Sword Art Online – Episode 19

I believe it started when I was twelve years old.

I’d been normal, before that – more or less. I had friends, family. Sometimes we disagreed, sometimes we fought – it was a normal childhood, full of normal relationships. People would listen to what I say, and respond based on whether they agreed or disagreed. It didn’t seem unusual. I didn’t know how precious it was.

Then it happened.

It began with the girls. When before, they’d generally just treated me with friendship, cordial distance, or dislike, now they started stuttering. Blushing as they spoke to me, or just awkwardly turning away. Telling me I was a dork, and then staring at me over their textbook, day after day after day. And it wasn’t just a few girls – not just some usual schoolyard crush. It was every female in my presence, always, forever.

Then it started with the boys. Some began laughing uproariously at anything I said, matching my every word and gesture with a “you said it, bro!” Younger boys began to preen and sulk, acting like attention-starved children. Men began to point at me in elevators, cackling wildly as I walked away. You were either with me or against me, and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it – no matter how I acted, no matter what I said, women fell for me, boys idolized me, and men stared at me through wild eyes and steepled hands.

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know what would make it stop. Was I being punished, somehow? Was it some kind of cruel cosmic joke?

All I know is that I am no longer one of them. They can’t help it – though I see them act like human beings among themselves, in my presence, they become slaves to their own instincts. They love me or despise me, all acted out in some sick approximation of human emotion, all entirely beyond my control. I am a monster, now. I am cursed.

I wander this simulacra of reality, haunted by simulacra of human beings. It suits me, I suppose. God or devil, I only know that I am alone.

Episode 19

0:19 – The elf girl frames it as a jab, but it only brings me pain. I know she loves me, already. They all love me. They love me the moment they see me. But what can you call that – a love based in nothing I’ve done, nothing I am? Who am I, at that? What self-definition can I hope to believe in, if none around me see me as anything but this fated attraction? They don’t love me. They love my curse

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0:20 – Still, I play my part, returning the gesture. Playing along gives me some small comfort – even this tawdry approximation of human chemistry is still better than no connection at all. And what good would fighting do? I could literally only say “dog farts dog farts dog farts” to any girl in this world, and they’d still treat me as the same alluring stranger

0:30 – It’s no surprise to me that my character’s abilities match my own strange power. Such symmetries have become common in the years since my awakening – I live in a world of unbelievable coincidence and artificial convenience

0:37 – Now that she’s said it, the timer has begun. In less than twenty minutes, my “crummy Spriggan magic” will save her life, resulting in her falling even further in love with my charmed, fate-bound self. It will happen naturally, and the circumstances will seem treacherous, but I will win. I always win, like a puppet dangling on golden strings. I’m like a grim parody of the very concept of excellence

0:44 – How I tire of this human cage

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2:24 – The irony of her words cuts deep. If only she knew the track her own emotions ran on, the simple role she is programmed to play. They’d hate me for it, if they knew. Instead they sigh, and cheer, and mutter “there’s just something about you…”

2:44 – It’s simpler that way. I’ll go through the motions, but I won’t commit any more than I have to. It’s not like I’m capable of losing either way

2:59 – Trouble, no doubt. The boy whose every action seems intended to make me look powerful is warning us about the man whose every action is intended to make me look just. How the puppets dance

3:12 – Of all the absurd world-breaking circumstances my power has brought about, Yui is perhaps the most ridiculous. A computer program who literally manifested herself as an adopted daughter, unable to resist the sheer force of my inhuman magnetism. I suppose I should be grateful the sun itself is not a woman, or we’d all burn from it leaping into my arms. But then again, maybe even death by incineration would be better than this

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3:22 – I have no feelings about anything

3:31 – This one’s bolder than most, but it’s all the same in the end. Should I feel sorry for her? Neither of us have a choice

3:57 – Why does the world do this? What does it want from me? Am I fulfilling reality’s own childish fantasies?

4:52 – It may be a fantasy, but at least it’s a beautiful one

5:03 – I say, knowing full well I’ll soon be called to demonstrate my invincibility. Sometimes it’s best just to lean into the fantasy

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5:44 – Just another day in my tediously heroic life

5:53 – The better for me to make a joke of this game’s balance, I suppose

6:06 – Sometimes the curse takes over, spewing bile and ensuring my supremacy over all others. Women to the back, Kirito to the front. I hate the man it’s made of me

6:09 – Oh, is that why. I feel like I’m floating, watching these hackneyed words from some far-off distance. It helps, somewhat – it makes me feel less responsible for them

6:43 – They line up in their numbers, dispassionate, inhuman. On other days, these men might have families, children. On other days, they laugh and fret and go about their lives as human beings. Today, they are drones, fodder for the beast. Maybe better for all if I destroy myself, and no longer cast this gross influence over the world

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7:27 – This is how it was meant to be. A woman chanting encouragement at my back, a field of villains waiting before me, and all around, the world burns

7:36 – I’m surprised the curse would allow her such a valid point

7:44 – Oh I see, it was meant to set up my one-liner. Our performance could use a few revisions

7:48 – And her breath catches as she falls even more in love with me. That’s right Leafa, I swore to protect you in a videogame

8:55 – The role I was born to play. I remember enjoying table tennis, once

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9:03 – A fitting weapon for a creature such as I

9:19 – At last, my form reflects what I truly am. The honesty is exhilarating

9:41 – He stammers that my weapon is only psychological, as if my psychological power weren’t enough to crush all these ants

It is difficult, sometimes, to believe they are really people

9:53 – And the crowd cheers, thirsty for blood. I am the hero, therefore my actions are heroic. There are no questions of morality here

10:22 – I killed a monster like this, long ago. Is this again some chosen irony of eternity? Am I a demonstration of our arbitrary conceptions of right and wrong? I fail to see the humor. This is just a videogame

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10:59 – More blood, master? Whoever made me, whoever pulls the strings – will this make you happy?

11:09 – Even the violence makes them love me more

11:57 – And just like that, I win them back over to my side. Raving villains or chuckling underlings, there is no in-between

12:45 – Sometimes it seems like they’re all reading from the same script. Like there is a “big book of villain vocabulary” out there, where you scroll past “maniacal laughter” to investigate “meddling heroes.” I’m always interfering with someone’s plans…

13:36 – I’ve learned to live with it

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13:53 – From time to time the story demands I tear people apart with my bare hands. It took a little getting used to

14:37 – It really doesn’t matter what I say. They’ll find literally anything charming

15:18 – Please let that be a joke, master. Do not force me to do anything terrible

15:38 – I rise from my bed, my thoughts turning from the strange Spriggan boy to my own life. Is Onii-chan alright? Should I check on him? He seemed distant yesterday, while we were sparring. His perfectly placed strikes betrayed a pain at the center of his being, a pain he holds close and protects me from, but reveals just enough to demonstrate he is sensitive and nurturing in addition to strong and mysterious. A pain that marks him as deeply, almost uniquely human, like he is the only man that feels and cares and understands in a world of silly boys

Oh right, I was supposed to check with whatshisface

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15:54 – His voice annoys me instantly. It’s thin and grating, nothing like Onii-chan’s soft, rueful voice, which reveals his boyish sense of humor while also containing all the gruffness that marks him as a man of depth and conviction. A voice like a big comforting chair I just want to curl up in, that makes me feel calm and safe and warm and provided for. A voice like a old familiar blanket that tucks me in at night, promising both reliable comfort and alluring secrets hidden in the darkness

17:16 – I only half-listen to Recon’s tedious and only vaguely relevant story, thinking instead of that strange Spriggan boy I should probably be getting back to. Who is he, with his perfectly tufted hair, deep, soulful eyes, and effortless way with words? Who does his well-earned confidence and endless charm remind me of? Why do I sense something so familiar in his broad shoulders, delicate fingers, and laughter like chimes on a summer’s day?

Such questions are perhaps beyond solving for an imouto such as I.

18:24 – It somewhat astonishes me to see a member of my entourage expressing independent goals, but perhaps this too will turn out to be a chance for the universe to demonstrate my hideous power

18:34 – The whims of the curse steer me towards her problem, the urgency of my original woman-saving mission forgotten. There’s always time for another notch on the hero belt, apparently

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19:12 – I listen to her words with vague disinterest, silently chastising the universe for setting up such a tedious hoop for me to jump through. Is arbitrary videogame politics really the best way to make me dance for the crowd? Surely there are greater dragons I could be slaying for its pleasure

Not that it truly matters. A pawn is a pawn, and I’ve committed enough forced heroics to be equally unimpressed by any new challenges. Just tell me where to fetch and roll over, curse

19:40 – I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard those words. I suppose sidekicks have a big book of vocabulary, too

20:12 – The first time a woman said “I would happily die for you,” it shocked me. Now, all I can do is marvel at our capacity to become accustomed to anything

20:53 – This is one of “my” better speeches. You could almost learn something from me!

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21:09 – A memory of chewing on soldiers briefly flashes through my mind, but the curse stifles my chuckle

21:20 – I have to remember it’s not their fault. I have to believe they’re still human. It’s me, it’s my curse, it’s not them at all. I am not better than them, I am just poisoned. If I weren’t here, they wouldn’t be like this. I have to believe that – have to believe we are all human. I am not a god. I will not let this damnable aura change me

And Done

It’s the loneliness that gets to me. The tedium, the sad ironies, the imprisonment – all that I could take. But I am alone in this world, and it wears on me. I feel that loneliness when they say they love me. I shiver from it as they vow to curse me for eternity. Whatever they see, I cannot share their vision – I am but a man, and they see some cruel, ever-changing mirage. Perhaps this is hell, and I am being punished for some worldly hubris. Perhaps this is all there is.

Forward, then. I will keep my dignity, even if the world sees only their favorite jester. This curse can steal my agency, but it cannot steal my pride.

Even this I will endure.

69 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 19

  1. Taking the “Self-narrating narrator” all the way, back into it, eh?

    Is this how you’d imagine a fan-fiction written by Hachiman from OreGairu to look?

    • Yeah, I’ve got a document of concept piece idea notes, and one is just “go all the fucking way with Kirito.” Pretty happy with how it turned out.

      • You should do a self-insert rant in whatever episode Kirito starts feeling preachy. Kirito is not wrong. The whole world is!

  2. I know you’re disheartened Bobduh, but “I want to feel like a hero in a video game” is literally the plot of this arc (as in, that’s Kirito’s explicit motivation for everything he does spoilers but I’m not sure you care anymore). It’s marginally more self-aware then you seem to think, and I think the obvious bad writing is kind of blinding you to other elements of the story which you would normally pick up on. Which, to me, makes this blog an even bigger tragedy, or perhaps a victim of SAO.

    • Just because it’s self aware doesn’t make it good. It’s not trying to be satire, and it’s not trying to make a point out of Kirito’s motivation, so the self awareness only goes to show that the show knows how bad it is.

      I can’t tell if you’re trying to say that Bobduh’s missing the good parts of the show, or that there’s more bad stuff that he’s missing, either way I think the most important thing is that he has fun with it any way he can before the show breaks him.

      • I didn’t say it was good, I just like seeing actual analysis of what’s there more than arbitrary coping mechanisms. If you really needs to do this to get through the show because he hates it so much, I would rather he not watch it at all than ignore it and watch the parody of it that exists in his own head.

        Hmm… to put it another way, in my educational background I was taught to always put the other writer’s argument in its best light, so that you can confront it intelligently. It doesn’t matter how badly its written or how many contradictions it has, you assume that they probably had something to say and the analyzer should do the work to extract that something. Maybe you disagree with it anyway, or you find the writer’s assumptions repulsive, but that’s not a reason to dismiss it out of hand. An analysis is only worth something if you’re willing to understand the other writer, if only just enough for you to rip them apart afterward.

        That’s what I feel Bobduh isn’t doing here. He’s made the understandable judgment that the writer isn’t very good at developing characters and uses secondary characters mostly to prop up his main character. But, unless he’s hiding something from us, he stops there. He doesn’t want to address the author’s feelings on depression and escapism or whatever because he just, well, disagrees. So instead of getting a thorough dissection of this flawed work, we instead get these shallow parodies, which are momentarily amusing but have no lasting value to anyone. We’re wasting everyone’s time, mostly Bobduh himself.

        I would have preferred something closer to how he treats series he actually likes, only with a different sort of conclusion reached.

        • The issue is that everything to say has been said. Bobduh’s write-ups on the last two episodes could be regurgitated for this episode. Standard otaku and/or YA problematic gender roles, power fantasy vs. narrative storytelling, some faint gleamings of a theme about freedom, Suguha actually has kind of character development, Suguha fanservice, the only thing missing from this is another Asuna scene, thank goodness.
          This episode can get away with being a parody because he’s already engaged with all of the subtext that could be interesting, and the show isn’t providing any new analysis material to work with.

          It’s the same as why Swordboiled Art Online could come to be. Everything that needed to be said about the two episodes was said in the first, so why not go to town on the second?

        • I don’t hate the show. I actually do hate elements of the show, but I find writing about it very enjoyable, and these writeups have always been a combination of craft breakdown and entertainment for the readers. The show has been much less interesting to assess in a craft breakdown sense this second half, largely because it keeps being very bad in the same exact ways, which aren’t interesting or meaningful to repeatedly talk about. Instead, I dramatized what I consider one of the show’s greatest core failings, using parody to illustrate the problem of Kirito’s role in this narrative. I’m frankly a little insulted by the assumption that I’m actually “avoiding” talking about the show’s themes – I’d assume the other SAO posts would make it clear that if interesting stuff comes up, I’m very happy to talk about it. There’s just only so much to dissect in Sword Art Online.

    • Eh, this episode had a couple moments of actual content, but I’ll cover them next time. If this show had interesting things to say, I wouldn’t ignore them just to propagate a different narrative.

  3. It’s so difficult to write seriously about this show per episode without it turning into a pisstake fest. I really liked your writeup on this episode regardless, and I’m assuming we’re going to hear a little about your actual opinion on the episode in the next post anyways.

    Also the minotaur transformation is pretty broken op but it truly does not compare to what happens next episode. And in episode 23.

  4. Your methods of keeping your chin up about this show have gotten kind of dark, I see.

    Also: “If you let your desires consume you in this world, it will change who you are in the real world.”

    I don’t mean to harp on about episode 24, but considering what happens in that episode, you might want to hold on to this line for episode 25.

  5. That was an amazing read. I didn’t laugh this hard in a long time.

    Really liking your style, and this post inspired me to take a look at your novel.

    • Hahaha, didn’t expect this post to boost book sales, BUT I’LL TAKE IT. Glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you enjoy the book!

  6. Oh christ I’d forgotten about the stupid politics side plot.

    And the Gleam Eyes transformation is such supreme bullshit. Unbelievable.

    • That was always something I had a bit of a hard time swallowing, you mean that people get so into this game that they actually care about the in-game politics that much vs teaming up with as many different types of faeries as possible for type advantages? In LH it made sense since that literally was their world, and plenty of people didn’t participate, but here it feels like too big a stretch…..

      “0:37 – Now that she’s said it, the timer has begun. In less than twenty minutes, my “crummy Spriggan magic” will save her life, resulting in her falling even further in love with my charmed, fate-bound self.” Oh god I died.

      • In defense of the politics side-plot, keep in mind that people get incredibly invested in the in-game politics of, say, EVE Online. Heaven knows why they do, but they do.

      • There really are a lot of people who become invested in in-game politics. This isn’t something new, or unlikely. There would be no reason to have in-game political functionality, if no one cared about them.

    • Yup. I think this is where it really shows that the author is writing a gaming fantasy without knowing much about games. First we get three episodes worth of “LOL SPRIGGANS ILLUSION MAGIC IS FOR N00BZ” which is complete bullshit since of course illusion magic is as legit and useful as any other kind, especially in teams and support roles. Then when that stuff is disproved… it is by something that is BY NO MEANS illusory magic. Even if it was only “his range has increased” (well, he can also crush people with his bare hands after lifting them from the ground… details) that wouldn’t be an illusion but a rather useful transformation magic. The bullshit/minute density of this show is too damn high.

      • I always rationalized Leafa’s belief that Illusion magic was weak, as her being 1, new to video games, and 2, the fact she never really left the area of her own Faction, and therefore never interacted with anyone who used Illusion magic very much at all. In that sense her complaints would make sense.

        As for it not being illusion magic… Well, some people could easily consider transformations as a form of magic. It’s also probably from the lore that Spriggans often transformed for pranks and such.

      • I figure that illusion magic is normally pretty useless in the game. And thus she thinks it’s useless.

      • Well, surely transformation are magic, they simply aren’t ILLUSION magic. I’m not an expert in MMORPG but usually I’d say transformations are common for either natural magic users (transformations into animals) or black magic ones (demons and the likes). Either way, they usually go arm-in-arm with summoning magic, not illusion. Just sayin’.

      • I meant to say that some would consider it as a form of Illusion magic. (typos)
        Anyways, if you want to argue about the semantics of what is what, in an MMO, there’s how Elves and Fairies are not the same thing, yet ALO treats them the same. Probably because in some folklore, they ARE the same thing. Similarly, in some folklore transformations are just another form of an illusion.

      • I’ve seen illusion and transformation bundled into the same class of magic in games before. Though more if a MISC class then anything.

  7. “I have no feelings about anything”. I died. Anime needs more 4th wall aware protagonists that lament their very existence.

  8. Oh lawdy, you have the mediocre-YA voice down, especially Suguha’s.

    Thank goodness you used your powers for good in your actual YA publication.

    If this were set in the 50s, would this write-up have also included liberal use of the word “phonies?” 😛

    • Although I can’t even imagine what a hypothetical Salingerian SAO write-up would be like, and if I would even enjoy reading that.

      I will pray you never get so depressed in the episodes left that this becomes a possibility.

  9. I read the whole post with a sarcastic tone, pretty satisfying, awesome work bob

  10. Nice! I love your SAO write ups, always brightening my day. By the way, this one was so specially entertaining, it even gave me ideas (not stealing your concept of course).
    But whatever, keep it up on giving your opinions and never hold back anything from us, well, not being a hater if you don´t feel like it. But more in the way of saying what you think and not what others want to hear.
    Well done on this one!
    Also…. why Abdul had to die!? I know every Jojo have to lose a friend (or in the case of further installments.. more) but still… this was so funny with his “You can´t predict the future of a fortuneteller” one liner. And the way Noriaki reacted to his death and everything that happened after that en before the end of the episode was so.. heart touching (cry)

    • Steal away! It’s very flattering to hear that, and all the best writers steal shamelessly!

      Abdul had to die so his friends could live. A hero’s death!

  11. This was amusing. I’ll admit, seeing Kirito’s despair over his agency aura was funny 🙂
    A person on SpaceBattles has dubbed Kirito a “mesovore”, or “agency vampire”. I think it kinda fits 🙂

    • It’s called mesophage (“agency eater” in Greek) now… and it is a fitting name for the curse.

      I do think that it would make a pretty good story though. Kirito, the boy who will eventually be known as Sasuke.

  12. “The role I was born to play. I remember enjoying table tennis, once”

    Ow. My heart.
    Please make it through this, I would be sad if you died

  13. Have you ever read Redshirts by John Scalzi? This writeup reminds me strongly of that book. If you were enjoying the concept, then I highly recommend it.

  14. Hahaha this is brilliant. I can see how SAO is changing you… It’s effecting you… dun dun dun. 😛
    But really, this was a very interesting writeup you’ve done this time. What inspired it?

    • I was having a conversation with someone on twitter about Kirito as a character, and they were arguing that he himself is actually reasonably likable and not a huge problem. My counter to this was that it didn’t really matter if Kirito was likable – his presence, and the way the show always reacted to him, made him poison everything around him whether he liked it or not. And after thinking about that, I decided taking that “or not” to its greatest extreme would probably offer a pretty good look at the weird little universe this show creates.

  15. This is even better than what you did with the detective episodes. Also I like how so many people are saying the Gleam Eyes transformation is OP. If anyone else used it they would just become a big target, because it only changes their size. It’s just that Kirito’s stats are broken as fuck to begin with, so he’s probably stronger than the real Gleam Eyes. It was probably the only choice I liked this arc, because if you’re going to have your MC be broken as hell, might as well give him an ability that is only useful when you are that broken.

    • Yeah, but if the point was just that his stats were so high he could crush anyone anyway, why would he need to transform?

      Plus they say clearly that the transformation “increases his range”. So that’s an advantage. Illusion my ass. Illusion would be to turn into a giant monster, without any effective changes in either stats or range AND without any increase in your actual hitbox, so the advantage is that the transformation makes you harder to hit.

      • The point of the spell was shock-value. He had the same stats, with a much larger avatar. The spell itself just allowed him to break up their formation.

      • @TUSF
        If that were true, then he shouldn’t be able to pick someone up that high and eat them, or piece through shields, or side-swipe around them, etc.

      • Did you not see how he killed two seemingly high-level player, with armor that had to be just as high-level, with nothing more than a starting sword?

        His STR stat is just THAT over-leveled and broken in this game.

      • Yes I know it increases his range. That is why his hitbox is bigger. He got physically bigger, but his stats were unaffected. For most people this would not be much help, as they would just be obliterated by magic since they are now a massive target. Kirito has the stats to make him an actual monster when he transforms. Thus he is capable of lifting people with one hand and eating them. The only thing stopping him from doing this normally is the size of his mouth.

      • What you don’t seem to understand is that anything that does anything beyond simply changing the appearance of things isn’t an “illusion”. Changing both range of attack and hitbox may be a balanced approach to a relatively sensible spell, but it isn’t an “illusion”. It’s transformation, it may belong to some kind of transmutation school of magic. Illusions are magical fog, blindness, doubles that can’t do any damage kage-bushin style, invisibility, you name it. There’s plenty of potential for spells that would give you a edge in combat, but transforming into a big mean demonic King Kong isn’t one of them, even if it doesn’t change your stats. And it’s not clear why experienced players who should probably be used to fighting bosses by now would have their formation broken by the same enemy they were facing already, only bigger and meanier-looking.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! And yeah, the transformation doesn’t seem OP – it’s just Kirito that’s OP, and this is visualizing what we already knew.

  16. Just wanted to say, keep up the good work with your Episode Recaps.

    I also just read E_minor’s blog at moesucks.com and had a ‘chat’ with him.

    As an understatement, he’s not the most… pleasent person.

    I commend you Bobduh, if not for the great blog posts, but for the whole, “not abusing your readers” thing.

  17. This was pretty hilarious. Not as good as the first half of your murder/mystery SAO post but better than the second.

    This is more related to your murder/mystery SAO post but…

  18. Reminds of one (Russian) novel about power fantasy protagonist meeting his author. Awesome work, I’m kinda jealous.

  19. While I love what you’ve made of the dross of SAO here, I do have to mention that seems to be the actual literal plot of that If Her Flag Breaks show! Which goes to show that satire is not an effective form of protest against people incapable of shame (see also, The Daily Show).

    I’ve seen manga about making/reading manga, and anime about making/watching anime, but do we have a light novel about writing or reading light novels? That might be the critical mass of self-reference that finally implodes the world into a post-modern black hole.

  20. Pingback: Sword Art Online II – Episode 1 | Wrong Every Time

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