There’s something to be said for a show with a flawless, well-executed mystery that cloaks the viewer with rivulets of tension. There’s also something to be said for a show that’s so disappointingly banal that it’s equivalent to or worse than sticking one’s head in a lathe. The finale of the story’s obligatory mystery arc thankfully, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, falls out of any of those pre-established categories and ends up being underwhelming yet serviceable for it.
If any future writers are watching and, god forbid, getting some kind of inspiration from this show, the one thing I will recommend not taking and repurposing for your own work is a mystery that’s solved entirely through coincidences. While the actual solution is pretty well thought out and even ends on a note that differentiates the meaning between a loving and a possessive nature, the actual trip there is shaky at best. Unfortunately, it’s character development that suffers the most in the process.
Hilariously enough, a character with only a handful of lines and barely three minutes of appearance developed more than any of the main characters have so far. Grimrock’s motive for murdering his wife Griselda (spoiler alert) stemmed from his own perceived inadequacy and the subsequent jealousy that he felt toward her for better acclimating to the world of Sword Art Online. It’s a small detail that likely won’t be broached ever again, but him being uncomfortable with his wife’s change from her demure and obedient real life persona to a more independent sort is something that I’d actually like to see animated. Hell, it’s the best story that’s been done in this show so far (at least where potential for actual emotional weight is concerned), and it was told entirely through exposition with accompanying images, along with the sweetest shades this side of Claymore.
Unfortunately, aside from Grimrock’s love for his wife exposed for being an unhealthily covetous relationship, character development is at a premium. After the whole ordeal is over, nobody develops meaningfully; Kirito’s the same nebbish reluctant white knight that he’s been for the past few episodes, at the same place relationship-wise that he was initially at with Asuna, who in turn retains the undesirable position of Standard Tsundere #86,683. Though consistent, every other side story has at least built on Kirito’s personality in one way or the other. He isn’t the same loathsome guttersnipe that he was for a long stretch of episodes, but there was never a reason to care for him, and nothing about that has changed here.
It doesn’t help Asuna or Kirito that the writing for their conversation isn’t all that great. While the dialogue itself doesn’t jump around quite as much as they did before, getting the two in the same room and actually talking seems to be a struggle that’s clumsily resolved each time. Even though it’s still a far cry from the smooth conversational competence of Joshiraku and Spice and Wolf, where topics transition seamlessly in part because of physical contact of some sort, I have to give credit where credit is due and admit that it wasn’t nearly awkward as fuck in this episode.
For once, I’ll admit that I’m probably being a little too harsh on this episode. These are all genuine criticisms, and things that continued to nag at me after watching, but it does well enough in the short term that I can forgive the many chinks that continue to form in SAO’s armor. I can only hope that it moves on to some sort of relevant plot soon enough, instead of focusing on narrative vignettes that add little to the overall experience. But there I go, dreaming my crazy dreams again. And, I feel it must be said, “Good for Sword Art Online” isn’t actually good by my standards. It just means that things aren’t getting worse than Red-Nosed Reindeer.