Sword Art Online – Episode 16

Well that was… something. We’ve upgraded from a villain who’s more or less a non-presence to a villain who actively takes pleasure in not acting like an actual human being. In the course of one ridiculous scene, Sword Art Online managed to instantly dissolve any tension this arc could create by predicating itself on the most absurd conflict imaginable. Kirito must now save his helpless waifu from Dr. Evil.

I feel like it must seriously take willful dedication to screw up character writing that badly. This isn’t “I don’t know how to write distinctive human beings” bad – Kirito already exhibits that, and this guy is not like Kirito. This is like that scene in Attack on Titan’s first episode, when the recon group is coming back from a terrible mission, and everybody crowds the streets to see who’s still alive. And one woman comes out to ask what happened to her son, and you think “oh, well, that’s kinda on-the-nose, but sure, they gotta give this sadness an individual context.” And the captain motions to one of his soldiers and says “it’s little Jimmy Stetson’s mom, bring it here,” and the soldier brings over this rag-covered thing, and the lady opens it up and HOLY SHIT IT’S A SEVERED HAND AND AHHHH GOD “THIS IS ALL WE COULD FIND” AND “AHHH HOLY SHIT MY SON IS DEAD” AND “AHHH THAT’S RIGHT YOUR SON IS DEAD GOKU, HEEEEE’S DEEAAAAAAD.”

This is like that except it’s the show’s actual antagonist instead of one horribly directed scene. This is like the actor comes on stage and says “what’s my motivation” and the director goes “alright, you just got back from eating babies, and later tonight you’re going to set fire to some orphanages, and right now you’re mad because you got blood on your shoes from curb-stomping the elderly. Aaand SCENE.”

This is actually pretty great. Let’s see what they do next.

Episode 16

0:11 – I do not recommend the lobster rolls

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0:23 – You had me at hello, Agil

0:46 – I’d make a joke about them developing a successor to the technology that killed thousands of people, but honestly, that’s actually not surprising to me

2:49 – The Uncola. YOU LIKE IT. IT LIKES YOU. That sounds like a way more interesting boss than any of the ones we actually saw

3:02 – Oh great, my hilariously unrealistic real-world fighting powers will come in handy then!

3:38 – Kirito nooo turn baaack

Kinda hard to share his enthusiasm here. In the context of the VR gear, “a game that makes you fly” is indeed exciting, but our context is really just this as another MMO, and flying mounts aren’t exactly the height of gameplay innovation

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4:31 – This is great. Exactly the kind of trick enterprising gamers would try

5:03 – THAT’S RIGHT KIRITO, REKT AGAIN

So wait, Licklips McTwirlstaches is actually holding Asuna’s brain in a little birdcage in the game he’s apparently controlling? Why wouldn’t he just… not… do that?

5:09 – Yeah, but why would you advertise that fact in the actual game?

Oh right, I forgot. MWAHAHAHAHA

5:37 – Oh good, glad to hear they got those kinks worked out

5:59 – Is it just me, or has this show really upped the voyeuristic framing for this character?

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6:16 – Probably just me

6:33 – Seriously, imouto. Better watch out, that camera’s always watching

7:30 – So instead of the death threat, now we have a time limit. That’s definitely a much trickier element of danger to lend actual weight to – time limits are just inherently very arbitrary in fiction, and so they’re generally combined with other, more immediate dangers

Wait a second, how will finding Asuna in the game actually do anything? Eh, I guess that’s a bridge to cross when we come to it

8:26 – Wait, he thinks about his name, recalls that the villain actually knows him by that name, and then uses that name anyway?

8:39 – Oh thank god there was a hooded all-black fairy option

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9:46 – Dang, this author really likes floating islands

10:39 – Kirito’s sword skills cannot be conveyed through rational numbers

Which is kinda boring, of course. Much more interesting to win with limited resources we can understand than with friggin’ aim hacks

11:14 – Oh no no no no no

11:23 – NO NO NO NO NO

11:38 – NOOOOOooooooo

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11:58 – Okay, at least it’s “hyperintelligent emotion-scanning daughteru” and not “uguu~ daughteru”

12:10 – Yes great I remember kawaii let’s get on with it

12:33 – Shut your fucking face Kirito just shut your fucking face

12:49 – Ahahaha so now Yui’s gonna be our exposition-fairy, huh? YUI IS NAVI

13:08 – Oh jeez that’s reassuring

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13:13 – “We shut down that murder death game, but tossing all that code seemed like such a waste, ya know?” I can’t imagine that fun fact made it to the box art

13:30 – Yui lewdest daughteru

13:57 – Probably a smart choice, just to keep the story moving. As is reusing the game code, actually, however practically crazy that sounds

14:23 – A cute detail hereDeleting my items?

14:54 – Yesss, embrace your Navi-hood, daughteru

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15:13 – This is basically crack cocaine to you guys, huh

15:59 – Nice

17:00 – PRESS Z OR R TWICE

17:52 – Harem intensifies. Wonder who that could be?

18:19 – I like this whiny kid they’re setting up to make Kirito look good by comparison. Devious play, SAO!

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19:09 – Welp

Midair combat is kinda messy. Not particularly insightful to say it’s “too floaty,” but yeah, it’s tricky to create much sense of weight and contact here

19:50 – Hm. How does this work? I figure it’d be much more appetizing to just let yourself get killed here, and not give them crap. I guess we’ll have to see what penalties death actually carries in this game

20:05 – Yeah, there we go. An interesting design idea – a PK-heavy game that actually really does punish you for death, and so makes you play conservatively and seriously at all times. That’s the spice of life for a game like Dark Souls, but I imagine it’d be exploited all to hell in an MMO. But it certainly works for fiction

20:51 – Not if Hero Boy has anything to say about it!

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21:18 – This is a pretty good summary of Sword Art Online

21:50 – It’s like we never left

And Done

So many parts of you will always be so foreign to me, Sword Art Online. Like that next-episode-hook. The cliffhanger they end on isn’t “how is Kirito gonna get out of this one,” or even “how will Kirito save this girl” – it’s “tune in next week to see Kirito fuck up more people who don’t stand a chance against him.” Clearly somebody finds that exciting, but it’s gibberish to me. It’s got all the dramatic suspense of seeing if six drunk college kids can successfully tip a cow.

Anyway. We’re back surfing the digital wave again, and we’ve already collected a daughteru and an interim waifu. This was kind of a stuff-establishing episode, so it wasn’t really the most exciting, but I’m hopeful that we’ll soon get to actually check in with Asuna and her charming fiance. You know I love my Mwahahas!

46 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 16

  1. Suguha is Iku levels of lewd. She’s lewd just by existing on screen. (oddly Leafa does not suffer from this nearly as much)

    Anyway yeah. Yui. I…kinda like her, but still…yeah.

    Remember it only gets worse from here!

  2. I feel like it must seriously take willful dedication to screw up character writing that badly. This isn’t “I don’t know how to write distinctive human beings” bad – Kirito already exhibits that, and this guy is not like Kirito.

    I’ve said this before. Reki’s biggest flaw is his utter inability to write villains. Antagonists such as Kaiba are “fine”, but when he tries to create villains, it’s an abject failure.

    Personally, I think having “villains” is generally poor to begin with, and think almost all works would do better with just antagonists. Villains often means they’re beyond the realm of relatability, and that makes for poor characters.

    but our context is really just this as another MMO, and flying mounts aren’t exactly the height of gameplay innovation

    Well, for us. We’d all like to do it in VR-MMO though. I actually thought Miyuki flying in Mahouka was a neat scene, where they actually managed to transmit that it’s actually fun.

    5:59 – Is it just me, or has this show really upped the voyeuristic framing for this character?

    Yeah, the anime really likes the fan-service, and more of it, and more center-stage, in the second part. The previews for GGO already had quite a bit of fan-service which made me sigh. Yes, there are a few fan-service situations and art in the LNs, but the writing doesn’t dwell on them at all, unlike the ridiculous purple prose of Mahouka.

    An interesting design idea – a PK-heavy game that actually really does punish you for death, and so makes you play conservatively and seriously at all times. That’s the spice of life for a game like Dark Souls, but I imagine it’d be exploited all to hell in an MMO. But it certainly works for fiction.

    You make it sound like it being exploited wouldn’t be the point. Just read the testimonials for DayZ and other such games on Steam. Seriously, do it. I’ll be here with the napkins. Or think of EVE Online, where people play it for the moment they’ll betray the trust and thousands of real hours put in by other real life players.

    • Yeah, the anime really likes the fan-service, and more of it, and more center-stage, in the second part. The previews for GGO already had quite a bit of fan-service which made me sigh. Yes, there are a few fan-service situations and art in the LNs, but the writing doesn’t dwell on them at all, unlike the ridiculous purple prose of Mahouka.

      They probably figured they had to up the fanservice to keep people interested :p

      Hoping they’ll cut back the fanservice in S2 to match the first half of S1.

      You make it sound like it being exploited wouldn’t be the point. Just read the testimonials for DayZ and other such games on Steam. Seriously, do it. I’ll be here with the napkins. Or think of EVE Online, where people play it for the moment they’ll betray the trust and thousands of real hours put in by other real life players.

      Eve Online is probably the best example. Some PvP players will “trap” a persons ship and ransom it. “Give us X ISK (money) or we’ll blow it up” kind of thing.

      If the ship is worth 4 million ISK then giving them 2 million ISK to avoid having it blown up is a good deal.

    • Well yeah, villains are generally just indicative of bad writing. It’s almost always better to just have antagonists with goals contrary to the protagonists.

      You’re right about games like DayZ or EVE – I hadn’t considered that this is likely a niche game, because I think that method of gameplay turns away far, far more people than it attracts. But it certainly does exist and have its own audience.

      • It seems like the problem with Kuradeel and Sugou as villains was that they were still hampered by tethers to reality. Kuradeel was a dude somewhere wearing NerveGear. Sugou is a real-life businessman who has a future as a CEO. So when they act so over-the-top, it’s immersion breaking.

        But when a villain doesn’t have any of those tethers, or exists to defy said tethers, the more over the top and less tragic backstory, the better. Think Kefka, the Joker, or Frank N. Furter. In general, the Gotham stable of wacky gimmicks works because they’re responding to Batman upping the ante on ridiculous. When Kirito and Asuna are supposed to represent common humans in real life, (Ha. Ha. Ahahaha) they have to have equally grounded opponents.

        Now, if the Aincrad arc hadn’t happened, and we opened with the soap-opera setting of “badass gamer kid needs to rescue his comatose heiress girlfriend from the scheming corporate bastard,” that would have allowed for more cheese.to be acceptable. But this tonal shift just doesn’t work because it’s a shift from a previous preexisting tone.

      • Well, yeah – you could say Bob highlighted this himself by mentioning the “Jojo school of character writing”. Dio is the quintessence of mustache-twirling villainy (though in an interesting twist, he’s quite genre-savvy: even HE knows better than to underestimate his sworn enemy, the PROTAGONIST!), you don’t get much less relatable than a character who in a single episode kills his father, spits on his tomb, forces himself on a girl and burns his brother’s dog in a furnace. Yet somehow you can understand how his incredible pride would lead him to these actions. The problem of SAO with villains is that neither it makes them realistic, nor it fully embraces their absurdity. In fact, the problem is that they’re not meant to be ENJOYED – they’re plot devices, they’re just there to make Kirito shine more by defeating them. While a good villain is scene-stealing. Kefka, Joker, Frank’n’further – they all are possibly, respectively, the most memorable characters of their respective stories. Dio Brando is a meme. Even for a simple show like Dragonball Z, I’d argue its most iconic characters are the antihero Vegeta and the full blown villain Frieza. More often than not, good is boring.

        • Yeah, if these villains were more over-the-top and fun to hate, the show would be better for it. But that’s not what they’re here for – they’re here to make you like Kirito for destroying them. The show just seems wholly insecure in its ability to make you like the protagonist for his own sake, and so demolishes everyone else to ensure you don’t have a choice.

  3. For the record, the Yui sidestory was written solely for the purpose of introducing her as an exposition fairy for this arc. That’s her primary purpose as a character. There are several sidestories like that, I wonder if you can spot them (even going ahead to the upcoming Season 2).

    The fact that you’re explicitly separating your own non-excitement at watching someone fly in an anime versus the character’s excitement at feeling the VR sensation of flying is interesting to me. You’re looking at this as “what would be exciting for me as the audience” and obviously flying is kind of old hat by now. Whereas it’s clear to me that the writer is looking at it as “would it be cool if there was a game with X?” Incidentally, the anime has done a terrible job of conveying the sense of game immersion that is so central to the novels. I wouldn’t say it’s great, but butchering something bad doesn’t make it less butchering. Not that I’d want to see a ton of game explanation monologues in an anime either. Probably should have been less faithful overall.

    The author admitted in the afterword that the time limit was something he arbitrarily made up since he wasn’t sure how he could create tension when it’s not a death game anymore. He seemed unsatisfied with it.

    • Hahaha, he actually retroactively added a character to enable exposition for a later arc? That is some endearingly confident bad writing.

      If the adaptation was actually able to maintain a sense of immersion, the flight thing would probably actually work as intended. As is… yeah, it’s just characters flying, and that’s not inherently exciting as a third party.

  4. Oh they’ll check into Asuna all right. If you know what I mean.

    I didn’t catch onto the camera gazing lecherously at Sugu at all times until episode 18, so I’m impressed that you caught on so early.

    • I feel like I partially noticed it so quickly because the show hadn’t been doing that so far, so it came as a kind of jarring shift. Like the camera’s playing favorites.

      • I always feel that the director of SAO likes Suguha. He gives her more attention and camera than Asuna, and even includes bath scenes for here. In the novel, Asuna had at least one bath scene, and it was pretty much omitted. I’m also certain Kawahara’s editor likes Suguha as well.

      • I skimmed through some screencaps of the episodes 15-24. It seems like 70% of IRL Sugu is either:

        1) In short pants and a shirt with the top one/two buttons (or zipper) undone
        2) In Pyjamas with the top one/two buttons undone
        3) In her underwear
        4) Naked

      • Yeah, I think that was the first thing I rolled my eyes at. Some screenshots when revisiting, such as in episodes 5-6 seeing that girl’s ass came at me, but it was “just there”. In the 2nd arc, they really draw your eyes to it.

  5. Kinda hard to share his enthusiasm here. In the context of the VR gear, “a game that makes you fly” is indeed exciting, but our context is really just this as another MMO, and flying mounts aren’t exactly the height of gameplay innovation

    Being able to fly and having flying mounts are two very different things.

    Being able to fly was actually the main draw of the MMO Aion Online when it was first launched. I never played it but at the time I thought “OMG THAT IS SO COOL”
    https://www.google.ie/search?q=aion+mmo&tbm=isch

    • In a VR setting, I definitely get that, but I don’t really feel the same about flying versus flying mounts in normal MMOs. It’s just pressing W to move in a direction either way.

      • There there a few things, though I guess it’s just a matter of opinion.

        1) You get to fly much earlier on
        2) It allows for much more freedom of movement. If you think there might be something up a cliff you can just press the “FLY” button a check. Even when you get a flying mount, this much more awkward to do
        3) The game and all the quests would have to be designed for flying. So it makes the entire game less flat and more multidimensional
        4) In combat fighting should be fun. Could even have bosses which have weak points which you need to flight to hit, or where the boss makes the entire area full of lava forcing you to fly onto higher areas.

        I never played it, I assume it isn’t as awesome as that.BUT IT COULD HAVE BEEN.

  6. 11:14 – Oh no no no no no
    14:54 – Yesss, embrace your Navi-hood, daughteru

    Exactly what were inside my head at those moments. But how can you predict Yui will become Navi at 12:49? Maybe… you are a prophet!

  7. Yup, Sugu is definitely the Resident Fanservice Girl in this second half. It’s almost impossible -not- to notice it – or at least, that’s how I felt when I was watching. Asuna can’t be Resident Fanservice Girl because she’s too pure and maiden-in-distress and all that; the much curvier Sugu automatically gets nominated since, as we all know, she’ll never succeed in winning Kirito for husbando anyway.

    • Man, this show’s tonal/subtext hypocrisy is just crazy this season. You’re completely right about what they’re doing here – Asuna’s being played up as the “pure prize,” complete with threat of her losing her “purity,” which “lets” the show totally indulge in objectifying the crap out of Suguha. This second half…

      • Which is even funnier if we consider how the very first thing Kirito and Asuna did upon moving from “just friends” to “being a couple” was having sex. Usually the purity shtick goes with shy girls who go all like “OH NOEZ I TOUCHED THE SAME BOOK THAT YOU TOUCHED INDIRECT HAND HOLD UGUUUUU~~~” and such crap. Unless of course the assumption here is that since it’s VR sex it doesn’t count, which is even more hypocritical. Get the action but don’t taint the virginal purity of your waifu.

        (though I think reasonably realistic VR sex would get a lot of interest for different reasons. No pregnancy and no STDs risks, not a bad deal)

        • I don’t know, man, I think the glopping noises would be enough to put anyone off after the first time. Then again, I wonder how many settings you can adjust during play.

          Oh, right. That’s the experiments Sugou’s running. Ewwwwww

      • I know. It’s reaaally hard not to overlook – and in fairness, I don’t think it should be overlooked.

        That said (and knowing what I do about SAO, it’s crazy to me that I’m saying this), I still really like the series. I don’t know how, or why, but by the time the second half rolled around, I found myself emotionally involved enough in both Kirito and Asuna to genuinely care what happened next, despite the god-awful writing and outright insulting characterisation. This show is so, so far from my usual tastes in anime, but… shrugs What can I say, something in there managed to hook me.

  8. @8:26. Not to worry, the villain’s a fucking idiot (SERIOUSLY, HOW DID HE EVEN GET A SIGNIFICANT POSITION IN BUSINESS?)

      • 1.But Kayaba single-handedly ruined his reputation the moment he shut off SAO, so his underlings won’t last that long.
        2. The fellow likes to glower so much he can’t be trusted with any serious business plan whatsoever. Japanese business has weird moments, but still…

      • Doesn’t matter if he worked with him BEFORE the SAO incident, and got his job then. There’s also how the Yuuki family seemed to have known him for quite a long while.

    • Yeah, maybe Kirito was actually thinking “wait, he knows me by that name… but then again, he’s also a goddamn idiot who told me his whole plan, so it probably doesn’t matter anyway.”

  9. @13:13. Logical, actually. Modding an existing code is waaaay easier. Besides (not that it’ much of an important spoiler anyway), Kayaba made a modding API for the engine anyway.

    @17:52. You guessed by the chest, size, now didn’t you?

    @18:19. Not the first time. Not the last either.

    • @13:13 at first it looks like it makes sense. The you might think it’s actually very very stupid. Then you might realize… it actually makes sense. Would a company throw away code they spent millions on “only” because it was used to murder approximately 2000 people? Not really, no. It’s not like anyone decided to throw away the design of Boeing 767 after 9/11, either.

      You just need to strip it of a few function calls. Must be easy to spot really.

      if (player.HP <= 0)
      {
      NervGear.sensorial_output.brain_fry(10); // Lol, 10 seconds timeout, say your prayers guys!
      }

      • Which brings up why Kirito wasted his superhacking moment figuring out what code belongs to an AI (which probably spans thousands of subs and functions and constants and global variables and all that jazz) instead of ctrl+f on the helmet output or death functions. Unless….Kayaba didn’t use a useful naming convention???? (That, or he only had access to compiler code or machine code, but then his ability to parse out what pertains to Yui is even more ludicrous. Most programmers, much less teenage gamers, don’t have any knowledge of how to read even compiler code.)

        Should have spent that time turning the friction to -9 and turning gravity off, I say. “Okay, everybody, let’s jump to level 100–OGAWD THAT CAR JUST CAME OUT OF NOWHERE”

        • Well, to be honest, if I were Kayaba, I’d use obfuscated programming too for that stuff. Better just keep to mind that ” void this_does_nothing_really_move_along(double timer)” is THAT function XD.

          About your hacking idea… well, that is basically the whole plot of Saints Row IV. And it definitely made for a more enjoyable experience.

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