Sword Art Online – Episode 23

I have now passed what I have been informed are both “the low point” and “the high point” of this second arc – The Dream of the Power Fantasy’s Waifu and The Fall of the House of Imouto respectively. If I still possessed the capacity to feel things, I assume this would generate a feeling of accomplishment – as is, much like my old friend SAO, I can only roughly approximate emotions while smiling a little too widely at the camera. However, in spite of me not really being invested in her story, I actually do like Sugu as a character, and I’m hoping the end of last week’s episode will prompt a bit more real life drama this time. Alfheim itself has been a bust, but all the stuff around it has been on a much higher level of writing and direction than Sword Art Online normally musters. Meaning that even though I’m sure this arc’s actual finale will combine everything I dislike about Kirito, Asuna, and the show itself, there’s a good chance Sugu may lend some actual poignancy to the final climb.

Or Oniichan will just give her a hug and then she’ll be back in the harem and this will just end up being one of those “I’ll let Asuna have you… FOR NOW” Anime Things and everything will well and truly be terrible.


Episode 23

0:04 – No matter how well she acts this scene, she’s still saying “I cannot conceive of a sibling relationship that does not involve either total separation or heavy petting.” That is a difficult conflict to invest me in!

Sword Art Online

2:13 – The first two things that flash in my mind are “INCEST” and Asuna dangling in tentacle-bondage. Choose your words carefully, SAO

2:53 – For once, an anime is actually using “not blood related” in a way relevant to situations actual human beings would find themselves in – feeling a strange sense of youth isolation. You get a point, SAO

3:05 – Character development! And it even reflects on the “any reality is a valid one if your human connections there are valid” theme! BAM!

3:20 – Guess we’re just gonna have the protagonist narrate that theme to the audience now then

Sword Art Online

3:24 – Nice juxtaposition here. “No point in wondering who someone really is, because they might turn out to be a barely-written antagonist who forgets their own motivation.”

3:32 – Hence “your in-game actions are reflective of your true self.” It works both ways

4:13 – I like this choice. He knows there’s no difference in the two realities, but it might makes things feel less personal for her

5:15 – Yeah I do not envy her the post-incest-confession conversation

5:25 – Oh christ fuck not today kid it has been a ridiculous evening

Sword Art Online

5:31 – Some prisoners are just not worth holding on to

6:22 – Ugh, these conversations. They show up all the time in fiction, and always seem artificial as fuck. It’s basically one character telling another character they need to be a static character

6:28 – Oh wait right we use this guy to make Kirito look better I forgot

6:55 – Poor Effeminate Rival-kun

7:13 – Now HERE is a venue for MEN

Sword Art Online

7:16 – RAAAH MAN

7:38 – MAN FIGHT

8:03 – Only those who’ve played THAT MANY videogames can project a true Killing Intent

8:32 – Nice detail. This show has a bunch of well-animated expressions, which are tremendously valuable

9:44 – Dang, this whole sequence is legitimately great. Understated, earnest, actually important to the characters, narrative, and themes. A nice gift

Sword Art Online

10:19 – Aw, showoffs

Wait… hold on, Oniichan actually DID just give her a hug and she’s back in the harem and Asuna can have him “for now.” GODDAMNIT SHOW YOU TRICKED ME WITH GREAT EXECUTION

10:33 – And Recon gets to be cannon fodder. Nice use of resources, Leafa

11:32 – You’re overdoing it, author

12:22 – You’re overdoing it, show

13:08 – Sometimes it feels like this show’s videogame focus is actually one of its greatest weaknesses. This really is what a lot of MMOs are like – you slamming your way through waves of faceless, meaningless enemies, all of them incredibly weak, the only real threat being the amount of tedious conflict the programming can throw at you. As a gamer, you accept it, because there are either other compelling elements or we just accept a very low standard of dramatic conflict as the cost of actually being the actor in that conflict. But in show form, videogames are boring – this is like wandering into the living room and seeing your housemate killing fodder with his max-leveled character, something even he is probably doing mainly because nothing else has come out lately and no good shows are on. Drama should be specific, distinctive, and weighted down with emotional significance – pretty much none of which is associated with killing waves of videogame enemies. You could probably find ways to avoid that issue of compelling action, but you’d have to try harder than this

Sword Art Online

14:03 – Welp, time for Recon’s big dumb sacrifice. It’s been fun, dude

14:59 – You beautiful bastard

15:26 – Wait, so there’s a spell you can use to suicide and blow up a gazillion enemies? And the only cost is the usual respawn timer? How has no guild used this to beat this dungeon. The author is aware hardcore raiding guilds basically sacrifice their non-working lives to get stuff like world firsts, right?

15:32 – Oh nooo, he’ll have to go outside and maybe see a movie or something. VICTORY, BUT AT WHAT COST?!?

16:52 – Oh hey it’s you guys

Sword Art Online

18:39 – Gotta have this moment, of course

19:15 – IT IS TIME

19:23 – This does not seem like an effective use of two swords

19:32 – Kirito has evolved into a being of pure sex


Sword Art Online

21:50 – Aw shit here it comes. THE CENTER OF THE WORLD

And Done

That was a solid episode! The final fight wasn’t that exciting, but this show’s fights never really are, and the resolution to Sugu’s arc was one of the best scenes in the series. It even ended by both resolving one conflict and building a natural-feeling cliffhanger for the next episode. Things are looking good!

41 thoughts on “Sword Art Online – Episode 23

  1. Don’t worry, Sugu’s not back in the harem because she suddenly ceases to exist like all characters who are no longer relevant to Kirito. Honestly, despite the “girl of the week” presentation of Kirito winning everyone in the universe over, the show doesn’t have much of a harem vibe because they don’t get any screentime. Personally I think of the girls as the expression of the author’s love for Kirito.

    • The thing is that you have Asuna, and then you have the harem. They are like two separate entities. Where you would normally expect Asuna to be the harem lead..

      • The greatest travesty of this type of “disposable characters” writing is the way poor Klein and Egil have been wasted. Best characters of the franchise, amirite?

  2. I wonder actually if you can actually separate the act from the context. You said that there was some great character development and interaction with Sugu but all I can think of the entire time is she really wants the incest. Is incest cool now or something because I can’t stop it from tugging at my disgust factor. Maybe if she was just friend Kirito knows or something, that would make it better but I can’t get it out of my mind that the whole Imouto love thing is just fan service wank.

    • Something can be “wank” but still executed well. Sugu’s breakdown was fantastically executed and a bravura performance by Taketatsu Ayana.

      Its still a /terrible plotline/, but credit where credits due.

    • You actually could write a thoughtful story about incest, but this is not it. SAO just assumes way too much of a base level of “incest is awesome” due to its anime nature.

      • Hmm let me ask you this then. Could you tell a positive story about incest. Not even with it as a framing device to further some other theme but a theme based entirely on incest glorifying it (with artistic merit). Could you do it with rape? Genocide. I think I’ve read a good amount of material exploring exploitation (in various unsavory ways) that was insightful or at least done competently but rare is one to put a positive spin on the subject.

          1. (Usually) Cousin-based incest was not uncommon in isolated societies with limited population. There are apparently some parts of the American Deep South with family trees that have boxes in them not so long ago, and most people know about how European nobility, with notions of blood purity, tended to interbreed. A story in such settings would treat the incest in a matter-of-fact manner. There’s still some of the latter in modern day shoujo, Jdrama, and Kdrama, where the interconnected big corporate families are marrying cousins to each other, without talking much about the incest factor.
            But I’m guessing this case doesn’t count, because it’s not truly glorifying the incest, as you specify.
          2. The original taboo of incest, the biological factor, is becoming less and less important, as the need for procreation in first world countries is less and less of an issue, with adoption and in-vitro involving an external donor being a few of the myriad options to side-step children with incest-caused health defects. The biological factor becomes even less of a problem if the relationship in question is homosexual. So a straightforward love story involving people who happen to be related could theoretically work, and is the tactic most incest fanfiction takes.

          3. As Bobduh has stated in a previous write-up, the real issue with incest is not the basic fact of itself, (the other party happens to be related to me) but that siblings tend to grow up with a power dynamic that is easily twisted into something unhealthy when sex and romance become involved. (And why real-life incest survivors are called, well, survivors) The specific incest set-up currently favored by anime, that of the big brother-imouto, specifically plays up this unhealthy-when-romantic dynamic as what is attractive about it, so in that sense, no, anime-imouto-incest will never be a story that has artistic merit/insight and glorifies incest in a positive way.
            This carries over to shoujo, BL, and yuri that happily luxuriates in the seme-uke dynamic. While outside of the incest context, seme-uke can be used to demonstrate the power dynamics that S&M takes to its logical extreme, again, it becomes inherently twisted when the history of a sibling connection enters the fray.

          Let’s set aside twincest for now. That’s another entire boatload of dynamics and issues and genre-tropes and such that would take up too much space in this comment to consider.

          1. Therefore, a story telling a positive but insightful story about incest would have to deal with such potential power imbalances, by having both parties learning to avoid falling into such habits, and perhaps dealing with actually missing the comforting sibling dynamic they had to give up in order to maintain a healthy romantic relationship.

          However, another way is to side-step this somewhat, by having the two parties involved not grow up together, and meet as strangers. This allows them to develop as individuals separately, as well as develop their interaction dynamic without the expectations of siblinghood coloring their actions. This is also the only way to deal with the Westermarck Effect. Such a story would start as a straight-forward love story, until the two parties discover their blood relation, at which point the story is more about dealing with societal taboos, as the internal problems of regular incest wouldn’t have as much effect in such a situation.

          This demonstrates why the Elsanna (Frozen) and SatsukiRyuko (Kill La Kill) incest fanworks haven’t set off as many squick alarms. They’re homosexual relationships wherein the two parties grew up fairly isolated from one another, and came together as two equals. Elsanna fanfictions tend to involve post-movie Elsa feeling guilty about not taking care of Anna properly as her older sister, before realizing that Anna had indeed grown up on her own into an equal, and so the two cannot and should not revert to a traditional sibling dynamic.
          (I don’t watch Supernatural, so I can’t really speak for the Wincester pairing, but I seem to recall that there, the brothers had also grown apart before the events of the show pushed them back together as equal partners.)

          1. Apparently, Koi Kaze is an anime that attempted to look at an age-gap incest pairing seriously and “realistically,” but not really negatively, up until it copped out with an ending that enrages most viewers.
          • What the fuck wordpress screwed with my formatting. It should be a basic numbering 1-5, and no paragraph indentations. (Like, the twincest aside should be part of section C, or point #3 in my original input.

      • Interesting read arbitrary. I think I remember bobduh’s post (The one he answers the question about what’s with all these incest shows right?) and I agree that most shows portray these as fantasies with the Imouto as a safe girl for the protag. You brought up Koi Kaze and I read the manga (didn’t watch show yet so I’m not sure if it’s very different) and I personally didn’t enjoy it in the sense in the entertainment sense. Also I kind of didn’t buy their attraction which I took as kind of this irresistible pull kind of thing (which I don’t like in any romance but that’s more a personal taste kind of thing and not really a criticism I guess). I don’t read much fanfics but I know the characters you mentioned and in the Kill La Kill one I do see that lack of unequal power dynamics aspect (although I’m not sure how the actual romance would be handled). But yes the crux of the problem is the inherent structure present in families and the destabilizing effect sex would bring into it. That’s why you probably never see a work really justifying father/daughter or mother/son (god forbid grandmother/grandfather etc) because the parental relationship is inherently unequal and for me step parents, even though not carrying the same blood taboo, is still wrong for me because the violation of the parental structure. The reason that cousins are more socially accepted (and I believe a number of states in the US allows first cousin marriages) is the fact that cousins may not share that power dynamic. Still I guess the ultimate question here is for the writers out there which I would ask : is it worth praising a work that involves subjects that are socially taboo (doesn’t have to be incest) if it’s done well? If someone wrote a heroic epic about the German WWII army or Pol Pot glorifying them should we praise the works even though it includes things like genocides,rapes, torture?

        • Still I guess the ultimate question here is for the writers out there which I would ask

          The short answer is yes, because craft can be independent of content. Just see how Bobduh praises some of the craft aspects of SAO in each episode, concerning framing, pacing, lighting, etc.

          The long answer involves discussing how social issues change over time and how treating issues can affect quality in the form of writing/characterization, such as how taboos surrounding race and sexuality are and aren’t different from rape, torture, and the merits of Godwin’s Law.
          Also, as with the Birth of a Nation example, there would also be discussion of preexisting historic epics that do exactly as you say. Given the cultural context of America, we’d probably start with the Bible.

      • Hm well that’s a pretty satisfactory discussion. However I will just say that while “craft can be independent of content”, content can pervert the merits of craft. No one would bring up minstrel shows as guides to music and theater even though you could argue its has a solid foundation of the three part popular theater. Also whether we can view craft independently vs. should we is another discussion altogether.

  3. Well, that write-up was positively glowing as far as SAO is concerned. Too bad that goodwill isn’t going to last very long… You might want to just stop here and pretend the whole arc ended on a cliffhanger. I don’t know who told you that you’re passed the Rock Bottom of Fairy Dance, but I think they’re a dirty liar.

    • So this’ll be like the “first half good, second half terrible” problem this arc’s episodes keep having, except spread across two entire episodes. Wonderful.

  4. I honestly thought Imouto-chan and her conflict were the best thing about this show.
    Which is really fucking sad

    Things are looking good!

    Ugh, yeah ….. about that…
    The climax of the next episode was so stupid, vile and ridiculous that I literally burst into laughter.

  5. Do Nice Girls actually exist in reality? I mean, there are the “ogawd the boy looked at me uguuu~~!” things, but there isn’t really this “You were nice to me, NAO SEX PLZ” attitude, is there? (Even without the incest complication) Even the “You were nice to me, MUST BE LURVE” thing is generally saved for the delusional comedic relief character of cartoons past, when it comes to girls, and different from the feelings behind “sempai noticed me!”

    You keep bringing up this point about how boring it is to watch someone else play video games, but I wonder. After all, Let’s Plays are enormously popular, and Twitch.tv exists solely because there is a large demand for people wanting to watch other play videogames.
    And while failure and shenanigans videos are fun to watch, I also enjoy the walkthrough-type of Let’s Plays, wherein the player is pretty expert, and so cake-walks his/her way through the game. For some context, I don’t game myself, but I liked sitting in on my gamer friends going through games like Fire Emblem, No More Heroes, and Twilight Princess, much less the guaranteed fun of their Super Smash sessions.
    Of course, all of this is pretty contingent on the player being an entertaining host, so yeah, SAO fails on that front, but the concept itself is not so bewildering to consider. I guesss SAO is also at the disadvantage in that ALO is not an actual game, so we don’t have the contextual knowledge that grounds our sense of weighted conflict and turns watching others play into spectating a sport. (And solo RPG plays are golf.) And they haven’t established anything particularly special about SAO and ALO’s rules to make their fights weighted that way, which were the case when I watched Let’s Plays of games I had never known of before.

    • Let’s Plays actually tend to have a lot more content value than this does. If it’s a single player game, then the game itself is generally more engaging as a spectator than an MMO would be, and as you say, the host is also hugely important. Along with none of the rules here being known, leading to the issues of weighted conflict.

      • Hrm, the Leeroy Jenkins meme has trancended gaming because it’s a bite-sized piece of action that taps into a universal context. (the asshole that screws people over by charging in and ignoring all plans)

        Most other entertaining MMO video tend to revolve around amusing mods/glitches, or the interactions between an entertaining group of players. The most professional and successful of the latter type tend to construct “characters” for themselves as a baseline.

        So, in the end, it’s not so much the MMO gaming setting that really cripples SAO as a lack of compelling players peopling it.

  6. I see you’re a masochist glutton for more punishment while waiting for the new season of Log Horizon. You could just do a whole season one write up instead of subject yourself through the horror of SOA episode 13-24.

  7. Next episode review can’t come soon enough.

    “Things are looking good!”

    rubs hands devilishly

  8. B0bduh: Things are looking good!

    Don’t get too comfy, Bob. Remember: SAO is the cartoony villian. The Cartoon Villian always raises the Hero’s hopes before crushing them.

  9. Finally caught up with your episode commentaries. Got to say, it’s been one heck of a ride. Thanks for all of the laughs.

    Sword Art Online has you right where it wants you, Bobduh. Cackling maniacally and twirling its mustache at your optimism, SAO has leaned back in its chair knowing that episode 23 has lulled you into a false sense of security. Prepare yourself, or episode 24 will swallow you whole.

    • If I didn’t stay positive, it wouldn’t be as much fun for you guys to watch all my dreams turn to ashes. I AM A PROFESSIONAL.

  10. B0bduh-sama, next episode is where things get ridiculous – as in, ridiculous compared to what’s been happening so far.
    Temper that optimism, or you might not make it…!

  11. Wow, everyone is so hype for next episode. Are you hyped yet, Bobduh? You haven’t experienced the true art of storytelling until you’ve completed episode 24.

  12. Finally, there are only 2 remaining episodes of SAO and you will be released from this suffering. Congratulation!

      • … Or be the kind of review that compels you to close your computer, reach for a loved one in a vain plea for warmth and comfort, and/or stare vacantly into thin air, while your brain attempts to parse exactly WHY. WHY NARRATIVE and WHY GENERAL MEDIA and WHY U EXIST SAO DAMN*.
        … Either way, really. 😀

        (*Alla Episode 19’s write-up. Which was fantastic, incidentally.)

        All dramatics aside… The only knowledge I have from episode 24, I got it second-hand, from a mock!fanfic written around actual stills and dialogue of the show. Even so, this episode is… this goes beyond being stupid, or pandering or offensive. I’m just utterly confused as to why anyone would thing half of it needed to be there.
        Going back to lurking now, but before that, good luck to you ! Hopefully, you’ll manage to make more sense out of it than I do. And, in any case… it’s the final stretch!

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