SAO crossed some lines last week, and once you’ve crossed those lines, it’s fairly difficult to uncross them. We no longer have the threat of Kirito actually dying to provide momentum, so instead we’ve introduced a crazy man who actively threatened to rape Asuna and keeps her in a cage. This scary man is the threat, the threat which Kirito must vanquish before it can defile his helpless woman.
This is one of the oldest, laziest, most regressive and cheaply founded and identity-diminishing narratives in the Man Narrative book. Sword Art Online is not a good show, and it’s been pretty happy to revel in lonely guy power fantasies for basically its whole running time, but this is definitely a new low for the series. It’s bad enough that I feel it’s important to actually point it out here in this unusually somber introduction, before I go on to become implicit in trivializing the fundamental shittiness of this author’s choices by making jokes about them. Rest assured, I will make jokes about them! This is some dumb, ugly shit, and laughter is, if not actually an actual doctor-prescribed medicine, at least a nice way of flipping off shitty attitudes to maybe not feel so depressed about them all the time. In trying to create a big scary villain, this author has unwittingly created a much more relevant and believable Bad Guy – the show itself. SAO is the enemy now. Time to go to war.
0:04 – In light of what’s happened to Asuna, maybe it’s time to upgrade Imouto to actual-character-I-remember-the-name-of status. Alright Suguha, looks like it’s up to you to bring some dignity back to this narrative!
0:52 – The fact that they keep harping on this tells me this was clearly a thing in the source material, but the show is just not gracefully conveying the joy of flight. It’s telling us these characters really enjoy flying, but it’s not making the experience of that tangible to us
0:56 – On the other hand, connecting this, Asuna’s imprisonment, and Kirito’s feeling of freedom in a virtual world could actually add up to a coherent theme, if the show continues to explore and articulate it
1:09 – Gorgeous shot
2:59 – Hey, he’s kinda cute. A shame you can’t date outside the family in Animeland, he might have a shot otherwise
3:47 – Wow, looong still shots in this scene. Guess they used up all the animation budget on Asuna being groped last week
4:03 – And back to this one other shot. Also, author, you can’t use “is overprotective of girls he should really just leave alone” to make this guy look bad relative to Kirito in an arc where Kirito is saving a girl in a cage
4:25 – Welp, that didn’t take long. This arc’s really knocking it out of the park!
4:42 – “Ugh, MORE internal conflict? Well, at least the camera can focus on her crotch and tits. That’ll really help the audience understand her struggle.”
4:56 – This system seems designed to give you a migraine as soon as you activate it. I don’t want my first VR experience to be a barrage of technicolor phalluses
5:57 – Yesss. MY SWORD IS BIGGER THAN ALL THE OTHER SWORDS
It’s kind of strange that they play this as a joke, actually. Is this really any different from “unlike other men, I have TWO swords!”
6:28 – Kinda nice seeing Kirito as the ignorant new guy, though we’ve already seen that doesn’t apply to combat situations. Normally ridiculously competent action heroes are made human by their personal faults, but again, Kirito doesn’t really have those. This show is much more interested in having you “like” Kirito as someone you’d hang out with on a superficial level than letting you know him as a full person. Which is indeed how a lot of people interact with media (“who was your favorite character?” “oh man, that one guy was such a jerk!” “that thing he did was so cool!”), but that doesn’t mean you should write to that instinct. If you write full characters, people will still respond to them, even if they can’t actually articulate why in a narrative empathy sense
7:05 – Man, this show just can’t stop talking about woman-ownership. What a hero Kirito is, saving all these helpless women from all these absurdly written men
7:18 – YEP, HE’S GOT THIS. Is it stories like this that actually CREATE internet Nice Guys? “She has to like me now, I saved from all those other creeps who just wanted her for sex! Why won’t she have sex with me?!?”
7:38 – While I have to condemn his virtual racism, I applaud his dedication to roleplaying the racial tensions of this world
7:40 – Wait, how can he be both indicative of what’s wrong with Spriggans and a renegade who was kicked out by the other Spriggans? Holy shit, this guy’s got racism down
Also, cool friends, Imouto
8:03 – Uuuugh. “Gotta make Kirito seem like a gallant hero somehow… I know, I’ll surround him with insane women-hating cliches!” It’s like how authors who want to write smart characters, but can’t write smart characters, just make everyone around the “smart” characters dumb as hell. If you have to warp the world this badly to make your hero come off as likable, maybe you should rethink your hero a little!
8:41 – “You may have left my videogame party this time, Leafa. But I’ll get you! Just see if I don’t! MWAHHAHAAHAHAH!”
Man, this is so much worse than the first season. What happened? There’s barely any sport in breaking this down – scenes like this are just blatantly nonsense. There’s no horse left to beat!
9:14 – Very nice. And not the standard Fantasy Forest either
10:01 – So does she feel tied down in her everyday life? Tied down by the accusing eyes of her society? I joke, but hey, if that’s actually core to her character’s arc, it’ll make this a way more human take on the incest thing than we usually get
11:12 – NO STOP IT I SURRENDER KIRITO’S COOL YOU DON’T HAVE TO KEEP THIS GUY AROUND
11:20 – We’ve already got damning evidence that he’s a crazy shithead, but sure, whatever keeps you out of the narrative
11:39 – Ohoho, these silly men who overtly declare they own women. Not like gallant, chivalrous Kirito! All the girls like him because he’s such a nice guy! They want him to protect them!
12:45 – oh no no no I’m sorry I said I wanted to check in with Asuna last time I didn’t mean it go back to Kirito
12:49 – aaagh nooo i hate this shooow
It is just the best that the “Buy SAO DVDs! Available now!” ad pops up right during the assault-porn scene
13:17 – Her heart must be pure for Kirito! Normally this shit is subtext, but here they’re actually directly talking about a woman preserving her “purity” for the man she loves. That’s the threat here – not that she’ll die, but that she’ll no longer be the pure prize the audience wants
13:29 – A good trick for condemning sexually progressive attitudes is to put them in the mouth of your crazy rapist character
14:49 – It pains me to admit this scene actually has some nice shots. Doing good work with distance and perspective here. This one was also nice, visually portraying how he is omnipresent here
16:57 – SAO successfully conveying the feeling of wasting days of my life
18:15 – And we’re back with Sugu’s sugus. Man, I can’t stop thinking about those jerk characters that only care about what they can get from girls! Makes me so mad!
18:39 – You can’t fight biology, Sugu. Girls and Kiritos naturally attract each other
18:54 – DVDS ON SALE THIS SPRING
19:21 – O shit indirect kissu
20:28 – Oh right, she wouldn’t know because she’s never had an oniichan
21:36 – Aw, this is nice
Dang, this second arc is pretty slow. Not much actual progress this episode – Kirito and Suguha managed to leave the starting town, but that’s about it. Asuna’s arc remains physically uncomfortable to watch, Suguha continues to bounce between being the best-articulated character so far and being the helpless subject of a lecherous camera, and Kirito has the Biggest Sword. I can see why this arc would be considered a disappointment even among fans of SAO – its failings are much more overt than the first arc’s, and the side stories were much more distinctive than this slow-moving and very ridiculous central quest. But for all that, I’m already a third of the way through, and from what I’ve heard, I at least have a completely insane conclusion to look forward to. Guess we’re off to the mines of Moria…