the episode again, but there was an implication that Kirito knew what was up. Maybe it was just Kirito being genre-savvy, in which case then yes, can’t blame the Black Moon Cats so much.
          C. It’s a death game. There are no casuals because the stakes are inherently so high. They have a real incentive to set up a system where after completing a quest, players go to some location to submit any useful information they gained (maps, tips, monster stats) that could help save someone else’s life in the future. My impression is that in most “Large group of people get isolated in some place together” situations, the loners scamper off to do their own thing, but the rest will tend to try to organize and set up systems of survival.

      • You’re no doubt spot-on in terms of player dynamics, but in terms of world, as a player of Warcraft games that came before the original WoW, I can’t see the similarity.

        I was 100% talking about player dynamics.

        …which is where the inevitable complaint that SAO is a bit lacking in the in-world backstory department crops up.

        Well the “world” was never the focus of the story. Or rather the “world” in Sword Art Online is the “real world” and not Aincrad.

      • Yes, Kuradeel dueling Kirito was stupid. Very stupid. And Kirito was probably much more than 10 levels higher than him. If I remember correctly, Kirito was level 94 and the highest level player was level 96. Asuna was level 92 or something.

        I imagine the comment about the “strongest known monster-drop” was based on the information shared between the high level guilds. Or hyperbole.

        a) I don’t mean to say writing was craft restricted. It’s just that someone would have to literally write all that information into a book. When created it probably works like a real books. Without hyperlinks or anything. So the book would be huge and it would be impossible to find any information on it.

        And you don’t really seem to understand the scale of the matter. http://www.wowwiki.com/ apparently has 100,685 pages on it. That’s 10 times the number of players in Sword Art Online. Of course, World of Warcraft is undoubtedly much bigger but… even if it’s 10 times bigger… that’s still 10,000 pages.

        b) Kirito knew what the deal with the trap was. This is because he ran into it before.

        c) There are plenty of casuals in the game. The Black Moon Cats for example. Or all those old people fishing in the later episodes. I think it was mentioned that at this point in the game, there were only a few hundred people actually seriously trying to beat the game.

        • Gonna go backwards this time:
          C. The casuals situation two years down the line is to be expected, but in the early stages, including episode three, there would be a lot more people doing combat just to access the other floors. At that time, there would be so much more of a need for information to be available to non-gamers, even casuals, and especially casual combatants like the Black Moon Cats. How did the fisherman learn about the lake? Is some amount of low-level combat required to go there? (What floor is that lake on, again?) And he learned about how to build his skills somehow, much less picking that particular lake to hone them.
          B. If Kirito had donated his knowledge to a public database, then he could have even spoken up about the trap room without revealing his level by pretending he read about it. TRAGEDY AVERTED.
          A. Again, assuming that the newspaper is player-generated, then there are players devoted to chronicling the events of the game. Why not include tips, tricks, and things to watch out for in the dungeon of the week or something? Even an informal database is better than none at all. Yes, as your WoW wiki example shows, such a database would never be enough, especially if the frontliners aren’t contributing, but it’s not about completion, but safety. Every little bit helps, and casuals would probably stick to just the well-known quests, anyways.
          Seriously, though, even if other casuals were carefree enough not to want information beforehand, you’d think Sachi, who belonged in a research club and feared for her life, would do the logical thing that those two traits would lead to: research to protect her life.

      • C.
        – In the early stages of the game nobody knew anything about anything. Also, a few thousand people died.
        – The lake is level 20~ or something
        – I assume that you can easily level but by grinding mobs in groups, 5 to 10 levels below you, while avoiding dungeons. It’s just very slow.

        – Lets say they was an informal weekly newsletter which publishes a section on tips and stuff. And they that they published information on trap rooms, in that newsletter. Lets say it was… 1 year, 3 months, 3 days ago. Still dead~
        – Sachi didn’t want to fight in the first place, she was just pressured into it by her friends. She also wasn’t really the type of person to do research. And she wouldn’t have needed to if Kirito hadn’t came along and gave them confidence to do high level areas and dungeons anyway.

    • I can actually get the appeal of that, and enjoy it myself in some situations. Like Code Geass, where it’s more “what will Lelouch think of next” than “will Lelouch succeed,” or Cowboy Bebop, where Spike’s pretty much always gonna win a hand-to-hand fight, but goddamn if he won’t look stylish while doing it. But isn’t this just bad competence porn? “What will Kirito do? Oh, he’ll slash the dude with his sword and then pose and it’ll be over.” That’s not very compelling competence porn!

      …and yeah, after the CSI Aincrad fiasco, I try not to question whether SAO’s universe in one episode makes sense with its universe in any others. Fortunately I’m not really the type to naturally care about such things, but I’m sure there are plenty of reasons to be tearing your hair out on that front.

      • There is still some satisfaction to be gained from basic curbstomps, sometimes, when the audience is explicitly in it for the power fantasy. I think of how popular “Harry/Naruto/Shinji/Nadeko gets a backbone” fanfictions are, and the shorter ones tend to skip straight to the suddenly super awesome protagonist making their Why-you-suck speeches to the author’s bashing targets, before overpowering them in a very straightforward way, like it was portrayed in this episode.
        It’s dialogue counterpart is spouting that one-liner so perfect that the other is rendered speechless, instead of the protagonist having to deal with any counterarguments, strawman or otherwise. No one is real life ever does that, because they’re always formulating their next response and determined to get the last word instead of listening to the other, but the power fantasy audience dreams of that situation nonetheless.

        Especially for when the audience is identifying with Kirito so closely, and when the opposition is “characterized” so clearly as deserving of disdain, it is enough for the dick-measuring affirmation to be that simple to elicit satisfaction. (“Yep, still got it. Heh, sure showed that asshole who’s on top.”)

      • Yeah but those kind of fanfics are rewarding BECAUSE Harry/Naruto/Shinji are frustratingly lacking a backbone on a regular basis – to the point it becomes a joke. Character wise, they are frustrating because they DO have access to possibilities, but they never take advantage of them – for example how both Harry and Naruto don’t grow beyond their three/four favourite spells/techniques instead of trying to learn as much as possible from the incredibly rich world around them. That’s what makes it frustrating, and in both Naruto and Harry it’s an actual writing flaw/laziness that causes it (in Shinji’s case, of course, him being so frustrating to watch is entirely deliberate). So those fanfics answer a wish to subvert that flawed canon in the most straightforward way possible. But Kirito has no canon to subvert – except that of other similar heroes, if anything. So that’s what makes watching him do this less compelling.

        Ironically, the writer himself seems to have learned the lesson, as Accel World, that he wrote later, has a protagonist who falls on the OTHER side of the spectrum – he’s extremely self-deprecating and so generally unlikeable (even from a physical point of view) that many viewers were turned off by him alone. He also falls prey to the “becomes weaker/whinier as plot demands” trap during the final arc of the anime. But he’s in general way more relatable than Kirito because he REALLY looks like he’s inept at anything outside of videogames, he doesn’t just say so (though he still has Kirito’s mysterious animal magnetism when it comes to girls. On the other hand, however, he’s seemingly too goofy to capitalize on it).

        • Very true. I knew there was a reason I keep reading them for fandoms I’m not even in!
          There’s still an element of power fantasy to it, in that all of the aforementioned characters has some thematic/authorial purpose in being so flawed, usually so that they can properly serve as “the everyman” character. But since the common audience for such genres is not the everyman type, the likes of Harry, Naruto, and Eren get hated on. Then the writers project their power fantasy ideals onto those characters and see what the repercussions are.
          A lot of LN culture seems like the authors are simply skipping the fanfiction step. Frustrated with the “pansy” protagonists they were seeing, they decided to publish their own stories with their ideal protagonist instead, rather than writing a fix-fic. As you said, it doesn’t make Kirito any more compelling because we don’t get the satisfaction of the turnaround, but there is still the satisfaction of Kirito not being Shinji, I guess? Like how people jump at any chance to praise a harem lead that isn’t completely pathetic.

      • I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on in these LN writers’ heads too (admittedly, considering how many LNs start as internet stories, they really are little more than glorified “original” fanfic). The problem is that in the end it doesn’t work if you don’t have the comparison – namely, the aforementioned whiny protagonists. Of course they don’t have to be part of the same franchise – you can have one work answer, by parody/subversion, the tropes of a different one. But the funny thing here is that this kind of characters are taking over. Naruto and Bleach are in their death throats, and there’s no more “big shonen” emerging to replace them. After the manly men, burly protagonists (Guts, Kenshiro, Jojo) we had an era of more vulnerable shonen heroes (Naruto, Ichigo, Edward Elric); now that trope is becoming a dead horse and it’s being countered both by a nostalgic return to ironic appreciation for those old manly heroes (the Jojo remake) and by these perfect alpha males competence porn heroes (Kirito, the guy from Mahouka). The problem is, this is just another case of anime becoming so meta it hurts. Anime isn’t any more about either imitation of life or telling stories that are set in a fantastic world but ultimately have a meaning related to real life; most anime is in fact about subverting, parodying, referencing, or otherwise playing straight/twisting existing anime clichés.

  12. 10:52-To be perfectly honest, I think you took the most negative possible interpretation of that phrase possible. I know you are coming at this from a power fantasy perspective (and probably still have Mahouka on your mind since the internet can’t just leave a dead horse lie), but that particular line never did and still does not ring to me of the politics you’re saying it does.

    SAO is a pretty innocent show, boob grabs aside, and that line reads to me as much more of a: “People are working hard so we can do our best, so we owe it to them to actually do our best.” I find it to be a much purer sort of statement, one that is humble, not proud. I mean, that translation says “Or else we can’t face them.” That’s not a justification for being stronger; that’s recognition that their ability to be strong relies at least partially on someone else. It’s teamwork, basically.

    • I completely agree. It’s actually offering an alternative to a “the strong are entitled to the best” attitude, which is a theme in this run of episodes. (and in Log Horizon) Instead, the strong are charged with using their strength to protect the weak, which is a vastly preferable situation.

      Yes, in real-world political implications, it’s very easy to twist this into condescension and colonialism, but that’s out of context from the situation in SAO, where everyone in the game is working towards a single goal: clearing the game.

      Even in the abstract sense of real-world application, the statement does make sense. Specialization into suppliers, craftsmen, and protectors is how societies commonly develop.

      SAO’s power politics are generally benign, but it’s just Kirito’s power fantasy nature that brings in the uncomfortable subtext. Man, that guy really does ruin everything. When you ignore that aspect, it’s not so different from the Level 90s, especially Shiroe’s, manipulations in Log Horizon. (Then again, LH does cast Shiroe as a magnificent bastard, so they at least recognize that his methods are dubious, albeit justifying it with his good intentions)

    • Yeah, I agree. It was kind of an acknowledgement of all the support from the non-combatant players. Typical Japanese work ethics, in fact – collectivist, not individualistic.

  13. SAO has this tendency to strawman anything that’s not Kirito’s decisions and viewpoints. In fact, I think you’re gonna see an example each episode. Out of all the things I didn’t like about SAO, that was the thing which stood out the most.

    I shall also wait eagerly for how you receive Asuna’s development over the next six episodes. And then the next eleven episodes after that.

  14. @7:11

    He’s not exactly poor, there was a line in the novel that he’s got quite the cash, it’s just he doesn’t know how or where to spend it. Besides, see Episode 12.

  15. @8:53. Quite the contrary, it’s rather logical. Top quality ingredients really make these simple dishes shine. As far as my cooking expirience goes (not exactly restaurant chef level but still), less quality ingreadients require a lot more work.

  16. This is actually the episode that the very first book starts on, heh… So yeah, the plot from 7 episodes is here, considering most of the other episodes were meant to be something akin to filler, where the author just went back and tried to sort of fill in the 2 year timeskip.

    “Why would Kirito be poor?” – This IS pretty weird. He’s apparently poor by the standards of clearers and such, for one reason or another. He claims in the first book it’s because he always blows money on buying swords he likes, but apparently doesn’t use them. I have to assume it’s to put them on display in his house or something, but the anime never shows how his home looks.

    • I really wish the show had included the explanation that Kirito can’t help wasting his money on swords that look cool, because that actually makes me like him a lot more. Kirito being a terrible window shopper is a lot more endearing than a more standard explanation.

      • From the novel:
        “H-how much did all of this cost?” I asked bluntly.
        “Hmm, about four M for the room and furnishings together, I think? Sit whereever you like; I’m just going to change.” She disappeared through the door on the other side of the living room. The letter M was shorthand for million, just like K for thousand. I spent my days adventuring on the front line, so I’d probably earned that much in total during my time in SAO, but with my penchant for spending money on whatever swords and equipment cause my eye, there was no way I’d save up a lump sum like that.

  17. There’s no more characterization after this point. In fact, I think the thing you identified as “good characterization” actually isn’t characterization at all. They’re just plot devices designed to force the ‘characters’ into these situations. I’ll post the rest of my thought after you finish the show.

    If you finish the show.

    • Eh, I think the show pretty naturally led to the first half’s events, which is apparently a tribute to the adaptation work, since this episode is where the light novels started. Not terribly excited to hear this is where the characterization ride stops, though…

      • I think you misunderstand that the light novels “start at this point.” I’ve read the light novel myself; what that statement entails is that the first volume is introduced with the lizard scene, not that the novel begins at this episode and moves forwards from here. Everything that happened in the previous episodes are part of the light novel, just shifted one chapter ahead by the lizard fight.

      • My previous comment was somewhat incorrect. To elaborate, Volume 1 starts with the lizard fight, covers the first episode, then skips back to episode 8 and moves on from there. Volume 2 contains the episodes prior to episode 8, which is really wierd. So Volume 2 and Volume 1 are essentially swapped, past the introduction. Volume 2 is entitled “SAO Side Stories” if that helps you understand.

  18. Yeah, Kirito is certainly one of the biggest problems of the first arc of Sword Art Online. I can think of four distinct SAO characters off of the top of my head that would be better protagonists than Kirito. Kirito is such a typical male power fantasy character that anything involving him loses several magnitudes of tension. It’s a shame, especially with how much neat world-building is in the first arc of the series.

    That said, Kirito being a typical male power fantasy character among a far more interesting world is still leaps and bounds above that trainwreck of a second arc. I truly feel sorry that you’ll have to watch that second arc, Bobduh.

    • Comments about the second half are now transitioning from “I can’t wait till you get there” to “I’m sorry you’re going to have to go through this.” Oh god.

      • The second arc, covering volumes 3 and 4 takes up the last third of the season. And it does drag on too much. That’s what they are referring to.

        The remain episodes of this arc are quite fun though.

  19. I don’t actually remember the second half of SAO that well. There’s probably some joke to be made about how I repressed a traumatic memory, but really I think it was because a lot of what happens isn’t relevant to what the big conflict actually is, or maybe I just missed it. I’ll be interested to see what you think of it, and to jog my memory.

    I do remember episode 24 though…I just wish I didn’t.

    • I may do a speed-run of the second half or something, with posts in three-episode groups. SAO S2 is catching up to me!

  20. Ah, if only Asuna’s passion for cooking were just a sign of a complex and interesting person, and not the tip of the iceberg of feminine, submissive qualities that make her ideal waifu material. But you’ll find out about that soon enough~

    • “feminine, submissive qualities that make her ideal waifu material.”
      Yeah, that pretty much described the intent. The author then went back and tried to make it some form of retroactive character development, but… It still shows.

    • Personally I think that people don’t give Asuna’s character enough credit.

      She is good looking, likes cooking, is scared of ghosts and has problems dealing with overly assertive males. Sure okay but so what? Plenty of women are like that. That doesn’t make her a weak or bad character.

      You’ll see in the following episodes but… the relationship between Kirito and Asuna isn’t something as simple as hero and damsel in distress. Both of them depend on each other and both of them save each other.

      • No, it’s just forced.

        Really, really forced. Kirito isn’t even a legitimate character and they don’t ever “save each other”. They’re just put into stupid situations that grow increasingly bullshit.

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