Today marks a very special day in the world of Sword Art Online. That’s right, there’s actually relevant plot for the first time in seven episodes! Not just details that the show promises will bloom into relevant plot points later or another member in Kirito’s harem, but actual, legitimate story progression! Everybody cook your rare drops and threateningly point your nearest eating utensil at Kirito in praise, because we finally have something akin to an overarching plot!
Along the way to a story with connectivity to the side-stories, there were a few bumps, mostly due to the execution being to competence what a constant blood hemorrhage is to clotting. For every side story that added an interesting element to the world or to Kirito’s still perplexingly sparse personality, there were several that were supposed to hit a certain mark, but ended up hitting an entirely different mark altogether, one made of stewed twigs and failure rather than solid gold and success. As such, when they’re referenced later, a sizable amount of the impact is lost.
In particular, the events of episode three where Kirito joins and destroys a guild in the most Kafkaesque manner possible come to the forefront yet again, and the result continues to be less than exemplary. So when Kirito witnesses a self-proclaimed liberation army rushing in to fight a big boss without the ability to teleport out, he flashes back to when the guild he inadvertently killed got absolutely thrashed by a trap room in what I assume was supposed to be a moment of emotional anguish, but instead felt tacked on. While this is more damning regarding the events of that episode than of this one, it still wasn’t handled too well in the transition to flashback form.
While a botched scene of emotional turmoil can be forgiven in this context, the entire second half of the episode can’t, as it’s an ever-growing avalanche of clichés and affirmations that Kirito’s nothing but a Gary Stu in a slick black coat. Part of this can be attributed to the difficulty of building suspense around main characters in any medium, since a story isn’t much of a story if the protagonist dies and plays no further part after the first third, but this was a perfect storm of clichés that somehow became more nauseating as the episode went on. Starting with Kirito apparently being the only person in the game who can dual-wield, further confirming this by having him beat the boss with only a sliver of health left, and ending with Asuna throwing herself at him, every possible contrivance is used and abused to the ends of the earth and back, so when Kirito is meant to come out feeling more sympathetic, the end result is something akin to cold detachment from everything that made him imperfect, and by extension everything compelling about him.
Keeping that vitriol in mind, the rest of the episode wasn’t really all that bad. Having Klein back was nice, since his goofy lovableness contrasts Kirito’s gloom and faux-angst wonderfully, and Asuna continues to be the more interesting half of their duo. As much of a prat as our lead is, he isn’t bad enough to completely break my enjoyment of the series so long as these two continue to play more major roles. Now don’t get me wrong, Kirito is bad; this is a rare case where I’d advocate killing off the protagonist a third of the way through (preferably by Asuna with cutlery) in order to shift focus to Asuna, Klein, and the world at large. That said, who’s up for funding Asunart On-Klein with me, where everything else is the same but Kirito’s noticeably absent?