Sword Art Online Ep. 9: Two swords are better than one!

More like Moe Art Online.

• After running from the minotaur boss like a baby, Asuna wonders why Kirito doesn’t use a shield. C’mon, baby, don’t hassle me about my lack of shield-bearing prowess! They’re just so dorky. It’d be like riding a bike with a helmet! Driving a Ferrari with a seat belt on!

• Oh man, is it time for an exciting, action-packed boss fight? No, let’s have lunch first. That won’t disrupt the pacing or rising tension or anything. It’s far more important to have our hero taste Asuna’s delicious max-level cooking. Too bad she didn’t also max out her bento box skill. Ideally, the food should be in a giant pink bento wrapped in a cloth. Otherwise, the food just won’t taste as good.

• Teehee, let’s giggle over spices!

• I-it’s not like I wanted to cook for your or anything! Let me remind you that you’re watching Sword Art Online.

• Oh well, if there’s one thing accurate about Sword Art Online, it’s capturing the tendency of guys to fall all over themselves when they see a girl. Klein and his buddy seem harmless enough, but you should see how some MMO players think the way to woo a girl gamer is to shower her with gold and show her their favorite zones. Oh, isn’t the waterfall outside Silvermoon City just so romantic!

What we’re missing though are the haters. There are a ton of guys out there who just absolutely disdain girl gamers. Maybe we’ll meet one of them in Sword Art Online later on.

• Okay, okay, hold on. So a zerg guild shows up. If you don’t know what ‘zerging’ means, the zerg race in Starcraft typically wins by overpowering you with its sheer numbers. Over time, the gaming subculture has adopt ‘zerging’ as a term for anyone winning with similar tactics. In any case, what bothers me about the zerg guild (besides the fact that’s incredibly small for a zerg guild) in Sword Art Online is that they all look the same, have the same body shape, etc. I thought everyone looked like themselves in the game. So did a bunch of people with similar height, race, body fitness, etc. all decide to join a single guild?!

Their leader also sounds like your generic older man in anime with the deep voice and inflection. I don’t doubt that old people pay MMOs; I actually know that there are plenty of old people playing MMOs. Still, what gets me about Sword Art Online isn’t that it uses an old guy here as an example of old people playing MMOs, but rather, we get an old guy because he’s a general of a faceless army, so it has to be some generic old guy who speaks with gravitas. If you had closed your eyes, you’d think you were watching some Tokugawa-inspired anime instead.

• When the general dude went on a mini-rant about how they want to share all their knowledge and resources in order to liberate everyone from Sword Art Online, it got me to thinking about something. Everyone we’ve met so far is trying to beat Sword Art Online legitimately. Yes, some people are player-killers, and there’s that stupid “I’ll make you click yes to a duel while you’re asleep” bullshit, but what I mean is that they’re all working within the confines of the game’s structure. They’re not actually breaking any part of the game, and trust me, there are gamers who love to break a game apart through its exploits. Why haven’t we seen a single one of these guys in SAO? I can’t imagine that the game is that impeccably coded.

Every MMO has flaws, and this is despite the fact that they’re worked on by hundreds of people. Even with thousands of beta testers hammering away at the game, an MMO always launches with glitches and exploits. Case in point, Guild Wars 2 spent five years in development and still had a first week exploit that got a bunch of people banned. There are exploits that people don’t discover until years into the game’s life. Anyway, my point is that we haven’t seen anyone try to break Sword Art Online in a similar fashion. We haven’t seen an exploiter, for example, farm a shitton of gold or exp through a cheap tactic. Duping is a very common exploit in these games. Imagine if someone duped a ton of some rare crafting material, thereby equipping the masses with all of the top gear!

Who’s the chubby guy?

Now, you could handwave this off and just say that SAO‘s creator is such a mega-genius, he made a perfect game. Okay, sure, but that’s neither very believable nor very interesting. In fact, I’d like to see how someone like Kirito would react to an exploiter. Kirito very much takes the game seriously. He think it’s fair. He thinks he’s more alive in a game than in the real world. We always get caught up in signifying a true persona versus fake personas. Especially with regards to the online world, we always hear the common refrain that, “Oh, that’s not how I really am. This is just how I act online.” But let’s face it, all of your personas are sides of a single coin. Who is Kirito? Is he just some middle-class young person in Japan, or really a heroic Gary Stu in his favorite MMO? The answer is really both. The “Black Swordsman” isn’t a mask; SAO defines Kirito in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the real world.

In MMOs, a lot of people hate on exploiters because they cheapen everything all of your accomplishments. Wow, you worked hard for years to earn that relic dagger in FFXI? Well, this guy just farmed the gil in a week to get the damn thing in a microscopic fraction of the time you took. But the thing is… real-life MMOs are pretty meaningless. You’re only playing for fun; eventually, the servers will go down and all of your rich loots and achievements will be for naught. An exploiter in SAO, on the other hand, can potentially make it easier for everyone to save themselves from this twisted digital prison. A bug in the game wouldn’t just be game-changing; it could potentially be life-changing. Kirito and Asuna take their fantasy world very seriously. I’d love to know how the characters would react to such a situation. Would they think “This exploiter is cheapening what we’ve done!” or would they take advantage of the system in order to save themselves? For Asuna, maybe. For Kirito, maybe not so much.

But there’s an even deeper, existential issue at hand: how would Kirito react to an exploiter who doesn’t buy into the fantasy world of SAO as much as him? By breaking the game down through exploits, you essentially destroy the fantasy. SAO is, after all, indirectly or perhaps directly about the efficacy of simulation. There is nothing more immersion-breaking (and game-breaking) than exploits. How would a tryhard like Kirito react to this? Yes, I think the characterization for Kirito so far makes him a gigantic Gary Stu, but that doesn’t mean this couldn’t change as the story progresses down the line. And I think it would be fascinating to see an interaction between our oh-so-serious heroes and an exploiter.

• What a terrible-looking zone they’re in though. It’s all black, blue and shit. Seriously, what an eye sore.

• Predictably enough, the zerg guild finds themselves in trouble with the boss. But even better, painful flashbacks of Kirito’s one “failure” floods into his mind! Oh, the riveting storytelling!

Okay, okay, I’m taking the piss out of the anime constantly, but I’ll give it credit for one thing. Oftentimes, fight scenes in anime are just for the sake of action. What makes a fight scene compelling is when it’s an externalization of a conflict between the characters or, in SAO‘s case, the conflict within the character. This fight against the minotaur is really an externalization of Kirito’s guilt. What SAO could’ve done better was make Kirito’s guilt a more compelling issue. Honestly, it was established in a single episode, then ignored the rest of the way. Had each of the previous episodes built up to this climax, the end result would’ve been a stronger emotional attachment for the viewers to the action onscreen.

For instance, we see at the end of the battle that Kirito wins with just a sliver of his health remaining. Why is this important? Well, he almost died trying to save the remainder of that zerg guild! What if he could’ve saved his guildies from way back when too if he had put himself more in harm’s way? Is this really the guilt that Kirito has been dealing with this entire time? Is he questioning his selfish soloing mentality because it may have cost him the lives of his friends? Unfortunately, this is only an inference that the viewers can make. This is not a layer of depth that you will find within the anime’s characterization of Kirito. Yes, Kirito conquers his demons by the end of the episode, but did he have it that bad? Yes, you might tell me; Kirito was haunted by the deaths of his friends! Okay, but don’t just tell me — show me. Again, this is just storytelling 101.

• The animation is good, but the choreography is uninspired. Or rather, there isn’t much of any choreography to get excited about:

As a result, the swordfighting here more resembles stop motion animation than anything fluid and dynamic. This is pretty disappointing, A-1.

• I burst out laughing at this:

It’s perfect… just absolutely perfect. Every wannabe badass in every MMO is a dual-wielder. In the end, Kirito unlocks a skill that only he has and nobody else… uh, great. It kind of goes against the idea of MMOs, actually. Despite the grindtastic nature of most of these games, there’s a general assumption that everyone can be the same badass hero or heroine if they put in the time. But Kirito’s just going to be a special snowflake with an amazing skill that no one else has, then what’s the point?

What’s even funnier is that Kirito has to hide his dual-wielding abilities because gamers are an envious bunch. Bro, you’re apparently traipsing around town with the hottest babe in MMO history (and she’s maxed out her cooking skills too!). If anyone’s gonna murder you for anything, it’s Asuna, not your ability to handle two swords at one time (snicker).

• And this entire time, Asuna is in Kirito’s arms and being completely deredere. Way to anime, anime. Too bad her guild won’t just let her party up with Kirito without (literally) a fight. But what does that even mean? It’s her choice to do whatever she wants, right? Who gives a damn if some creepy older man (yet another one) with silver hair thinks that you should stick around? I thought you were a badass heroine!

But you’re gonna let the men fight over you again?


20 thoughts on “Sword Art Online Ep. 9: Two swords are better than one!

  1. They’re not actually breaking any part of the game, and trust me, there are gamers who love to break a game apart through its exploits. Why haven’t we seen a single one of these guys in SAO? I can’t imagine that the game is that impeccably coded.

    A) We may see this later
    B) We may not see this later
    C) If it was a normal MMO, that would be the case. With the “You die in game, you die in real life” specter looming, that’s probably the least of their worries.

    But chances are we won’t see this later in the anime.

    Also, I agree: they should have established more of Kirito’s guilt in the series, but they only did one episode of it. That’s why I can only shrug and go, “eh, so?” at his actions in the show.

    1. The least of their worries, or the biggest? I know that if I was trapped in a game where victory meant liberation and failure meant instantaneous death, I would try my hardest to exploit the everliving hell out of the game structure. Unlike your typical MMO where this is simple underhanded cheating to get myself ahead without the requisite effort, this same action becomes akin to a scientific breakthrough that can save lives and make everyone’s collective struggle less perilous. The only dissenters would be the ludicrous fringe elements that object because it conflicts with their world view.

      And it gets even better:

      If I were the creator of this game, I would have employed administrators to root out these types of players and terminate them to set a precedent that playing outside of the game rules will not be tolerated. Exploiters would do their thing for numerous reasons, most players would consider the job dangerous but secretly applaud – not unlike bootlegging in the 1920’s, and admins would leverage the system and public to work against them with officially sanctioned incentives (special items, gold bounties, etc) to encourage normal players to hunt and expose cheaters. Being humans also trapped in the game, perhaps these administrators with their elevated powers would occasionally turn on me or become disillusioned. I would need to keep them close and watch them carefully, ensuring that their numbers would always be limited.

      Just imagine the dynamics and interest factor this simple change would add to the story. This is exactly the sort of thing the author should have been thinking about, rather than constructing the setting solely as a self-fellating power fantasy for his primary character.

    2. With the “You die in game, you die in real life” specter looming, that’s probably the least of their worries.

      Wha? Like Naoto said above, exploiting could mean the difference between life or death. Unless the game has some sort of exploit security in place, which we’ve heard nothing about whatsoever, there’s no reason not to exploit. If the asshole creator’s going to trap me in his shitty MMO against my wishes, I have no reason to play fair.

  2. I will admit, the way this show treats some of its elements so seriously makes for unintentionally hilarious scenes. Yes, having one of the hottest girls as your teammate and the fact that you’re a famous beater isn’t helping, but dual swords? Now you’re just going too far!

  3. Come on, Asuna isn’t a living human being, much less an individual, she’s just a rare item. Of course people would fight over such a thing. It’s only natural. If you threw a gold nugget into a crowded area, you’d get the same reaction from a lot of people. Shiny objects mustn’t have a will on their own, all they have to do is to shine and that’s certainly something Asuna is quite good at.

    Seriously though, if I were Kirito, I’d just spare me from all the trouble and I’d sell her and buy a Lizlet instead. And that blue-haired girl. Of course I’d get more than just one girl, as Asuna is some kind of extremely valuable item. Her waifu skills are at max, selling her would earn you quite a lot of money.

      1. PC waifus last longer. You know, there’s an expiration date with everything, especially with NPCs. If someone beats the game, you’re sure to lose your NPC waifu. Can’t have that. With PC waifus, you’re on the safe side. As long as there’s the chance that someone might beat the game, Sword Art Online is not to be considered as reality. Thus, fucking your NPC waifu is as unauthentic as telephone sex.

        Also, NPCs are public property. Those sluts!

        1. PC waifus last longer.

          You know as well as I do that PC waifus will eventually grow old and die! And we don’t know that your NPC waifu will disappear just because someone beats the game. Maybe you can choose to stay in your magical fantasy land forever!

          As long as there’s the chance that someone might beat the game, Sword Art Online is not to be considered as reality. Thus, fucking your NPC waifu is as unauthentic as telephone sex.

          And fapping to hentai is as unauthentic as…?

        2. You can sell your PC waifus before they grow old and buy some new ones instead.

          Also, that question regarding hentais doesn’t work quite well with my mockery of SAO’s approach to female characters (/treating them as mere objects). Meh, I say, meh!

    1. She’s less of a rare item and more on those cheap companion bodyguard AIs you can buy at the Item Mall or obtained by Quest reward whose only job is to follow you around after you finished her quest.

  4. Every part of my mind that has matured is screaming out in pain at how the whole “dual wielding is cool” thing has popped up as in most MMOs and everything. May as well take it to Campione level and start hurling thousands of swords at once. Now I don’t think that every single time that someone has two swords they automatically become lame, but I haven’t seen many shows play it in a way where it doesn’t automatically make the person cool or in any way practical. I’ll admit I would’ve thought it was cool if I was 13, which reminds me…where are all the kids? Nobody ever listens to the 13 and up disclaimer if they really want to play a game….

    1. Every part of my mind that has matured is screaming out in pain at how the whole “dual wielding is cool” thing has popped up as in most MMOs and everything.

      I’m surprise a ninja hasn’t shown up.

      where are all the kids? Nobody ever listens to the 13 and up disclaimer if they really want to play a game….

      Well, they did say that the game only sold a limited number of copies. Maybe kids weren’t inclined to stand in line for a video game. Plus, what about the midget girl with the dragon? Oh right, every young-looking character in an anime is actually a thousand year old…

      1. The girl whose pet’s name I remember more than hers doesn’t count to me, for some reason. I’m thinking there are more bratty kids who want people to power level them and give them items than little girls that wanna level up their pets. Then again, there’s also no gold sellers in this. I don’t know if they’d go there….I mean hooking yourself up to a machine in order to sell gold in a game that you can’t log off to transfer real money to begin with…talk about an unfortunate job to be saddled with.

        1. Well it wasn’t advertised as a game where you’d get stuck until the clearing, but then again, I wouldn’t think gold sellers would be as frequent on a buy-to-play game. I wonder, though. Wouldn’t it be something if this game was pay-to-play and the whole “You’re trapped in here ’till you clear,” thing is just a money scam. Charge everybody per-hour and you’ll be rolling. If this has been 2 years straight, 730 days, so for 1500¥ an hour that’s 26280000¥ per person (still alive.) Die and your family gets billed. Make it to the end and you still get billed. Besides, any guy bad enough to do this has to be evil enough to charge 1500¥ an hour, right?

        2. He’s got a point – I would get such a laugh out of seeing a cadre of slimy, skeezy gold sellers caught up in this game who bought it on launch and were planning to set up their enterprise before the whole thing blew up in their face with the news that they were trapped. Somewhere in there is a quirky, enjoyable character arc… or at least an ironic little twist.

          1. slimy, skeezy gold sellers

            Well, most of the people doing the grunt work are probably getting paid pennies to grind a game for 14 hours a day in some stuffy Chinese apartment. The slimy middleman probably won’t even touch the game.

  5. Lots of good points. Just a reminder of how little this anime is living up to its potential. Yet everyone keeps going on about how great it is. I really just don’t get why everyone loves this show so much.

    Love the post as always. This blog has become as much a part of my anime routine as actually watching anime.

    Incidentally, have you checked out what’s coming out next season? Anything catch your eye?

    1. Incidentally, have you checked out what’s coming out next season? Anything catch your eye?

      I’m saving a fall preview post for a rainy day.

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