Without any strong overlying narrative to bind things together, Sword Art Online restricts itself to a very rigid set of storylines that it can do without feeling awkward. Granted, this is like saying that Tyler Perry should stick to vomiting the scripts to shitty comedy instead of writing Oscar-Bait dramas, but at least it doesn’t feel like Sword Art Online is overstepping its boundaries when it just adapts Pet Sematary to fit a crappy online game, sans the motifs of curses and coming to terms with mortality. Anyway, at least SAO didn’t try to make us care for a character that had barely any screen time, and that’s always a positive.
Compared to the narrative and pacing massacre of the previous episode, this one manages to actually weave together a well-paced story that also managed a bit of world-building in its downtime. The dynamics between Kirito and Silica are competently strung together, their interactions at least carrying a modicum of weight as Kirito’s personality and real life situation are elaborated on through blatant but unobtrusive exposition.
Yet, for the actual development that Kirito gets in this episode, he still feels like the blandest male protagonist that we’ve had in a long while, which is saying something when compared to other shows in the Summer of the Harem. Because he’s so ridiculously overpowered, ala Alucard, and doesn’t at least have the gall to look cool while being overpowered, again like Alucard, there’s no suspense when he gets caught in what would ordinarily constitute a tight situation; the audience should feel invested in his character, not bored because he essentially broke the game and uses his comparatively god-like powers to faff about in low level areas.
Silica isn’t much better; for how other people play her up as a master manipulator, she doesn’t move much past the role of the self-conscious loli with child-like naivety that becomes a surrogate sister to our protagonist. It’s a shame, because I would like to see at least one character in this show that isn’t just a copy/paste of… well, an anime character, with even less dimension in her personality.
And while it wasn’t jumping around at the slightest provocation, the plot didn’t feel all that conducive to the entire ordeal. To what end does Kirito going back and taking quests from other people to eliminate baddies that torment mid to low level players help in his bid to escape Sword Art Online? Unless it’s just supposed to highlight how much more at home he feels in that world than the real one that he doesn’t feel that escape is all that urgent, I don’t see much of a point to it. There are far worse things that he could do for the plot, but I’d like for things to actually get back on the rails again. But hey, at least the fanservice isn’t involving physical abuse for once.
For all my complaining, I definitely liked this more than I have the past two episodes. It’s far from great, but some care’s actually taken to add to the potential richness of the Sword Art Online, and Kirito’s own family life. I can’t say I’m all that impressed by how the show’s going, but at least it’s proving itself able to slow down for five fucking minutes.