Sword Art Online – 05

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At last the main relationship in Sword Art Online takes center stage.

SAO has a funny sort of narrative style to it – the anime anyway – where it seems as if things keep happening whether we’re watching or not, and we just happen to check in on them from time to time.  As such, there’s no “continuity” between episodes per se.  There’s an obvious passage of time in that things seem to be happening sequentially, but no firm indications of just how much time has passed until someone tosses off a random “six months” comment, or an aside about the seasons.  The effect is that how things got to be the way they are seems relatively unimportant – it’s how things are at any given moment that matters.  Maybe that’s intentional – it does add a layer to the realism when it comes to the scenario of players being trapped inside a simulation they can’t escape from.

For me Tomatsu Haruka is about as good as it gets when it comes to female seiyuu, so any Asuna screen time is a good development.  While she’s a better chameleon than Nagase from Kokoro Connect – there seems no style or character type beyond her – if Haruka-san does have a “sweet spot” as an actor, Asuna is right in the middle of it.  This is not a stretch for her but she still imbues Asuna with a good deal of humanity.  The character as written seems (and I admit it’s too early for a new viewer like me to make the call) like she might be dangerously close to a tsundere stereotype, so I’m glad Haruka-san is there to give the character extra subtlety and depth.

What does seem clear is that both Asuna (The Lightning Flash) and Kirito are both now legends in SAO, especially the former – and she’s become a vice-commander in the guild that’s trying to clear floors for the common good.  They also seem to have a bit of a strained relationship, here exemplified by their disagreement over the treatment of NPCs (which is an interesting train of thought that could have been the subject of an entire ep, I think).  Another element that separates them is how they view their time in SAO.  Kirito reasons that whether this is “real” or not, a day is a day – and spending a beautiful day enjoying the weather instead of wasting it in a dungeon isn’t “wasting” the day.  Alive is alive, and where you perceive yourself to be alive doesn’t matter.  Asuna (at least initially) disagrees – and this is about as deep and philosophical as SAO has gotten so far.

We’re still basically dealing with the “movie of the week” format, and this time the subject at hand is yet another guild that’s been destroyed.  A man named Kains has been murdered in the supposedly safe zone of a town, where no attacks are allowed (only duels).  His former guild-mate, Yoruko (Yamamoto Nozomi), tells Kirito and Asuna that their guild’s leader Griselda was killed while attempting to sell a powerful magic ring, and the lance found inside Kain’s body turns out to have been made by Grimrock – who was the husband of the murdered leader.  She and Kains were two of the three guild members who voted against selling the ring, and she speculates that it might be Grimrock taking his revenge – or even worse, the ghost of Griselda herself – which would explain how the murder took place when no duel apparently happened.  During a meeting with the other survivor, Schmidt (Katou Masayuki), Yuroko herself meets a mysterious end – with a knife in her back.

While these side stories are interesting enough, it seems as if their primary purpose is to teach us the ins and outs of Sword Art Online – and perhaps, increasingly, to give Asuna and Kirito a chance to bond.  They also serve to remind us of the finality of death here, and death seems to pay a visit nearly every episode.  While there are those who would do the despicable and challenge a sleeping player in order to kill them in a safe zone, that doesn’t seem to be the case here – though perhaps the most important element is Kirito’s insistence that SAO is fair, if nothing else – that the rules are what they are, and that whatever’s happening now is happening somehow outside the intentions of the MMO’s creator.  He’ll kill you – but he’ll play by the rules in doing so.  That way when you die, it’s your own fault. 

I have no idea whether Kirito is right that Kayaba Akihiko is such a conscientious psychopath, but it seems as if the answer is very important when it comes to deciding just what sort of world this is.  In essence, from a dramatic standpoint, the impact of the structure of the series is that all of the characters apart from Kirito and Asuna (and perhaps Klein) seem to be disposable – that’s not to say they can’t be interesting or likable, but they’re there to help build the world and develop the main pair.  In any such series the entertainment value is going to fluctuate a lot depending on how good those stand-alone stories and characters are – and I would judge this is a good one so far, perhaps the best since the premiere.  It asks some very interesting questions about SAO, and the story is possibly the most interesting so far.  At some point I’m assuming this structure will give way and the series will be tied together in a more cohesive fashion, but as long as we get episodes of this quality I have no issues with the model the anime is using for now.

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34 comments

  1. A

    Easily the strongest episode of the series so far.

    But the chief drawback of this show is the realism – how can anyone stay hooked to a virtual reality sim for six months without nourishment

    Makes you wonder why hasn't anyone hacked the game from outside-in after 6 months.

  2. A

    All players are treated like coma patients and are hooked up to IV fluids and things. It's not an impossible scenario really.

  3. A

    Ah, that does explain those who were fortunate to not live alone.

    But dollars to donuts this doesn't explain the high number of survivors after SIX MONTHS.

    Moreover, most games are hacked within days if not weeks of release.

    Not all of us can swallow anime logic indiscriminately :(

  4. A

    Most games don't immediately kill everyone if the hacker screws up. It's easy enough to explain everything as "Kayaba was willing to kill a few more innocents rather than let everyone go". He's just needs a few deadman's switches and everything's good to go. No government is going to gamble with 8000 lives. That's like, 3 9/11s at once, except this time a huge chunk of them are also kids. Do you really want to be the guy in charge of giving that order? Even from a cynical perspective, no one's getting re-elected after that.

    Think of it like a bomb. The only 100% safe way to dispose of a bomb is to blow it up.

  5. I don't have a problem with the players being kept alive in RL. Coma patients can survive for decades today, and SAO is set in the near future when medical technology will have advanced substantially.

  6. H

    It's also possible to explain for the people who live alone. The game presumably knows who the people are and where they're connecting from. I don't think it's too far-fetched to think that Akihiko would even provide for the treatment of those people in furtherance of his 'experiment' / kingdom.

  7. A

    Even if he didn't provide the information, it's not like the server itself is hidden. It's a publicly traded company releasing a highly anticipated game. The police or whoever could easily ask the publisher to surrender all their account information and connection data, and there's really no reason for the publisher to refuse.

  8. A

    I thought this was already kinda explained in the first episode when Kayaba said that he's already working on transferring the gamers into intensive care as he was giving the announcement?

  9. j

    If you're not Asuna, it looks like a bad thing to be a cute girl with a bit of screen time in SAO.

  10. A

    The timely posts are always appreciated Enzo!

    I really like the execution of this series. The way they are telling it chronologically, as opposed to the LN (according to those who have read them) seems to make a lot of sense for getting the side stories out of the way in little episodes before the main plot as you mentioned. Although, I would like to read the novels and see how differently the story is perceived when told in the non-chronological order.

  11. A

    The fact is that he wrote the main story first and the side stories were meant to expand the original. I must say I prefer them in chronological order. It's more consistent and there aren't as many contradictions. Lovely episode. The show doesn't fail to impress.

  12. A

    Just a guess but maybe someone figured out how to make NPC kill the players.

  13. A

    "There’s an obvious passage of time in that things seem to be happening sequentially, but no firm indications of just how much time has passed until someone tosses off a random “six months” comment, or an aside about the seasons."

    Uhm… at the beginning of every time skip they tell you date and floor number – for example, the beginning of this episode what Floor 56 March 6 2024, and then it skipped to Floor 59 April 11… more explicit than this…

  14. I know, but that's pretty detached. There's no immediacy to it. And what if you don't remember the exact numbers from where the last ep left off?

  15. A

    GE, i agree with you about how detached it feels with it's discontinuity, but you brought up a good point: maybe it's intentional and we're peering into a window at random points in time with these characters for a more sense of realism in an otherwise fantastical genre. Good observation!

  16. d

    Very good episode. I like the conflict we have with Asuna and Kirito at the beginning. Seeing as there is a mystery going on, I'm going to venture a guess about how the PKing is done. My guess will have to do with player made weapons. If the dagger does turn out to be made by a player, then that is how you get around the no PK without duels. You create a weapon that allows you to hurt players in safe zone areas. Obviously those weapons would probably be very weak and randomly generated as they would be for kicks and giggles but in the wrong hands, they can be very dangerous. I say this because if SAO follows MMO game design trends, then it would have that type of item to spice the game up for players.

  17. i

    I really want to say something here about the <>, but I shall have to refrain until next week…

    And gosh, has Asuna developed…yet still the same…

  18. J

    Regarding your first paragraph, where each episode seems that we're always just "checking in" on the characters and the world: I noticed that as well, and it sort of reminded me of what playing an MMO (casually, anyway) is like. Even if you're not actively participating, events are going on constantly and every time you return, the world you knew is at least a little different in some way.

    I like that Kirito seems to grasp his place in SAO better than any other character shown so far. He understands the importance of beating the game and returning to reality, but doesn't let it consume and dictate his entire existence. I have the perception that everyone else is so focused on clearing the next floor (or hoping someone else does it for them) that they forget to just be a normal person, even if it is in a game. I suppose I can attribute that to my propensity to favor calm, cool protagonists like Kirito over ones that are constantly overly expressive.

    I'm really enjoying the world- and character-building episodes that the near-entirety of SAO has been so far. I'm in no rush to get to any plot-heavy episodes if the entertainment level stays this high, especially since we're not even 1/4 of the way through the series.

  19. Nicely put, Jimhawk (say hi to Genestar for me). That's about how I feel about things at the moment too.

  20. Z

    As for the purpose of these stories, so can you see a pretty clear theme here if you look at the stories we have had so far. It's all about how different people deals with the psycological effect of being in a virtual game with real life death looming over them.

    Asuna would be the most obvious example as she starts out on a suicidal mission to die with her boots on (actually we get a flashback of her innitially passively hiding in the starting village), gets changed by meeting Kirito into trying to stay alive to clear the game and now again learns to appreciate that there are nice things inside the game as well to enjoy. Quite a bit of development of her character in just a few episodes.

  21. A

    I'm going against the grain here when I say that I really didn't like this episode at all. The rushed quality of the last two episodes was still present, but this time it made me feel as if I'd missed an entire episode somewhere down the line. Loner Kirito is suddenly pals with the bald guy from Ep. 2, Asuna's now a guild vice-chief (that came out of nowhere, given her behavior during her last appearance) and she and Kirito argue about things. And now we have some sort of mystery that manages to feel even more rushed than the last two stories despite the fact that it will at least carry over into next week.

    Rushed elements aside, I really don't understand why Kirito had a problem with using NPCs as bait to take out a boss back at the start of the episode. Yeah, I guess under normal MMO circumstances it would be a bit of a dick move, but people's lives are on the line here. The past few episodes have shown us that no one should know this better than Kirito, but he still seems to place value on featureless computer programs. That concern, coupled with his comments to Asuna about the weather in the next scene, has me starting to question Kirito's priorities and maybe his grasp on reality as well.

  22. J

    Thou reader, Beware…tl;dr comment ahead!

    It was a good episode, though Asuna ticked me off a few times. I agree with you, Enzo, that she seems tsundere-ish – I'd go ever further and say she *is* one, at least from what the anime has shown us this far. And that's what ticks me off: Kirito has surprisingly remained as an interesting main character this far, always having some cool opinions to share with you, yet Asuna fails miserably at being that interesting. It's a problem then if you're looking at them being the main couple – you'd like the both of them to have their fair share of coolness, after all.

    I guess that's where I disagree with you Enzo about her VA. Some lines like "I'll treat you to a meal and then we'll be even" or even those small sighs and gasps, they didn't convince me that is a real girl. She sometimes shows signs of aggressiveness, which gives her a strong, firm personality -obviously this is when I like her the most-, but then she falls back some other times and ruins any attempt to build her as a strong woman. I believe how the VA handled certain lines would correct this.
    She often runs short of words – really now, are you the vice-commander of such an important guild? I thought the leadership trait was a given there, but instead she lets Kirito lead things forward almost always. Kirito is a solo player too btw, whom we've seen display poor social skills at times.

    I know I'm being extra nitpicky with all this, but it's simply what keeps me from saying this show is as awesome as I'd like it to be. Perhaps that also speaks of how much I like SAO – it's really good; just some small holes here and there. Then again, we're only five episodes in, and SAO has done a great job of introducing characters and stark philosophies in this death game.

    One last note. Man I slipped a laugh in the final scene – the cheesiness of it all: music rising as the girl freaks out, then a harsh stop when we hear the stab and Yoruko's shock. Immediately after, the best part – the tragic, dramatic music of a violonchelo (idk about instruments though, so maybe I'm dead wrong here) comes in to mark the innocent's death. Do note that it's not that I found her *death* enjoyable per se, but the use of drama for that scene…*So* cheesy it was Good!

  23. J

    Also, I'll have to question your taste for screencaps Enzo!

    Second one from the stash of pics at the bottom. I've always wondered this, but today when I saw that image, it was an outright insult to screencapping – almost as if you *hated* it.

    Normally, people take images of the key shots of the scene…Yet you catch Kirito blinking (!!!) in that second pic?!

    😛

  24. She's got the knife in her back, which I thought was worth showing.

  25. J

    Or maybe you knew that. And I'm looking like the biggest idiot now.

  26. Dude, chill – it's just a screencap. I don't obsess over them – I take what I like and that's the last I worry about it…

  27. J

    It's cool it's cool…Really meant to sound more like a joke tho xD

  28. A

    What really SHOULD happen is that all the players stuck in SAO need to team up and help each other out. Then all of 'em can just gang up on the final boss so they can get back to the real world. Instead, we get some real jackass characters who suddenly feel the need to be evil. Yes there might be some people who like to PK a lot if this was just an "ordinary" MMO but this one has the die-in-real-life thing built in, so surely an average human being would want to just gtfo of this game instead of trying to take other human lives right? I honestly don't believe how little compassion so many players have in SAO. btw how on earth did that female character die in 1 hit with a tiny knife?

  29. A

    Most of them are working together. You'll note that the episode started with a large group of people from multiple guilds who actively disagreed with each other working together to take down a boss. Working together is the common sense of the "front lines".

    I think the main thing though is that a lot of time has passed. People who aren't currently on the front lines have basically no hope of catching up in levels unless they stop sleeping or something, and if they were that kind of driven person they'd probably be there already. So 90% of the population is sitting back and killing time until the front line gets them out (I can't remember if this was clear in the anime, but even if only one person beats the game everyone gets out). And even at the best estimates it would take another year or two before that happens.

    So, given a situation where you're stuck in a game for several more years no matter what you do, people are naturally inclined to be people. So people are nice, some people are jerks. Most people wouldn't kill others, but you only need a few sociopaths to ruin everyone else's day. A few sociopaths who suddenly found themselves in a lawless world with no one to stop them. Not to mention all the "crimes of passion" that might occur because the difference between reality and fantasy is becoming blurred.

  30. A

    …not to mention the kinds of people who don't want to get out. Living your life in a game where your gamer skills and experiences actually matter and can make you famous or infamous is basically a standard escapist fantasy that you'd have to imagine more than a few of the hardcore gamer types who'd line up for a midnight release would have.

  31. M

    I've not read all the comments above, but in response to one of the questions: could it be that what the SAO players perceive as days, weeks, months in-game is only taking place during minutes, hours, days in real life?

  32. I'll ask the LN folks not to answer that…

    It's an interesting question, given that the author has an obvious history with that sort of thing. I've seen nothing that would preclude the possibility, but nothing that directly suggests it. Unless I missed it, of course.

  33. S

    I asked this in the previous post.

    "I think that the players in SAO won't really die in real life. Maybe the time in RL is different in SAO. Like in Accel World. I think when they finish the game, only a few hours had past in RL. The idea of the author who made the game is to teach the players the value of real life. All the stunts in the 1st episode were just an add on effect so that the players may think that it was all real. To think that the scientist who made the entire SAO couldn't make fake news."

    This is what Znail replied..

    "This is answered in the LN and will be in the anime as well."

    Let's just wait. ^^

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