Sword Art Online II Ep. 19: Ritual suicide

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It’s interesting that you have to lie down to play these VRMMOs, but not only do you have to lie down, you also have no awareness of the real world. You give yourself completely to the other you. Yeah, with the headset strapped onto your head, you can’t see anything but the VRMMO. But you also can’t hear, smell, taste, or feel anything that’s happening in the real world. If you’re a gamer of any sort, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Oculus Rift. Certainly, the Oculus Rift is nowhere near the SAO‘s headsets in terms of technology, but the idea here’s relatively similar. They’re both about achieving a sort of efficacy with respects to virtual reality. My point is, is it really necessary to render yourself unconscious in order to play a VRMMO? Why can’t you just sit upright in a chair and play one? Why can’t you play a VRMMO without going to sleep? Shouldn’t this be possible? It should be from a practical standpoint. There’s no reason to think you should have to completely deaden yourself in the real world in order to play a VRMMO.

This is the SAO universe, however, so things are different. The nature of the NerveGear is somewhat illogical, because at the end of the day, their function is purely thematic. The subtext here is that you don’t get to live two lives. You symbolically have to kill yourself in one world in order to experience other worlds. Yes, yes, we’ve seen instances where death in the virtual world meant death in the real world. But think about it. As you are playing any of these games, you have no protection whatsoever in the real world. What was supposedly scary about the GGO arc was that the killer knew where Sinon lived. In fact, the killer could’ve been standing over her in real life, and she’d never know because she was so deeply immersed in GGO. And as many commenters have stated over and over before, it can’t be healthy to play games in this fashion. Sitting in a chair for hours on end is one thing, but lying down in bed for hours and hours on end is ludicrous!

When it comes right down to it, this is not a story about realizing how virtual reality can add or enhance our lives. Would I want to play a VRMMO? I wouldn’t want to lie down on a bed for hours and hours, but sure, I’d love it if a game like Final Fantasy XIV had Oculus Rift support. For me, what’s enticing about virtual reality is the potential to experience things I would never be able to experience in the real world. I’ll never be a spoony bard in the real world (I hear it pays poorly). But SAO isn’t just about that. It’s not just about experiencing things you can’t experience in the real world. Rather, it is a story about rejecting the real world entirely. As a result, our characters treat the MMO worlds as if they are real. Look at the way Asuna cries tears of happiness upon buying her virtual house. It’s a fucking virtual house! It has no equity! But it has emotional equity. Because our characters have rejected the real world, the fake suddenly becomes real. But let’s keep going with this logic. What else do our characters do?

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They symbolically commit suicide every single day to do mundane things in a video game. Y’see, our heroes are not always raiding. They’re not always achieving world firsts. They’re not always going on grand quests. A lot of the time, they log on just to hang out with each other. Hell, they even log on just to watch e-sports footage from another game. They log in just to study and do homework. Worst of all, these are all activities they could do in real life. The potential of virtual reality captivates most of us because we think it’ll allow us to feel as though we’re in a fantasy world, doing battle with dragons, demons, and whatnot. But we only see this stuff like half of the time in the SAO series. The other half of the time, these characters put their real bodies at great risks to do the same mundane activities they could do in real life. Again, they symbolically kill themselves for hours and hours on end just to do homework in an MMO. The question is why? You would only do such a thing if the real world, to put it plainly, sucked.

It then becomes quite apparent that Asuna is the only fully realized character on the show. If you really, really think about it, she’s the only person who has a reason to commit this sort of ritual suicide day in and day out. She’s a caged bird in the real world. She has no autonomy. She’s a rich girl from high society, so she has to conform to certain standards. This includes marrying herself off to some equally rich suitor just to benefit her family. Hey, we’ve seen this same plot line before. It’s nothing new. But the point is, Asuna actually has a legitimate reason to resent the real world. It’s not a terribly original reason, but she has one. She has a reason to want to kill herself. In an MMO, there are no expectations. She doesn’t have to act in a certain way, she doesn’t have to marry the server’s most accomplished player (though she does so anyway), so on and so forth. Asuna’s character makes sense. Asuna’s character actually has pathos. If I really think about it, she’s the only one with a good reason to reject reality.

As for the other characters, they’re useless by comparison. Kirito’s reason for playing MMOs was what? He felt like an outsider in his own family when he found out he was adopted by his aunt? Whatever, man. That’s nothing. I mean, c’mon, really? It’s not like he had to sleep outside in the cold or eat nothing but gruel. Leafa and her mom treated Kirito as if he was one of their own. Speaking of Leafa, she only started playing VRMMOs to understand her “oniichan” better. So again, she doesn’t really have pathos like Asuna does. You could argue that she kills herself in the real world, because she has the best chance to marry her “oniichan” in an MMO, but even then, it’s weak. As for Lisbeth, Silica, and Klein, we don’t know anything about them. We don’t know why they would put their real bodies at such great risks to do mundane things in a video game. Maybe they have sad stories too, but SAO has not bothered to explore their reasons for wanting to play these VRMMOs.

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As for Sinon, we’ve discussed her to death in the GGO arc. Long story short, using an MMO as a form of exposure therapy might have been meaningful, but her story was executed rather poorly for a variety of reasons. In the end, Asuna is the only character who really fits SAO’s twisted narrative. You kill yourself in order to experience another life. You use the death of the body in order to allow your mind to escape. But who here really has a good reason to kill themselves in the real world? It’s Asuna. But therein lies the flaw with the story as a whole: even if Asuna does manage to resolve her issues in the real world, it’s not like she’ll stop playing these video games. She’ll keep killing herself everyday just to do mundane things in a virtual world. I have a hard time believing that her character will grow, and as a result, she’ll move onto bigger and better things. She’ll simply end up being like the rest of her friends, i.e. symbolically killing themselves for no other reason than to have fun.

Now, here comes the battle of competing philosophies. In this week’s episode, Asuna has to pull herself away from the virtual world in order to have an uncomfortable dinner with her mother. At the dinner table, her mother states, “You need to move your own hands when you do [your homework], or you don’t learn anything.” Naturally, nothing can be more meaningful to Asuna’s mother than the real world. There, she’s a lady of high society. She’s rich and likely influential in upper class circles. When Asuna argues that this is the only way for her and her friends to spend time together, her mother adds, “If you’re using that machine, you’re not really meeting them.” It’s true, though. She’s not really meeting the real them. This is reflected in the way that we know almost nothing about these characters in the real world. Most of the time, we see them in an MMO, but even when we see them in the real world, it’s almost always at that bar that never seems to have any other customer.

(Even the bar in Tokyo Ghoul, which served both humans and ghouls, had generic, faceless customers during the day. In other words, even this bar in real life feels unreal. So that’s why our heroes hang out there when they’re forced to interact in the real world. It’s like this safe, secluded spot somehow isolated from the rest of reality. In that case, it may as well be virtual. But I digress.)

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The point is, we hardly know anything about these characters and their real life situations and/or problems. We learned a bit about Sinon, but of course, as soon as the GGO arc ended, it’s like it no longer matters what her life is like in the real world. How has she been coping since the scary incident with her “friend?” Has she reconciled with her mother? Is she still facing any bullying at school? No one cares anymore. According to SAO, we can only learn so much about these characters’ real lives. And now, the spotlight is on Asuna, so naturally, Sinon has pretty much all but disappeared entirely from the story. She doesn’t even hang out with them in the virtual world, which is odd, isn’t it? As for the other characters, what they do in real life is almost irrelevant. Hell, Kirito’s the star of the show, and we hardly know what he does in his “spare” time. As a result, Asuna’s mother isn’t wrong. No one really gets to know anyone in the real world.

But again, this is a battle of competing philosophies. For Asuna, who rejects her real world situation, she doesn’t really care to know her friends in the real world either. I mean, she may say she cares, but the proof is in the pudding. No one actually makes any real attempts to hang out in the real world when Japan has one of the most extensive mass transit systems in the world! So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t buy this bullshit: “Everyone lives far away.” No matter what Asuna might claim, her actions say othewise. I mean, really, she and her boyfriend rarely go on dates in the real world, and even when they do, they talk about MMOs. What kind of couple is that? But Asuna has so thoroughly rejected reality that this apparent fact about their relationship never even bothers her. She also didn’t even seem to care all that much when Sinon openly flirted with Kirito in the previous arc. She had a frown on her face, but that’s it. She relegates herself to to being just another haremette when she’s supposed to be his waifu.

Of course, on the surface, this is really just a harem anime, so the audience doesn’t really expect Asuna to complain. Individual members of the audience may say they’re either on Team Asuna or Team Sinon, but deep down, we don’t expect Kirito to really commit to either of these girls. Asuna’s passive acceptance of her fate as a haremette is almost tacit approval of her boyfriend’s behavior. But the subtext here is that this harem fantasy is vastly more preferable to Asuna than the real world. And what does she have in the real world? She can have her own harem! In last week’s episode, we saw three suitors line up to court our heroine. Kirito might have a virtual harem, but Asuna can literally have a real harem of her own. In fact, Asuna’s a bit of a Mary Sue. Here, we have an incredibly rich, intelligent, and beautiful girl. But screw all of that, Asuna basically says. She hates her real life so much that she’ll become a haremette instead. And that’s pretty sad…

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As a result, Asuna’s going to challenge this mysterious Zekken person. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? What does some random, virtual swordsman have to do with Asuna’s real life problems? Well, one of her friends suggests that if Asuna wins, her notoriety will return. She can’t help but then stare at Kirito. In any other story, this look could be read in a lot of ways. Asuna used to be a well-known player, but not since she hooked up with Kirito. She used to be a frontliner, but not since she hooked up with Kirito. In any other story, you would think, “Perhaps the girl somewhat blames her current banal existence on her lover.” But this is SAO, so that’s obviously not the case. This is SAO, so Asuna could never blame Kirito for anything. So why does she even pause and give him this somewhat plaintive look? Probably because she feels as though she doesn’t deserve Kirito or something. Probably because she feels she needs to challenge this Zekken person in order to prove her worth to the Gary Stu. After all, he got to go maraud about in both ALO and GGO, and look like a badass without her.

Asuna, on the other hand, is not only powerless in the real world, she’s nothing more than the group’s healer most of the time. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a healer, but if you’re all about “Rawr, I’m a strong, independent warrior who can make my own decisions in life,” then most healer characters don’t usually fit that persona. So what we have here is a lot like the Sinon situation: if Asuna can assert herself in the virtual world, then perhaps this’ll translate to the real world as well. But as I’ve discussed above, SAO’s unsettling subtext is that these characters symbolically kills themselves every time they dive. With Asuna specifically, she has plenty of reasons to reject the real world. Unfortunately, unless she can somehow upload her consciousness into an MMO, her mother won’t let Asuna ignore the real world. As such, she has to confront reality, and to make things worse, she’s running out of time. Nevertheless, our heroine is resisting. That’s why Asuna is challenging this Zekken person. This conflict is a stand-in for her real life problems. If she had a real plan for her real life, she wouldn’t be here, wasting her time fighting some random player.

The hope is that she’ll somehow find inspiration in the virtual world, but that’s a lot to ask of simulacra. In any other story, Asuna would perhaps realize there’s no substance to the images around her. But this is SAO, so I’m sure the girl will solve all her problems through an MMO. Hey, it worked for Sinon!

Stray notes & observations:

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— As expected, Asuna’s relationship with her mother is cold and frigid. Plus, the color of that wine doesn’t look right. I have never drunk a grey wine. Worst of all, that’s a champagne flute, lady, but you are clearly not drinking champagne. And you call yourself high society! You don’t even use proper stemware!

— Asuna can’t even look her mother in the eye. But I don’t like the cinematography here. It feels strained because they are both not fully in the same picture for some odd reason. The standard thing to do is to just pull the camera back in order to illustrate the impassable gulf between the two characters. But the truth is, they’re not even sitting far away from each other at all, and I don’t know why they’re not. SAO is just not very good with visual metaphors, I guess. Shit, even The Simpsons can accomplish this much, and it’s a comedy TV show. Then you see this shot, and you can’t help but wonder why we didn’t just see it right from the get-go.

— Blah blah blah, her mother wants to put her in another school. She even wants Asuna to graduate and start attending college after just half a school year. Our heroine has no say in her life, et cetera, et cetera. As I’ve discussed above, the subtext here is potentially intriguing, but the actual plot events themselves are pretty unoriginal.

— Asuna: “It doesn’t matter if it takes me another year or two to get into college.” Sorry, but it kinda does. She then says she doesn’t have to attend college. Then what will she do with her life? Yeah, you don’t have to go to college to be successful, but you still need to have a well thought-out plan. Right now, I can sort of see where Asuna’s mother is coming from. Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t like it either if one of my parents had tried to dictate my life. But Asuna isn’t asserting herself. She doesn’t have a plan that at least says to her mother, “Look, you may not respect me or my decisions, but at least I know what I want to do with my life.” Instead, our heroine literally says she has no clue what she wants to do: “Right now, I don’t have the answer….” Asuna comes across as a lost lamb, so naturally, her mother will try to — as mothers are wont to do — mother her. If you’re going to act like a child, you’ll be treated as one.

— I love the hilariously ominous music that plays when the arranged marriage was brought up. The horror! The horror! The problem here, however, is that she’s only 18. The age of majority in Japan is 20, I believe. Not much Asuna can do, then.

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— The music gets even more ominous when her mother reveals she had investigated Kirito’s background as well! B-b-but Kirito’s going to be a great MMO engineer, and his technology will bring e-lolis like Yui to life in the real world! With kawaii-chans like her around in the real world, we’ll never have to commit ritual suicide again! But jokes aside, Asuna finally decides to storm off from the dinner table when Kirito was brought up. That’s how important the Gary Stu is. Honestly, this arc could be deep and interesting, but it’s still bogged down by Kirito’s existence. Case in point, the girl later retires to her room to gaze at a picture of her and the Gary Stu. They’re not even holding hands, embracing each other, or anything. They’re just standing side-by-side, and… that’s it. You can hardly tell that they’re supposed to be the story’s first-rate couple. The sad thing is, this is the guy that Asuna is fighting for.

— Then out of nowhere, Asuna drops this bombshell: “You’re ashamed of my dead grandma and grandpa, aren’t you? You’re angry you weren’t born into a rich, important family, aren’t you?” Aw shiiiit. Family drama! I don’t like this turn of events, though. Asuna’s mother was already unreasonable enough. C’mon, you’re not going to convince very many people that her mother is in the right. But SAO is, like a lot of other anime series, very heavy-handed. As a result, Asuna’s mother has to have a complex. She has to be that unreasonable just in case you didn’t realize that she is wrong to try and dictate our heroine’s life.

— So what do we see next? Asuna returns to the virtual world to spend more boring quality time with Kirito. She has to figure out what to do with her life, but this is what she chooses to do. Even worse, it feels like she’s living in the past: “Hey, do you remember the first time you came to my room in Selmburg?” So of course, Kirito and Asuna then reminisce about that one time he took her e-virginity by pumping copious amounts of e-sperm into her. Actually, I have no clue when this e-sexing took place on the sacred SAO timeline, but since we’re living in the past, I may as well bring it up again. It’s interesting though that Kirito drools over the memory of the stew Asuna had fixed for him, not the part where she basically stripped down to her underwear. Needless to say, Asuna smacks him on the chest and says, “You only remember food, don’t you?” The subtext here is hilarious.

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— What did Kirito say to this Zekken person? He said, “You’re totally living in this world, aren’t you?” Totally living in this world. This implies that Zekken is all but dead in the real world. If we consider everything that we’ve discussed thus far, this Zekken person must have a really, really good reason to reject the real world compared to Asuna. And maybe Asuna will get to know this person, and realize that her first-world problems aren’t all that bad. But anyway, what could that reason be? Literally AIDS? I remember commenters repeatedly mentioning something about AIDS. If this is really the case, that’s hilariously over-the-top.

— Ugh, this post is way too long. Let’s wrap this shit up.

— As it turns out, Zekken is a she. And she’s very lame-looking. But why is Asuna surprised to learn that Zekken is a girl? Why would you even assume that it’s a guy? Guys play as female avatars all the time in the real world. Some of the best PVPers in the world have female avatars! But more importantly, even if you can’t play as the opposite sex in the SAO universe, so what?  This is an MMO, so the physical differences between the sexes shouldn’t even come into play. So what is this bullshit where Asuna is actually shocked and surprised to learn that Zekken is a girl?

— Our heroine then wonders if Kirito had gone easy on Zekken because the latter is a cute girl. That’s how much of a womanizer the Gary Stu is. You can thus stop feeling sorry for her, because the subtext here is that Asuna tolerates his philandering to a certain extent.

— So in an MMO with a lot of different magic spells, this Yuuki character — that’s her actual in-game name, apparently — will only rely upon her sword. But even then, she can beat anyone. Look, if she won’t use anything but her sword, that means she can’t erase any status ailments. That means you can CC and enfeeble her in all sorts of ways. So how in the world has Yuuki never been defeated? Well, this is SAO, so you just have to swallow this sort of tripe. Defenders will just say that Yuuki’s super speed allows her to dodge all incoming magic spells or something bullshit like that.

— The duel is pretty fluid. It’s just too bad the camera shakes a bit too much. And like before, we don’t need to see the characters’ life bars.

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— Yuuki still wins despite Asuna putting up a decent fight, which is to be expected. So now what? They will now become tomodachis for life, right? Yuuki picks Asuna off the ground, flies our heroine to some secluded spot in the clouds, then says “they” need the latter’s help. Welp.

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47 thoughts on “Sword Art Online II Ep. 19: Ritual suicide

  1. Hungry Chicken

    Asuna is shocked that Zekken is a girl because she hasn’t fallen head over heels for Garyto yet, natch. “Is this legal, Liz? Why is she allowed to do that?”

    Reply
  2. Akumaten (@a9ma10)

    This is the difference between .Hack//sign and SAO as I have seen
    To keep is simple .hack sign was about escaping the escapism. Even with all the legitimate problems Tsukasa had, at the end, she gains the strength to face her fears in reality and log out.
    SAO is about embracing the escapism. Both as narrative for the reader and the theme of the story which I find pathetic as a whole.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      It’s okay to embrace the escapism if they make the story meaningful, i.e. give the characters a good reason to escape from their real lives. Like I’ve argued, Asuna is the only one who has that good reason. So the story’s execution sucks.

      Reply
  3. Killer Queen Arbee

    Somehow I have yet to see Asuna tell Kirito or her own friends she formed about her problems, but let us face it, these girls would use her moving out of SAO to get into Kirito’s pants…. And maybe in Kirito’s case, not care all that much but do anyway, because she would just be whining… Remember episode 13?

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I don’t think the girls would be that malicious in intent. There’s no way they’d have enough agency to cook up a scheme like that.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        True. Then again the girls themselves are apparently still too scared to confess to Kirito because Asuna is too much of a perfect waifu.

        Reply
  4. gedata

    The more you think about the NervGear, the less sense it makes, like how nobody had the sense to let the internal battery drain from it during the SAO crisis, which would’ve saved everyone.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Perhaps the NerveGear drew power from the computer, and they were afraid to turn the computer off because they didn’t know how it might affect the people trapped in the game. This leads us to another question: why are the NerveGear so unsafe anyway? Capitalism rules the day. If they needed to make the NerveGear safer to sell more units, they would’ve done so. The implication here is that VRMMO gamers don’t care about their own physical safety. They are willing to embrace physical death in order to attain a new life in a computer world. This is not an easy decision to make, however, and where SAO fails is in its inability to convince us that its characters can and should arrive at this weighty decision.

      Reply
  5. kaoknight

    sao isn’t about deep messages, it’s not even about mmorpg’s. It’s just a poorly written fanfiction level story about a guy using games to become the winner he never was irl(ie escapism and self-insertion).

    my suspension of disbelief already flew out the window when they said gear that can cancels out your senses was deemed safe enough for consumer purchase and after all the sao deaths everyone just forgot about it and played sao version 2.0:Fairy edition.

    I remember joking a long time ago saying that the moral of sao’s story is to give real life the middle finger and live out the rest of your days with your virtual harem but I didn’t think it’d come to this level of ridiculousness.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      If we talking about dispelling the suspension of disbelief here, mine was seeing that a cute girl avatar that was actually played but a girl that coincidentally also happened not to be a hag. It’s without saying that there’s nothing in the show that inspired much believing in the first place. It was as anime as anime could get even back when it started.

      Reply
      1. hakaze

        Oh wow, dude, thanks for your ridiculous and completely sexist input. Female gamers don’t exist and if they do, they are all ugly, huh? Sheesh.

        Reply
    2. E Minor Post author

      It’s just a poorly written fanfiction level story

      Subtext doesn’t care how poorly written a story is.

      Reply
  6. andmeuths

    “Asuna is the only fully realized character on the show. ”

    By the time the author got around to properly developing Asuna (basically by spending entire chapters focused on her and her alone in the Mother’s Rosario arc), he was a far more experienced author. So, it shouldn’t be that surprising he managed to convincingly create a character and allow the audience to understand what makes the Asuna tick. If I’m not wrong, Mother’s Rosario was published approximately at the same time as Accel World, and the difference in writing quality,especially in terms of characterization, between MR and Aincard is as different as day is to night.

    ” But this is SAO, so I’m sure the girl will solve all her problems through an MMO. ”

    Nope. The solution to her mommy issues runs closer along the lines of Virtual Reality, not the MMO. It involves getting her mother to comprehend, at least partly, what Virtual Reality means to Asuna, by way of analogy.

    ” Then out of nowhere, Asuna drops this bombshell: “You’re ashamed of my dead grandma and grandpa, aren’t you?”

    As heavy handed as it is, the solution runs through that bombshell. Whether or not you would buy the solution at the end of MR, is another question altogether, but the bombshell was meant to ensure Asuna’s mommy issues were resolved in a manner sufficiently foreshadowed near the start.

    “. This implies that Zekken is all but dead in the real world. If we consider everything that we’ve discussed thus far, this Zekken person must have a really, really good reason to reject the real world compared to Asuna. ”

    Her reason basically lies at the emotional core of MR. I anticipate you will have as much issue with it as with the entire affair of how on earth 10000 players were fed and maintained and transferred into hospitals in the first episode of SAO.

    “You can thus stop feeling sorry for her, because the subtext here is that Asuna tolerates his philandering to a certain extent.”

    Oh yes. The next arc, Alicization. Philandering indeed. I would hesitate to call it Virtual adultery (though others have made that claim), but it’s a very fine line.

    Kawahara Reki loves his harems, and if there were males, he’d insert Yaoi subtext.

    ” It’s interesting though that Kirito drools over the memory of the stew Asuna had fixed for him, not the part where she basically stripped down to her underwear. ”

    I think the point is that it’s trying to convince the readers that Kirito values Asuna the person (remember how their relationship started, in the Second Episode – by sharing a piece of bread), not Asuna as a sexual object. The author was probably trying to undo all the sexual objectification of Asuna in the previous arcs.

    The problem with Kirito (besides being OP and a Gary Stu), was that there was no chronological character development. His development was all over the place literally, and some of the later side stories written around the same time as Mother’s Rosario tried to go in depth with what makes him tick, but it’s hampered with a very shoddy base. And while very good authors could write a compelling character even if the narrative was not in chronological order, it’s way beyond Kawahara Reki’s abilities. So, yes, Kirito is fatally compromised as a character, largely because he has the misfortune of being the very first character explored in any detail, by a horrendously inexperienced author who has no business getting published so early, and before LNs existed, would probably only be releasing his first book in his late 30’s, rendering SAO an old shame of amateur days.

    As for the idea of “killing oneself”, while that’s one perspective, the author is really pushing for the idea that VR is an extension of life, and experiences within it are every bit as valid as without.

    “Speaking of Leafa, she only started playing VRMMOs….”

    And she remained in VRMMOs because so much of her social network has been invested into it. Her initial motivation was following Kirito, but what’s keeping her there is basically what’s keeping someone deeply involved in any online community. Is this surprising? Think of teenagers and young adults who large chunks of their day on Social Networks. Now imagine those Social Networks are not only text and picture base, but full simulations of reality involving all five senses. You can hold a Facebook conversation, only this conversation simulates Face to Face meeting so well, that your brain is fooled into thinking it is an actual face to face meeting. If VRMMOs is dying, so to is probably Facebook, even if Facebook’s form of death is milder and less complete.

    “Kirito’s reason for playing MMOs was what? He felt like an outsider in his own family when he found out he was adopted by his aunt?”

    Why do people from stable families play MMOs? For him, the initial push was the awkwardness (which could easily be overcome) upon finding out he was adopted, and what kept him there is basically the same mechanics that makes people pour most of their free time into World of Warcraft.

    There’s a very important, rather late written side-story (which means around MR or later) called First Day, that tried to explore what happened in the hours immediately after the ending of the first Episode, when Kirito runs down the path to the nearest prime farming spot , swearing that he would survive. At the end of the story, he has a moment to fully comprehend the situation and realize that he’s literally completely cut off from the outside world, most importantly his family, with no prospect of exiting. Realizing he took them completely for granted, he breaks down. It’s only then he realizes how much they mean to him, despite the distance brought by his MMO addiction.

    I was very miffed that it was taken out of the adaptation, because that basically means that Red Nose Reindeer and Sachi makes less sense, while Scillia utterly makes little sense (since it’s inconsistent with the Survive at all cost mentality that the first episode tries to convince you that Kirito holds). The only way that those two arcs could make sense, is if the audience saw from the perspective that Kirito was projecting his sister on-top of Sachi and Scillia. All deviations from Kirito’s “survivor mentality” with the exception of Asuna originated from that sense of homesickness made very clear in “First Day”.

    Of course, in many ways, it was the author’s post hoc attempt to connect the dots and try to make the mess of characterization that is Kirito somehow fit. He basically ended up writing and publishing a rewrite of the Aincard arc called SAO Progressive, this time in chronological order – floor by floor. I believe the rewrite is somewhere on the Seventh Floor right now. Whether or not the retcon called SAO Progressive can successfully rewrite Kirito’s character into something resembling coherence and respectability remains to be seen, it hasn’t even reached the anime equivalent of SAO’s third episode (Red Nose Reindeer and Sachi) yet.

    It’s biggest ret-con now is that Asuna ended up travelling with Kirito for several floors in a row in the weeks after the Second Episode, not one and a half years later as in the original Aincard arc you’ve seen in the anime – and the author has enough discipline not to write Asuna swooning over Kirito. That alone is a very big step up from the “lone wolf” SAO tries telling us that Kirito was for most of Aincard – basically, the offer to take Klein and Klein alone in the first episode has now been realized with Asuna.

    As I understand it, one of the themes he’s trying to go into with the latest floors in SAO Progressive , is the origins of Kirito’s belief that Virtual Reality A.Is deserve to be treated in the same way as a human (basically A.I equality of rights), and why Asuna disagrees with Kirito on this point in Aincard. And while this belief has so far played a tangential role in SAO, it is the center of Alicization’s (the arc after Mother’s Rosario) conflict.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I’m not going to read or address all of this because your comments are always the same. They draw from the books when I’m only addressing the adaptation. They ignore substantial parts of my post. For instance, you completely ignore my point that it is literally physically unhealthy and unsafe to play these games. As a result, you take my comments on Leafa and Kirito completely out of context. No shit, stable people play MMOs. That’s not the point. I’m asking why would anyone put themselves at risk for a VRMMO. No, you cannot compare these games to Facebook. That’s ridiculous. Extension of their lives my ass.

      Reply
    2. Anonymous

      You gotta remember this is an ANIME blog dude. That basically means LN’s don’t mean anything here. So it doesn’t matter if Reki got better at writing if the adaptation is stil going tol shit out the mouth.

      The law is whatever happens on the screen is up for judgement.

      Reply
  7. superdolphin

    One of the biggest problem of SAO is how inconsistent is the people in this anime. After being inside a game for 2 years, most parents in real life would never let their sons or daughters play this class of videogames again. Letting the young victims of aincrad play this type of videogames again show the level of irresponsibility of the adults in SAO. Klein is an adult, he should be the most responsible figure in the group of Kirito, but he never acts as one.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, you can read it a different way. You’re right in that most parents wouldn’t let their kids play such a dangerous game. So what might this say? That the parents in this universe don’t care enough about their kids. So maybe this is why the kids turn to the online world. Somehow, people in real life feel disconnected to each other, so they need a video game to facilitate human connections for them. The problem here, however, is that the execution is still bad. Other than Asuna, the other characters aren’t fleshed out enough to make us care about their need to embrace escapism over reality.

      Reply
  8. mochirochi

    I think Suguha had a reason to go into the virtual world though. The real one involved a cousin/brother who she was attracted to, but couldn’t have. She went in to understand him, but fully immersed herself in order to forget about him. She has bad luck and ended up falling for him all over again, but that’s the magic of Kirito.

    It is interesting that all of the main female harem members ran head first into the virtual world, because they couldn’t handle the real one anymore. Suguha and Sinon ended up being saved by Kirito, but Asuna is tied to the virtual world because of him. I still find it weird that Sinon is not shown though.

    I found myself agreeing with the mom. She may be cold, but she did make a lot of good points. Just not the guy one since it’s clear that her parents have bad taste in men.

    Anyways, I initially thought that Asuna’s issues were a bit weak when compared to Suguha and Sinon, but your post made me view it differently.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      It doesn’t help that it feels like Suguha was pretty much created to pander to the wincest crowd.
      Needless to say, pandering-material is such a great foundation for a character. /sarcasm

      Reply
    2. E Minor Post author

      I think Suguha had a reason to go into the virtual world though. The real one involved a cousin/brother who she was attracted to, but couldn’t have. She went in to understand him, but fully immersed herself in order to forget about him

      The point is… is this a good reason to put your body at risk? Loving your oniichan doesn’t cut it for me.

      Reply
  9. Anonymous

    1. Why do I feel like this post has more analysis of character than what was even originally even conceived in Kawahara’s mind when he first started writing SAO? Eh, it’s probably because it does.
    What gets me though is because of Kawahara’s ineptitude (or rather the editor((s)) for not questioning or opposing this level of nothing) we will never get anything more dimensional about the cast.
    Other than anime-metabolism where people don’t get fat unless it’s supposed to be a gag, what about true mental states? Are you going to tell me people who stay dormant inside for HOURS are going to be mentally stimulated to be anything else but horribly depressed or at least slug-levels of sluggish? Maybe it’s because I’m not a SAO character, but when I catch myself gaming for more than 4 or 5 hours on my days off, I end up feeling like human fuckin’ garbage. There’s shame and a temporary degraded sense of self-worth. But nope not here. The NERVEGEAR must secretly pump some magical potion into their brains so they’re hopped up on a mixture of ????? and cocaine. Like seriously, let’s enter all of these character’s minds for a change.
    And that’s what makes the cast barely characters. They’re not organic; they’re basically carbon copy eye-candy machines with tits and ass who get high off Gary Stu’s fumes only when he’s around.
    For fuck’s sake, how are they not the most boring, lethargic group of people ever?

    2. So even when Asuna has more concrete motivation to escape from real life than everybody from the cast combined, there’s one thing that lingers on my mind: why the fuck isn’t SHE the main character? How was SHE so overshadowed and tossed around like a ragdoll by the NOBODY that is the Gary Stu for so long? How much of the mark did the Reki Kawahara miss? Motherfucker wasn’t even throwing the darts at the RIGHT wall.
    And this is even sadder because her backstory is so TIRED. The upper class drama is so overplayed that it’s comedic because it’s in every single show has a rich ojou-sama. Which basically is all of them. And since it applies to a girl, OF COURSE it’s about her getting married and she doesn’t wanna because she met Romeo and shit’s so perfect. Like how much “by-the-book” do we even need to get? The character is already made: all Kawahara did was change the name.

    3. Well, I would say that they’re inside the game for hours at a time because they’re interesting shit going on all the time, but the thing is that there isn’t interesting shit going on all the time. There is nothing significant going on, to me anyway, to justify logging to simply meet.
    Like the post said, they ALL live in Japan, the home of probably the best transit system in the world. It’s not like Lisbeth is living in fuckin’ Russia while Silica is chilling in the US. They’re so close together relative to how real world social circles are. Are “epic” virtual ventures not enough for a couple of more real social visits? Asuna, are you seriously not going to invite the girlfriends/ the-other-women to your sick house for a girls’ night?
    It just makes this pathetic cast of characters even more pathetic.

    4. Sinon is synonymous with a dirty tissue after a wank. Well, if you think about it, that’s pretty much what she is, isn’t it?

    5. That picture of Asuna and Gary Stu is so perfect. That’s the picture you want hanging on your wall for all the neighbors to see that you’re happy.
    SAO’s Japan’s not stuck in the Muromachi period when shit was all up-tight and proper. So then what the hell is this? Wait, no, a painting in that era probably wouldn’t have the man and woman standing near each other. Well then, it might as well be a fuckin’ Muromachi period piece. The emotional distance emanating from that picture is actually pretty depressing.
    For fuck’s sake, do an arm grab. A double peace-sign. Or wear matching sweaters. Move your bodies and make weird faces to show that you’re emotionally capable of connecting intimately with another human being. Actually, just try be semi-human. I guess that’d be difficult since you guys spend HOURS straight in wonderful virtual land. Just make the characters act like humans, even if you have to exaggerate it a bit. Honestly it’s not that hard if a little effort is put into it.

    Maybe having REAL kids would be a bad idea. I can already see them on the news: “Another MMORPG-Gaming Couple Fucking Forgot That They Had A Fucking Baby And Starved It To Death”.
    Again, really? Topping Top-Ten Anime Couples charts. *Phew*

    6. Honestly at this point I’m totally spent on even caring about anything to do with MMO and game mechanics in this show.
    It’s just tired masturbation after you’re already done. The arm hurts, it’s flaccid and all you’re feeling is sloth.

    I don’t really know why I’m still watching. You know when laughter becomes so hard that noise stops coming out because that thing you’re cracking up about is so hilarious? It’s like that but the hard opposite.
    Maybe it’s because I’m so far along that it’s kind of a waste to stop now. I mean, there’s still stuff to laugh at right? Aren’t there like two or three more arcs? Jesus Ghost Dad Christ.

    You know this show’s gone to Dante-levels of hell when even SAO-apologists are saying that the show is getting pretty shit.

    PS: Why the fuck is Gary Stu still here? I thought people were saying that he goes away. I was hoping he’d be pulled apart by a blackhole or something.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I don’t really know why I’m still watching.

      Maybe it’s because I’m so far along that it’s kind of a waste to stop now.

      It’s a good thing SAO will probably get another sequel, huh? I mean, if something like Zero no Tsukaima could get three sequels, I don’t see why this wouldn’t just go on forever and over. It’ll be the new epic that future young anime fans will hear about: “What? You haven’t seen SAO yet?! And you call yourself an anime fan?!”

      Reply
  10. tf5f89

    Asuna’s mom’s reaction to bringing up Sugou was pretty horrible/funny. “It was your father’s fault we set you up with a sadistic rapist, he doesn’t have a very good eye for people. Now let’s forget about it.” You’d think she’d be more sympathetic not just to Asuna, but to Kirito for saving her from that hellscape.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      She’s portrayed rather hamfistedly as someone who only cares about wealth and status, so of course, she’s probably lying, i.e. she approved of Sugou until it was revealed that he was a creepy rapist.

      Reply
  11. eternia

    After harsh bashings of weekly SAO, you have written something quite interesting this time.
    And it boils down to simple conclusion, these characters are all losers after all.
    I would never play these VRMMO if they were ever made into reality.
    Like you said, they are really dead when they play this game.
    What if my neighbour’s house caught on fire while I am playing?
    What if I forgot to turn off my gas stove?
    What if a burglar / rapist broke into my house? *lol*
    But these losers totally hate their real life, so they wouldn’t mind if they died there.
    “Oh, maybe my mind can be converted to bytes as my flesh dies, and I can’t live forever as a software. Just like my God!”
    What is his name again? Kaiba? *shrugs*

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      These characters are only losers because the writer sucks. You can give characters a compelling reason to embrace VRMMOs. For example, there’s no reason for Cypher not to put himself back into the Matrix. The real world fucking sucks. The author here, however, doesn’t give his characters any good reason to embrace fantasy.

      Reply
      1. eternia

        Eeven though real life problem has some role in it, I think they are simply addicted. Chronic addiction.

        Okay Asuna, your household sucks. But why are you still talking about MMOPRG while you are dating your boyfriend in some park, outside the house?

        Reply
  12. A_teo

    There is something similar in a book called “Neuromancer”, from my point of view, living in a virtual world is an addiction for the protagonist, he may have reasons to keep logging in, his life sucks, and he is good at whatever he does in that virtual world but at the end he just needs to log in because he is addicted to it. Same here, Asuna (BTW; I dont watch SAO) seems to have a comfortable life but because she depends so hard on that VRMMO stuff, she only sees the bad side of things and she doesn’t even try to find a reasonable solution for her real problems, she is addicted to the virtual-life, it is like a drug to her (Do they have rehabilitation for this kind of dependency in this universe?). Drug-addicts, in a way, also commit suicide every time they consume certain drugs. They become vulnerable and are living in a reality which is not the real thing but they are just escaping from the real world and suicide is a way to escape.

    Reply
    1. Killer Queen Arbee

      That…. that is an interesting thought. Hell, one story in SAO revolved around Silica’s IRL troubles. Silica fought with her parents and spent her New Year’s in ALO because she didn’t wanna answer her relative’s questions on her 2 years in SAO.

      We are to think that it’s nice that she’s spending time with her friends in New Year’s but I thought that it was shallow and stupid as hell that she didn’t face her fears, instead staying in her perfect bubble fantasy world that was the cause of making VRMMOS dangerous in the first place.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Spending holidays in the Virtual World. That seems something I would be able to see before I die. Well, I already assisted to family reunions where a lot of us spend most of the time using mobile devices at the dinner table. That sucks.

        Reply
    2. E Minor Post author

      I wouldn’t say her life is comfortable. It’s relatively comfortable to a hungry orphan in Africa, sure, but she has legitimate reasons to be unhappy with her life. Her failing is that both VRMMOs and Kirito enable her. They distract her from growing up and making the difficult decisions in life. You’re right: she doesn’t try to find a reasonable solution to her problems. On the one hand, you have the statement that technology makes our lives easier, so it becomes easier to run away from our problems. On the other hand, this is why people this young often shouldn’t be in a relationship when they have serious problems to deal with. Why do you suppose Asuna haven’t confided in Kirito about her real life problems? She’s older than him. She must feel as though he can’t help, and she’s probably right. He’s a manchild in many respects. She keeps the burden on herself because she doesn’t think he can help. But at the same time, by staying in the relationship anyway, he distracts her from having to look for those solutions. She should ideally break up with him, and find herself… but knowing this story, that won’t happen.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Breaking up is similar to killing something. Death always brings change and people is afraid of changes, afraid of the unknown, even if the status quo is unhealthy many people preferred that. Well, maybe I am wrongly generalizing, certain people do that and probably the most insecure ones (young and with problems). Asuna seems to fit that description and yeah she should find herself. I am curious how the story will address her current problems.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          On the other hand, it might be a sign of something a lot more troubling. They went through a very scary ordeal. They were trapped in a game, separated from their loved ones, forced to actually kill other players, so on and so forth. It’s a traumatic experience covered up by SAO’s cartoony aesthetic. Point is, it’s likely she has no one to connect with. Her relationship with Kirito isn’t ideal, but if she breaks up with him, who else can she find? Who else can relate to her? It almost seems like she’s trapped in a dead end.

  13. Pia

    This post made me care for Asuna a little bit and that’s a feat.
    I wonder why they replaced the Gary Stu for Zekken in the intro, maybe Zekken and Kirito are the same in some way aside from their appearance and sword skills? I don’t think Zekken is an AI since Yui has Migi’s detection ability, I kinda have a little hope in this arc since Kirito seems to be somewhat put aside.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Zekken is going to have some serious trouble that compels Asuna to log in everyday. Zekken’s role in the story is to justify Asuna’s continued existence in video games. This is largely the same role Kirito has played. So I’m not surprised that they are interchangeable. Kirito is temporarily replaced because her mom rejected him. Her mom argues that he’s not good enough for her. Zekken will thus give our heroine an even stronger reason to be addicted to video games.

      Reply
  14. Annonymous

    “They symbolically commit suicide every single day to do mundane things in a video game. Y’see, our heroes are not always raiding. They’re not always achieving world firsts. They’re not always going on grand quests. A lot of the time, they log on just to hang out with each other. Hell, they even log on just to watch e-sports footage from another game. They log in just to study and do homework. Worst of all, these are all activities they could do in real life. The potential of virtual reality captivates most of us because we think it’ll allow us to feel as though we’re in a fantasy world, doing battle with dragons, demons, and whatnot. But we only see this stuff like half of the time in the SAO series. The other half of the time, these characters put their real bodies at great risks to do the same mundane activities they could do in real life. Again, they symbolically kill themselves for hours and hours on end just to do homework in an MMO. The question is why? You would only do such a thing if the real world, to put it plainly, sucked.”

    Wow. Pretentious overanalyzing bullshit much? Did it ever occur to you that they treat Alfheim as just another hang out and that it holds sentimental value to them? No, you SAO hating assholes aren’t just content with hating the blatantly stupid like all of the bad touch moments from last season so you go out of your way to make up a reason to add more and more flaws that either don’t exist and/or are just delusions of your own personal hatred.

    And that’s why I can’t stand you people. Criticism is one thing but this is just looking for shit that isn’t there. Now I have no reason to watch anything any SAO hater recommends over SAO because you’ve now painted this idea in my head that you only like it because it’s not SAO but similar. Gent bent you assholes.

    Reply

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