Sword Art Online – Episode 11

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.

Episode 11

0:11 – So, yeah. Literally starting exactly where we ended two weeks ago

Sword Art Online

0:15 – Why would that be? Oh, good point Kirito. Oh wait, that image isn’t from this episode

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.

Sword Art Online

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

Sword Art Online

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

Sword Art Online

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

Sword Art Online

12:37 – Wait holy shit where are they going with this

12:53 – Is this how SAO’s author thinks babies work. That you just find them in the woods

13:28 – I guess I just no longer understand anything this show is doing at any moment in time

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

Sword Art Online

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

14:55 – She’s acclimating to life with her kidnappers remarkably well

15:15 – Okay, at least they also find this weird

Sword Art Online

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

Sword Art Online

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!

Sword Art Online

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

And Done

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.

36 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 11

  1. I almost embarrassingly squeed over Yui, but she’s also the perfect character to make me go hhhnnnnggg and short out my ability to reason why she’s so stupid a character to introduce.

    Of course in retrospect its obvious.

    Oh boy next episode though.

  2. Bobduh, I figured out your problem. You’re not susceptible enough to über-cute random fairy girls randomly found in the woods to fanboy over Yui the way you’re supposed to be doing.

    Given that, you’ll probably not like the coming episodes very much.

    But for me, poor cuteness-schmuck that I am, I loved them. As you’ve said before, apparently you’re not exactly the target audience for this show.

      • Of course it is, and it works on a certain set of people, including me.

        I still think the show is terrible, but goddamn Yui’s just the most adorablest ever.

      • Well, duh, it’s cheap! But some people don’t mind having cuteness steal their hearts.

        Unlike fencedude, I don’t think SAO is terrible, but I do think you have to be a certain kind of person to believe that.

    • Yeah, the cuteness injection doesn’t really do anything for me. As I say in the next episode, the scenes dedicated to it just seem kinda like extended mecha transformations to me – “oh, okay, I guess some fans really like that stuff.”

  3. I like your comments about including the post-confession romance aspects. The dynamics of an established relationship are far more interesting and fresh subject matter than all this, “Are they gonna get together or not? Are they gonna admit their feelings, or not?” crap that most media gets caught up in.

    But, being that episodes 11 and 12 are largely based on a side story, any exploration of this idea is really more incidental than intentional. It’s just part of the time-frame that has to be addressed. Too bad, really.

      • Right? It really makes me wonder how one should go about adapting a light novel series that is a mix of long plots and short stories like this. As we can see, trying to integrate those stories chronologically yielded a half-season with very uneven pacing with respect to the overarching plot. The obvious alternative, of doing the main plot by itself and short stories by themselves, seems iffy. Short stories as OVAs might’ve been reasonably fun, though, as they capture the same idea of being self-contained?

        • The actual solution is to cut what’s superfluous and integrate what’s important/useful into the narrative in a more coherent way. Meaning we actually see evidence of Kirito being affected by the events of episode three in all the episodes following it, etc. Unfortunately, the actions of Kirito between episode 2-3 and episodes 8-9 pretty much directly contradict his characterization before and after that point, meaning you’d have to more or less rewrite those stories entirely to make anything actually work. When the source material is at war with itself, adaptation is pretty tricky.

      • I think this was the best you could do.

        There are a few problems.
        1) There’s not enough content for a half-season with just the first volume
        2) There’s a massive jump in the novels from level 1 to 74
        3) The third volume and later volumes use characters introduced in the short stories

  4. I am so very glad for these writeups but are you really going to try and finish SAO before you watch any more Hunter X Hunter? What horrible crime do you think you’re atoning for here?

  5. <

    blockquote>That’s fine! I sincerely hope “cackling villain torture-porn” is just a thing the show decided to do that one time

    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.

    Well actually, the first half was in volume one but the second half is actually from a short story in the second volume. So you actually read that correctly.

    • As far as I understood it, the chapters in the volumes were serialized before being made in to a volume. so most of the story fits that.

  6. my gripe with this mini-arc mostly hinges upon how quickly Kirito and Asuna go “mai daughteru do not steal” over the span of maybe two minutes upon Yui waking up. No lie, she’s cute as a button, but she’s also designed to tug at the heartstrings. I’d have no problem with that if the underlying mechanisms behind Yui’s character (if we can even call her a character) weren’t so conspicuous and sudden. Like some moe medieval torture device.

    I’m with you on this one. The cuteness of this epiosde doesn’t cancel out the fact that the current development is so unbelievable.

    • Yeah, this is about as arbitrary as narrative developments can get. Literally dropping motivation out of the sky into our heroes’ obliging laps, and then having them react in pretty much the same way I assume the audience is intended to.

  7. The end of the first half is legitimately good. Not fantastic, but good.

    Random ideas for landscapes that SAO could have included:
    -The inside, or outside of one of the pillars that separate floors; one floor could be a huge pillar.
    -On one floor, the pillars could be shaped like arms.
    -On another, like legs.
    -One floor roughly in the middle could be steampunk; a large, cavernous structure powering some big, central engine. Because something keeps SAO in the sky, yeah?
    -Ash Lake. Remember Ash Lake? Ash Lake was a hell of a place.
    -Was there a desert anywhere? Never a proper desert, I think, with sand and all.
    -Sundials. Huge Sundials that remind folks of how long its been and whatnot.
    -Barrows. Lots of Barrows and menhirs. Barrows are always good.
    -The edges of the world-disc. One town could be teetering on an edge. Think Final Fantasy.

    • Ash Lake is fantastic. A whole bunch of Dark Souls’ landscapes would make for great backgrounds here, and Dark Souls had the limitation of actually making areas you could travel across and understand in a game sense.

      Also agreed that we should have an area on the edge of one of these discs. The many-disk reality is about the most interesting thing unique to SAO, they should at least take advantage of that!

  8. This write-up was a joy to watch shift over time. “It’s nice to see questions of internet reality and post-confession roma–BABY WTF” I guess random moeblob shenanigans are better than glopping noises?

    I guess the subconscious authorial intent revealed by the Yui subplot is how otaku purity culture not only wrestles with Madonna-Whore complexes, but also the lolicon line, in the way that the less shameless otaku sometimes try to justify their affections for young girls as parental or older sibling feelings. In order to immediately set Yui as off-limits as one of Kirito’s haremettes, (“Geez, he just got done dumping two years of waiting, guys! It’s too soon for a new challenger to appear”) Reki codifies her relationship to him as that of a thing to be taken care of, not an object of desire. Therefore, the audience can also breathe a sigh of relief: their own feelings for Yui aren’t icky pedophilic thoughts, they’re clearly just identifying with Kirito and Asuna and squeeing like a good parent or older sibling! It’s moe, not ero!

    Of course, Reki leaves that back door open by introducing brocon later… (I’m entirely too terrified to check if skeevy Yui fanart is out there. Rule 34 sucks sometimes.)

    As everyone else has also pointed out, cackling over your “cackling villain torture-porn” trepidation. Start saving those bottles, you’re going to need it.

    • Man, I have seen the craziest mental gymnastics from people trying to defend the alleged distance between moe affection and sexual attraction. It’s kind of funny that you get that at the same time as we’re getting shows that clearly put parental/authority-child relationships in a sexual context all the freaking time, through hammering on the incest and all sorts of other things. Hell, even in this exact show, most of the relationships that could turn romantic are framed in terms of Kirito “protecting” some less capable woman.

      • The “protecting = romance” sentiment thing seems to be more codified in Asian culture. In dramas, the phrase “You better take responsibility [for my feelings/pregnancy/whatevs]” is similar romantic shorthand as “I’ll protect you,” hugs, and ugh, wrist grabs.

        I guess the western equivalent is “Get in the carCome with me if you want to live,” but otherwise, there aren’t as many stock subtext phrases.

  9. Episode 11, okay. So next episode is terribad, then half-decent, then bad, then terribad straight to the end with no relief in sight. Prepare your bodies.

  10. I can forgive this show for many of it faults, including to some extent the horrible “cackling torture porn” villains, but how I hate Yui. Well, not the character exactly but the way she’s written into the story. That just seems like the worst crime of the whole thing to me. Everything else may be sloppy and amateurish, but Yui just makes me wonder what the author was thinking. Other than the obvious, I suppose, but honestly I don’t imagine him as being quite that cynical. He had the guts to make his Gary Stu fantasy avatar actually get into a relationship with the love interest, as noted, so I don’t think he’s just appealing to the standard LN logic here.

    • Apparently Yui is actually from a side story after the first book, and that first book was intended to stand alone, thus allowing for the completed romantic arc. Meaning that yeah, he is 100% just appealing to standard LN logic here.

  11. After that terrible episode 10, I was braced myself for the following SUPER TERRIBLE episode (what I thought), but after watching it, I breathe a sigh of relief. Man, it is this first time I have to prepare mentally for watching an anime.

    Seriously, the author of SAO should switch from writing adventure fiction to slice of life genre. Honestly. This is the warmest episode since the first. Especially the first half. Now, if only that damn author let Kirito and Asuna live happily after ever without any new quests. But I know he won’t, what a bastard =)

    I think you should be proud, Bobduh. Your posts about Sword Art Online were convincing enough for a stranger like me to watch Sword Art Online.

    And now I am suffering from Sword Art Online too, AGGRRHH!

  12. So in much earlier episodes in much earlier writeups I said that SAO had one thing that I actually respected it for doing.

    “…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”

    This is that thing. I am so goddamn sick of every anime thinking that you need to have shitty romantic tension for 20+ episodes and then a single kiss and confession in the finale (or in the case of Chu2 Kai no kiss at all, ever). It’s the most asinine policy of anime that romance only refers to things up until the dating begins. Even shows that purport themselves as romances rarely depict actual romance.

    Is the romance in SAO well written? Hell no, nothing in SAO is. It’s just another way to feed into the power fantasy because of course Kirito gets the girl. But despite that it was still a breath of fresh air compared to what almost every other anime, even some really fantastic ones, seem to do with romantic subplots, or heck even romantic overplots.

    • It’s so frustrating, and I feel like it betrays such a lack of respect for the audience, as well. Show them some actual romance! They can take it!

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