Sword Art Online II – Episode 10, Barakamon – Episode 9

Two of this week’s ANN posts are up, featuring somewhat lesser episodes for both Sword Art Online and Barakamon. Sword Art Online in particular was a real head-shaking disappointment this week – after all my tentative hopes, Sinon’s arc managed to find her collapsing into Kirito’s arms after all. This author just can’t friggin’ help himself…

Sword Art Online

8 thoughts on “Sword Art Online II – Episode 10, Barakamon – Episode 9

  1. As a feminist, I was genuinely offended by the Sword Art Online review for this week.

    You’ve pointed out the central conflict yourself, and this is a valid continuation of that–the idea that your online self is a distinct identity from your offline self is vulnerable to anything that brings the problems of one self to the other. This turned Sinon’s coping mechanism against itself, because she’s too busy fixating on the fact that it shouldn’t happen to deal with it. You see that much, and you said so. Furthermore, I think we both agree that a viewpoint needs to have both its strengths and weaknesses shown, and that her side of the argument has already shown its strengths–namely, that Sinon is here at all, when Shino is violently sick even looking at a gun, and that Sinon has been demonstrated to give Shino the strength to act more confidently.

    Which means your problem with this episode’s development in that conflict, despite its merits, is that Sinon is a woman. You DO see the problem with this, right? It doesn’t matter why you’re reducing Sinon to a “hysterical woman” stereotype instead of recognizing her as a person with her own valid strengths and weaknesses, a person who can have problems without it being a giant sexist bugaboo–it’s still offensive. Feminism doesn’t require that all women be strong all the time or that they limit their conflicts to ones you approve of, because those are equally unreasonable and unwelcome impositions on a gender that already has to deal with too much shit.

    And while Sinon is in the middle of a breakdown and Kirito is not, she still manages to get off a very valid point in response to his “no one dies alone” argument–her “will you promise to protect me forever” isn’t some kind of declaration of love, it’s a statement that he can’t be there to protect her all the time, and that if she relies on him when he is, it’ll leave her too weak to fight on her own. It is EXACTLY what you said you wanted in that review, a statement that Kirito’s “desire to protect” is selfish. That’s why he shuts up when she says that.

    I respect most of your calls, man, but I can’t agree with this.

    • Commented on the wrong spot the first time, whoops. Anyways. From the SAO article:

      “… All that is fine character work in the abstract, and in another show, this would possibly have been an effective scene…. This could have been a powerful scene in a vacuum, but scenes don’t exist in vacuums, and the actual reality of SAO is a world where every single women has been domesticated and “fixed” by our resolute Kirito. Any single story could possibly follow that structure, but when we’re on the fifth repetition of it? It robs itself of any seriousness it could possess.”

      I think you missed the reason why Nick was displeased with this turn of events. It wasn’t the fact that Sinon had a breakdown or that she was a girl, it’s that SAO has had this exact same conflict and resolution so many times that it’s gotten dull. Kirito Fixes Girls’ Problems And They Fall In Love With Him isn’t the most engaging thematic resolution after the fourth or fifth time.

    • Did we read the same review? I don’t see how you jumped to the conclusion that Bobduh had an issue with Sinon being a woman, or the review being anti-femminist. I’ll entertain the possibility that my lack of understanding is at fault, so could you clarify/expand on some points for me?
      1. How does Boduh’s review imply that the problem with the development is that Sinon is a woman? Your writing somehow implies that you arrived at this from the fact that her viewpoint has strengths???
      2. How does Bobduh reduce Sinon to a “hysterical woman.” That seems like a pretty extreme statement, and I don’t see any places in the review where Bobduh speaks of Sinon so harshly.
      3. Where does it imply that Bobduh has an issue with female characters with strengths and weaknesses (I would consider a character without either a badly written character, and quality of writing is something that matters to Bobduh.)
      4. Personally I think Sinon’s response is supposed to be viewed as both a counter and an expression of love, though I doubt that the counter will actually be significant for the series and it will be “resolved” with her following him around as a new member of his harem. Bobduh himself wrote: “This could have been a powerful scene in a vacuum, but scenes don’t exist in vacuums, and the actual reality of SAO is a world where every single women has been domesticated and “fixed” by our resolute Kirito.”

    • As others have said, the context and framing is pretty important here. Both the context of SAO itself, in which this is one more in a long line of similar events, and the framing of this specific scene, which reduced what could have been a powerful moment through trite orchestration. Your framing my comments as “women aren’t allowed to be both weak and strong” is a pretty bizarre interpretation of my complaints – I mean, do you really think that’s why I’m frustrated? I generally really like characters with significant weaknesses, and actually like Sinon as a character, outside of the role she’s playing relative to Kirito. Writers make choices – the fact that I’m criticizing a storytelling choice relative to a female character does not mean I am punishing that character for being a woman, it means I am criticizing that writer for a choice they made.

      • Right, sorry, I was a bit excessively testy. Posted that at a bad time. Still, I stand by the basic idea. As presented, this is a no-win scenario.

        This story was written about the weight of a life, because it’s a response to SAO, a delving into of the consequences of having survived that sort of situation. Okay, so the deuteragonist needs a similar conflict, something with as much emotional depth and weight. How can we tie this in to the real-versus-virtual worlds? Well, how would someone in a similar real world self-defense situation be treated? How would that differ from Kirito’s treatment in the wake of SAO? Bam, Sinon. He got off easy, with most of society unable to see or understand, surrounded by people who had gone through the same, while she had to deal with the full social weight of her situation all by herself. She’s had it pretty bad.

        How can she not have a breakdown at some point and still have this be treated as a legitimate issue, a problem with weight? This scene HAD to happen. The thing that really gets to me here is that Kirito had this exact same breakdown earlier in the series. Death Gun showing up, revealing he was a Laughing Coffin member, reminds him of the people he killed. It’s an intrusion of a part of the past he thought he’d left behind, and it reduces him to a shivering wreck, left to clutch weakly at Sinon’s sleeve… And when he runs into a conflict immediately afterward, he does exactly what Sinon says she’ll do in this episode: he charges in and fights with no regard for his own safety. Afterward, he remains a muted emotional husk until Sinon sets him straight.

        When I said you were reducing Sinon to her gender, I mean that when you say this episode was problematic, you’re not talking about Sinon. You’re not even talking about GGO. You’re reducing Sinon to a cardboard cutout of a SAO Weak Female Character and saying, “Clearly this is just more evidence of SAO’s problem with women.” It doesn’t matter if the scene makes narrative sense, or if it makes thematic sense, or if there’s an in-series exact parallel with the genders flipped, the scene is problematic merely by virtue of being a sequel to a problematic series. That bothers me!

        I don’t think GGO is a masterpiece, by any standard, but I’m really not sure what it should be doing instead. What, if anything, could be done to make this breakdown less problematic for you? Kirito had his equal-and-opposite already, so that clearly isn’t enough. Does Sinon have to be male for this not to be a problem? Would it be somehow less problematic if Klein has the male lead for this arc? Because the answer is not that this work can’t tackle this issue, and if it is, I think you need to revise your standards.

        • I’m not really sure what the answer is. Handle it with some subtlety, don’t use the exact standard dialogue and visual language of a tsundere switch scene (the chest-pounding, “I hate you, let me lean on you,” etc), have her anger be directed more at his beliefs than his “strength,” don’t have her collapse into him and then use those typical leering shots of her resting against him. Do something differently. It’d certainly take more work, and frankly, there is definitely a chance this show just cannot escape its own grave on this front – maybe no articulation of this scene would have not made me sigh, given SAO’s existing baggage. As I said, context matters – I can’t divorce my evaluation of this one scene from the three hundred other ones that have made up this show. All I know is that this version did not work for me.

  2. “… All that is fine character work in the abstract, and in another show, this would possibly have been an effective scene…. This could have been a powerful scene in a vacuum, but scenes don’t exist in vacuums, and the actual reality of SAO is a world where every single women has been domesticated and “fixed” by our resolute Kirito. Any single story could possibly follow that structure, but when we’re on the fifth repetition of it? It robs itself of any seriousness it could possess.”

    I think you missed the reason why Nick was displeased with this turn of events. It wasn’t the fact that Sinon had a breakdown or that she was a girl, it’s that SAO has had this exact same conflict and resolution so many times that it’s gotten dull. Kirito Fixes Girls’ Problems And They Fall In Love With Him isn’t the most engaging thematic resolution after the fourth or fifth time.

  3. whereas Kirito fights because he feels “there are things he must protect” (a philosophy I’m still hoping the show eventually starts to depict as more selfish than honorable),

    Yeah, fat chance. Fighting to protect is, like, the epitome of noble romantic statements in Asian pop culture. (Right next to “I will take responsibility [for your feelings/pregnancy/whatnot]”) While they might show that such a motivation is indeed selfish, it will still cast as romantic selfishness, and thus add to his desirability.

    It’s a bit interesting that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope has never gone the harem route in western culture. She always hones in on a single hapless dude, fixes him, and then they get together, or not, depending on the lesson he needs to learn.
    Even in the case of reverse harem in anime, the focus is often more on fleshing out the boys and their relationships with each other, than making the girl into some sort of female power fantasy. It’s more about the attention the males are bestowing upon the female, than her ability to Fix Them making her more desirable to the audience. (And in the almost-exception case of Haruhi, people consider the harem to be Kyon’s, not hers.)

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