Sword Art Online – Episode 9

Oh shit, another Sword Art Online post only a week after the last episode? Don’t worry, what I’ve given up in tardiness I’ll make up for in laziness. I actually do want to finish this damn series before the second season comes out, and at this rate, that is very much not happening. So let’s burn some episodes down! Time to fight a giant monster wooooo!

Episode 9

0:27 – Our first nice game detail of the day. I can vividly remember sitting in massive boss chambers, staring at the half dozen ogres waiting patiently for us to go over attack patterns and target rotations

Sword Art Online

0:50 – Brilliant reconnaissance work, everyone

3:06 – Kirito on defense? Preposterous

It’s a shame that the internet has already given away what this “big reveal” is going to be, because I bet I’d have enjoyed experiencing it firsthand

3:27 – These two have some good moments together. When the plot doesn’t demand heroism, they can actually banter as equals


4:13 – Inventing her own spices – another great game detail. It’s nice to have a crafting mechanic complex enough to actually encourage creativity within the system. If this were an actual MMO, stuff like this would probably be made irrelevant by millions of players sharing and optimizing all their information – but in a world of 10,000, you can actually be an individual

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5:15 – Hey, it’s Klein! We like Klein! I didn’t even have to look his name up!

5:36 – Seems odd they wouldn’t know each other, given there’s only a few hundred front-liners and they’ve been here for over two years. Eh, whatever

5:56 – The funny thing is, in an MMO-based show, this is actually not that surprising

7:02 – Holy shit. Are we… –sniff- …are we finally going to get to see action on the front lines?!?

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7:56 – This guy… actually seems completely reasonable. I mean, he’s being a dick about it, but clearly they should share information in order to free people as quickly as possible

8:19 – The tone of this whole conversation is just kinda funny to me. These sinister weaker players, demanding we give them valuable communal information before we feel like it!

8:47 – Reaaaaally? Man, this is some real arbitrary drama we’re setting up here. Invent a character to carry the idiot ball so Kirito has to go save them instead of taking the smart route

Well, whatever. We’ll get an action scene either way

9:04 – Agreed, Asuna. That’d just be bad writing

Sword Art Online


10:45 – So does Kirito have an anti-teleport-crystal field or something? Because he is quite familiar with how useless these goddamn teleport crystals are

Fucking teleport crystals. How do they work

10:55 – Good plan, guy. A+ work

11:13 – Holy shit character developmeeeeent. Six episodes divorced from the episode that prompted it, granted, but beaters can’t be choosers

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12:24 – Oh man, it’s Asuna who makes the charge? That’s… actually kind of odd, considering this was a relevant character beat for Kirito

12:37 – You know, for a show that mainly gets praised for looking good, this show sure gets away with a lot of non-animation in its fights. Normally that’s not something I’d actually complain about, but that’s kind of all we’ve got going on here

13:10 – Okay, that was a nice little bit. Very brief, but nicely directed. But I mean yeah, compare this to, say, Yozakura Quartet, and this starts to feel kinda unsatisfying

13:17 – Yes, shout! What he needs now is moral support!

13:28 – This show is pretty dumb you guys

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14:32 – Ahahahaha yesssssss. It’s moments like this that make me wish I were this show’s target audience, cause goddamn that must have felt cool

14:39 – YES KIRITO. BELIEVE IN YOUR SWORDS. Ahaha, I love how I was eager to see how the character beat from six episodes ago changed him as a person, and it turns out his new personal resolution is I WILL USE TWO SWORDS

14:44 – If the show stays like this, I will seriously like it so much more. This is JoJo territory – if you’re gonna be earnest and ridiculous, go for the gusto

15:03 – Ah, they were saving all that animation for this. Though this is kind of a mess, unfortunately – there’s a “lot” of animation, but it’s kind of a clusterfuck choreography-wise

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15:09 – Yeah, Exhibit A. Just kinda “thousand punch beam spam.” Compare this to how you could follow the action in that Yozakura clip, or this Space Dandy one

15:22 – Nice

15:42 – CONGRATULATIONS!! Nice work, buddy

16:08 – There are a lot of problems I can attribute to the source material, but this is just a straight-up failure of the adaptation. You can’t drop the significance of this character to Kirito’s emotional development for half a season and then just suddenly bring it up again

16:30 – He’s even the best at falling unconscious

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17:36 – Really

No no, don’t mind me

19:59 – So I guess Asuna’s “learning to appreciate the small things” character arc kinda morphed into “learning to value time with Kirito, because any of them could die at any time.” That’s actually a fairly reasonable transition!

21:25 – Oh wonderful. My favorite plot point

21:43 – REAAAALLY? Goddamn this show can be bad. Here’s another plan: Asuna says, “It’s my decision to take a leave of absence, and you can’t really stop me,” and that’s that. Given she’s the vice-commander, you’d think that’d be a bit more reasonable than “I’ll let my magical boyfriend save me from this cruel bureaucracy”

Sword Art Online

“Lol girls having agency” aside, this is also just another very fabricated conflict. With both this situation and the guild’s actions earlier, the conflict didn’t emerge naturally from the events of the plot – it required other characters to jump in and act totally unreasonably. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a great shorthand explanation for how this works – one beat should actually imply the next, you shouldn’t have to artificially inject characters acting really stupidly to create conflict in your narrative

And Done

Welp, that was another episode of Sword Art Online. In spite of my tone here, I’m actually quite happy to have stuff, well, sort of happening? Even if our protagonists are actually just fighting for the right to two-man party.

I sure am looking forward to next episode’s fight for Asuna’s honor, though. Boy howdy.

30 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 9

  1. This brings to mind a curiosity I’ve had for some time: is that ambiguous sort of statement “We need to try… That Plan” “What? That Plan?! But it’s never been tested before!” actually any more elegant in Japanese or is it just lame all round? I suspect the latter seeing as, if I remember correctly, Excel Saga had a character literally named That Man

    • Considering how often it actually comes up in non-Japanese shows and films, I think it’s just an all-around piece of bad-writing shorthand. Get excited, audiences! You’re going to love whatever the characters are cryptically describing!

      • Since I mentioned Leverage below, (Leverage being a con/heist show) the writers have also mentioned that a neat way to turn exposition into interesting plot is to simply give the plan a name.
        “Let’s run the Cherry Pie con!” Then you run the explanation of the con simultaneously or through the execution of it, or you can withhold some information for a dramatic reveal later to explain how they did it, and the audience will be more amiable to a long-term sequence of events coming together. “Oooh, so that’s the Cherry Pie con. Cool,” instead of “Um, characters are doing things. Why?”

        Can’t speak for That Man trope. Except that every utterance should be followed by ominous flamenco guitar strums.

    • I think that the problem with “that person/that man” is that in Japanese you can get away with avoiding mentioning the sex of a person more easily than in English. So many times stuff like “ano hito” becomes “that person” because well, “that guy” kinda implies maleness (which is not implied by hito). Then again my Japanese is quite rickity, so this is only a guess.

  2. ““I’ll let my magical boyfriend save me from this cruel bureaucracy”” And NOW I get that tweet from the other day, I feel silly for not guessing it was related to a show and not your work-work.

  3. Lol Bobduh, you’re sitting there worrying about finishing this before season 2 comes out and I’m just sitting here watching the weeks tick past going, “Man, I really should finish Monogatari SS before Hanamonogatari happens…”

    Character beats and conflict: that’s a pretty awesome summary there in the video you linked. I’d love to see a whole episode written out in one long sentence–“Character X does this, therefore Character Y says this, but Character X does this, therefore Character Q gets pissed and burns down the entire world.”

    21:25 – Oh wonderful- I don’t know why, but for some reason, Kirito looks like Justin Bieber to me in that shot. Kind wish I hadn’t seen that.

    • Yeah, that’d actually be a pretty great idea for a post – the entire dramatic structure written out as action and reaction, including how each piece reflects on both the characters and the overall theme of the episode. Illustrate how beautiful narrative structure can be even before you actually apply any creative details.

  4. Can I request a rewrite of the sandwich scene in Sword Hardboiled Online style? :3

    The writers of Leverage have said that due to being a competence porn show, the inevitable “things go wrong” part of the plot every week cannot be contrived or due to holding the idiot ball. It has to either be:
    1) Something that was foreshadowed that they couldn’t have avoided. Personality flaws/their unique perspective blinding them to certain possibilities, to make it a character development beat. Known risks that they simply did not have the resources to account for, to show their competence at beating the odds. Exceptions shown to the audience that the protagonists could not have known, to prove their on-the-fly competence.
    2) Even better, the result of the protagonists doing their job too well.
    3) Stupidity played for laughs (as you noted, usually has to be at absurd levels to work)

    I guess the Heathcliff thing (and the Kuradeel thing earlier) was kind of foreshadowed by Asuna talking about how he was so personable and inviting at first and is only now just another insular frontliner, as is the rest of the guild, but later on this still makes no fucking sense as a characterization point for any of them, so yeah.

    In the end, I have to say that these run of episodes are my personal favorite to re-watch, for the bits of actual Kirito/Asuna rapport.

    While the jabs about Asuna’s tsundere-ing are hilarious, I feel that she’s one of the better and more realistic examples of the trope, minus the gorram boob-grab scene last episode. One of the few values to the little-girl-with-dragon vignette was pointing out how gamer culture would make life rather hard for the girls in this situation, so its natural that Asuna would get prickly. If it weren’t for her moe-girl design and her obvious existing crush, her brushing her actions off as casual isn’t too different from two dudes trying to play their bromance as cool for the sake of their manliness. Asuna’s level of tsundere is one I see in some beloved western live-action characters. (Although, again, the context of Asuna’s visual design and Kirito’s harem are what make her an explicit tsundere, compared to said western snarking frenemies)

    Question: is it okay that Vicious and his impact on Spike are isolated in Cowboy Bebop? What makes that different from the Sachi situation here? The strengths of the CB vignettes to stand on their own? Or are the effects shown in Spike’s general characterization, with Vicious simply being the reveal of being their cause?

    • Oh yes, and I like how the boss is the one that was defeated by Kirito and Asuna together in the theme song, but in the show? Nope. Get back in the kitchen, woman.

    • Great question, and one that I’ve been looking to answer for a while now.

      Spike’s interaction with Vicious is not acceptable, and for several reasons. The story of Cowboy Bebop is overall, in my opinion, greatly weakened by the lack of character interaction. Although each of the main characters, except Edward whom I do not consider an actualy character, recieve ample and terrific character development individually, encountering equally phenomenal side characters along the way, they never actually interact with each other in the same, meaningful fashion. Jet can develop all he want trying to find the Chi Daughter’s father, but that doesn’t mean crap to me if I don’t see the result.

      At the end of the day, Spike and Jet are exactly the same characters as how I saw them in the first episode. Fae actually developed for the worse, showing off a sentimentallity in the final episode that I did not care for in the slightest.

      Vicious is barely even a character. He’s portrayed more as a force of nature, with an unintelligble motive and barely an interaction with Spike. What does Vicious mean to Spike? We can supply plenty of answers, but none as to actually why.

      In short, I find Cowboy Bebop to be an incredible waste of character development. Plenty happens; it just fades away as quickly as it comes. And there’s a conglomerate of themes that don’t really mesh together. One of the worst offenders is the cult of people who transfered their minds to the internet. What is the point of trying to convey the theme of “We watch to much television”? There are all sorts of themes throughout Cowboy Bebop that just don’t fit with the show, and plently of meaningless vignettes.

      Cowboy Bebop was phenomenal for its smooth, analog animation, art direction, voice acting, and music. Its characters were strong in their own sense, but were never taken anywhere. I didn’t see the point of Spike dying, or the last arc in general for that matter. Why the f*** should I care about Julia? Why should I care that Jet is telling Spike he’s off the team if this is the third time he has said it? Why did Fae suddenly go from Vixen into compassionate teammate? What did Spike’s death actually accomplish besides meaningless forshadowing? The writers may have understood what goes into creating great bonds between side characters, but never between the primary characters, leaving me with a particularly empty feeling near the end of the show.

    • That bit about the writers for Leverage is really interesting – I’d love to hear more writers discuss how they approach this issue. Do you happen to have a link to the interview or whatnot where they were talking about it, or was it a video extra or something?

      And yeah, I actually kinda like Asuna as a character. I make jokes, but it’s only when Kirito has to Be The Hero that she kind of falls apart, and the difference between that and perfectly-reasonable-person Asuna is kind of jarring.

      As for Cowboy Bebop, I’d say it’s a combination of both. I believe I mentioned early in these SAO writeups that if you’re going to make a vignette-based show, those vignettes have to be damn good individually for the audience to not disengage, and I think SAO holds up there. And I also think that Spike’s entire personality is reflective of his character’s circumstances – unlike Kirito, where we’re shown what’s apparently his “formative event” and then the Kirito we next see is completely not reflective of that, Spike’s actions regularly imply he is a man on the run from his own identity, one who’s ready to die at any time because he feels he’s not even really alive. And Spike not really changing is the point of Cowboy Bebop – that show’s fundamental question is “what does a soldier do in a time of peace?”, and the answers it comes up with are “live in the past, change, or die a soldier.” The entire existence of bounty hunters is a brief dream that lets him stay alive and stagnant for a while – but by the end of the show, he’s still failed to move beyond his past, and time moves on without him.

      • They’re from the DVD episodic commentaries, and they’re amazing. Every time I watch media with a lower level of craft these days I want to make the staff listen to them.

        @Strident: I can’t say if I agree with you or not overall, but I agree with you on each point you’ve made.
        The “defense” isn’t really a defense, either, but simply that (and Space Dandy, or Samurai Champloo) wasn’t never meant to be evaluated by serial storytelling standards. They were made in a time when binge-watching wasn’t a thing at all, and were meant to be viewed with at least a week between episodes, as well as looking to allow casual viewers to pop in at any point of the season and still enjoy an episode. I think about how Xena: Warrior Princess could NEVER have gained such popularity if it was produced today. Everything was stand-alone. EVERYTHING. Even the finale, with the barest arc of “Xena now values Gabrielle as a companion.” Haruhi season 1 had to restrict itself to 12 episodes and use non-linear storytelling and other such shenanigans to get away with the same minimal arc even by 2006.
        In that sense, CB is meant to be enjoyed like Seinfield. It’s a slice of life in spaaaaaaace. (But as Bobduh points out above, the show is also interested in exploring certain character-based themes by examining how static characters exemplify those themes in a variety of situations.)
        But if the viewer wants dynamic characters in their media, then yes, CB absolutely fails. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never watched CB or Samurai Champloo with a critical eye, because I’m already aware that it has other goals. imho, SC is more egregious because it tries to imply some level of change in the characters by the end, whereas CB does not, at least in Spike’s case.

  5. Having the hidden boss just be a blue goat demon is kinda unsatisfying, especially when you consider how the backgrounds went into freakout mode for this dungeon. If the boss was something like FMA: Brotherhood’s Pride, he would have fit into the dungeon better.
    It would also have allowed for some crazy God of War esque sequences to make Kirito look badass, but even then, not done.
    It just makes me think that these LN adaptations are generally bad at being wish fulfilment fantasies. A good wish fulfilment fantasy would have dangerous and/or menacing antagonists for the hero to then triumph over, etc etc. But would it have to hide its roots as a wish fulfilment fantasy to make them menacing?

    • Yeah, this was kind of a dud of an action sequence in general. Generic monster, generic trump card, generic fight choreography. Get the Dark Souls guys in here!

  6. Goddamn this show can be bad. Here’s another plan: Asuna says, “It’s my decision to take a leave of absence, and you can’t really stop me,” and that’s that. Given she’s the vice-commander, you’d think that’d be a bit more reasonable than “I’ll let my magical boyfriend save me from this cruel bureaucracy”

    Well if you ignore the dueling thing, the social dynamic behind this is fairly reasonable.

    Imagine instead that Azuna was working at the small company and she suddenly announces that she wants to take a break from work. Sure, she could say “screw you guys” but she just actually wants to come back later, and even if she didn’t, she hardly wants to simply up and abandon people she’s worked for so long.

    • It’s not really abandoning people, and she’s essentially one of the leaders of this guild. I actually think the real-life situation is even more reasonable, since taking a vacation is not really the most unusual thing for an executive to do. Or even an extended leave, if that’s their own choice – they may not be able to come back, but they certainly have the option to leave.

    • And she totally did have the option to leave. However, this was about leaving on amicable terms with the option to come back. If Kirito said “no this is stupid”, I’m sure that Asuna would have left anyway

  7. What galls me the most about this is that IN THE OPENING OF THE SHOW you see this fight, only it has Kirito and Asuna doing a combination attack that looks really freaking cool!

    I wait 9 episodes, and what do I get? STARBURST FUCKING STREAM

    Goddamn that pissed me off.

  8. Let me mention not only did Kirito solo a dungeon boss who was at 4/5 (3/4?) health with one combo, but that it was also written that way.

    It’s these kinds of things that make me think you put more effort into explaining how their world works and affects those in it than the author did.

    • I don’t think there’s anything to “think”. It’s fairly evident that the author is writing what he thinks is ‘cool’ and appealing rather than put real thought into how to build a meaninful world which addresses real issues. Not to mention that you have to realize… that the author wrote this in volume one, the one where he skiped any real character development so that he could get straight to the ‘cool, badass’ Kirito.

      Accel World is without a doubt his better work… except when it started suffering from similar problems to SAO, namely, Kawahara’s tendency to advance plot by introducing females and the the reuse of several ‘character developments’ for the moe.

    • Oh yeah, I don’t have much doubt of that. Many stories absolutely stagger me with the degree of thought and invention that must have gone into their formation and execution. Sword Art Online is not one of those stories.

      • I don’t just blame peer editing, but the even more serious problem, that Sword Art Online was structured in a very unconventional, chronologically discontinuous style, whose vignettes were written by an author over a period of a decade. Another crucial thing to consider: many of these vignettes, which the first eight episodes drew their material from and tried to arrange in a Chronological order, were written at far later dates, by a far more mature author. Which is why some of them actually are better (or more promising, from the eyes of the viewers) than what comes after.

        There isn’t anything wrong with such a non-linear style of story telling, in it itself – but it takes a certain skill as an author to ensure that development from one Snippet transfers over the other. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that a complete novice writing the story, at a level equivalent of the vast majority of fanfiction authors, would have tje skill to pull it off.

        Especially since SAO was initially planned to be a fully linear work, starting from Kirito being trapped in the game, his development during this scenario, and finally the escape. But, because the author wanted to submit the work to LN publishing competition, and because of word limits, he opted for the solution of sending in a First Volume, with only the very beginning, and a chunk of the end written. Somehow, it became a hit with the LN reading audience.

        One counter argument would have been that the Publishers had a duty to ensure that the author went back and fully developed his ideas, or at least, the author, after becoming published, should have the decency to rewrite his works for publication.

        To his credit, the author indeed is rewriting Sword Art Online, in a fully chronological, floor by floor order. It’s called Sword Art Online Progressive, and there are two volumes of the rewrite released so far. My opinion of what I’ve read: SAO Progressive bears the mark of a more experienced and competent author, BUT, the said author has acquired very bad habits that continue to manifest themselves in Progressive. Not least the practice of adding new female characters all the time

        • Even so, as Bobduh notes, as far as the anime is concerned, it’s adaptation failure. Unlike Reki, A-1 had all of the timeline events available to them at the time they made the show. It would have been a simple directorial decision to adapt the material in a way that included callbacks and tied themes together better, even if the source text didn’t. They could have animated Kirito’s body language and directed the voice-acting to make him more awkward or even broody to reflect the way he’s been impacted by past events, and that would have still been enough grounds for all the ladies to want in his pants, without making him so irritating to critics who picked up on how he was ridiculously suave and charming for how he was supposed to be an anti-social loner.

          As other positive reviews of the show have said, the most frustrating thing about SAO is that at any given moment, it’s just two or so easy steps from being good. The studio could have made those tweaks, but they took the lazy way out of adapting the text straight, without even compensating for removing 1st-person POV insight with visual conveyance equivalents.

          Wait, was the Sachi thing implied in the original novel for this scene? See, A-1 could have so easily sprinkled in similar flashbacks or call-backs in the previous vignettes JUST LIKE IN THIS EPISODE to make it a proper through-line!

  9. So I’ve been re-reading the first SAO book, I had read the fan translation a while ago, but got the official translation as a birthday gift recently, and honestly, it’s a lot better. Better pacing, characterization that makes sense within the confines of the book, and a less wimpy Asuna too. She actually tells Kirito off for accepting the duel, because the whole situation was stupid, and she was going to try and talk her way out.

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