24 CommentsSword Art Online / By Inushinde /

Sword Art Online Episode 19: It’s Just a Game

I’m pretty sure everybody, their mom, their mom’s fitness trainer, and their mom’s fitness trainer’s cousin’s goat has seen the South Park episode ‘Make Love, Not Warcraft’. The episode had a wonderful, self aware plot about people who took World of Warcraft way too seriously attempting to kill a rogue player who was essentially unbeatable through conventional means. The more you thought about the context, the funnier the episode got, as each character began to take their role in the game more seriously than anybody has any right to. Sword Art Online is that, but with no sense of how ridiculous it really is, the irony being that it almost ends up a more striking comedy as a result.

It has characters sneaking around, and plotting acts of espionage in order to better their positions in the game world for ultimately selfish reasons. There are double agents, assassins, and well thought out acts of subterfuge that take painstaking patience and thought to pull off. This would all be fantastic, if the ever-looming specter of the logout button and conveniently withheld exposition didn’t make it into anime’s unintentional answer to South Park’s own ode to MMOs.

For once, I don’t have much to complain about with Kirito. Yes, he’s still the cocky, inexplicably powerful swordsman whose treatment of other characters, particularly of the female persuasion, is rather suspect. And yes, he continues to wax philosophical like Socrates would if he was an author insert without any neurons to fire off. But hey, he got slapped for biting a girl’s fingers, so there is some justice in the world.

On the battle front, the fact that he attempts several times to break through an easily flanked shield wall (the defense of Senlac Hill, this is not) before essentially saying “fuck it” and transforming into a hulking goatman was actually pretty fun to watch, if undeniably cheesy. It would have worked better if it wasn’t being played entirely Poe-faced, but I can’t ask too much from what’s essentially people mumbling at each other to conjure shit. Unfortunately, the lack of any real consequence for death beyond Kirito’s trip up Yggdrasil being delayed another 3-4 hours completely ruined any suspense that remained, even if it wasn’t guaranteed that Kirito would pull some hitherto unknown power out of his ass.

It’s not that the game mechanics automatically eliminate investment in the game’s conflict. As much as I loathe it, .hack//sign managed to have player deaths in an ultimately normal game world have a semblance of weight. While this was because it explored the characters themselves rather than the overarching, painfully dull story, it still proved that MMOs are not necessarily a barrier for drama based around player death, as long as it’s explored fully in the context of a game. Hell, Sword Art Online could have done a great job in developing Kirito’s character along these lines, given that his actions while in monster form were done with more than a smidge of sadism. It not only neglects this potentially interesting point of development, but actively ignores its consequences past a pretentious monologue about game behavior somehow translating to the real world. To anybody who’s played Grand Theft Auto or committed 18 acts of infanticide in Crusader Kings to solidify their position on the French throne, that’s mildly insulting.

I know I’ve said that the writing is lacking before, but this is just shameful. There are some serious problems when navigating around the story’s biggest problems can be easily done with the press of a button or a quick message to anybody with a fucking pulse. Maybe it’s supposed to add to dramatic tension or something, but I don’t see how it works. It’s a damn shame, because what could have otherwise been a compelling subplot about the shift of power in ALFheim is marred by the ease of escaping from it, making it the equivalent of medieval LARPers smacking each other with wooden swords while insulting each other in shoddy Cockney accents. With giant goatmen.

Really though, the episode itself is as good as the show’ll likely get, and I’d like it more if my immersion wasn’t immediately severed by the fact that it takes place in a fucking game without ever seriously addressing that fact. I don’t think it’s asking too much to want the characters to acknowledge that the grand plot against the sylphs is a bit silly when taken in the context of a goddamn game, and can be easily derailed or at least not count for enough to warrant gigantic spy networks. I mean come on, I don’t want Kirito being slapped and Recon being paralyzed in a sewer to be the only high points of the episode, but it looks like I don’t have much of a choice. Serves you right, you smug, bitey ponce. Stop being such a dick.

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  1. Hitokiri
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I thought Kirito’s handling of the shield guys was dumb too. Taking out the healers first is RPG Strategies 101 stuff and it was ridiculous that he just kept running up and slashing their shields.

    However, it turns out that this problem is on the adaptation. I later found out that in the novels, the bridge was supposed to be very narrow, so presumably three people completely covered the walkable space.

    But, as I type this, I remember….. they’re in an MMO for which flying is a major element and the past two episodes have hammered this in. So even that shouldn’t matter much. And there was no apparent reason for the enemy leader to jump into the water.

    • Inushinde
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      When you have a bridge that wide, three people is definitely not going to cut it. I wonder why the hell they went for that, unless it was to make Kirito’s goatman form as large as possible without being unwieldy.

    • matrixEXO
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      MMORPG can differ into 2 types. PvE or PvP. Most likely, Kirito has played more PvE games than PvP games so the basics of PvPs are not there. Also, in SAO, there isn’t any healers. Healing items are there but since EVERYONE carries one, it didn’t matter.

      • Inushinde
        Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

        He’s surely familiar enough with the formula though. Several regular RPGs have the tank/healer/nuker mechanic in some form, and I find it hard to believe he hasn’t encountered such tactics before.

    • PhantomRenegade
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      I’m not following the anime so i don’t know if they explained this but in the book they do explain that players can only fly when under sun or moonlight.

      I do find it hilarious that to get rid of the contrivance of having a huge monster fighting in a thin bridge they created another in the form of having the same ammount of dudes blocking a much wider bridge.

  2. Mr.RR
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    This is what I got out of it: “I will help you with your imaginary war because it is more important than my comatose girlfriend.”

    • Inushinde
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      I got more of a “Grr, I’m a warrior poet and I won’t ever abandon a damsel in distress because I’m not boring enough.” But whatever, Asuna’s rescue has very clearly fallen by the wayside no matter how you look at it.

    • anon
      Posted November 13, 2012 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      hmm, funny, I got something like “Ok, I’ll help you out since you’ve helped me out ever since I fell out of the sky in this game.”

  3. Arbee
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    This is what I got out of this episode:

    “Illusion magic is useless”


    “Lyfa will be useful in this”


    “I’m in a Long-time quest to save my girlfriend!”


    “Kirito will become more human in this episode.”


    • Inushinde
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      Oh Kirito, always disproving the old adage that good plots have to make sense.

  4. Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I stand by my claim that the Alfheim arc becomes much more entertaining when you imagine everyone is completely aware of how silly it is. The characters play the way they do not because it has world-changing consequences, but because getting involved with medieval politics and spy networks is FUN. I do agree, of course, that the show would be much better if it acknowledged that.

    • Inushinde
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

      Seriously, just that little bit of recognition, the characters saying “hey, maybe we have our priorities kind of fucked?” would make it infinitely better. At least then it would have an excuse for shoddy writing.

  5. eternia
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Oh my God Dear Father in Heaven.
    Online Game is a serious business.
    I can’t help but all these ALO players are NEETs who have no life, no school, no work. They have huge territory to protect! They have their own president, ministers, government and army! They have their own economic and politic! It’s impossible to manage without being online 20 hours a day. LOL.

    • Inushinde
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      That’s pretty much how it seems. It’s an interesting world, but examining it through a different lens would make it actually seem like the events matter. Also, throwing Kirito out wouldn’t hurt things any.

  6. Vince
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I feel sometimes feel sorry for voice actors who had to work with such a poor and badly thought-out script. Kind of depressing that this dvd is selling like hot cakes.

    • Inushinde
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      Adaptations of light novels where the generic male lead defeats one evil after another while earning the love of a fiery tsundere whose personality rapidly goes to mush tend to do that, sadly.

  7. Posted November 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I figured after 17 episodes of fear and loathing, that episode 18 was the right one to quit watching entirely. A logical place to quit, I think. I find it more painful than funny at this stage.

    • Inushinde
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      You did well to make it that far. I salute you, and wish you luck in your further non-SAO watching endeavors.

  8. Adrian
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Good point about Hack//sign. It’s funny that on earlier stages of SAO’s airing, the main attractive of the show was the permadeath. But it failed in making it relevant nevertheless. When you compare to Hack//sign, Show ▼

    , SAO sounds lazy and silly.
    And of course, the self-awareness was very important for the show to work. The silver knight is the most blatant example of a player taking the game to seriously, and he was constantly reprehended because of that. Sword art online just plays it straight with no regard to common sense.

    • Inushinde
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. There needs to be a narrative lens when looking at a show like this, a lens that’s unfortunately been ignored by the show itself. It’s a shame, because the content has a surprising amount of potential.

  9. fathomlessblue
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve finally thought of one thing SAO could do to install some goodwill from me: an entire one-shot episode of nothing but Kirito lying on his bed, sporting an erection, while playing Peter Pan Online. For an added bonus the show could show this house being robbed during this time, while Yuki Kajiura’s big-damn hero music plays in the background.

    If only the show was that meta, or had the balls to hold a mirror up to the viewers face, Eva style! Well, like Kirito I can always dream…

  10. Daniel
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink
  11. Bell
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    I really feel like the story should’ve ended with Kirito beating SAO. Because now it really is just an anime about a couple people playing an MMO.

    When Kirito said that line about how he’ll NEVER LET HIS NAKAMA DIE EVER AGAIN, I literally leaned away from my screen and said, “Woahhhhh there, buddy.”

  12. Drunken
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    The spy rings and super serious scheming remind me of a weaker version of what goes in all the time in EVE Online. A good starting point for this is a series of articles called “Sins of a Solar Spy Master” (A play on the title of the game Sins of a Solar Empire) The more successful corporate alliances in EVE run extensive spy rings, including deep cover agents. A group of players once collected a bounty on a character’s head by becoming her most trusted confidants over the course of more than a year, only to betray and kill her character after she took one of them as some kind of “e-lover”.

    A lot of people play EVE specifically because the plotting and scheming is so involved and grandiose. EVE players generally have a pretty good sense of humor about it though, as jokes about taking “Internet Spaceships” way too seriously frequently pop up during the most intense moments…such as the instant the core of your enemy’s alliance realizes half of their vassals have just betrayed them, stolen fifty percent of their assets, and are now killing all of their industrial ships.

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