Sword Art Online Ep. 10 & 11: Cyberin’ time

I go from playing an MMO to writing about an anime about an MMO. My life is fulfilling.

• Some old guy (again, how you look in SAO is how you look in real life — chew on that for a moment) reiterates to Kirito that they must fight for the rights to Asuna. Okay, somewhat chauvinist, but we’ve already long established that so let’s move on. Old guy then adds that if Kirito loses, he has to join their crappy guild. Oh no, the stakes are higher than ever. At first, Kirito might only lose his love interest, but now his lone wolf status is in jeopardy too. Nobody will think he’s cool if he is in a guild!

• Asuna warns Kirito that her commander has a unique skill too. Man, everyone’s got a unique skill. This is such a terrible MMO. It’s apparently “Divine Blade,” which maximizes your attack and defense. Yeah, that’s not unfair at all, but don’t worry because Kirito has assured us before that SAO is inherently fair.

• Damn, the commander is ripped. So some ripped, old dude in real life decided that he wanted to poopsock an MMO. Not impossible, but c’mon…. c’mooooon. I know a lot of guys in the service also play MMOs, but they’re usually not north of 40 years of age. I harp on this because it doesn’t even feel like SAO is trying anymore.

• In comparison, Kirito looks like a baby:

• I’m not sure what Kirito’s strategy at the start of the battle was supposed to be. He’s just charging head on against a shield. Did he think he could break the shield by merely attacking it with his swords? That’s not very becoming of a high level swordsman. Also, I always love freeze-framing during battle scenes for the derpy animation:

I guess this is where we get into MMO-speak. From my personal experience, guardian/paladin-type characters like the commander tend to have the upper hand on whatever class Kirito most closely resembles. You have a bevy of defensive abilities to negate a glass cannon opponent, so you just have to outlast them. But it’s not clear how or why Kirito loses. From one angle, it looks as though his sword is just an inch (and that’s being generous) away from the guy’s head. Then the guy moves out of the way before Kirito can even react and strikes our hero in the back. Well, okay. Maybe the commander used his broke-as-hell “Divine Blade,” but I had no idea it also made your head move super fast out of danger.

• I’ve always maintained that fight scenes are powerful narrative-wise when they act as externalizations of the conflict within the characters. So y’know, the conflict here is a fight over both Kirito and Asuna’s freedom, which sounds compelling on paper, but then you realize there’s really nothing forcing our two protagonists to hold up their end of the bargain. Just walk away, right? Even better, just warp away.

• “I didn’t mean to drag you into this,” says Asuna as she watches Kirito despair in his new guild outfit. Again, why neither of them feels like saying “fuck you” to the commander and just walking away is beyond me. By the way, even in his new outfit, Kirito feels the need to pop his collar. What a bro.

• “Even as a second-in-command, you cannot ignore the rules.” Man, what a shitty guild. I would leave immediately. Oh, but I forget… this is SAO where strong, manly men duel over pretty second-in-commands, and the girl gamers stand idly by and watch.

• One condescending head-pat coming right up:

• In any case, Kirito has to go on a training mission with Asuna’s former bodyguard (awkward) and some guy with killer ginger sideburns. Again, this is supposed to be MMO players.

• Kuradeel hacking Godfrey to digital bits is really supposed to be gruesome, but the scene didn’t really click with me. What’s the problem? Is it the combination of the lack of visceral content (no blood) and Godfrey’s less-than-five-minute screentime that makes the murder scene seem a little tame? We’re told that people die in real life if they die in-game, but I feel as though there are better ways to capitalize on this. Maybe a character shouldn’t disintegrate into a shower of digital sparkles as soon as their HP hits zero. Maybe he or she should remain in-game for a while as his or her cognitive abilities break down because the brain is being fried on the other end (or however SAO chooses to execute its players). I’m not crying for more realism, but I think the harsh reality of the game could come across more if you somehow link the real life mortality with the in-game deaths. As of right now, when a character disappears in-game, you sort of forget about them instantly.

• Also, didn’t Kirito and Godfrey get fooled a little too easily? Ah yes, the potion was really a paralysis potion. You’d think, however, that a level… what is it now? Oh, 96! Yes, you’d think a level 96 Beater like Kirito would check everything he drinks. Everything in an MMO is labeled and labeled truthfully. You’ll never see me go to my inventory in Guild Wars 2 or Final Fantasy XI, drink a potion and all of a sudden find out that I had drunk a poison potion instead. It just doesn’t happen. The only explanation is that SAO‘s UI won’t tell you that a drink has been spiked, switched with something else, or whatever’s the case. If that’s so, SAO is so inherently fair, right?

Again, this is supposed to be about an MMO, so why would you pull the “Oh, I poisoned your food!” trick out of the bag of storytelling cliches? Hidden traps in the canyon Kirito’s in would’ve made a lot more sense without stretching the logic of the show’s premise. Quite frankly, that example didn’t take me all that long to come up with. I’m not being hung up on realism, because — let’s face it — I’m watching an anime where people die in real life if they die in an MMO. Rather, it’s about the simple idea of going back and auditing. When you look over a part in a story you’ve written, you have to ask yourself if it makes sense or not. In amateurish storytelling, it’s like nobody cares. We’ll just draw from our big bag of fantasy tropes. Traitors like to poison food? Good enough for me and my MMO story!

• Asuna saving Kirito at the last second doesn’t bother me. She fulfills her promise, right? I think Kirito’s reluctance to put his life in other people’s hands should’ve been played up a bit more, but for what it’s worth, there’s nothing egregious here narrative-wise. What’s silly is the light show that follows:

Or the fact that Kirito loses his hand in order to save Asuna’s life. You’re telling me he didn’t have his sword drawn ahead of time? Then with his hand lobbed off, he plants a kiss on her. The kiss isn’t the problem though! Rather, less is more. Let me try to articulate my thoughts.

Look for a character arc, and you’ll find that it has been Kirito and Kirito alone who has had to grow and mature. He’s the dork who wants to solo because he had this “tragic past” with his previous guild. So Asuna saves him and shows him that he can’t do it all by his lonesome. Upon realizing this, he falls in love with the one girl he can depend on. This is not exactly the greatest romance of the 21st century (oh, we reserve that for Twilight, don’t we?), but it works; there’s a distinct character arc that we can follow.

Then Asuna is in danger for some contrived reason (she’s too soft despite the fact that one guildmate has already lost his life to Kuradeel), Kirito has to lose his hand, and for what? For extra tragic points? I just think less is more. Asuna gets a lot of screentime, but don’t be fooled: she’s not a main character. Asuna is a side character because she doesn’t have any arc or character development. She goes from super hot fighting babe who can cook to… well, super hot fighting babe who can cook. Forcing her into danger so she can be contrite as well doesn’t have any narrative value beyond the silly idea that the character with a penis gets to save the day once again.

• Oh well, a hard day’s work can only be complete with an awesome dinner… h-hey, where are you going?

• Why did you turn off the lights? What’s with the corny string piece in the background?!

• Oh man, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at Asuna’s digital striptease. Or that someone spent a lot of time on this cartoon non-ass. Guess nobody does squats in SAO.

• Aw yeah, baybee, let’s share our inventory like they do on The Discovery Channel.

But let’s get into some substantive analysis (spurred on by a comment below). Recall how at the start of the series, Kirito claims that he is more alive in the game than he is in real life. This idea has never really been explored by the anime, but we can draw a few conclusions from the episodes we’ve been watching. It’s a safe bet that Kirito isn’t a master duelist in the real world. It’s also a safe bet that a girl like Lisbeth isn’t a master blacksmith in the real world. Likewise, do you think any generals out there are playing SAO? That’s doubtful. In other words, dudes like the commander above are probably nobodies in the real world — not that they’re useless, but like the billions of people out there, they have nothing worthy of distinction. In SAO, however, they can lead a guild that may very well save the 6000 or so players left in the game.

We’ve gotten to a point in our modern society where athletes, using the advances of medication, dietary research, and physical training, are just shattering records left and right. Look at the difference in just half a century:

Where can we go from here? Will our transhumanist ideals push us to go even further? Will we augment ourselves with cybernetic parts, develop nanotechnology to eliminate illnesses, etc.? But what if transhumanism isn’t limited to just the exteriority of our human capabilities? What if transhumanism also involves expanding the limits of the mind beyond what would be permissible in the real world? Let’s face it… none of us will ever be a Gary Stu swordsman who can singlehandedly take down a dragon all by his or her lonesome. But in a virtual world, we can… and perhaps that is the initial appeal of SAO for people like Kirito. At first glance, it seems ludicrous for Kirito to say that he feels more alive in a video game than the real world. C’mon, one’s a world of ones and zeros, and the other is the real deal. There’s no comparison… can there be a comparison?

But look at Kirito in-game. He’s an awesome level 96 lone swordsman who can charm the panties off of any girl he meets. He also rarely loses, can take on dragons and giant minotaurs fearlessly, etc. Perhaps he feels more alive because he can be whatever he wants to be. Perhaps the future of transhumanism isn’t cyborg body parts or nanomachines that can enhance the body, but rather, a pleasure machine of some sort that allows us to fulfill any fantasy we may have. I can’t be a dragonslayer now — there’s no such thing as dragons — but technology will allow me to become one. Who cares if it’s “virtual;” the qualia are just as real as if everything was happening in real life.

But there’s a problem: Asuna. Asuna’s the problem because she’s not just another piece of code. She’s also a very real person. For every Gary Stu fantasy that SAO can fulfill for Kirito — becoming an awesome swordsman, eating delicious virtual food (if it tastes good, who cares if it’s fake?), buying homes with your hard-earned virtual money — Kirito’s greatest enjoyment still comes from interacting with another fellow human being. Despite his personal inclination to brave the world of Aincrad alone, Kirito would have died in this very episode had it not been for his personal connection with another fellow human being. So then this calls into question the limits of the transhumanism experience.

You can fake a fantasy world and you can fake the taste of a delicious rabbit stew, but could Kirito have formed a loving relationship with an NPC? Our intuitive gut feelings seem to say no. Despite Kirito’s proclamation that is he is more alive in a video game than the real world, the ironic twist is that he isn’t complete — hell, he wouldn’t be alive — until he gets with Asuna. It thus seems then that meaningful personhood cannot be achieved by merely advancing human flourishing. Personhood is this subjective trust and connection between two souls. It’s also worth pointing out that this subjective trust is strongest when Kirito is at the brink of his mortality — at his most useless in comparison to any other point in the story!

Onto the next episode….

• Where did the guild get the money for such a fancy ass office for its leader? Better yet, I love how Kirito instantly returns to the same black coat he’s been wearing since the second episode. Gotta rock my black threads, baby.

• Oh God, is this the honeymoon episode?

No more side-stories, they said. We’ll be sticking with the main quest, they said. Don’t worry, it’s gonna get better when A-1 Pictures finally moves the story ahead, they said. Going to an idyllic cabin by the lakeside… no one fucking said.

• So, so smooth:

• Asuna: “Don’t make me mad, Kirito. This may be a virtual world, but my feelings are real.” Y’know, I’d go on a tangent about online relationships, especially with regards to an MMO, but I just… I just can’t take this seriously anymore. This is lamer than Twilight.

• It’s so fucking stupid:

Asuna hikes up her skirt so she can climb on Kirito’s back and have a piggyback ride, but he better not turn around and peep at her while she’s doing so. She’s shy, okay?! ‘Cause, y’know, they didn’t just have sex a mere episode ago or at least give off the impression that they did. Speaking of which, I’m watching an episode of Sword Art Online that involves the main characters gallivanting around a lakeside. Fuck.

• I hope that bald fisherman’s an NPC and some poor kid isn’t missing his grandfather out there in the real world. “Sorry kid, but I was one of the 10,000 people who stood in line for this awesome fishing simulator.” No, grandpa, nooooo~!

• This reminds me of something… oh yes it does…

• Even on a honeymoon with his waifu, Kirito ends up saving another MMO babe lolibait.

• “She must’ve logged in with her family.” Can you imagine that? Only 10,000 copies for this MMO? Family, we’ve got to get this game together!

• So not only do Asuna and Kirito get to play honeymoon, they instantly get a surrogate child. This virtual world is so awesome! And I’m having a blast watching this slice-of-life crap Shakespearean masterpiece!

• Asuna and Kirito bring the little girl — Yui, we’re told — back to Beginner Town where members of the Liberation Army have been bullying a daycare lady and her kids. Wait, kids? Daycare in an MMO? Is this SAO‘s jumping of the shark moment? I can’t wait to see how the anime explains the existence of these kids.

And with that, I’m done just in time to watch the new episode that will air tomorrow. I can’t wait!

17 thoughts on “Sword Art Online Ep. 10 & 11: Cyberin’ time

  1. Ian Caronia

    Oh, man. I knew you going back to SAO would be worth it, but I NEVER expected the entire tone of the show to suddenly shift into slice-of-life honeymoon nonsense, at least not in a single episode.

    I could see this being a very bitter-sweet moment if it was, say, at the end of the series. After achieving the final level they get to the grand boss and take him down only to find out they are stuck in the game for good. With mostly everyone else long since dead or gone missing, the remaining two live out their digital sentence by trying to grasp what happiness they can. In that way, the marriage ending would be an interesting topic of discussion as the credits roll.
    -Could they actually live on in SAO, doomed to never see the real world and all those they knew again? Would the fact that this reality they are condemned to is merely a facade drive them mad? Or can they find solace anyway in the digital breeze and false warmth of the midday sun? Could they perhaps find solace in each other. They would be trapped there, but maybe they could find peace in the fact that, despite everything around them being just ones and zeroes, THEY are real.

    …But screw that! Fuck interesting ideas! We need to see ass and tits and laugh at tsundere waifus and live vicariously through our Gary Stu!
    My favorite line from this post was your crushing moment of realization. “I’m watching an episode of Sword Art Online that involves the main characters gallivanting around a lakeside. Fuck.”

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Could they perhaps find solace in each other. They would be trapped there, but maybe they could find peace in the fact that, despite everything around them being just ones and zeroes, THEY are real.

      I’m inclined to say no, but your comment spurred me to expand on an tangential idea in the post above. In any case, we’re social creatures and as much as Kirito and Asuna may love each other, I can’t imagine two souls being content with just each other till the world ends (or whenever someone pulls the plug on SAO). You gotta have other people to talk to, and I don’t imagine that the game’s NPCs are up to snuff. That sort of ideal love sounds romantic on paper, but it’s wholly unrealistic.

      Reply
      1. Ian Caronia

        I actually agree in that regard, but I meant that these questions could be part of a topic at least more interesting than this nonsensical turn of events. However I guess it was a bit short sighted since such fundamental facts would quickly turn the topic into an argument between romanticists and realists, which is never interesting or challenging.
        Well, my main point was originally that they could’ve kept this idea but brought it into a different and almost cynical light as a change of pace to match the, in retrospect, very dark and harrowing theme that I thought was supposed to be at play.
        Then again, maybe it’s just because I just don’t like this kind of fluff and recently reread some Ellison stories.

        On a peripheral note, I recently recalled my time playing the .Hack games, and despite there being plenty to poke fun at and enough trope-y moments to shake a stick at, the series still did a far better job at utilizing this theme than SAO.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          I must be the only person into anime who hasn’t played the .hack games. Man, I feel so out of the loop.

      2. Ian Caronia

        Just realized what you mean by “spurred me to expand” in the post above. I thought you meant in the reply. Haha
        -Very eloquently stated, E Minor. Even more so than the comedy you put into the post, I think your addition to it is my favorite part now. It is, after all, the ultimate conclusion to countless science fiction stories that dive deep into the pros and cons of such transhumanism, especially when it comes in the form of escapism for the character undergoing it. Nicely done, mate.
        Though I like how you mentioned you can’t kill dragons because they aren’t real. If they were though? “Pfft! Totally could kill some!” haha

        Reply
  2. Arbee

    This is a theory… What if Kirito is just used by the guild, maybe everyone else, and maybe even Asuna (I mean, even if she’s the strongest female character in the game, she might still FLIRT her way out), in order to get out of the game (since let’s face it… finishing the last boss with the strongest player eva in yo party)? And when they are finally outside of the game when they escape, they can simply leave Kirito and say that “It’s just a game. Don’t take what we had SERIOUSLY.”

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      The commander beat Kirito pretty handily. I don’t think Kirito is all that necessary at the moment (though we all know he’ll be the strongest by the end of the show through the law of fantasy protagonists).

      Reply
      1. Arbee

        Though that won’t sound like the basis of a pretty good friendship. “Remember the time in SAO where you almost killed me? Man that was hilarious!”

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          I’m not saying they’re gonna be friends, and it’s pretty likely that the guild commander sees Kirito as a useful tool to have in his arsenal, but I don’t really see anyone — especially Asuna — being particularly nefarious because that would require the characters to think more than a single episode ahead.

        2. Arbee

          I mean, If they ever escape in real life, I doubt they’ll be contacting once another as friends as they were in the game. Maybe they would go the Doctor Who treatment and realize “IRL is boring, let’s get in the game again!”

        3. E Minor Post author

          Heh, that’s just reality. Most online “buddies” now are awkward as all hell in real life.

  3. arilando

    The reason the commander of the guild has such an overpowered skill is because /SPOLER/ he is the admin of the game, he doesn’t want to risk dying.

    Reply
  4. etery-chan

    “some guy with killer ginger sideburns”
    I would be freaked out if I happen to come across such person in a cyber cafe. Hahaha.

    Reply
  5. Ryan R

    I agree with many of your comments on these two episodes (I especially found pre-teen kids being in this VR MMO really hard to swallow), but there is one major point of contention I do have with your arguments here.

    You wrote… ” “Even as a second-in-command, you cannot ignore the rules.” Man, what a shitty guild. I would leave immediately.”

    Here I think you’re forgetting how life in SAO is very different from playing a character in, say, WoW, because WoW is just something you do for entertainment – It isn’t the sum total of your life.

    But for the people that are trapped in SAO (going on 2 plus years now), this place really has become their life. So this world has become their civilization. And civilization needs some semblance of REAL rules and laws in order to work. I would argue that these guilds have gone well beyond being like a guild in WoW, and now the larger and more powerful ones serve to bring some semblance of civilization and order to this VR world.

    Asuna’s guild is clearly a big deal, and they clearly carry some weight in SAO. It makes sense to me that most of the people in SAO could come to respect that guild, and its rulings, as a way to give a sense of order to this VR world.

    Plus, a bet’s a bet. You (and I’m using “you” in a general sense here) can go back on your wager when you lose, but that certainly wouldn’t endear you to anybody, and it may well cause people to see you as untrustworthy and unreliable. And in a world where you really do need friends (even a solo player like Kirito needs friends in SAO, as these two episodes make clear), coming across as untrustworthy and unreliable could easily prove fatal.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      But for the people that are trapped in SAO (going on 2 plus years now), this place really has become their life. So this world has become their civilization. And civilization needs some semblance of REAL rules and laws in order to work

      So what will happen if you don’t obey the “REAL rules and laws” of this guild? Are they gonna toss you in jail? Are Asuna and Kirito unable to acquire food, shelter or medicine if they disobey? Look, if this is actually the case, then fine, but SAO hasn’t done any sort of compelling world-building to establish this. Your argument is full of inferences about the nature of SAO and the society within it. Yes, it sounds sensible that Asuna’s guild might be a big deal, but then again, it might not be. Without any evidence to the contrary, I find it hard to believe that Asuna, a supposedly powerful warrior by her own right, can’t just leave without two men battling it out.

      Plus, a bet’s a bet.

      If I was a badass level 96 duel-wielding swordsman, I’d be pretty hard-pressed to stick around just because I lost a bet, but I guess that’s just me.

      Reply
      1. Naota

        The laws are half the problem. We don’t know them and if they really work in such absolute terms they seem ludicrous and silly.

        I find it hard to believe that this guild grew so large and powerful without allowing its members the perfectly reasonable ability to take time off for R&R, especially if they’re high-ranking officers who manage the front line where friends and comrades die horribly every few days. I also find it hard to believe that a simple duel holds absolute authority over a dispute like this. Kirito’s ability to land a hit (or not) in a sword fight has no correlation to Asuna’s request to take a vacation, and even if it did there should be no counter-ultimatum for losing. If someone refuses to pay your salary and you take them to court, you aren’t forced to keep working for free if you lose.

        Why would anyone agree to a law that allows the guildmaster to deny them anything at any time unless someone (not even the injured party – he gets to specify who he fights!) can beat him in a contest of strength? And not only do you not get your rightly deserved vacation if you lose, but you also get punished for it!

        Reply

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