Sword Art Online – Episode 15

So. That ending.

Pretty bad, huh? Yeah, it was pretty bad. I was kinda just nodding along at the time, because frankly, at this point I don’t really expect anything out of Sword Art Online. It’s not going to pull its pieces together, it’s not going to wow me with thematic turns or character revelations or clever worldbuilding inversions. It’s a good day for Sword Art Online if Sword Art Online manages to get its pants on.

But yeah, that ending was bad. Bad on an overt level, bad on an underlying level, bad in basically all the ways a thing can be bad. Oh! Not visually. It actually had some pretty great, well-used animation. But everything else? Well, let’s run it down.

On a narrative level, not only did the finale fail to draw in all this first arc’s lingering, relevant pieces (which were helpfully laid out by last episode’s commenters, and included such potentially useful loose ends as Yui’s existence, the revival crystal, and how married couples share inventories), but it instead decided to just resolve things through a series of “and then our heroes succeed just because” deus ex machina. There certainly wasn’t any narrative weight to this one – if this battle wanted to have heft on a base storytelling level, it undercut that pretty completely. It just felt like a succession of events the author knows stories tend to end with, not the sequence of events that would have successfully ended this story.

On a character level, we ended this arc with Asuna at pretty much her worst point so far (“my life has no meaning without Kirito”), Kirito remaining his entirely neutral self, and our villain ultimately… not knowing why he did any of this? I dunno, this show doesn’t really have character arcs outside of that one Asuna dictated to the audience. Kirito was affected by the death of Sachi (sometimes), but how did he actually grow from that? We flashed back and saw him get mad about it, but did he actually change? Eh.

On a thematic level, what the fuck. We actually had a theme going there, what with the “learning to embrace the validity of digital experiences” stuff that kept cropping up even in the vignettes. And then, at the end, how does this resolve? Well, it doesn’t – Kirito just wills himself to not die in order to beat the bad guy, the bad guy (and yeah, I’m gonna keep saying “bad guy,” because this guy has clearly not earned the right to be called an antagonist – he’s just a Force of Evil) has a completely unrelated speech about Why We Videogaming, and then everybody goes home. I gave one clear example of how this could have been resolved last week – if you want another, how about leaning on the villain’s “people keep surprising me in this world” refrain, and have the ways people have made this world their own actually have a meaningful impact on the resolution. Or hell, you can even keep his speech, and have his “I don’t know what I wanted anymore” lines be overtly reflective of how our experiences change our expectations of life, mirroring the goddamn protagonists. Almost anything would be better and make greater use of this show’s existing resources than just resolving it with Kirito Manning Up and a completely unrelated Final Villain Speech.

And on a worldbuilding level, well, I sure hope you weren’t actually trying to appreciate this show on a worldbuilding level. Last episode made it achingly clear that Aincrad is not a world Kirito is independently inhabiting – it is a world generated by his personal need to have awesome stuff to do. So, uh, good luck with that.

But even given all that negative stuff, I honestly am not disliking SAO. How can I get mad at it for failing in ways it’s never indicated any ability to succeed in the first place? It’s a silly adventure about a guy parading around and saving waifus. SAO is not ashamed of what it is, and I’m happy to say I’m actually pretty much enjoying it. You don’t have to only like good things, and many of the ways SAO is bad are actually extremely entertaining to me. I welcome the terrible stuff – just straight-up failing as a narrative means your story will be boring (because story craft is actually how you generate intrigue, excitement, and emotional investment, not just an arbitrary set of rules we apply to stories to feel superior), but if you fail spectacularly, your failings can become their own reward. I’m apparently about to enter the “bad half” of SAO, and I am actually pretty excited about that – what is bad is often fun, and what is fun is good.

So let’s do this, SAO. Let’s see just how bad you can get.

Episode 15

0:15 – Ah, memories. I kinda feel like this is a show that actually might benefit from the weekly schedule. It tends to very often assume a level of audience investment that it hasn’t really earned, and spacing out the episodes is actually a decent way of countering that problem. What we’re flashing to here was the “status quo” for all of one full episode, and the relationship that we were meant to care so much about at the finale was only really articulated across a handful of scenes – but when you stretch the consumption of those moments out across a few months, the headspace those connections occupy makes it feel like you’ve really known these characters for a much longer amount of time. It’s an interesting reflection on how our methods of media consumption actually kind of change the nature of the media itself – you’ll have a very different relationship with a sequential comic you read once a day every day for five years than with one you burn through the archives of in a weekend, even if you’ve physically consumed the same amount of media either way

Sword Art Online

0:49 – This is a nice little sequence. Again making great use of those particle effects to grind in the thin illusion of this world

0:56 – Very nice shot. A very convenient visual metaphor

1:04 – And this is just beautiful. Love that they left the rocking chair there, a lonely reminder of the peace he just lost

1:34 – I like the lack of color and room design. A sharp contrast to the vivid colors of his virtual realities, and that window with the limp little plant makes this feel more like a hospital than a home

Sword Art Online

2:24 – Oh, really? That’s where we’re gonna be this season?

Well, I can complain about Asuna being a prize if that’s actually where this goes. As for now, that was an excellent opening sequence! Just legitimately very good

2:40 – Say hello to new girl and new girl’s boobs. SAO gotta SAO, I guess

3:01 – Oh. Great.

Damnit OP, you’re supposed to make me feel excited for this arc!

3:41 – Well this is a promising first sentence

I mean, I could bluff, but this is one of the major complaints with the show, so I obviously know where this is going. Just gotta see how it plays out, I guess…

Sword Art Online

4:15 – This is a nice sequence. This episode is being directed very well and letting a lot of stuff speak for itself so far

5:22 – I like this line and little exchange. It seems like a very awkward, human conversation. Stuff like this, where characters don’t actually gracefully bounce off each other, is very good for illustrating personalities without telling them to you

6:00 – This is a nice shot. Also, dang, Kirito’s rich

6:03 – Yeah, seriously, do you? I’m not gonna be happy if you’re also OP in the real world, Kirito


Sword Art Online

6:39 – Kirito’s resume is just “DOESN’T PLAY BY THE RULES” scrawled across a blank sheet of paper

7:20 – Wow, guess those rehab sessions really paid off. Nice animation here, though. And even choreography!

7:54 – And he does the SAO sword-sheathing. That’s pretty cute. I wonder if we’ll actually cover SAO PTSD?

8:18 – Editor’s Note: Getting good at fighting games gives you fuck-all skills in the real world

9:07 – Honestly, the storytelling in this episode is such an improvement over the first half that it feels like a different show altogether. This feels confident – it’s letting events unfold as the characters experience them, and not rushing to tell you things or tripping over itself in pacing

Sword Art Online

9:15 – Alright, let’s not start with this quite so early, SAO

9:35 – Like, imagine if all of us didn’t watch way too much fucking anime. How would this scene even parse? “What’s his sister so hung up about here? Does she think he’s wasting away pining for a girl who will never come back? Maybe… maybe she sees Asuna as reflective of the world that stole her sibling away? I see no coherent reasons for this character’s actions.

Instead, we just heave a collective ‘goddamnit anime’

10:31 – Right. Of course. All part of the Master Plan from the guy whose motivation was “Eh. I forget.”

10:44 – Wow, she looks pretty good for being in a gaming coma for two years. I looked way more malnourished than that back in college

Sword Art Online

12:16 – I don’t like the sound of this

12:23 – What in the fuck


12:45 – WAIT HOLD UP


Sword Art Online




13:18 – “Pardon me while I NOISILY SNORT THE HAIR OF THIS COMATOSE TEENAGER.” Has this author ever actually interacted with a human being


Jojo's Bizarre Adventure

13:26 – Wow. Just… wow. That last image was apparently more appropriate than I thought – clearly this author subscribes to the JoJo School of Character-Writing

13:36 – So this is actually the conflict the show is expecting me to be invested in for the next dozen hours. Looks like we’re in for a wild ride


13:58 – So wait, what is even the endgame of this plan here? He marries a comatose girl, and… what? Either she never wakes up, and he married a comatose girl, or she does wake up, and says “Dad, I actually hate this dickbag,” and that’s that. And why would he even want to marry a girl who can’t stand him? Because he’s evil? Because that’s what evil people do, apparently?

Goddamnit SAO, I expected you to go crazy, but not THIS crazy!

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

14:24 – Welp, time to turn the resolution to this absurd situation into something that can be arbitrarily solved through a new videogame, I guess



15:02 – This is why doctors have sex with all of their patients

15:15 – And why would he even explain any of this to Kirito, anyway? What advantage could blowing his cover with Kirito possibly have? He just can’t help himself from making a cackling villain speech? Did this author actually learn everything he knows about storytelling from Legend of Zelda?

Sword Art Online

15:36 – IT’S TOO LATE TO STOP ME NOW, HERO. Wow. Wooooow

15:43 – Goddamnit. Just my luck to live in a world filled with cartoon villains

16:36 – It’s not your fault, Kirito. You’re putting up with shit that literally no human being has to deal with. Your problems are so absurd they defy investment

16:49 – She asks, hungrily

17:00 – STRAIGHT INTO THE CLUTCHES OF MY GREATEST FOE. This arc is actually about saving a comatose waifu from a scary Other Man. Goddamnit, SAO. I just… goddamnit

Sword Art Online


18:03 – It’s just like Kirito to notice the deleted family registry records on the Citizen ID Network

18:41 – Dang, we actually are learning something about Kirito as a person

So I guess they’re cousins, then? Not like it actually matters. Incest is a weird issue because of the power dynamics involved in a romantic relationship with someone you grew up with as family, not because of the “blood related” marker anime always cares about

Of course, this show isn’t going to cover any of that. Incest is an otaku fetish for very specific reasons, and so we’re gonna get an imouto who can’t get enough of her oniichan whether we like it or not

19:18 – Yeah, it’s playing this like a revelation, but it doesn’t make a bit of difference. He’s still the big talented older brother she’s always looked up to, which plays into the “saving helpless women” fantasy so much of anime revels in

Sword Art Online


20:29 – Man, this show’s selling this girl pretty hard

21:05 – SO MOE


21:15 – Yare yare indeed, Kirito. Yare yare indeed

Sword Art Online

21:22-  And an immediate shift back to trying to use her advice as a character turn. I guess we’re supposed to be taking her seriously as a character again! Thanks for everything, fanservice

21:55 – Literally moping in a cage. The ride never ends

And Done

Wow. You guys really, really, really weren’t kidding. That episode actually started really strong, but the second Evil McCacklington showed up, the crazy train flew right off the crazy train rails. I got what I wished for, I guess – the second half wasn’t boring-bad, it was hilariously, ludicrously bad. Awesome. Thank you for being so crazy, SAO. Your crazy brings a tear to my eye.


53 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 15

  1. One sad bit is that the crazy guy actually has kind of a rational plan under all of his cackling, it’s just ruined by him being so much a caricature of evil. He would be much better if he was calmly rational, but then he wouldn’t have any reason to conveniently explain everything to the audience via Kirito.

    • Yeah, I can see his goal at least, but the combination of his absurdity and the base absurdity of him being allowed to “marry” Asuna like this is just…

  2. I had to stop reading several times to dry the tears from my eyes. The fact that you had a glimmer of hope during the first half made the second half so much better.

  3. Yes, this writer seems to specialise in the horrible slime ball villain, who taps into the ‘wah, this meanie is ruining my gaming/waifu fantasies!’ mentality. There was a character very similar to Sugou in Accel World, another light novel by the SAO author which was adapted into an anime about a year before this. Except in Accel World, the villain was a petty teenager who had a pretty bad childhood, so he was just ever so slightly more tolerable as a character.

    But… for a grown man to be this pointlessly evil, it’s just too much. Thankfully, he’s at his tamest right now- Just wait until you see him in the game.

  4. Evil McCacklington is the worst character ever, but I think there’s a tiny almost unnoticeable hint to his motivation that I have latched onto like a starving dog. His goal is literally to be “a better villain” than Kayaba, so he plays up all the things he thinks villains are supposed to do. This is also why he explains his plans to Kirito for seemingly no reason: it’s more important that he act like a villain than it is that his plans actually succeed.

    Also, I think you might be pleasantly surprised by how they treat imouto in this story. If only because your expectations are currently rock bottom.

      • Not exactly. Sugou want’s to be better than Kayaba, in everything, considering Kayaba was a super-genius prodigy, and he was just in his shadow 99% of the time.

      • That’s just my irreverent summation. I have no plans to write a whole essay in the comments that serves no purpose other than to maybe spoil you kinda.

        Like how I sum up the Chimera Ant arc in HxH as being basically a love story.

  5. “9:35 Instead, we just heave a collective ‘goddamnit anime’” Lawl, funny enough I had a friend who either didn’t 100% make the connection (you’ve got it and then the next episode just builds on it) or just didn’t believe it was going to actually happen and came running to me when she finished the show yelling about it (like, this is a friend of mine who really does enjoy the show fairly well and she’s still bitter over that, then again we’ve had multiple conversations of “are all anime writers single children or something?!”)

    Also, I’m gonna throw it out there, if you’re having a hard time with this new villain already, don’t watch Accel World, I’m in the camp that that villain is actually worse.

    • Oh right, you were asking “why bother marrying Asuna anyway?” If he marries her he marries into her family (IIRC they either own Nerve Gear or are somehow connected with it, it’s a big company regardless) and will be next in line to inherit the company.

    • I feel like this guy is already Point 0 on the Good Villain scale, and to be worse than him, you actually have to be reaching negative values of Villain.

  6. Glad to see you’re having fun with the show, I sure as hell have fun reading these posts.

    Fun fact: This arc aired at the same time as Jojo’s Phantom Blood arc, so we had 2 hilariously over-the-top villains at the same time, both voiced by Takehito Koyasu (though Dio is obvioulsy way more entertaining than that guy)

  7. Did this episode get to the part where they explain the new MMO, ALfheim, literally reuses all the same tricked-up SAO servers that trapped and killed thousands when they should rightly be locked up in a government warehouse a la the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones? Or is that explained later and I’m spoiling info? Regardless, the rabbit hole goes much deeper, my friend.

    • It’s explained in this episode that the Nerve Gear technology was handed over to Sugou’s company after SAO shut down, but not necessarily that a new game was made by them.

  8. Wait, there’s still time for Evil McCacklington to actually be a giant teleport crystal.

    Or Kuradeel in real life.

    I think the rehab/muscle memory bullshit infuriated me more than the imouto junk. NO BIOLOGY DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY DAMMIT. (Also, in hindsight, the dual wield skill think is hilarious. Fastest reflexes? As in, the person who really should have had the skill would be anyone who decided to do a ninja stat build? Hell, wouldn’t rapier fighting call for a higher reflex stat than broadsword fighting? For a while, I thought “reaction time” meant their reaction to the death game announcement, meaning that Kirito got the skill because he was the bastard who most quickly abandoned the n00bs to camp the good hunting grounds.)

    • The “reflexes” it’s referring to is the player’s reflexes, not the characters’ stats. Real, out-game reflexes. Presumably the game measures this somehow based on their performance in-game.

      Not that this makes it at all interesting as a plot point, but I think it’s at least internally consistent.

      • That seems backwards. When it was airing, there was some grumbling about how ALO also was based on real-life physical ability, since one of gaming’s advantages was that you didn’t have to be as physically fit. (Unless we’re talking DDR or something) It also doesn’t make any sense since the Nerve Gear is just a helmet. The only way they could measure reflexes would be to look at how fast a brain comprehends the situation, fires off a signal, and receives horomonal feedback, except that there is no hormonal feedback because the body isn’t actually moving. But even if it’s only looking at the firing “go” signal to trigger whatever skill, how does it distinguish between someone with fast reflexes intentionally delaying their move for whatever reason vs. someone with slower reflexes? Unless the users undergo actual physical calibration before submerging for the first time, (as in, actually punching and kicking, so that the helmet can scan real hormonal feedback, or the helmet uses an external camera to measure reflex time a la a Kinect or something) there’s no way just a helmet that presumably puts people into VR by tapping into the brain directly can gauge physical reflex times.

        At any rate, isn’t speed a stat that does affect how fast they move in battle? (Like with the strength stat) How would the system distinguish between someone with genuinely fast reflexes and someone with a high speed/agility stat?

        Whatever. This is the same author who thinks brain-memory = muscle-memory, and that 2 years of coma atrophy + a few weeks of rehab > years of kendo training and conditioning.

      • Plus, there’s DEFINITELY no way Kirito of all people had faster physical reflexes out of everyone in SAO.
        Unless…he was a fake geek who actually pumped the gym when he was supposedly doing all of that gaming!? 😛

        Mainly, though, it seems odd that the skill was only gifted later, after everyone had gone through months of coma atrophy. Would anyone’s brain-response time have sharpened during that time, to change the would-be designee of the skill? And if that were the case, if someone spent the two years improving their Minesweeper times instead of playing SAO, would they have gotten the skill instead, regardless of their level? After all, they’d technically have faster mental reaction times, right?
        That’s why I think it was probably stat-based. When Kirito was fighting without Sword Skills against Heathcliff at the end, there, the game had to haved interpreted his physical prowess through his stats, otherwise, theoretically, he would be fighting at the same physical level as when he entered the game. (lol)

      • It doesn’t really matter what you think, the way it’s described is pretty clear and a later novel even explicitly categorizes it as an out-game skill. And measuring it is ridiculously easy? Bobduh himself recently linked a flash game where you’re supposed to click as soon as a dot changes color and it measures your response time. In science class I once did this thing where a partner drops a ruler at a random time and you measure how far it fell before you caught it. That’s… all reflexes means. How fast your brain can convert input into output. You also seem to be mistaking it for physical agility or something; even an eye twitch could be used to measure reflexes.The fact that they’re in VR doesn’t matter in the slightest and I don’t see why you think it would (since when has a practical reflex test ever looked at hormones?). If it can simulate them moving an arm through direct brain interface then it can simulate a reflex test.

        The system can presumably measure this by having them fight monsters over and over again, oh hey guess what they actually do? After a year of game time or whatever it took the person who had the best average and gave it to them. Obviously it can’t account for people intentionally delaying their reactions, but why would you expect it to? Does that even matter, unless you personally actually care whether or not Kirito actually has the best reflexes as opposed to the system mistakenly thinking he does? In which I have to say that you probably care more than literally anyone else in the world about this minor plot detail.

        • In an MMO situation, there’s no good way to measure the input start time. Some people counter attacks, and some people don’t. What exactly are they responding to?
          The reason I’m mentioning hormones is that there are two components to the reflex: How fast they begin to react, and how fast they complete their action. Even if someone starts to catch the ruler earlier, if they don’t have as many fast-twitch muscles as another, they may still catch the ruler at a later time. Since the body isn’t actually moving in VR, how does the helmet measure their movements? If it only relied on starting brain signals, it would feel more using a traditional video game controller with triggered actions than moving your own body, so the system has to have a way to measure how long it takes for someone to raise their arm, or whatever.

          And no, it doesn’t really matter. Those thoughts started popping into my head as I was thinking about the rehab situation in this episode. Why not post them? (It also shows how much Kirito is a special snowflake by author designation, which wasn’t a problem for me first time watching, since I didn’t care about the worldbuilding then, but for Bobduh’s posts, it’s been fun thinking about these details.)

      • I always thought it meant the “brain” speed, namely the speed of reaction to sensorial inputs (that in this case are shortcircuiting the usual neural paths). Something akin to what Neo had in the Matrix when he fights Morpheus in the dojo – they mention him being really fast, but it’s a mind thing, not a physical one.

        As a bit of an aside – personally, I have found that SOME videogame skills do translate in reality to a point. For example I’m pretty sure they improved my aim with airsoft guns since they give you a chance to practice with parallax and distance evaluation. But it’s a tiny thing, of course, what’s REALLY ridiculous here is that Kirito is able to fight so well against someone who actually practices kendo instead of, y’know, grasping for air as his muscles covered in bed sores ache just to keep him standing.

        • As I said to clarste, it seems like there’s no good way to know what exactly is being reacted to, so when is the stopwatch started on these tests? And in what situations? Do they account for when someone is flooded with adrenaline, and when they’re not? I NEED MORE DATA. FOR SCIENCE

          Yeah, my beef is specifically with the fact that this is a kendo match against .”one of the top eight middle schoolers in the country.”

    • There have been studies that show beginners who do image training (seeing themselves practice an activity in their minds) before physically engaging that activity (weight lifting, free throw shooting) perform markedly better than those who do not. Still, there’s a giant chasm between that and what we’re supposed to believe Kirito with atrophy-weakened muscles is capable of doing.

      • Very true, and it doesn’t even include the confidence placebo effect. But as you say, it’s more of the specific “kendo against Suguha” situation than a disbelief that Kirito could have carried anything over.
        Plus, the image training thing assumes that the baseline amount of practical training is approximately the same between subjects. Someone with ONLY image training, on the other hand, isn’t going to do better than someone with practical training.

  9. I seriously remember nothing about the second half other than episode 24. That pretty much overshadowed everything else. But it should be interesting to catch up on what happened between the two actually relevant parts at the beginning and end.

    While this is almost universally acknowledged as the “bad” half, and I completely agree with that, I have actually heard people say that the second half is better because it has a continuous story rather than a lot of vignettes like the first half.

  10. When I watched this episode for the first time I couldn’t believe my eyes. I simply couldn’t. I mean, had I just witnessed a show throwing to my face a villain whose evil plan consists in MARRYING A NON-CONSENTING COMATOSE MINOR TO INHERIT HER COMPANY WITH HER FATHER’S AGREEMENT? That’s, like, a whole new kind of stupid. I’m pretty sure Japan has laws against these things. Oh well. It shall be a fun ride.

  11. I forgewt if it’s explained in this episode or one a little later, but Villain McBadguy actually has a plan other than “Man Asuna hates me, ima fuck her corpse… i mean comatose body”. It’s a pretty realistic, grounded in reality sort of plan, just done to stupid anime x-treemes.

  12. Be careful, Bobduh: you keep writing like this and people will start to think you actually LIKE SAO.

    That being said, I highly enjoy being able to tell how much fun you’re having with this.

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  14. Unfortunately there’ll plenty boring upsides coming now I think. I mean overall with awful quality still but not quite ‘it’s so bad it’s good’. But yeh. I’m looking forward the day of your Episode 24 recap.

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