Sword Art Online – Episode 12

Another episode! I know, it’s crazy – actually timely updates on this wild ride. Last week started off with a nice bit of slice of life before being derailed entirely by a nonsensical Cute Thing, which is a new and interesting method of SAO self-sabotage. Having Kirito and Asuna adopt a child-minded girl they found in the woods certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice, but hey, I guess we’re rolling with it. We have graduated from a series of unlinked vignettes to… a series of incoherent narrative twists. This is progress.

Episode 12

0:14 – So is this gonna be the episode? Kirito and Asuna learn about this orphanage-thing where kids are being protected, they go back and forth over leaving Yui here versus protecting her themselves, they eventually decide they can do more for everyone on the front lines, that gives them the resolve to rejoin the fight? I guess that doesn’t really deal with how Yui’s not actually a real person, so it’ll be a bit more complicated than that

Sword Art Online

1:03 – I actually really like this detail. This was a new MMO, after all – it’s not like everyone in the first wave was going to be old enough to handle a situation like this. We’re very naturally being introduced to an element of the emergent society that actually makes perfect sense, and helps it feel more like a specific, thought-out place

1:36 – I’m glad that the entire guild isn’t made up of crazy evil people

3:33 – Let’s not get into your though-provoking political subtext, SAO

4:03 – You think you’re pretty clever, huh? “We tried to give things to people equally, but this only ended up empowering people who don’t want to try hard, and without an incentive to try hard, we’ll never accomplish great things.” Scintillating metaphor, Two Years Worth of Glop

Man, power fantasy politics. I guess they’re the same in anime and the real world

Sword Art Online

4:29 – Oh no! Not that guy!


4:54 – It’s cool, apparently second-in-command is more of a ceremonial title

5:47 – Well, that settles it!

6:05 – That’s actually kind of a nice lineIt will look lovely on his tombstone

Sword Art Online

6:10 – This seems like a strange line to square with Kirito’s only piece of character development (which you’d think would make him hesitant to bring people he loves into dangerous dungeons), but hey, that cute little girl did say she’s trustworthy

6:51 – This will end well. I wonder what Yui-related secret we’ll discover at the bottom of the well

Incidentally, I’m calling shots like this mainly because of this show’s tendency to force narrative in ways that don’t come naturally. Normally, conflict should come about because the base variables of a narrative naturally arrange themselves in a way that that conflict is unavoidable – so, like, how pretty much every step of Kyouko and Sayaka’s stories in Madoka is inevitable purely based on the personalities of those two characters and the way they reflect each other. Here, it’s more like “oh no, how could they have prevented this… oh, by not doing that strange thing they did earlier in the episode that apparently was designed to lead to this”

8:00 – Earn your children’s respect by showing them how good at videogames you are

8:56 – This is pretty great. These two do have some chemistry, and it’s nice that we see them interact with each other in all sorts of moods. This episode’s been pretty good in general so far, actually

Sword Art Online

9:33 – You guys love cute shit, right? These scenes that serve no purpose but appealing to the Loves Cute Shit demographic are kinda funny to me. It’s like a three minute mecha transformation of cute

10:08 – Nice shot

10:40 – Booooss Tiiiiime

10:49 – I’m gettin’ kinda tired of this shit, Kirito

11:32 – I appreciate the gesture, but that cannot be an effective fighting stance

Sword Art Online

11:33 – Well, that ended predictably

12:20 – Yep

12:28 – whatamievenwatching.jpg

12:36 – MOE BEAM

12:46 – Alright, this is getting kinda silly

12:52 – I’m right there with you dude

Sword Art Online

12:58 – Seriously, though. Is this supposed to be… cool? Gratifying? Funny? Sometimes I just don’t understand what a person buying into this show would actually be buying into at any given moment

Oh! Am I supposed to be surprised that Yui is secretly some kind of god-child? Right, that’s maybe not supposed to be just something I’ve been waiting to have happen all episode

13:09 – I’m gonna miss this guy. He was all right

14:03 – Aw shit, meetin’ the architect

Sword Art Online

14:40 – Hmmm. That’s interesting, though I’m not sure I want to dive into it unless the show itself does. It’s a neat base concept though – this entire world is dictated by a shifting, almost conscious AI construct, and in reflection of this, even the human beings within this system are treated as elements of the construct that must be managed on an emotional level to stay in balance with all the stat-managing.

That’s actually really clever. And it casts the “artificiality” of this world in a whole new light – perhaps the very fact that lonely people can find emotional comfort in games is itself the most unreal and artificial thing about them. It’s “managing” their emotions in the way it manages everything else, in sharp contrast to the blunt chaos of the real world. The constant refrain has been “this world is artificial, but my emotional response to it isn’t” – well, if your emotional response is being dictated and massaged by the program itself, maybe even that is a lie

15:25 – Makes sense, if the creator wanted this to be a “real world”

16:25 – Wait, our heroes are even mentally godlike? Goddamnit SAO

16:57 – Lady, after everything else we’ve been through, an empathetic AI gaining sentience is the least of my concerns

Sword Art Online

17:22 – No matter what happens, you’ll still be our terrifying mind-reading electric daughter

18:40 – Ahahaha, we’re pulling a full Maeda. “We’ll love you forever, moe daughter. UNTIL YOUR UNTIMELY DEATH THREE MINUTES LATER”

18:43 – I don’t think you understand what kind of story this is, Kirito

19:01 – onooooo

19:23 – its so saaaad

Look, I’m not a heartless person. I actually get choked up about all kinds of shows. But this, right here? This is waving a puppy in front of your face and then chucking it off a cliff. It’s not tragedy – tragedy requires humanity, and we were only introduced to this girl last episode, and her personality so far has been “cute and helpless.” This is Pavlov’s Blob

Sword Art Online

20:16 – Aw yeah, TV hacking! I love this shit!


20:47 – Wow. Uh, I guess Kirito’s really fucking good at hacking

21:26 – So I guess I was half-right. They have to beat the game so they can recreate their electric daughter

And Done

Well, that was some saccharine bullshit. I actually liked a lot of the first half, and the stuff about player psychology was really interesting (although the show itself didn’t actually explore what makes it interesting, but what can you do). But pretty much everything related to Yui was everything I dislike about Jun Maeda’s storytelling – you introduce cute, helpless things and then run a car over them to make the audience cry. It’s trite and fake and condescending.

Fortunately Yui’s dead now, so hopefully we can hit the gas and finally reach that first arc finale. Two episodes to go!

33 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 12

  1. I like, and by like I mean hate, that this episode explicitly tells us that Asuna and Kirito have the GREATEST ROMANCE IN ALL OF SWORD ART ONLINE

    Yui is cute though. Yuuuuiiiiiiiiiiii

    • I’ve actually finished the next episode too, and THAT one has by far the “best” Greatest Romance Ever Told moment so far. Holy shit.

        • You’d think this were sarcasm, but nope, pretty sure that fishing scene is actually the show’s high point so far.

        • Fishing Art Online IS the best. It should be its own shounen series.

          Asuna monologuing to the fisherman afterwards is Greatest Romance Ever Told Not Shown, ba-dump-ch. I also desperately want a Swordboiled Art Online rewrite of said monologue. You can never have enough Swordboiled Asuna.

  2. 14:40 A big AI takes care of everything, manipulating people as well.

    This will be relevant in the FAR future of the series. Even beyond what the 2nd series will cover. The best thing about the current arc (in the novels) is how it actually shows some sci-fi thinking and world-building. The worst, well, it’s related to villains which the author just doesn’t know how to write.

    • I’m assuming your talking about Alicization. But hey! I definitely think you can tell that he tried harder to write a better villain for that arc; he’s just not…super awesome at it.

      Assuming the franchise continues to be profitable even through all different stuff that’s going to happen, Alicization is the arc I’d like most to see animated after Mother’s Rosario.

  3. Welp, I don’t think anything needs to be said about this episode’s boss. I am curious about why they picked a boss design that has almost 30 years of inclusion in games.

    I’m slowly coming to believe that no amount of innovative boss design will make the SAO bosses feel better; what we need is a different art style, something with a long-range grab attack, or something that doesn’t wait around while Kirito and Asuna talk, or at the very least something that subverts your expectations of what the boss would be. Something like the revenants from Dragon Age Origins, or Shadow Link.

    • This show would have to be a lot more interested in succeeding as a dynamic action show to improve these sequences. And personally, I don’t really care too much about the design of random obstacles – I agree with your second point, that it would require things like Shadow Link to make these fights actually compelling. These characters may be in a videogame, but we’re not – fights are only as exciting as they are dramatically effective, which is a lot harder when you’re just throwing arbitrary monsters at your protagonists.

  4. There are two things you said in this post that are related to each other and are both not true, but I won’t tell you. You’ll find out in the second half, unfortunately.

  5. I think it’s a pretty good example of just how different anime can be when this scene of a little girl dying didn’t get anything out of me but the latest episode of Ping Pong made me feel unexpected emotions. This scene would have been a thousand times more effective if Yui was replaced with Kong.

    And I gotta ask, since you’re doing these posts and watching this show in preparation of the second season can we expect SAO II to get this kind of treatment? I know you don’t do these type of posts too often anymore but I think they’re pretty grand!

    • To be fair, almost any scene would be more emotionally effective if you replaced someone with Kong. But yeah, scale of tragedy is far less important than whether you’re invested in the characters that tragedy is happening to.

      And yep, I’ll be returning to classic weekly writeups for SAO II. Glad you enjoy them!

  6. Now I understand why Hiroki Azuma called otaku as “Database Animals”. The author (Reki Kawahara) didn’t write a story. He just retrieved the tropes from his database, and hacked them together to make what resemble story. That why Yui’s death in this episode was so forced.

    • Eh, a lot of shows do this. Most current light novels just kinda stir the database until it simmers and then pour out a ladle of tropes. Execution can actually make this stuff work, but SAO didn’t really do any of the work it needed to to make Yui a real character, so…

  7. I really hate these kind of shows that are supposed to take place in a special setting but then don’t REALLY work with it. With how much positive buzz SAO got I was actually wondering if that online game world actually feels somewhat authentic and has laws and boundaries in place. Instead the writing pretty much does the opposite and rather abuses the fact that it’s a game and… hey, in a game that loosely defined, everything can happen, right?!?

    Of course there’s the occasional reference to remind you, like the food or occasional UI pop up. But it really shows just how little thought through all this is when you look at e.g. the never working teleport crystals. So the writer makes teleport crystals part of the world—after all those are common in games—but then realizes they’re making a lot of scenarios pointless and thus arbitrarily renders them useless in every situation.

    Maybe it allows for some nice scenery here and there but other than that, I pretty much don’t see a single ‘it’s a game’ aspect that’s cleverly used. In fact, the closer you look at the rulesets etc. they try to provide, the more you realize that it’s a bunch of nonsense that wouldn’t actually work. I mean the fact that a player can move a sleeping person’s hand to interact with the UI and go as far as accepting duels, the ones that result in a real persons death you know, is ridiculous.

    Of course this episode, we get to learn that some part of the game’s AI has not only become sentient (like that never happens) and has access to some in-game terminal that even real players could use. It’s a fucking program, give me some explanation as to why it works like that. And of course our hero is a really good programmer as well and can access this terminal and hack that god damn girls code into some object. After all every hardcore gamer is also good at programming, right?

    • Yeah, that Hollywood Hacking moment was the worst offender. No one could hack a system without spending a lot time (months or even years) before to find security holes. Only our Hacking God Kirito could do it, LOL!

      • My favorite is that Kirito never used this hacking prowess to disable death-helmet functions and get the hell out of dodge. Manipulating the code of a gorram sentient AI without unduly damaging it seems like it would be much more complicated than setting microwave output to zero.

        I wonder how Kayaba would have reacted to Carmageddon Art Online. “Mah beautiful warudo nooooooooo”

    • Yeah, it’s pretty funny. You’d think the choice of making this an artificial world with well-defined rules would actually allow for some really clever worldbuilding, and fun methods of rule-manipulating on the part of our protagonists. But we never actually do that, and in fact the choice of making this a videogame ends up kind of backfiring, since the fluidity and randomness of these rules ends up making the world feel completely unbelievable as a videogame. It all makes me marvel even more at that Kotaku article that was so impressed with this show as a representation of MMO culture.

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