Sword Art Online – 11

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Won’t someone please think of the children?

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.37_[2012.09.15_13.38.57]That was definitely a “path of least resistance episode”.  Pleasant and straightforward, well within the SAO formula.  I enjoyed it, and I would say the best thing about it was the pacing – the 22 minutes flew by, which can only reflect positively on the writing.  But really, in retrospect I felt like I’d just eaten an above-average fast-food meal – it was tasty, but not very filling.  It’s tempting to apply that criticism to SAO as a whole, but I think it would be too harsh to tar the entire series with that brush.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.51_[2012.09.15_13.39.11]I’d say the best parts of the episode were at either end, with the filling in the sandwich not nearly so interesting as the bun.  I liked the introductory sequence with Kirito and Asuna, whose relationship still seems to be moving at light speed (married with children already).  Asuna’s speculation that Kirito might be younger than she is seems spot-on – but would it really make that much difference to her?  And Kirito asked what I think was exactly the right question – does this marriage exist in real life?  Despite Asuna’s righteous indignation I don’t think the answer is so easy, and it ties into what’s one of the most interesting elements of SAO – the impact on the players when life inside might be better than outside.  We already see the two young marrieds indulging their passions and setting aside the cause of escaping – though to be fair Kirito already seems to be itching to go back to work after a few days, and I certainly don’t begrudge the pair of them a honeymoon in their luxury cabin on Floor 22.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.57_[2012.09.15_13.39.26]I’m setting myself up for isolation on this I’d guess, but the entire second act of the episode was largely a miss.  The whole Yui sequence is just too easy – for me it borders on self-indulgence and pandering. SAO has a habit of introducing moe girls for effect far too often anyway, but Yui (Itou Kanae) is really over the top – put her out there, listen to the audience squee and prepare for big sales.  I’d rather see Kawahara do the heavy lifting of trying to tell the story without using hyper-kawaii little girls as crutches, but to thine own self be true – and even I’ll admit that the concept of Yui is interesting, even as the execution leaves me cold.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_01.40_[2012.09.15_13.40.09]People often compare SAO to .hack – which beyond the superficial isn’t an especially close match IMO – but I’m much more often reminded of Tad Williams’ “Otherland” trilogy as I watch (and boy, would those books make a fantastic anime).  In both cases the most interesting element is the psychological connect/disconnect between life on the inside and the outside, and the shenanigans of crazy megalomaniacal billionaire are the heart of the matter.  In concept if not form Yui feels very much like something that came out of that series – a sort of “ghost in the machine” (I think Kirito’s initial story might be more apt than he thinks) that doesn’t fit any existing model of existence.  She doesn’t seem to be a player, or NPC, but something in between – for Kirito and Asuna anyway a new reality.  I don’t know what Yui is (besides moe) but my strong sense is that she’s not, in fact, a player but rather some kind of A.I. – possibly she’s a part of the game itself but not a conventional NPC or “Quest Bringer”, and certainly not a monster.  A maintenance sprite, or a spy for Akihiko who’s gone rogue – or at least, defective?

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_01.46_[2012.09.15_13.40.15]Things pick up again once Kirito and Asuna take Yui to the Town of Beginnings to see if they might find her parents there.  The subject of children in SAO (and I mean young children, not the teens that make up a large percentage of any MMORPG players) hasn’t really been addressed, but it’s an interesting one.  Out of the 10,000 who started the game I would expect at least a healthy smattering of bright pre-teens, and most of them probably logged on without their parents – which effectively makes them orphans once the game begins.  It appears that in addition to the other structures they created, someone had enough responsibility to create a day care for these ragamuffins – but alas, where there are children there are also bullies, in this case the army.  The Aincrad army seems to serve no positive function at all as far as I can tell, but merely acts as a self-serving gang of bullies and extortionists that doesn’t serve the community positively in any way (unlike some guilds).  Their abuse of the local orphans seems made-for-TV cruel – how much value do the kids really have to them, anyway?  But it does illustrate the point that in SAO as in RL, society has its most vulnerable citizens, and it’s up to that society to determine the lengths they’re willing to go to in protecting them.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_03.45_[2012.09.15_13.41.07]At this point, by Kirito’s reckoning, there are 6,000 players left alive (a shocking mortality rate) about 30% of which are still mewling about the Town of Beginnings.  Having seen what they’ve seen, I don’t see how Kirito and Asuna can abandon the First Floor as they had been doing, leaving it in the clutches of what’s effectively an organized crime family while they interface till they’re exhausted and then go back to clearing floors with the Knights of the Blood Oath.  That moral dilemma, along with the nature of Yui’s existence (and her heart), seems likely to drive the narrative for the rest of this cour.  Hopefully as we explore those threads, we’ll get some directorial restraint when it comes to Yui mugging for the camera.

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  1. x

    Only one adaptation complaint.

    They skipped a scene with a player that had stayed at Floor 1. I don't think it's going to make it into the anime because of its length but it's a very interesting scene for those who want to find more depth in this story.

    Here it is, it's spoiler free. Read for pleasure's sake.

    They also cut out Asuna background story. But it was a big inner monologue and wouldn't have worked to have that infodump with the structure of this episode. I'm sure they are going to put this afterwards in a better way.

  2. Heh, I would have liked to have seen that scene animated. Thanks for sharing.

  3. A

    Itou Kanae is love, but even I thought Yui was just way over the top and honestly too much. I mean I know that the pacing in this show had always been lightning fast, but damn children already after an episode? Yeesh …

    The question about children also brings about the unfortunate ramifications of the ethics code into the equation … I mean, with enough bullying you can make anyone consent to do what you want and we had already seen people do that with people who are asleep and …

    And I'll just stop. Seriously, WHO ADDED THAT FEATURE INTO THE GAME!?


    ''Tad Williams’ “Otherland” trilogy as I watch (and boy, would those books make a fantastic anime)''

    Hell yeah it would! It's a shame that the adapting English novels into anime never seemed to take off, even though you had things like Deltora Quest years ago and a number of different Western properties begin turned into anime proving to be quite good and moderately successful.

    Damn it …

  4. B

    Plenty of English novels have been adapted into anime Anne of the Green Gables, Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan to name a few but they're usually World Masterpiece Theatre material. ;P

  5. A

    I love World Masterpiece Theater (I watched almost every series under the lapel, though not all of them to completion unfortunately) but the sad thing about is that not only had it fallen down in production in recent years to the point where it's only given the lip-service treatment, but it only adapts classics or public domain novels.

    I'm talking about wanting to see something like the Mistborn series or The Wheels of Time (and wouldn't THAT make for one hell of an anime?) or the Otherland trilogy as Enzo pointed being turned into an anime a la Deltroa Quest. I know it's a far fetched dream but still, I can dream it …

  6. Yeah, WMT is a little different. There are so many Western SF/fantasy series that scream out for an anime treatment – I wish they'd shift their focus away from Marvel/DC adaptations (which, TBH, anime doesn't do very well) to stuff like Tad Williams.

    Generally speaking, anime taken from novels (as opposed to light novels and manga) have a chance for more character development and intricate plotting. Look at Moribitio, for crying out loud. That's one reason I'm so hyped for Shin Sekai Yori.

  7. A

    Oh my gosh…why do I get this feeling at Yui might ACTUALLY be the AI product of all that unprotected sex :S

  8. t

    She does look a bit like a computer generated mix of Asuna and Kirito's appearances!

  9. S

    It's a character named Yui in a tent-pole anime, thus isn't mugging for the camera required?

  10. F

    I think the question about whether the relationship in the game exists in real life was more potent and meaningful in .hack//SIGN, as Tsukasa in the game ended up being very different from An in the real world. Subaru's reaction and acceptance of who Tsukasa really was was a very powerful moment for their relationship.

    Here, Kirito and Asuna could exchange their damn phone numbers.

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