Sword Art Online Ep. 12: Kokoro

‘Kokoro’ means ‘heart,’ y’all. Seriously, it doesn’t get any better, does it? Those of you who’ve seen the episode will get what the title is all about. For the rest of you guys, read on.

• The episode opens with a room full of kids munching away at food. I wouldn’t say that MMOs are super popular. World of Warcraft is definitely the outlier, but other than that, you won’t find any subscription-based MMO with more than a million active accounts (though it is odd to see Aion‘s suddenly popularity — it was such a shit MMO — just because it went F2P but that’s neither here nor there). As such, while I expect people of all races and age groups to play something like WoW or maybe Lineage, I certainly wouldn’t say the same about most other MMOs.

I’ll even say that only MMO fans will follow the development of such games like Rift, The Secret World, etc. So to see a bunch of young kids trapped in an MMO like Sword Art Online, which only started with 10,000 players… well, you can certainly see my disbelief. I realize, however, I’ve been bitching about this particular issue since the start of the series. To avoid beating the dead horse any further, I’ll try to make this the last I’ll ever broach this particular topic.

• I do know that most stories tend to suck when kids are introduced, but maybe SAO will be the exceptio-… nope, I can’t even say it.

• A lady by the name of Yulier shows up to give us some delicious exposition. Apparently, the Liberation Army has grown too large for its own britches, and now there’s an internal power struggle. In fact, we even get to meet an old buddy we haven’t seen since the second episode. Remember the dude who bitched about Betas having an unfair advantage over the rest of the players? He’s now consolidated a lot of power, and his faction is monopolizing the best monster spawn points.

So how accurate is all of this to the actual world of MMOs? On a scale from one to ten, I’d say about a seven. So kudos to SAO. People do monopolize monster spawns in MMOs, but I haven’t played all of them so I don’t know if anyone actually does monopolize EXP monsters. In the games I’ve played, however, people will spend all day and night camping open world monsters that drop nice loot.

The internal power struggle thing is what I’m a little iffy about. It sounds cool on paper — political intrigue and all that — but you can’t really struggle for power in an MMO. People will usually just leave and form a splinter guild. Of course, SAO is a hardcore PVP game where people die for ‘real realz,’ so I guess a powerful faction of the Liberation Army could threaten the rest of the guild with death if they don’t comply. Still, the idea stretches my suspension of disbelief a tad much.

What I do like, however, is the character of Kibaou coming full circle: he first whines about other players getting an unfair advantage, then turns around and exploit those same advantages when he gets the opportunity. In the circle of friends I play MMOs with, we call this the “fuck you; got mine” attitude. What’s funny is that this is hardly limited to MMOs. Oh, Paul Ryan definitely benefited off of Social Security to put himself through college, but now that he’s a successful congressman and a vice presidential candidate, fuck your social welfare programs! But really, this shit happens all the time in MMOs.

• Still, I can’t approve of this sort of exposition-dumping. Yes, some background knowledge is always necessary in storytelling, and I’m not decrying all forms of exposition, but Yulier is literally sitting here and telling us gobs and gobs of plot that could’ve just been animated. Of course, that would’ve meant taking the focus off of our main man Kirito, but y’know what, I think I could’ve managed. Oh no, I might’ve missed out on the episode with Lisbeth or Silica! Seriously though, I would not have minded at all. With an MMO premise anyway, wouldn’t you want to cast a wide net and follow the developments of several characters and see how each person adapts to the situation they’re in?

• Yui tells her “parents” that Yulier is telling the truth. How does she know! She doesn’t know how, but she just does! Welp, lemme stare into those giant eyes for a second…

…yep, I trust the loli. LOLIS ARE NEVER WRONG. Also, when loli wants to accompany you to a dungeon, YOU TAKE LOLI WITH YOU.

So Kirito and Asuna get out of their civvies, but Yui’s just walking around a dark, dangerous dungeon in a pinku sweater. Good parenting. Asuna assures Yulier that Yui’s much tougher than she looks because… because… uh, she ate a spicy sandwich? I mean, shit, that’s all we’ve been given. Then Asuna and Kirito giggle over the thought that Yui will become a great swordswoman one day. They are so lame as a couple. I hope Asuna gets netorare’d.

• Killer frogs:

• In the middle of a critical rescue mission — our prisoner, we’re told, has been stranded for three days now — Kirito and Asuna goof off and throw toad legs at each other. Look at Yulier’s face:

Look at her face of exasperation. That’s my face.

• Soft piano music plays as Asuna grabs Yui’s hand. Aw, how cute. Except, again, we’re on a rescue mission. There’s no sense of urgency whatsoever. Excitement comes from a constant state of anxiety — that edge of your seat feeling. Needless to say, that moment doesn’t arrive until later.

• Somehow, the characters find themselves fighting against a death-like enemy:

According to Kirito, “It’s probably as strong as something from the 90th floor.” Aw hell, what are we gonna do now? Naturally, Yui reveals herself to be a special child with special powers:

God, I hate this trope. So continues anime’s long obsession with mysteriously powerful lolis. First, it takes no skill or creativity. It’s basically shoujo ex machina. I have yet to see a fight in SAO resolve itself in a satisfying fashion. People just push the “I win” button. Nobody makes a strategic move or anything that might leave them open to danger. Secondly, the screencap above looks fucking ridiculous.

• And somehow, the incident unlocks Yui’s lost memories. How convenient. You know what that means… more i-i-i-infodumping! SAO is regulated by a system called ‘Cardinal.’ It basically sounds like the game engine. More importantly, Yui is a program.

This is where the angst comes in because Yui realizes she’s not real, but bawww she’s such a cute loli. As a result, we get into this old sci-fi debate about whether or not it matters that she’s not a real person. I will say that Wall-E does a fantastic job at relating how we can form compassion for artificial life.

On the other hand, Yui is… well, she’s too transparent an attempt to tug at your heartstrings. The whole loli package that she comes in, her helplessness, her desire to call two strangers her mommy and daddy… this is all meant to cover up the fact that we’ve only known Yui for one and a half episode. Then as soon as she’s introduced, she’s going to get deleted by the system. It’s all too fast, too cheap, too forced, too shallow. Yui’s character doesn’t resonate unless you already have a thing for cute lolis.

In a tale like Pinocchio, we see a character struggle to bridge the gap between simulacrum and the real thing. Yui, however, is just emotional shock and awe. There’s no real depth here. How could we have fixed this? Well, the uneasiness one finds in the simulacrum is how lacking it is. As a result, one possibility is to juxtapose Yui’s lack of authenticity as a child with her desire to be loved by Asuna and Kirito. The horror then comes in the struggle between the realization that there’s something offputting about Yui’s behavior, but the idealistic faith that she could nevertheless become a real child the longer she stays in our heroes’ care.

You could then heighten the anxiety. Let’s say Asuna and Kirito find out much earlier that Yui is a computer program. There’s then the suspicion and fear that she is a spy, or will betray them in some way. After all, if you’re trapped in a computer game, and you want to escape, would you necessarily trust a program born from said game? Especially if it comes to you in a potentially manipulative package such as a loli? Nevertheless, the couple’s maternal/paternal instincts compel them to face down these worries.

Anyway, there are many ways to expand on Yui’s problem that would make it a hell of a lot more intriguing than what we got from this episode. The problem is that everything in SAO is too easy. Whoops, I’m really a program, but I also want to be your kid. By the way, I’m gonna die now. Please feel bad for me. Here’s a little memento to remember me by:

What is it, you ask?

Excuse me for a second…

/cue soft piano music

• Somehow, Kirito and Asuna hope to re-construct their digital child when the story is all said and done. Y’know, the child they just met. Then at the end, Yui’s disembodied voice has to chime in with “Mama~ ganbatte!” This is on par with Griselda’s “digital ghost” making its pointless appearance at the end of the sixth episode. Scratch that, it’s even worse.


20 thoughts on “Sword Art Online Ep. 12: Kokoro

  1. Rigaldo

    Can i spoil something for you ? Yui come backs later. Oh, and it´s such a heartfelt reunion ! Not really, i found strange how non-dramatic it was. You´ll see, if you stick long enough.

  2. Ian Caronia

    Wow. This isn’t a decent into mediocrity; this is a free-fall into ham-fisted melodrama riddled with unlikable cliches and painfully unnecessary tropes. Plummeting way faster than I expected! I can’t imagine that anything else but a bed of flaming spikes awaits viewers at the bottom. Hope you don’t pull your ripcord too soon though, E Minor, because this is getting even more hilarious(ly awful) by the episode.
    -The biggest shame seems to be that with each passing episode the list of intricate themes and interesting plot developments that COULD have been just keep piling up, and it make me wonder if the writer had a story with such elements but then decided to butcher it for the sake of easy money/fandom. “Sure my story has some, though basic for science fiction, very intriguing themes going on…but will it be popular?”
    –Come to think of it, wasn’t there another anime you wrote about some time ago involving the theme of simulacrum to a far better extent? It was an episode of a series with different themes per episode, I believe. This episode I’m talking about involved gender ambiguity as well. Can’t remember the name.

    Anyway, your line about Asuna and Kirito as a couple made me laugh so hard I actually got some tears going. First time I ever saw someone wish [b]NTR[/b] on a horribly corny and brain dead couple, mate. Haha!

    1. E Minor Post author

      -The biggest shame seems to be that with each passing episode the list of intricate themes and interesting plot developments that COULD have been just keep piling up, and it make me wonder if the writer had a story with such elements but then decided to butcher it for the sake of easy money/fandom. “Sure my story has some, though basic for science fiction, very intriguing themes going on…but will it be popular?”

      Well, I just think the “intricate themes and interesting plot developments” are inherent to any sci-fi story about virtual worlds. As such, we actually have a very large body of literature to draw from, because the idea of virtual worlds is hardly new. Even you and other readers have repeatedly brought up the .hack series. I think it’s inevitable in such stories to broach the topics of simulacra and such, so I don’t think SAO gets any points for coming close (but nevertheless failing).

      –Come to think of it, wasn’t there another anime you wrote about some time ago involving the theme of simulacrum to a far better extent?

      Not sure. I’ve made up a bunch of BS about simulacra before. Maybe Natsuyuki Rendezvous, maybe UN-GO.

      1. Ian Caronia

        Oh I never meant to imply this anime should receive any kind of mercy for what could’ve been. After all, we are supposed to judge things for what they are, not the potential they could’ve had if they didn’t instead waste their time pandering and meandering. This anime deserves to be made an example of (and in a hilarious yet critical way, thanks to this blog) for that very reason.
        -I wasn’t kidding when I said I especially enjoyed reading your posts on this show because they inspire me. At the moment I can’t write much because of tendon issues, but between reading some novels and reading your hilarious/critical posts on shows like this I’m able to, as Poirot would say, “exercise the little grey cells”. Just as we learn from the good (many of those stories in that large body of works you mentioned), we also learn from the bad. I think you’re doing a fine job with this one, E Minor.

        -And yeah, I think it was UN-GO. Remember the odd name.

        1. E Minor Post author

          I’m very flattered, but — and don’t take this the wrong way — I don’t know how to really respond to praise.

  3. Owl

    Yeah, I’m really disappointed by the fact that Kirito and Asuna seem to have absolutely no chemistry as a couple. They’re not endearing by themselves either. I feel that the show could be better if more effort was given in making these characters likable. No, not by their kawaii~ character designs or making them badass-just giving them reasonable motivations, goals, flaws, and defining character traits as well.

    1. E Minor Post author

      You can’t really have chemistry between two characters if they’re boring to begin with. Since Kirito is a Gary Stu, we already screwed in this regard. As for Asuna, she has no development to speak of. She just shows up, hangs out with Kirito, ???, they fall in love.

  4. Naota

    Yui’s character doesn’t resonate unless you already have a thing for cute lolis.

    I’d argue that even if you have a thing for cute loli’s, Yui is pretty far down there by just about every measure. She has no interesting lines, no personality even by anime archetype standards, one-dimensional motivation, little screen time, a completely uninspired role, and she’s fairly plain even assuming you were in it entirely for the aesthetics (read: “cuteness”).

    If you narrow the query down to her very specific niche as “little girl who tags along to be looked after by others, has little/no development of her own, and is a major plot device”, characters like Alvis Hamilton from Last Exile or Tucker’s daughter Nina from Fullmetal Alchemist still do her job much better.

    SAO doesn’t even have the intelligence to balance its underlying themes and imagery – Yui “deletes” the boss by flying into the air, changing forms, and hitting it with a giant flaming sword. How is this really any different from any other player in the game? This is an opportunity to put some visual language to her otherness and it’s wasted on some dumb fantasy tropes! An AI should be able to just erase things without effort. Zap. Gone. When a GM in an MMO deletes a troublesome mob, it simply goes away. There is no smiting of swords or blocking of attacks. It’s a cold, utilitarian system tool – not a weapon or a raging, fiery battle.

    1. E Minor Post author

      When a GM in an MMO deletes a troublesome mob, it simply goes away. There is no smiting of swords or blocking of attacks. It’s a cold, utilitarian system tool – not a weapon or a raging, fiery battle.

      Not that I disagree with your sentiment that Yui should’ve done something a little more interesting than swing a gigantic sword at the enemy, but ahem…

  5. Youwontknow

    Anyone wondering who the “crystal tear after death” idea came from first ? Because it’s in FF XIII too (it’s no spoiler). As I don’t know when the light novel chapter came out, I can’t really say…

  6. Bright Heerebrand

    Well I think that the biggest problem with SAO from what I have watched is that it is too rushed, they never stop to develop the characters all that much and they just rush through the story, missing opportunities at every turn to make the plot more interesting or introduce new and interesting themes and characters. It has that depressing feeling of a show that could have been good but the people making it just kinda copped out and half-arsed the whole thing.

        1. E Minor Post author

          Just like I’ve been telling people in the fall preview post, A-1 Pictures is just a horrible studio.

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