Sword Art Online Ep. 2: Tackling the first raid boss

Wow, only one item drop? That is terrible design! On a more serious note, this episode makes one rather critical storytelling flaw. The general conceit behind the anime is that the virtual world matters. What happens in an MMO might not be real to you, but it’s real to others. To emphasize just how much the virtual world matters, death literally becomes real. If you won’t take, say, online relationships seriously, perhaps you’ll take online deaths seriously when you’ll die in the real world as well. This is, however, just one example. To put it simply, death needs to be important in order for the rest of Sword Art Online to gain the necessary gravitas.

Now, of course nobody ever dies in the real world when they die in-game. In fact, that’s why a lot of us play online games: we can screw around with little to no consequences whatsoever. But if you can suspend your belief for just a second, and buy into Sword Art Online‘s premise that death matters, you would certainly accept the legitimacy of online relationships as well. Conveniently enough, that appears to be exactly what this episode is trying to establish: Asuna will obviously become Kirito’s (main?) love interest.

Okay, so what went wrong? The episode nonchalantly tells us that two thousand players have already died. Just like that. No setup, no nothing. Later in the episode, when Diabel foolishly rushed the raid boss by himself and gets owned like a chump, the tone of the anime changes. Suddenly, we have the tragic loss of a beloved leader and compatriot. Death is supposed to matter in Sword Art Online, but the show isn’t really consistent about it. One would find two thousand deaths a tragedy, but the anime simply tells us that this is so instead of actually showing us. When a single guy dies, however, we bring out the whole song and dance, so to speak. That’s not something I’d take seriously. That’s just silly.

MMO Fidelity
Nevertheless, I like that the anime will try as hard as it can to resemble an MMO, right down to the typical MMO boss mechanics. Players will have to form parties. Said parties will have to form an alliance. The alliance leader will then bark orders throughout the fight as different groups switch off fighting the raid boss and handling adds. As far as my experiences are concerned, that seems to be pretty close to the real thing, no? Hell, I joked at the beginning about the boss only dropping a single item, but that too resembles the real thing… well, if the real thing means MMOs like Final Fantasy XI. Who doesn’t fondly remember slaying Tiamat just for a single pair of shoes to drop.

Unfortunately, adhering to the MMO premise does the show a disfavor from time to time. For such an amazing virtual world, why is a UI still necessary? If the virtual world can emulate the real world to such a stunning degree, do we really need to make players go through the menu to form parties? Can players literally not just fight together? When Kirito dissolved the party with Asuna at the end of the episode, it should’ve been sad but it wasn’t when he had to literally click “Dissolve.”

You could argue that the anime needs to maintain a distinction between the virtual world and the real world, but I don’t think keeping the UI around is the key. The virtual world matters but is nevertheless distinct from the real world by virtue of the fact that they’re in a fantasy setting. Unless you happen to have giant kobold bosses roaming the real world, I don’t think clunky UIs in a 2020 MMO are necessary whatsoever. Sword Art Online obviously wants to take itself seriously. Fine, there’s no real harm in that, but the UI moments are silly.

Everything else
• The whole “beta testers vs. everyone else” did feel sort of like the divide between hardcore and casual players. I didn’t, however, really buy the tall guy’s retort. How is holding up the free guidebook any different from hardcores telling casuals to “lern2play.”

• It’s pretty stupid that Asuna didn’t know how to find people’s names in the UI. Did she also wear that cloak because she thought it would prevent others from realizing that she’s a “gurl gamer?”

• The action scenes weren’t an incomprehensible mess of sword fighting, but it’s also your standard anime fare. Nothing new to see here.

• Kirito advises Asuna not to go solo because there’s only so much a solo player can do… right as he walks off and seems to do just that.

Conclusion
I don’t think this episode was as interesting as the first episode, but seeing as how I’m only watching this anime because it’s based on MMO, it delivers enough on that front. I still believe that the anime could do much more with its premise, but who didn’t expect the studio to play it safe with the adaptation? Still, if people are going to die in the anime, it should really be emphasized. Instead of killing off a character we’ve just met, someone close to Kirito should bite the dust. It won’t be Asuna, but I certainly hope somebody takes this role.

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32 thoughts on “Sword Art Online Ep. 2: Tackling the first raid boss

  1. Taka

    The Kobold King? Really? Since when have Kobolds been a serious threat in any MMO? This boss is probably the equivalent of Princess in Elwynn forest. That’s a pretty badass drop from a mob that in 10 levels will be a 1-hit kill.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      The Kobold King? Really? Since when have Kobolds been a serious threat in any MMO?

      That’s why it’s the first boss, bro.

      That’s a pretty badass drop from a mob that in 10 levels will be a 1-hit kill.

      Maybe the MMO has a wardrobe function. It might also be the type of MMO where you just gain skills as opposed to higher stats.

      Reply
      1. thoughtcannon

        Btw…since this seems like a sort of appropriate place for it…

        In answer to the random thought:
        I did raid on WoW for 6 years up until 2010. I haven’t played since Cataclysm hit though. Rolled with a Troll Rogue. Had ma Warglaives (one of which was gotten before they nerfed Black Temple) got the offhand after in big group runs. Saw but did not defeat M’uru pre-nerf. My few precious claims to fame. In Wrath…a lot of server firsts and such. Guild fell apart toward end. So much for that.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          The note is from Nyoron. At her behest, I played a paladin to about… 70 (in Cataclysm)? So everything you just said? I didn’t understand any of it.

  2. Roger Kevin Dering

    The guidebook was made BY a betatester of her own initiative with information she collected from betatesters like Kirito. He mentions an informationbroker in this speech at the end remember?

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Yes, I remember. That’s no different from hardcores telling casuals to read up on a fight before doing an encounter. It is essentially “lern2play.”

      Reply
  3. KizukuKanshi

    Could’ve been solved if they had at least showed it as a real world news story in the show or something. I’m sure SAO would be top news if some crazy stuff like this had been going on for a month.

    With the whole UI thing, what would really take me out of it is if they showed everyone’s name above everyone all the time. I think what they’ve done so far with it hasn’t been bad, though. I mean if I’m just in a fantasy setting, I could just be watching a movie or picturing a story. Besides, if they didn’t form parties, they could literally start killing each other over loot….(A problem which will probably come up. So far no mention of PvP in this game.) It’s just the familiar structure of a game that I’m sure they’re hoping people will identify with or at least get a kick out of.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      In the middle of a potentially poignant scene, the guy stops to open menus. It’s kind of a mood killer, in my opinion, but hey, to each his own.

      Reply
      1. KizukuKanshi

        I still can’t really imagine playing any kind of game without any UI the whole time, regardless of how advanced. Then again, this is a virtual reality game with motion-controlled skill commands. Why not a voice recognition option for UI stuff?

        “/endparty Asuna”.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          Even if some UI is necessary, I just think it could have been handled a little better than what we saw in the anime. For a game in 2020, the UI looks as archaic as one made in the early 2000s.

  4. Andmeuths

    Okay, let me make this clear first. If you’ve been prowling the likes of Animesuki, you’d notice that many LN Readers have even harsher words for this episode than you.

    Now, some comments on your assesment, especially the ones I disagree with:

    “ When a single guy dies, however, we bring out the whole song and dance, so to speak. That’s not something I’d take seriously. That’s just silly. “

    I get the impression from the first part of this critique that you think that there seems to be no emotional investment in Diabel’s death. Then, you proceed to criticize the celebratory scenes afterwards. In part, I think you’ve interpreted the scene wrongly. Diabel is leading a single group, but the vast majority of players are effectively one gigantic PUG, and that’s PUG pre-conference. If you, as the viewer can’t get invested in Diabel’s death, then it is to me believable that PUG members, in the elation of taking the first step to clearing the game may well have celebrated, only sobering up once reminded that someone died in the raid -for most of these players don’t have any emotional investment with Diabel.

    The UI issue is a personal opinion, fair enough, though I guess they did need to make some things rather explicit.

    Beta Testers vs Everyone: Ah, now you stumble on the edges of the reason why LN readers themselves don’t necessarily like this episode. Unfortunately, one Episode cannot show that, because they are trying to cram a much longer story with multiple themes, one of which you’ve touched about, into one episode. Ask any LN reader, and most would tell you they think it would have come across better as two episodes, where time is devoted to exploring this issue. Which the original story, Aria in the Night Sky does a good job in explaining. I’d add one more charge to this episode: rushed and highly compressed.

    The thing is, Beater is a selected adaptation focusing on one general theme: beating the first boss, with the entire Beater issue and Asuna Introduction compressed. Again, your question about Asuna’s inability to find the UI was addressed in these other two sub-plots. Another plot missing, and tightly intertwined with the Beater issue is about Kirito’s sword. Again, the animators axed it out because they decided to fit the whole of Aria (which ran to 100 pages in the LN from what I heard) into a SINGLE episode.

    Many of these questions and issues you’ve raised were indeed answered in the LN, but because they crammed the entire story into one epiosde, the adapters axed it out. If you want some answers, see Aria in the Night Sky in Baka Tsuki’s SAO English ranslations. Look carefully at Asuna’s first true conversation with Kirito. It’s very, very telling, and was actually a follow up to a cut out scene that many LN readers are unhappy it was not shown, because it weakened Asuna’s introduction, and left out alot of details. If anything, I agree your questions about the Beater issue and Asuna are valid- the anime has to be criticized for leaving it out, but truth to be told, the adapters could have answered the questions if they were given two episodes- which they were not.

    Yes, I agree that UI could have been more creative, but I think you know by now that the Japanese are not Koreans. South Koreans might have come up with something more ingenious, Japanese…. well, let’s leave it at that.

    I disagree they are playing safe with the adaptation. They took a risk when cutting out alot of material from Aria, and cramming the entire story into one episode, at the expenses of hacking away it’s whole build-up sub-plots, on Asuna and the Beater, and Kirito’s Sword issue, the last two of which are tied together, and lead on to the main Boss Battle Alpha Plot.

    Finally, I think you’d love Red Nose Reindeer. But then again, since RNR is one episode, and another plot approaching Aria/Beater in length…… again, I think you’d be raising another set of questions again.

    Reply
    1. Andmeuths

      One last thing: on the issue about your hope that this anime touches more about the relationship between MMOs and the Real World: SAO touches this tangentially- ALO explores another angle. It’s really GGO, the third Arc, and Mother’s Rosario that really looks into that issue deeply. Hopefully, those aren’t too spoilerish, but if you do want to read the LN, I’d say that Mother’s Rosario may be the best if you are looking for the LN volumes focusing on that issue.

      Reply
    2. E Minor Post author

      Then, you proceed to criticize the celebratory scenes afterwards.

      Actually, I didn’t. When I said “song and dance,” I meant making a big deal out of one player’s death when 2000 dead players had no focus whatsoever. I thought that this contrast undermined the anime’s overarching theme. The rest of what you said doesn’t really apply to me ’cause I don’t take issue with the PUG celebrating.

      Many of these questions and issues you’ve raised were indeed answered in the LN,

      What does it matter? I’m addressing just the anime. I don’t care about the LN whatsoever.

      Yes, I agree that UI could have been more creative, but I think you know by now that the Japanese are not Koreans. South Koreans might have come up with something more ingenious, Japanese…. well, let’s leave it at that.

      I dunno. I’ve played a few Korean MMOs. I don’t see anything spectacular about their UIs.

      I disagree they are playing safe with the adaptation.

      I don’t know anything about what they’ve cut and I’m not particularly concerned. Again, my perspective is that of someone who doesn’t know anything about the LNs, but at the same time, fidelity to the source is irrelevant in my opinion. You can disagree with that, i.e. I should see if the adaptation is accurate to the LNs, but I’ve written elsewhere arguing against this very position.

      In any case, whether or not they adhered to the LNs, the adaptation chose to focus the episode on a boss fight, which is exciting and full of action. They could’ve done something far less exciting, but they didn’t. From my perspective, that is not risk-taking.

      Reply
      1. Andmeuths

        You’ve preferred for that guy to just die. Preferably in Sudden Death Mami style, no corny farewell scene? I don’t take issue to that then.

        Even from a pure anime viewer perspective, I would have been expressing the same opinion I have of the first two Campione Episodes- Episode 2 feels compressed and too fast pace, at the expense of characterization. I hope I won’t be repeating that same complain again next week. I really don’t.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          You’ve preferred for that guy to just die. Preferably in Sudden Death Mami style, no corny farewell scene? I don’t take issue to that then.

          Not necessarily. If one dead player is a tragedy, so are 2000 player deaths. If 2000 dead players only get mentioned once and the topic is dropped for the rest of the episode, it’s silly to focus so much on Diabel, who we’ve just met.

          Episode 2 feels compressed and too fast pace, at the expense of characterization

          I agree. I don’t think I’ve given the impression that this was a good episode. It’s only passable because the anime is about a genre of games I really like. Other than that, it feels like any hack n’slash anime except with a twist.

        2. Andmeuths

          “Not necessarily. If one dead player is a tragedy, so are 2000 player deaths. If 2000 dead players only get mentioned once and the topic is dropped for the rest of the episode, it’s silly to focus so much on Diabel, who we’ve just met.”

          Ah, so you are off the school of thought that a montage of some of the 2000 deaths may have helped? That’s the approach the manga took, and I personally did think that a short montage of groups committing suicide or getting massacred, of crying companions and such may have had been the best way to capture the 2000 player deaths.

          Another pity I felt was not mentioned was the fact that Anti-Beta sentiments was so high that known Beta Players were being executed on sight, and there was a general climate of fear among the surviving Beta Testers, before Kirito declared himself a Beater.

        3. E Minor Post author

          Ah, so you are off the school of thought that a montage of some of the 2000 deaths may have helped?

          I approached it this way… Why would a normal person take SAO seriously? Isn’t this just a story about a video game that nerds play? Who cares then, right? Well, you care because death is real. And if death is real, the importance of everything else is magnified as well, i.e. online relationships. Who hasn’t scoffed at the idea of online relationships? “C’mon, go out on a real date.” But if you’re stuck in a fight-or-die video game, you may as well make the best of that relationship with the girl gamer opposite of you. If you don’t survive, this is the best human connection you’re going to get. So anyway, and maybe this isn’t a popular interpretation of the story, but in my view, the conceit of the entire story is that death matters. What is more human than the significance of human mortality? We don’t (often) bat an eyelash when a pig is slaughtered, but we sure as hell cry if a person we hardly know dies. And because death matters, the characters in the story are humanized as opposed to simply being avatars, “toons,” or what have you.

          So how do much does death matter, one asks? Apparently, it matters so much (read: little) that the episode mentions 2000 dead players as if it’s just a nugget of fact — something you might read in an encyclopedia. It undermines the very humanism of the online experience that the anime itself is trying to establish. This is a major storytelling flaw. The anime is contradicting itself.

          Maybe a montage would’ve worked, I dunno. I just know the narrative failed.

          I won’t comment on whether or not I would’ve preferred the seemingly darker-in-tone atmosphere from the LNs.

  5. Marow

    “do we really need to make players go through the menu to form parties? Can players literally not just fight together?”

    Dude, this isn’t Guild Wars 2.

    (WE NEED TO PLAY)

    Reply
  6. Son Gohan

    There is a saying “One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths are a statistic”.
    Even if they showed a montage of the 2000 deaths before Diabel, I probably wouldn’t have felt anything because I didn’t know these players. Instead I had a bit of an emotional response to Diabel’s death because I got to knew him (if only for 10 minutes…)
    As a non-LN reader I thought this episode was good.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      There is a saying “One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths are a statistic”.
      Even if they showed a montage of the 2000 deaths before Diabel, I probably wouldn’t have felt anything because I didn’t know these players.

      Oh, are we taking advice from Josef Stalin now? Pardon me, lemme go quote Pol Pot.

      I didn’t ask for a montage necessarily. In my opinion, a good storyteller would’ve gotten you to feel for those dead people.

      Reply
  7. Behemoth

    Part of me wants to say that the whole “stuck in an MMO” thing was done so much better in .Hack//SIGN but then again it’s the entire community of people playing and not just one person so SAO can’t be as focused on Kirito and ,presumably, Asuna as SIGN was focused mostly on Tsukasa because they’re not the only ones trapped. Now i do agree that i’m not taking this very seriously because it’s about all these people having to scale this tower to beat the final boss so they can escape but it does do some things that i like such as having to eat so they don’t starve to death but they said in episode 1 that eating in game wouldn’t really mean anything since it doesn’t mean that you can’t skip meals just to clock more hours grinding unless that changed when they all became stuck in-game.

    Reply
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