Alright, I can do this. I can do this. It’s just a stupid cartoon, it can’t hurt me. I gotta keep this together – can’t already be losing faith, I’m not even halfway done yet. If I have to retreat into sarcasm already, I’ll never make it to the end.
OKAY. Hey everybody, time for another episode of Sword Art Online. Last episode was basically the absolute worst, and I’ve been told it actually gets worse from here, and I don’t really know how to process that information. That’s fine! I sincerely hope “cackling villain torture-porn” is just a thing the show decided to do that one time, and that now we’ll put that stuff behind us and get on to some reasonably peaceful slice of digital life. In the last post, I basically kept being astonished by how little the characters seemed affected by the absolute madness of the central scene – but at this point, I’d actually be perfectly happy to do what they’re doing, and pretend none of that ever happened. And if that’s how we’re playing this, then we could be getting something very rare and very appreciated here – a slice of life romance thing where the characters have actually already admitted their feelings for each other.
That by itself isn’t actually worth much, granted. For stuff like this to be meaningful, the writing has to be there as well, and this is Sword Art Online we’re talking about. But still, this show is always at its best in the little moments, and it seems like we’re about to enter a sort of “calm before the storm” phase, and that could actually turn out okay.
I have to hope, goddamnit. Hope is all I’ve got left.
Alright, let’s get to this.
0:11 – So, yeah. Literally starting exactly where we ended two weeks ago
0:30 – Nice intimidating shot here, though I don’t see why the guild leader is being all ominous and mysterious here. Stop acting like cartoon villains!
0:46 – Dang. Pretty
1:18 – Definitely one of the most interesting questions this show can wrestle with. This place is as fake as it is beautiful, but it is made real by the time people invest in it and the connections people make in it. In our own world, the nebulous “reality” of online interactions is currently a wild west as far as hard rules go. “It’s just a game/the internet, this stuff isn’t real” doesn’t really apply to the ways people emotionally engage with each other, but we’re accustomed to a freedom of action online that acknowledging our interactions as representative of our true selves would kind of undercut.
Frankly, I think this is a brief stage of heartlessness in a world where kindness too often requires accountability, and I welcome the death of “it’s just the internet.” But it’s interesting to talk about either way
1:25 – Yeah, exactly. Maybe the promise of this world is that it offers a safe sub-reality to arrive at an emotional truth you can bring home to your own reality. Maybe it’s just perfectly valid as a reality altogether.
1:51 – Cute. Good start to this episode – it’s keeping things grounded, and by its nature alluding to some of the more intriguing hypotheticals of the premise
3:37 – This scene’s a movie cliche, but it is also one of the thousand easy romantic bits you can only include in a story that includes actual post-confession romance. Seriously, even if you just stick to cliches, there’s more than enough material to fill up a dopey twelve episode season. It is endlessly frustrating to me that anime romance clings so defiantly to its state of arrested development.
I’m not gonna sit here and wonder why this is the case, though. It makes perfect, cynical sense – and it’s not because these writers aren’t smart enough to think of ways to create drama for an established couple. Frankly, most harems and romcoms aren’t well-written enough to think of meaningful obstacles for a non-established couple, so I doubt an inability to write worth a damn would stop them from trying the other situation.
It’s just that the non-established fantasy is the profitable one. The one that plays off audience nostalgia, the one that lonely fans can relate to, the one that maintains a “pure” love interest, and the one that allows for multiple romantic interests to always be “in the running,” allowing the audience to pick and choose their favorites or even create their own pairings of characters. To me, the most frustrating thing about all this is that from an economic and audience perspective, it makes total sense. They’re not “wrong” to write stories like this – yeah, it results in terrible, repetitive stories that never explore nine tenths of what make relationships compelling and endearing, but they’re not doing this because they’re stupid. They’re just playing to the crowd.
And yeah, it is easy to write the “will they or won’t they” nonsense, and yeah, the amount of existing precedent for that basically means you just have to reshuffle Love Hina episodes every so often to come up with a new Nisekoi. Basically every cynical way you could frame this seems perfectly reasonable to me.
So yeah, thanks, Sword Art Online. Honestly. Hopefully you being such a ridiculous mega-success will maybe give other writers the courage to actually respect their audience a little.
4:42 – I kinda just wish I liked these characters a bit more. Couples bickering about stuff like where they should spend their day off is one of my many fiction kryptonites, but I have to be on board with the characters first
4:54 – I still don’t get why this fantasy world is so generic. A real missed opportunity there to create some gorgeous fantasy landscapes while also better driving in the theme of how any world can become a valid home. I can get scenery like this forty-five minutes from my apartment
5:13 – I also wish there were more of this. The many strange intersections of game details and real-life practicalities
5:35 – A married couple as written by an otaku. Unless she’s actually flirting with him, but flirting? In an anime?
6:04 – Yeah, this episode would be killing it if I cared about these guys. Frustrating to get this so-close-but-so-far-away situation
6:08 – It’s certainly still pretty
6:29 – More solid slice of life. Kinda weird seeing a show that’s so poor at traditional drama be kind of effortlessly fine with the less standard atmosphere-style stuff
9:04 – Aw shit we Log Horizon now
10:31 – Why do they want me to care about this random character so much
10:58 – Wait, she leaves that crazy hair-braid up even she’s asleep? Wait, how does hair even work in Sword Art Online?
11:17 – You are not going to make me care about a random character like this, SAO. This doesn’t even reflect on Kirito’s isolation or anything. This is just a sequence of sad events
12:53 – Is this how SAO’s author thinks babies work. That you just find them in the woods
13:43 – Is this not supposed to be bizarre and surreal? Like, what the fuck is going on here? Did our protagonists just adopt a lost amnesiac child like a puppy off the street?
13:50 – What is going on
14:11 – My out-of-universe story-understanding brain clearly indicates that Yui is some kind of special digital child or something, and apparently exists only to mean something to our two protagonists. That’s… bizarre, but okay. But in contrast that brain, my in-universe immediate-questions brain is screaming “holy shit these two people just abducted a child why aren’t they contacting the guild-police”
14:31 – You know what, I changed my mind. The actual purpose of Yui is to just skip straight to the moe-daughter stage of an established relationship, because having Kirito and Asuna just hang out and go on dates together is clearly not moe enough
15:29 – But are still incapable of acting like normal human beings about it. Not even these heroes can overcome the whimsical narrative strong-arming of our intrepid author
15:36 – So this is what she’s for? To set up a more direct contrast between appreciating this world and being responsible for others escaping from it? You don’t invent a daughter to do that! That should build out of something actually ingrained in the narrative, not a completely arbitrary and on-its-face absurd new variable!
I guess this is another place where the show is really hamstrung by adopting all those unrelated vignettes. Throwing a random piece of motivation at the characters eleven episodes in is just really sloppy storytelling
15:47 – We have finally arrived at the ultimate helpless girl for Kirito to protect
15:54 – Good. Excellent
16:01 – We met this girl two scenes ago
16:51 – And yeah, I guess we’re supposed to be kind of reaching a “full circle” moment here, where they’re returning to where they originally learned they were trapped in a false world. But now they’ve actually come to embrace that world, found love, settled down, and even abducted a daughter
17:20 – I like the image of this big festive town where everyone started out now being a ghost village, populated only by lonely NPCs
17:34 – Never mind!
18:09 – Oh no, it’s more Evil Guys! Man, if only we all put our feet down and stopped letting Evil get away with this!
19:28 – FUCK ‘EM UP
21:40 – ono yui’s debugging
Well, that was an episode. I actually kinda liked the first half – it was insubstantial slice of life, but it was perfectly reasonable at that. And we even got some scenes of a couple actually enjoying each other’s company, which is nice to see even if I’m not really engaged with this couple in particular.
Yui, though. I just don’t know. There are lots of times when bad writing comes up in poorly written dialogue, or in too-convenient plotting, or whatever – but I don’t nearly as often see shows with such deep-seated structural storytelling issues as this one. It feels like it was written one chapter at a time, which is never a good thing to actually notice.
But hey, either way, we’ve actually almost arrived at the end of the first half! I’m certainly excited to see whatever madness is in store for us at the Final Boss.