26 CommentsSword Art Online / By Inushinde /

Sword Art Online Episode 4: The Sword, the Dragon, and the Loli

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.

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  1. Noname
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    “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?”

    It doesn’t help him. He just took a request of the surviving guild master because he felt sorry from them and decided to take away some time from the frontlines to help him imprison the criminals.

    He sacrificed his playtime at the highest levels to help someone ya know?

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:06 am | Permalink

      Yes, but what does it add to the overall plot? It’s less “Sword Art Online” and more “Faff About in the Starting Areas Because I Have Nothing Better to Do Online”. Just feels kind of stagnant.

      • Posted August 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        I think it adds evidence to the fact that Kirito is a sociopath with a hero complex.

    • Noname
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      It shows what kind of a person he is. Ya know. Characterization. You complained that on the 2nd episode that characters seem “1-dimensional”. And when you finally get some you complain about the plot progression. =p

      While this is a valid thing to note I will say some shows take far longer and have slower pacing then this one so a little patience is all what it takes. If you didn’t derive pleasure from watching this episode then I ask myself do you really want to continue to watch this show? =)

      • Posted August 5, 2012 at 2:44 am | Permalink

        Because I keep blogging shows no matter how bad they are, through hell or high water. I set the precedent with Blood-C, so getting through this isn’t any more difficult.

  2. thewizardninja
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    “And while it wasn’t jumping around at the slightest provocation, the plot didn’t feel all that conducive to the entire ordeal.”
    This is, again, all because they’ve decided to adapt everything chronologically. The entire reason the stories from the past few episodes were side stories to begin with was because they DIDN’T have much to do with the entire ordeal. So I don’t know what they were thinking adapting things that don’t have much to do with the main plot this early in the game (pun not intended). At least it seems like they had the decency to adapt the story itself well, although I’ll have to see it myself to check.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:05 am | Permalink

      Doesn’t matter if that’s the reason, it’s a damn stupid idea to adapt sidestories before the actual main plot, regardless of whether they were written first.

      • thewizardninja
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:08 am | Permalink

        They weren’t written first. They were written as the second volume, but in the timeline they HAPPENED first. That’s why I’m even bothering to talking about chronological order, because it isn’t done in chronological order in the original. And I did say that I agree with you that what they’re doing is stupid, I’m just giving you more reasons for why what they’re doing is stupid.

    • thewizardninja
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:07 am | Permalink

      They weren’t written first. They were written as the second volume, but in the timeline they HAPPENED first. And I did say that I agree with you that what they’re doing is stupid, I’m just giving you more reasons for why what they’re doing it stupid.

      • thewizardninja
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:15 am | Permalink

        Sorry, that one kind of went through when it told me it hadn’t gone through.

  3. Posted July 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Looking towards the future, I can only predict two outcomes.

    1) Kirito escapes from the game and manages to get this Kayaba guy convicted for running his own virtual slaughterhouse.

    2) Kirito escapes and realizes the entire thing was an RPG. No dead people. And that he’s the blandest Truman Burbank ever.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      I’m going to laugh a hollow laugh if it turns out that nobody dies and everything turns out alright at the end.

      • Posted August 1, 2012 at 12:20 am | Permalink

        Actually, it turns out that Mario was dreaming the entire time.


  4. crazyapple92
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure what’s going on with this anime.

    It feels like this isn’t really a stand alone story a lot of the times, like it was made assuming you’ve played the game it’s based on or read the novel.

    The way it flashes forward with no connecting the dots deepens this belief.

    It careens forward skipping huge amounts of time, not telling us how our character went from being an above average, hated by all player to one of the strongest in the game and an awe worthy figure.

    It’s just kind of highlight all of the interesting parts and assuming your prior knowledge from the game/ novel will answer those questions for you. Or maybes it’s a marketing ploy? Give them a bunch of questions that can only be answered in the game/ novel and they’ll be forced to buy it just further filling our coffers!

    Well no thanks, I’m not nearly interested enough! I’ll just keep watching and being in the dark. It’s not that interesting anyways, I can handle not knowing some things.

    To be clear I haven’t read the novel or played the game, so I too don’t know what’s going on. For all I know the game and novel could be just as broken up and sludgy (lacking in flow) as this?

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:10 am | Permalink

      I’ve heard that it’s kind of fragmented, but at least each chapter isn’t constrained to a 23 minute anime episode. It doesn’t make up for crappy pacing, mind, but it is technically accurate. Who knows, maybe it’ll be like Horizon in that it makes it specifically so you have to read the novel first, or else have your brain turned to gelatinous goop.

  5. Son Gohan
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I think that it makes perfect sense for Kirito to chase those player killers after the blunder he made with the Black Cats. He just doesn’t want to see any more people dying.

    I also think that the director made the right choice in airing these side stories in chronological order.
    It doesn’t make sense to show these flashbacks after Kirito already beat the game.
    Something that works in a book doesn’t necessarily work in a tv format.

    • thewizardninja
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      It clearly doesn’t work chronologically either. Their best option would have been to adapt them WHEN THEY WERE RELEVANT.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:12 am | Permalink

      These don’t even have to take place after everything’s been resolved. If they’d just focus on the actual plot for a few episodes before turning to one of these side stories, it’d work out much better. I mean that’s what Sankarea did, and those filler-ish episodes weren’t painful at all. I mean who knows, maybe these one-offs could become the highlight of the show, like Persona 4’s were.

  6. Adrian
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    On the following lines, I wrote all of my impressions of the episode in a sarcastic way.

    1) Oh, what a kawaii girl. The tentacles couldn’t resist her cuteness.
    2) Woah, Kirito is so badass. He’s already level 78 in 4 episodes cool!
    3) Kirito’s past is so well developed. It all makes sense now!
    Kirito’s really grown on me as a character.

    That’s just me. I understand you ought to flesh out your ideas a bit more than that. As you said, it could be much worse.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      Those pretty much sum up my first impressions as well before I had to actually pick them apart and write ’em. Unfortunately, it had such insubstantial ground to write on that I was tempted to resort to “loltentacles”.

  7. elior1
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    from what i was read in the light novel the actual story will begin after a side story called warmth of the heart which will be after the murder mystery side story in the next episode so i think the main plot will begin around episode 8

    • Clarste
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 1:55 am | Permalink

      Well, there’s a general problem with the way the adaptation is going.

      In the novel, there’s a two year timeskip after episode 1. Kirito is established as one of the high level people fighting on the front lines, and the story focuses on those people in a linear fashion until they beat the game. It’s not the best story ever or anything, but it makes sense for what it is.

      Afterward, the author realized that he hadn’t given himself any room to write a sequel, so the rest of the stories are “flashbacks” to earlier points in the middle of those two years that were skipped. These flashbacks basically serve no point other than worldbuilding, and are generally told from the perspective of the lower level players that were mostly ignored in the main story (ie: Silica). Since they were focused on worldbuilding, they didn’t really go anywhere but had a lot of random details about how the game worked and the culture that had developed inside it.

      What the anime is doing is the worst of both worlds. They’re adapting the sidestories chronologically, which naturally leads to them feeling disjointed and unconnected. They’re also condensing them as much as possible so we can get them over with and get to the main story, which leads to a lot of the worldbuilding getting cut. Which as far as I can tell defeats the point entirely.

      • elior1
        Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

        actully some characters there are connected to the main plot and few more things that going on for example most of the things in the murder mystery in the area side story will be connected to the main plot

      • Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:20 am | Permalink

        Oh joy, so they decided to adapt something that was already weakly held together with loose bits of string, and not even have the decency to do any sort of world building before this episode, when it would have really mattered. Well done, guys!

  8. BwackNinja
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    While I found this episode to be mostly a beautifully animated series of bland events whose outcomes I have no reason to be emotionally invested in, I liked how it addressed mortality. The death of such an insignificant artificially intelligent pet held so much importance when real lives are at stake, then it was reaffirmed that the pet’s life was insignificant by the fact that the girl was ultimately just bait to save real lives. Player killers were also given enough focus in the way I was expecting last episode. Or maybe that’s just my appreciation of .hack talking.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:14 am | Permalink

      I did like that they took a few minutes to explain player killers and their mentality. As an episode, it’s probably the best yet that doesn’t relate to the main plot. It doesn’t have much competition on that ground, but it still did a decent job.

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