Sword Art Online II – Episode 22

Oh boy. This episode. What is there to say? Sometimes Sword Art Online can be pretty okay, and sometimes it tries to get really, really sad. This episode was basically Yui The Doll You’re Supposed to Care About Vol. II, with Yuuki and her Sleeping Knights piling on basically every sad-sack revelation the show could possibly muster. It’s so transparent and inept that I can’t even feel insulted by it – it’s like a little kid trying to tell a sad story. Episodes like this make me marvel at the fact that Sword Art Online is a massive production involving the work of hundreds of people. And all… all for this.

Here’s the full ANN post. Notes/incredulous tweets below!

Sword Art Online

Asuna trying to get in contact with Yuuki

“I believe Yuuki doesn’t want to see you again. For your sake, and no one else’s.” Christ, it’s hard to watch this show after Log Horizon. Writinggg

“We’re really happy to have met you.” Yeah, it’s already going into the “don’t you love these characters? Isn’t this sad?” mode. Damnit SAO, you gotta work for these things

“Just forget about us.” Oh come on

“Even if the guild ended, I thought we could stay friends forever.” COME ON

This episode is already making me wish we actually saw the strategizing montage at the end of the OP as an actual episode. Those character-building moments are absolutely necessary for what this episode is trying to do

Kirito is more hesitant than Asuna to have Asuna meet Yuuki in the real world. He’s had more experience with people totally given over to the digital world, and knows they have their reasons

I guess I do buy that Asuna really wants to see Yuuki again, if only because she sees her as inspiration for confronting her own mother

“All she does is talk about me. But whenever she was done talking about you, she would cry.” Relayed in a flat tone by the character’s doctor. About as SAO as you can get

The Medicuboid – a medical full-dive system

“For people with hearing or vision problems, it’s a blessing, because the machine transmits sights and sounds directly to the brain.” Pretty interesting, actually

It also paralyzes nerves and acts as a kind of anesthesia

Sounds like they’re setting up this Medicuboid for more ambitious future arcs

“The place where it’s hoped it’ll have the most impact is terminal care.”

As a baby, she was given blood infected with a virus. Big woops

So Yuuki’s essentially a shell in the real world. As far on the “the digital world is my world” spectrum as you can get – the show emphasizes how graceful her fighting is to provide a starker contrast with this “reality.” Gaming is her freedom.

Welp, Yuuki has AIDS. I’m sure that’ll go over well on the forums

“The virus she was infected with was a drug-resistant variant.”

“Yuuki-kun and her family believed she’d get better.” Why? It’s AIDS. You don’t get better

Nice visual articulation of Yuuki as they do exposition about the Medicuboid

“Her longing for the unknown of a virtual world was probably the deciding factor.”

I don’t really care, so this episode just feels really slow

So her grace is actually a direct byproduct of three straight years in the full dive

They keep flashing back to the two episodes of Yuuki we’ve had, but it’s not enough

“Two years ago, her parents passed away. And then her sister a year ago.” That’s right. ALL the puppies

The entire point of this episode is banking on an emotional resonance the show hasn’t earned. That makes it basically impossible to evaluate – it’s just failed from moment one

I guess I’ll give it a low grade that I attribute to the arc overall, for failing to earn this specific episode. Not that the episode itself is anything special anyway

This reunion scene’s execution is pretty good. Understated, fortunately

Oh wow, ALL of them are doomed. This show

“It’s because two of our members have been told they have at most three months to live.” AHAHAHA

“I want to go to school.” Maybe the first honest moment of this episode

27 thoughts on “Sword Art Online II – Episode 22

  1. This episode probably best illustrates (what I perceive to be) one of Kawahara’s biggest problems as a writer: he can’t help but fall into extremes.

    He’s admitted before that he often doesn’t plan an arc beforehand, and just starts off as soon as he has characters and events in mind. When he was writing Sinon, he said that he ended up giving her so many traumas, from just the ones portrayed. In general he made her life tragic, even going as far as to make her dad slowly bleed to death over the course of hours, while her mother watched, trapped in a car until she just wasn’t all there anymore. The anime of course cut some of those details.

    Yuuki is similar, where he effectively went and made her life sad in almost every way he could, giving her one of the most devistating conditions known at the time (this was written in 2004), in an attempt to make her this inspirational figure who survived by fighting for so long. Something the anime cut out (or glossed over) was how Yuuki was also bullied in school, when some parents found out about her condition. Probably one of the director’s better moves, that he hinted would happen in an interview.

    Even Kirito and Asuna are examples of this, where he made them “too perfect”, and when he tried to tone that down, he put one in a cage. And then there’s how Haruyuki from Accel World was his attempt to write not-Kirito.

    Even Leafa looks like a product of trying to make a caring sister who missed her brother, gone too far.

    It seems to be a trend that is evident through a lot of his earlier SAO writings (with some exceptions.)

    • With episodes like this, I feel like trying to pinpoint exact problems like “difficulty avoiding extremes” is just kind of over-complicating a very simple thing – the dude just can’t write. His inability to construct an overall effective narrative is what doomed this arc, even if that’s most apparent through the absurd sadness extremes this episode resorted to. There’s just really serious structural problems all throughout SAO that kind of demand a more fundamental fix than treating the symptoms.

      • Eh, I have to disagree, really. He has a lot of quirks, but I don’t think he’s a bad writer.
        While I don’t think most of your reviews are unfair, I also have to agree with one of the comments on the ANN forums: You’ve missed the point of the arc.

        The episode wasn’t trying to illicit sympathy for Yuuki: It was introducing Yuuki’s situation to Asuna. The entire arc has focused on Asuna’s perspective, and Yuuki is this girl who inspires Asuna. She’s this bright little girl who popped out of no where, asking for her help to leave her mark on this world. She knows nothing about her, but wants to learn about her anyways.
        Yes, the arc has been silly throwing around death-flags like they’re nothing. And yes, we’ve learned very little about Yuuki in the last two episodes till now – but that’s because the story was only introducing her to Asuna. This is after all Asuna’s story, and Yuuki is there to help develop Asuna.

    • ” And then there’s how Haruyuki from Accel World was his attempt to write not-Kirito.”

      Yeah, but he still gets every girl so he’s even more of a power fantasy than Kirito. The author does not even understand the fundamental nature of the complaints against Kirito. “Oh my character is too perfect, I guess I will just make a character that is completely pathetic in every way except video games, and then let that one skill still make him the most attractive man on earth”

      • “but he still gets every girl so he’s even more of a power fantasy than Kirito”

        Now now, no need to lie and/or exaggerate. How many characters have actually shown any kind of romantic interest in Haruyuki, at all, besides Kuroyukihime?

        If you’re only reasoning for this comment is that a larger part of the cast is female, I really can’t take you seriously.

        • I don’t remember the characters by name, but his childhood friend has the major hots for him, and they have more than hinted at the little red girl wanting him as well. I actually don’t remember any other important female characters (except from that vacation arc), so that means pretty much all of the girls he interacts with want to get in his pants.

  2. This sounds less of a review and more of a “I hate this series and I also hate anyone who likes this and publicly professes their love of it.” There’s nothing really intelligent or analytical in your article as you nitpick each and every line (which was taken directly from the LN) and go off on an emotional tantrum.

    Look, I wouldn’t have minded if you were having issues with the LN in particular, and I do appreciate the criticisms by literary reviewers who’ve already raked the series over blazing hot coal several times over, but to act like this is entirely the anime production staff’s fault is analogous to someone who pretended not to see that 5 year old on the sidewalk, proceeds to run him over, and then tell the cop that “I didn’t see him”. You’re being disingenuous, even slightly dishonest, to others and with yourself in this supposed review, and it really does sound like you’re pandering to a certain clique or even an echo chamber in which you’re a member of.

    • When you’re forced to resort to desperate invalidation attempts like “you’re being dishonest with yourself” or “you’re pandering to a certain clique,” you should probably take a step back. Or when you’re comparing a review that makes you mad to, uh, running over a child, I guess?

    • “to act like this is entirely the anime production staff’s fault is analogous to someone who pretended not to see that 5 year old on the sidewalk, proceeds to run him over, and then tell the cop that ‘I didn’t see him'”

      Expecting people to take an analogy that hyperbolic and intellectually facile at all seriously is literally the same thing as barring the doors of an orphanage and setting it on fire. EXACTLY. THE. SAME.

  3. I’m still trying really, really hard to disabuse myself of the notion that the reason Yuuki could smell Asuna was that Sugou put smell in the game because of reasons.

    I was kind of disappointed when I realized this show is almost completely over now; this whole arc has been only a few episodes, and as far as I can tell there really wasn’t a lot of relevant information in about half of them. I remember thinking at the end of last episode that if they didn’t try to make whatever was up with Yuuki some big plot twist then it would have been a lot better. Even so, it looks like this arc of SAO is going to end on a much better note than the previous ones.

    • Yeah, we’re just sort of ending with a series of vignettes here. It seems like the system Yuuki is attached to and the scifi stuff Kirito is doing will eventually build towards some more ambitious arc, but we’re not getting there this time.

  4. I think your words normally provide a decently argued differing opinion, but in this instance I feel like your review this week was comparable to Totalbiscuit’s WTF is episode on the PC version for Dark Souls.

    I definitely agree; this arc is weak. In LN length, this arc was as long as the GGO arc, but for some reason was done in <10 episodes. That's completely baffling. I agree that they could have done things quite a bit better on the emotional aspect of things. What I disagree on is when you say

    "The entire point of this episode is banking on an emotional resonance the show hasn’t earned."

    Is that what you actually believe? Obviously the entire episode wasn't this way, right? I felt like this episode in its entirety was just a reminder that these kids (because let's face it, they're kids) didn't really understand what reality meant for other people. The emotional strength was definitively weak, but was that really the point of this episode? I thought this was just a filler episode on that part. I'd imagine the actual heavy emotion rolls in during the next episode or two. This week's episode was a reminder that the world isn't all just leveling up, going on quests, etc. I felt like Reki intended a lot of this series to remind us of that.

    The most obvious examples are from Asuna, from her mother to Sugou, but even in this episode with Kirito talking with Yui about the camera he's working on. Yui, an AI, being able to see what's happening in real life. That's important, isn't it? This reminds us that the relationship between the real world and the virtual world isn't simply a result of escapism or another way to waste time.

    Kirito doesn't just hesitate because he knows people can be freaky sometimes, he hesitates because he understands what the real world is, but Asuna is still in that little bubble (I think the references to Kirito being perceived as older demonstrate this) and needs to figure things out for herself.

    My final point is one that my friend actually mentioned, and I think it's especially poignant now, where he says he doesn't believe any episode would have convinced you that SAO's characters actually resemble human beings. You're tunneled into one perspective and mindset that detract from the integrity and content of your writing. Admittedly, this may be a weakness of weekly reviews that cover the episode and how it ties in with episodes before it, because not much is known about the rest and what happens next, but still. I figured you could do better.

      • Admittedly, I worded that badly. I meant how much of the GGO arc the anime actually covered. Basically, I am of the opinion that the anime only used material from 60% of the GGO arc because a lot of the LN was explaining and even rambling at times.

        I didn’t think out my response very well, as I clarified in a post further down. I simply felt it absurd that the events in the GGO arc (I think lasted around a month, please correct me if I’m wrong) took the majority of this season’s airtime when the Mother’s Rosario arc (which I believe also translated to a month in the timeline) was equal in length and far more emotionally driven, and would be, in my opinion, a much better watch.

    • I think you are very heavily projecting what you personally respond to in SAO as a general “this is what people should talk about when they talk about SAO.” My writing isn’t any different here from elsewhere (in fact, I’ve been far harsher about SAO elsewhere), it just diverges sharply from your own feelings.

      • There is no point talking about this.

        The comments speak for themselves. People want to be manipulated into feeling sad. and they dont care how. They dont care about the transparency!. Give them the puppy they need.

        You say “they are overdramatizing it with the AIDS” and you get slapped for supporting AIDS bullies.

        The critics are only giving this show the attention it needs, but not deserves. It needs to stop.

        PS: As for my experience of this episode: it was sad, it really was. But i wasnt buying it at all. The though “if only they told this story in non-SAO way, if only…” is all i took from this episode.

        • I think the main differing points of view and lack of common ground stems from Yuuki’s situation and how it departs from reality by going into extremes, and how that reflects a lazy writing choice. I agree on both these statements.

          That said, there are plenty of reasons to talk about “this.” Some people view this anime like a piece of writing, others as simply messages and ideas regardless of how they’re conveyed. My opinion is that understanding of different ways of viewing the same thing is pretty important.

          • Well, i agree with you (feels good). So yeah, i was also ‘overreacting’ when i said there is no point talking about it (my bad). What i really meant is that some people will overlook and engage in transparent drama because they just dont mind. The likes/dislikes show the majority of people voting are like that and that unfortunately most of them are the unreasonable bunch. And trying to reason with unreasonable is itself unreasonable.

            Ill only add:
            1 I dont think SAO goes into extremes here, or at least not more than other anime go (Sunrise anyone?). I think the problem really lies (well it has been said already so ill just repeat it) in the fact that it (the drama) is too artificial and doesnt connect (by building on previous episodes).

            2 More than a piece of writing i think its that once people start to be unable to suppress their suspension of disbelief, in order to see why, they start pointing things out. It isnt that they do not want the show to succeed or only want/pretend to look at things objectively. Bobduh said it somewhere – its all a matter of how much you are able to suppress it. When SAO S1 came out i rated it 8. Now i would rate it 6. Ive seen a lot in between… As for which of the two scores (and points of view) is correct…, well, now i think the 2nd but before it was the 1st. Both are correct on their own. If someone is an absolutists then the later one is the most correct. The relativists are more comfortable here i guess. (Im the former group).

        • “People want to be manipulated into feeling sad. and they dont care how. They dont care about the transparency!.”

          That may be true for some people, but I completely agree with Bobduh on this one. This was a cheap grab at undeserved emotional investment. With all the death flags they were throwing around I was worried this is where it was heading, and I was right. To me it felt like the author thought he could make up for the lack of attachment to these new character by just making there story extra sad. While that may work for you, and that may work for a lot of people, that does not work for me, and it does the exact opposite, it destroys my attachment to characters and cheapens any emotional weight their plight should have held.

        • I think it’s because of the difference between the average viewer and the critic. The average viewer will go into something wanting to like it, and will watch the episode once, often glossing over the smaller things and only remembering the overall tone “It’s sad”, which is what gets people.

          On the other hand, critics will watch something multiple times, looking extra hard for flaws, often because that makes for a more interesting review. Because of this, they often look past what the episode was trying to do, and instead on how it did it.

          I guess that’s the sacrifice of becoming a critic; while you can appreciate good anime more, it makes you much pickier about everything else, and you start to lose the idea of “guilty pleasures”.

      • Sorry, you’re right. I went a little overboard rambling here. I guess the main point I want to make is that, since I know what will happen at this arc’s conclusion, I felt that this week’s review was dismissive of an arc that was not yet complete.

  5. I think it’s interesting that no one at all has brought up Yui and Sachi in their “counter-arguments” here. Sachi, in particular, should be the obvious Kirito parallel for anyone trying to argue that this arc is really about Asuna, as a case where Girl/Guild of the Week is Death Flag Central, and just meant to affirm our protagonist’s life resolve or something with their demise.

    This indicates that the show has failed to sufficiently develop Asuna’s POV and feelings towards Yuuki, so that we at least buy her reaction to the reveals about Yuuki, if not the details of Yuuki’s backstory. If you “missed the point,” it’s because the show didn’t do enough work framing the narration of Yuuki’s backstory to keep the viewer emotionally invested in Asuna’s reaction, not the viewer’s external/personal reaction to Yuuki.

    It also highlights the problem you had with Sinon’s interactions with Kirito: that SAO’s history bites itself in the ass here. The Sinon-Kirito story would have almost been okay in isolation, but as just another notch in Kirito’s harem belt, it feels cheap. Similarly, we’ve gone through Yuuki’s equivalent arcs through Sachi and Yui, so it’s just another float in the Maeda Moeblob Tragedy Parade.

    Is it any wonder that Azuma came up with his model? We have case examples right here of consuming media to evoke the same receiving emotions again and again, with simply the presence of the database elements sufficient to do the job, regardless of execution. No one brings up Sachi or Yui in their defenses of the show, because that past doesn’t matter to them, only that the checklist of moeblob tragedy beats has been met for this particular arc.
    (Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with this mode of consumption. After all, it’s one of the reasons fanfiction exists. But it does mean that such viewers will keep perceiving critics to be “missing the point,” or willfully denying the “quality” of the work, instead of accepting that they’re operating under completely different frameworks.)

    • Yeah, one of the critical failings here is definitely the show’s failure to really coherently link Yuuki and Asuna’s drama in a way that makes the audience feel invested in Yuuki for Asuna’s sake. And as you say, because this is SAO, my first thought is less “what are they doing with this narrative” and more “oh hey, it’s Yui 2.0.”

      • But I don’t get how Sachi’s tragedy is at all better displayed than Yuuki’s. Sachi had one episode where her whole personality was “afraid of dying (aka she’s gonna die soon)”. Her personality was built around her inevitable death ever since the start of the episode.

        Yuuki, on the other hand, has had three episodes, as well as a personality that was less likely to give away her true story. Granted, when she did reveal it, it was very ham-fisted, and it’s something she should’ve expressed from the start, but Sachi’s reveal was obvious from the start.

        So while people here see Sachi as the better example, I can’t quite tell why.

  6. Yuuki never gets enough development because we never saw her or the other Sleeping Knights interacting on their own without the MCs present; that’s also why the girls in Kirito’s harem feel cardboard too. By contrast, I think Sinon only worked as a character because of that episode where she and her team got the entire spotlight; if that hadn’t been there, the following episode where her backstory was introduced would have felt almost as undeserved as this one did. Yuuki should have had her own version of Episode 2.

  7. I feel like you’re not criticizing the episode or the story as much as the format. If I was going to write the story of MR as a (full) novel, and it turned out like these episodes, I would consider it a failure. But what if I was making it as a short story, say a few thousand words was all I had to work with? Because that’s in a way the way it is. We’re dealing with a light novel adaptation here into an arc-based anime. The story and characters were never going to or could be extended past a few episodes unless the author wanted to implement an entire plot/genre shift for the series which he clearly didn’t. It’s an off shoot, a side quest if you will, of the main SAO. Of course it would be better, more emotionally compelling expanded as the main quest, but almost anything would. For a side story, it’s not bad at all.

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