It always pains me when a show so thoroughly dumb as Sword Art Online manages to stem the tide of bleach flooding into its stupid, stupid mouth and begins to incorporate some semblance of logic into the messy string of giblets that’s the closest thing it has to a plot. When things are actually explained and characters are made to be remotely likable, I feel like I’ve been the victim of a betrayal on par with my best friend eloping with my favorite, fluffiest cat that purrs at the slightest provocation. After most of this episode showed remarkable sobriety and restraint in comparison to what was previously on display, I thought that my worst fears would be realized and I’d have absolutely nothing to gripe about with this episode.
And then, as if at the loving hands of a drunken, manic-depressive angel, my fears were immediately assuaged as I was bombarded by cheap villainy and plot devices so unholy, so perverse, that they would make even the least spiritual of viewers reach for steel wool and the nearest vial of holy water to thoroughly scrub their eyes with.
Most of this episode made me anxious by showcasing Kirito getting to know the world of ALFheim Online. The majority of the exposition is presented in a reasonably engaging fashion, i.e. with Kirito flying face-first into giant fairy monoliths, so I can’t fault it too much for nothing of relevance actually happening. Hell, even the realization that Leafa is Kirito’s fake-sister was comically-timed enough to keep from feeling too contrived. In short, there’s nothing interesting to talk about here, and I was worried that’d keep up for the entirety of the episode’s run. Thankfully, the show’s proven itself perfectly able of ruining even the most poignant and well-executed moments with little effort, assuring that I will never ask “can a show ruin itself in only five minutes?” ever again.
I’ve talked at length before about how stupidly villainous Sugou is, and how apparently nobody notices that he seems just a little too eager to marry Asuna and become formally adopted by her family. Whether it was the result of sloppy writing (most likely) or intentional vagueness (improbable as fuck), I managed to string together several explanations for Sugou’s obscene levels of pointless dickishness beyond “he likes Asuna and stuff”.
The best possible reason I could think of for him being so unrepentantly evil is that he was in it for money, and the possibility of inheriting Asuna’s family fortune should anybody else suffer from a fatal case of death, be it by accident or otherwise. Hell, that would not only be downright sinister, but it would make an iota of sense! There would finally be stakes, with Asuna’s very life on the line, and Kirito would have a reason to actually jump into the game to save her, rather than pursue less roundabout means of detaining Sugou and saving his girlfriend. Oh how naïve I was in those comparatively halcyon days, to believe that thought of all things actually went into crafting this storyline.
To be clear, Sugou isn’t some kind of budding risk to the world that needs to be crushed before he can cause real harm. Already, he’s abducted the minds of several hundred returnees from Sword Art Online and crafted virtual identities for them in ALFheim. He not only has the ability to manipulate their world at will, but can also (supposedly) rewire their personalities as he sees fit. If he really wanted to, he could erase Asuna’s memory, make her believe that she loves him, and end this abomination of a story before it really begins. That would be if he was a smart asshole, without virtual fairy hair sucking nutrients from his brain.
Unfortunately, this is the real world; cows go moo, Arby’s somehow still has chains across America, and Kawahara Reki builds stories and character motivations with the competence of a normal, comatose individual. So not only do we know that Sugou has this ability that essentially places him one step away from the finish line before the race even begins, but he even tells this to Asuna before following up with “like me more when I get back next so I can fondle your tits.” And he doesn’t even follow up on it, so either he’s massively bluffing for no real gain, or he’s the single worst person in history at being a villain, and somehow wants Asuna to believe that he wants to marry her for her rich, vibrant personality rather than her family’s status.
The last five minutes of this episode are insulting to anybody with a pulse, and I’m sure even children who’ve been isolated from the outside world for most of their upbringing could think of a better villain than this tool. The worst part is, the entire ordeal is unabashedly entertaining from start to finish, in the worst, least intentional possible way.