Sword Art Online episode 14 is in the running for greatest comedy of the year. Daily Lives of High School Boys may have had peerless skill in meta-humor and comedic sociopathy, and yes, Symphogear may have had the greatest premise for a plot since the Odyssey (prevent a skimpily-clothed priestess from blowing a hole in the moon, using the power of song) but Sword Art Online truly has peerless comedic execution. What’s more, it doesn’t even have to try! Clichés and sappy dialogue flow into the show endlessly, creating a brilliant concoction both sickeningly sweet and just plain sickening. Also, Kirito dies (spoiler alert), so happy times all around!
At first, I was dubious of just how well they could finish the fight with the boss monster from the last episode; it left off in a way that would suggest a climactic, nail-biting finish to a fight already brimming with suspense taking up a good portion of this episode. But I needn’t have worried, as the foul beast was vanquished within a minute, often with the slashes against its bony body shown at a distance that required squinting to understand what the hell was going on. Phew, and here I thought that was going to be exciting! Don’t scare me like that, Sword Art Online, you almost had me intrigued!
The momentum continues to pick up (pick up meaning “laze about more than Hedonism Bot”) as the big twist is halfheartedy revealed by (who else?) Kirito, stabbing at the Knights of the Blood Oath guild leader to reveal that he’s the game creator in disguise. I will happily admit that this was surprisingly well done, if not too surprising in itself, but come on, really? Nobody else noticed that this guy was an immortal object whose health bar never sunk below a certain level, and it was up to Kirito’s Gary Stu powers of deduction to figure it out? And he was given dual wielding because he’s apparently the person who’s expected to clear the game? There’s having a well thought out plot device early on, and then there’s penning a wet dream immediately after waking up, and where this falls is pretty obvious.
But hey, at least Asuna wasn’t useless! I mean apparently the only use that she’s had in the past several episodes is to take a fatal hit for Kirito, a clumsy swipe at trying to justify the attempts of the past few episodes to turn her into a moeblob, but she actually did something for once that wasn’t collapsing into a pile and sobbing when she didn’t have Kirito to cling to like a goddamn lamprey.
Unlike lamprey, even when depicting death, Sword Art Online’s remarkably toothless, almost as if it’s afraid of alienating its core demographic by delving into any interesting themes beyond chuunibyou power fantasy. Here, both Kirito and Asuna’s “deaths” are funnier than they are tragic, particularly when Kirito’s ghost comes back to finish the job. It’s damn silly when it should have been one hell of a finish to the game world, and there’s something wrong when the filler-ish side stories had more complexity than the main plot than this lump of animated afterbirth.
This episode could have been exciting, with the gravitas of the situation showing in Kirito’s actions, and an actual explanation being offered for the whole ordeal. Instead, it’s one boring, listless encounter after another before a final farewell to Asuna that’s about as emotionally affecting as accidentally burning toast. No weight, no reason to be invested, nothing. And then, as if to mock the notion that it’s supposed to be exciting at all, Kirito is shown waking up and wheeling his way down a hospital corridor, credits slowly scrolling in front of him. An appropriately anticlimactic ending to an already anticlimactic series.
All in all though, Sword Art Online wasn’t bad. It was hardly great, rushing when it should have and focusing on Kirito and Asuna acting lovey dovey in the most PG fashion imaginable for several straight episodes, but for a 14 episode series aimed squarely at the shounen demographic, it’s hardly the worst thing imaginable. I mean it’s not like it’s going to go another 12 episodes in ANOTHER MMO or something, right? Right?
Edit: Fuck, it is.