I’ll make it clear right now that I’m of the “SAO is shit (so far)” camp as of episode 14. I don’t actually mean that it’s shit and I can easily point towards a few titles that much worse than SAO, but this anime evokes visceral emotions within me whenever I sit down to watch another episode. As such, I’m not on hundred percent sure where I want to go with this episodic series. Other than to tell you people that I don’t like SAO. Like, really don’t like SAO. SAO certainly isn’t the only show to evoke this feeling, but its flaws are what make it fascinating to analyze. It’s definitely entertaining, but for reasons I’m sure are unintended by whoever made this.
Most of my laughs and riled up feelings are derisive towards the show rather than supportive. I don’t enjoy this show because I look forward to how good the next episode is; I enjoy it because it’s an engaging 22-minute bashfest. One can argue whether such a quality deserves recognition when rating the anime overall, but it doesn’t factor into my rating scale. I’ve talked about this before with Valvrave, and may insinuate that the two share the same spot, but that show’s badness bordered on camp and there was clear lines for whether I should take the show seriously or not, as shown when the series shifts into a more serious story in the second half. SAO believes that it is completely, consistently, a serious show. The problem is, I can’t take anything it does seriously.
It doesn’t help that there’s still the white, sticky residue left from Kirito’s escapades in SAO with his Perfect Waifu. The first thing we’re treated to when this episode opens is a dream where Kirito and Asuna are sitting together in a rocking chair at their Little House in the Woods. Spare me at least the assumption that their love that deep, but the entire dream sequence is so over-the-top. The sky glows red. The clouds go to plaid. A blood-red dimensional void claws into Kirito’s universe. That’s not a nightmare; that’s so fucking metal. Admittedly, teenage angst is easy to make fun of once you start to expect a certain level of maturity, and I do get the feeling that I was never the target audience for this show in the first place, but there are ways to make that angst realistic.
Take, for example, the fact that Kirito only knew Asuna for about six months before deciding that they should marry. That level of romance shouldn’t translate into bullshit such as sitting together in a cabin as if they achieved Elderly Coupleu status triumphed the hardships of romance. Put some doubt into it. Does Asuna truly hold the key to his heart? These questions end up moot because Kirito sincerely believes that Asuna is The One. And if Kirito believes it, you sure as hell can expect that this anime will bend over backwards to make that happen.
Kirito believes that he is strong. Therefore, he should be able to go toe-to-toe with his National Quarterfinalist kendo-trained cousin. Nevermind that he’s only underwent two months of exercise after over two years of sitting in a hospital ward, or that his fighting style is completely based on a computer game. Look at him. He’s sidestepping Sugu’s swings so easily, so effortlessly. She does win the duel, but the victory is hollow. I am expected to believe that Kirito, who has been laying in a bed playing a computer game for two straight years, and has been out of kendo for even longer than that, is somehow able to match strength with Sugu with just two months of exercise and his “godlike” reflexes. That shit just doesn’t happen. Kirito’s bedridden state is treated more as a fixable excuse rather than a bonafide handicap. The supposition that he would have won if it weren’t for those two years of absence is unbelievable.
What’s also unbelievable is the show’s new villain: Sugou. You’d think that, if indeed we’re in the real world, that the new villain would be more grounded in reality. However, Sugou is nothing more than another strawman for Kirito to eventually take down. Why do I compare Sugou to the villains Kirito has faced before? Well, they all share the same trait: they’re not just evil, they’re also completely delusional. Having one of these kinds of villains is fine if it’s for the sake of making the main character look better, but that only works once and it happened in episode 2. Since then, enemies have only become more cartoonish and outlandish in their villainy and scumbaggery. Hell, even Heathcliff falls into this territory because he’s revealed to be a filthy cheater at his own game. What’s Sugou’s problem, then? Well, not only is he unreasonable possessive of Asuna, there’s also the way he’s portrayed on screen.
I get the feeling that, even though all those players are back in real life, I haven’t actually escaped SAO’s Gary Stu tendencies. Kirito’s world is still tailored to his wants and needs, and there are three elements of this fantasy that stand out:
- He must be number 1 at everything he does
- He must win Asuna.
- He must do 1 and 2 with the minimum effort possible.
Compared to the first half of the series so far, this arc seems to be, quite frankly, more of the same. Kirito would have trouble maintaining his status as a “strong” character if he were to be weak for even one episode, so the duel between him and Sugu proves to maintain the fantasy that he’s strong even when hospitalized and out of actual swordfighting practice. Kirito, too, would have trouble beating Sugou if the guy were to show genuine interest and care for Asuna’s health, perhaps actually being a good guy. But that’s unacceptable if we are to keep Kirito in the number 1 spot, so Sugou needs to be as unforgivable and sleazy as possible so that Kirito can easily break both his bones and his worldviews. There’s something a bit formulaic about how this is starting to set up; the world still revolves around Kirito even outside of his perfect virtual reality and if he wants something, the story has no choice but to comply. While I laugh about it now, and will continue to laugh about it long into my eventual viewing of SAO II, I’ll probably never accept this show as anything but a teenage fantasy. A laughable, twisted teenage fantasy.
- dat cousin cleavage tho. They’re gonna drag this out until the finale, aren’t they.
- If you’re interest in my less-serious commentary on this episode, you can find it here.