Sword Art Online II Ep. 19: Parenting

Episode 19: Zekken

  • The moment Asuna logs off, we see her in what appears to be her room. What I find interesting is that she shivers a bit and her breath is visible upon waking up. This is, of course, due to the temperature of her room being 15 C (59 F) as shown on the thermostat, but it doesn’t look like her body registered the coldness until she logged out. I’m not going to bother thinking about whether that’s possible, but considering how hard this show angles towards reality vs. fantasy, it’s a nice touch on how disconnected Asuna seems to be from her home environment. She spends so much time in virtual reality that she doesn’t consider what happens to her body in real life.
  • Sometimes I feel as though none of the main characters are allowed to have happy households when we’re introduced to them. Kirito felt estranged from his aunt and cousin in his own home, Sinon lives alone in an apartment, and in this case Asuna is in an rigorous upper class lifestyle complete with middle-aged maids. As if that didn’t sound undesirable enough, her house is covered in rainclouds. Real subtle.
  • To counteract that, however, we get this:

  • It’s almost like a cage. Not in a literal sense, of course, but the imagery of both the installations and the stair rails convey the mood of the household: imposing, upright, and rigid. Combined with the camera looking down on her from the second floor, the shot implies that the household is oppressive in some manner or at least has authority over Asuna. Heirarchy is something you almost always expect from people with wealthy upbringings, but this is a creative way of showing that this is indeed the case. I have no problems with this.
  • Continuing on that front, while the entrance way into Asuna’s house is brightly lit for the benefit of guests (and the audience as an extension), the inside is noticably dark. Asuna really doesn’t like being in this house.
  • Of course, Asuna is only down here because she’s obligated to eat dinner with her mother at 6:30 sharp. Asuna’s mother is immediately introduced to us as a stickler for discipline because she’s one of those people that believes that being early is what it means to be on-time. Thus, when Asuna arrives at the dinner table on time, she’s actually late by five minutes according to her mother.
  • Man, this episode is killing the presentation so far. Did they switch directors for this episode? Apparently not, but it certainly feels like they did. I’m not even four minutes into this episode (including the OP though) and I’m understanding so much about exactly how undesirable Asuna’s life is without actually being told that this is the case. It gives me this hope that this story might actually try something with a bigger payoff than what it usually does.
  • On the other hand, I’m also not even four minutes into this episode so there’s a lot of room to screw this up. There’s tons of opportunities for the imagery to dial back on the subtlety again. I mean, clearly it must have started raining outside because she’s crying on the inside, right?

  • Thanks, Obama.
  • Like any other sensible parent in the universe, Asuna’s mom has an active disdain for her child’s time spent in VRMMOs, opting to call her Nervgear “that machine”. She’d love for her daughter to stop using it, or at least use it less often, but she’s very inept at communicating that in an effective manner. She often colors her concerns in a slapdash lecture rather than clearly conveying her thoughts in a more positive manner. For example, she wants Asuna to do her homework in a manner that doesn’t involve diving so that she can study ahead, but it comes out a lot more confrontational and ultimately becomes additional noise to Asuna’s ears.
  • I could rant on about Asian family dynamics for a long time using my relationship with my own mother as an example, but that’s neither here nor there right now. Point is, Asuna and her mom have a classic Asian parenting dilemma and it’s going to involve a lot of miscommunication and repressed feelings.
  • See, the mother’s concern is that Asuna needs to study ahead because she lost two years to Sword Art Online, and would like Asuna to take her studies more seriously in order to catch up. However, she communicates this by lambasting the credibility of Asuna’s current school, the one where all the students are SAO survivors. Adding to this, she’s already scheduled a personal tutor and personally arranged for Asuna to take an entrance exam to a more prestigious high school. Without Asuna’s knowledge. Naturally, Asuna complains. A lot.

  • gurl
  • Before I go into this long-winded spiel, let me make it clear that I concur with Asuna’s mother in this situation. Missing two years worth of high school was already bad enough, but if Asuna is capable of doing so much more than what she’s already doing, then would it be so wrong for her mother to provide her with the best opportunities? Even if she was crude about it, Asuna’s mom is correct in saying that the SAO survivor school is a serious dead end and that what she’s offering to Asuna is a much better alternative. Well, it’s less offered and more forced upon, but the core motivation is at least agreeable. This is truly something that Asuna would be grateful towards her mother for, but it would only happen maybe five to ten years down the road once she grows up and gains some perspective as an adult. High school life is not precious enough to ruin her prospects, her mother claims. Asuna can sacrifice a few friends and a videogame for the sake of a better future for herself.
  • And it’s not like Asuna’s mom is deciding this immediately after her time in SAO. This is one full year after that happened. I would like to believe that Asuna’s mom entertained the idea of her child staying in that school for a little while before realizing how much of a danger that would be. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Perhaps she was just biding her time, preparing all the necessary elements before surprising Asuna with a torrent of new responsibilities because hurrdurr she’s evil like that. I AM making out this mother to be a more potentially pleasant person than how she’s portrayed, so this really depends on how you look at it.
  • My real problem, however, is that I merely concur with the reasoning behind the mother’s actions and not the actions themselves. While Asuna’s mom has her daughter’s future welfare in mind first and foremost, she fails to convince her daughter to accept that this long-term plan will be a good thing. To makes things worse, she’s willfully ignorant and disdainful towards Asuna’s time spent in virtual reality and sees her online exploits as a colossal waste.
  • This sounds a lot like a typical Asian mom reaction, especially towards kids who are addicted to their videogames, but you have to take into account that Asuna spent two whole years trapped in SAO. For Asuna’s mom to invalidate that time spent (read: wasted) in SAO with a simple handwave is tantamount to actually treating her 18-year-old daughter like a 16-year-old who had a 2-year coma, which, while technically correct, does not accurately portray what she went through.
  • Though you could also argue that, to any onlooker, all those players may as well have been in comas. Seeing their pale, malnourished bodies in the hospital is ample enough reason to believe that these people are slowly wasting away. And I’d assume that most people who got trapped in here would end up the kinds of deadbeats that Asuna’s mom fears her daughter would become, if she were to continue down the path she’s currently taking right now.
  • Regardless, the misunderstandings between these two makes Asuna’s mom’s job harder with a proportional degree to how hard she presses Asuna’s buttons doing so. Because let’s face it, expressing harsh verbal disapproval towards your teenage daughter’s actions is no longer going to be enough to change her mind. Asuna is still going to believe (wrongfully) that she thinks she knows what she’s doing with her life, and she’s still going to believe that the limiting factor in her life is not her own choices but instead her own mother. Shit’s hard to deal with as a parent when the confirmation bias is so strong in your children, and Asuna’s mom goes about things in all the wrong yet believable ways to propagate the drama.
  • Really, though, the fact that I am able to talk about this for so long about this without having anything to complain about has been pretty great. Both people in this conversation are well-meaning but ultimately wrong about each other. And it’s believable.

  • So that’s one half of the conversation. The other one involves that whole arranged marriage thing. And you know what happens when Asuna’s love life gets involved in the conversation? Kirito gets mentioned. And anything involving Kirito goes from 0 to 100 real quick.
  • This is a very dehumanizing way to frame this particular shot, and it’s done when the mother justifies putting Asuna through arranged marriages without her knowledge. Man, she does so many things without Asuna’s knowledge that you have to wonder why it’s all being revealed here, other than for the sake of the story of course.
  • If you marry someone poor, you’ll regret it.” Wow, they’re trying really hard to make the mother out to be the only one in the wrong here.
  • Well at least they still haven’t mentioned that other guy that they were roping her in with, right? You know, from the arc we shall never mention ever again? Man, wan’t that a-

  • YOU FOOL. IF WE DONT TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN ALO MAYBE IT’LL GO AWAY BUT NOOOOOOOOO YOU JUST HAD TO OH-SO-POLITELY BRING IT UP AT THE DINNER TABLE
  • I’M TRYING TO EAT HERE
  • Asuna’s mom is allowed to be a hardass traditional Asian mother stereotype all the way down to monitoring her life and arranging marriages for the sake of having a source of opposition for this show, but even she can’t tolerate the evil that is Sugou. I don’t know what this says more: that Sugou is just that evil, or just how one-dimensionally he was characterized that everyone in the universe, funnily enough, cannot side with him.
  • Asuna’s retort is basically along the lines of “I already have this nice Garu Stu boyfriendou and you can’t make me change it neener neener bleh!”.
  • Look at what happens when Asuna’s mom drops the shocking revelation that she knows about her boyfriend’s origin as another SAO survivor:

  • I just find it a bit weird that out of all the perceived injustices that the mother forces on Asuna, it’s the mother’s natural curiosity towards her daughter’s mystery boyfriend that pushes Asuna over the edge. Sure, her life may have strings attached and she’ll likely never see the true light of freedom for the rest of her teenage years, but ain’t no one goes after Asuna’s hunny if she has anything to say about it! There’ll be blood on the streets, god damnit!
  • But I suppose that’s also expected of a teenage daughter, after all. Passion and love are far more readily accessible to react towards than issues of social structure.
  • At the same time, however, this is Kirito we’re talking about. This conversation point, while realistic, conveniently falls into the realm of “Kirito is more important than whatever else you were talking about” logic that the series tends to lean towards. I find it very hard to drop that distinction from a scene that I’ve, up to this point, been enjoying.
  • Before Asuna storms off in a huff, she asks whether her mother is a lot more selfishly driven in her effort than she’s letting on, specifically citing that her previous low-class standing is something she specifically doesn’t want Asuna to go through. This is by all means a cheap shot, because avoiding your personal misfortunes with your kids is merely another aspect of being a parent. Of course, the most correct way to go about doing that is to be direct about your personal failings with your teenage kid so that there’s no errors in communication when you have to tell them to do a thing “because you said so”, so maybe Asuna is just frustrated that her mother is being dishonest about her primary motivations. Sure she’s not lying about wanting her daughter to have a good future and therefore a good life, but not being straightforward about her personal feelings on the subject is lying by omission. And I can see why anyone would not appreciate that happening to them.
  • You can have many meaningful discussions over whether or not an 18-year-old girl who’s recently been in a 2-year coma is really capable of making her own real-life decisions, but I personally am siding with her mother on this one. She’s neither old enough nor experienced enough to completely break off from her parents, and most of her protests are fueled by wide-eyed idealism rather than actually having a plan for herself.
  • tl;dr this dinner conversation summarized in a gif:

  • just without the kiss and happy faces.
  • We see later that the best idea she’s come up with for her future is to be a good waifu for Kirito, so she basically has no idea what she wants. She then laments that she didn’t feel so bad about her life when she was in SAO, which really only tells us how far deep she’s gone from real life. While it’s not bad to feel this way, it does portend things of a more disastrous nature if she were to act upon it.
  • Perhaps as if to reinforce how fake and idealized the VRMMO environment is for Asuna, we’re treated to an oversaturated shot of the couple, complete with lens flare. It could also, however, emphasize how much Asuna prefers this environment to the real world and the effects match her rose-tinted perception. It’s mostly likely the latter, but I’d be happy with the former.
  • Currently, the two are just cuddling and shit before they set off for Asuna to duel against Zekken. I’d say that I hate this, but given that I’m a total sap for shows like the currently airing Akagami no Shirayukihime, I have no room to complain.
  • Well, at least she actually asks Kirito about Zekken up front. Based on the previous episode it seemed like she was just going to be a douche and bypass him.
  • So basically, Kirito feels as though Zekken is stronger than him because Zekken felt far more ingrained into virtual reality than Kirito could ever be, even though we know him as the original cheater cheater masturbeater. I feel like this is the kind of information that doesn’t need to be spoon-fed to us minutes before their introduction. I’ll see for myself whether or not this is the case and I don’t feel that Kirito telling me this reveals much about Kirito himself, so this particular line just fills space at best.
  • oh and its also more proof that Zekken’s probably not going to live that long. Or at least stay at the top. Whichever one comes faster.
  • oh hi liz
  • Alright, here comes Zekken.

  • this riveting plot twist brought to you by George Foreman: for all your grilling needs.
  • I don’t have much to say about the duel itself, really. There are some slow-motion segments where it’s obvious the blow isn’t going to connect, which are obnoxious once repeated. The swords apparently also kick up mountains upon mountains of smoke just by making contact. Either the swords have fog machine enchantments on them or the studio really doesn’t want to animate the backgrounds during the fight.
  • It’s not all bad, though. There’s a segment where Asuna reaffirms her desire to stay in virtual reality and then does that shounen thing where they powerup unexpectedly in the middle of the fight. Thankfully, rather than outright telling us that she’s powered up, this is portrayed with a single clash of swords, where the blades hit so hard that they ring loudly and blast a shockwave at the point of contact. It’s a very simple gesture, but a welcome one.
  • The fight mostly remains without dialogue, too, and does a serviceable job keeping track of the fight’s progress. As such, it successfully conveys that both fighters are closely matched. This isn’t really what I’m looking for in the show, but it’s regardless something I will not hesitate to point out as a plus for the series.
  • why dont more people punch when swordfighting
  • You know, I’d actually look forward to seeing a bare-handed class in this game, where you could apply real life martial arts techniques and be rewarded for it.
  • Anyways, Zekken is forced to use her ultimate sword skill (which no one sees because it’s censored by her fog machine blade) and wins. No harm done anyways, she looks like a nice girl who knows all the kinds of honor that let the main characters off easy. Convenience!

  • Zekken picks Asuna based on the results of the duel and they fly off into the sunset for some hot scissoring action- uhimean to ask Asuna for help up in the sky where no one can see them. Yep.
  • And then the episode just ends.
  • Yep.
  • Yeeeeeeeeeep.
  • We don’t even know what Zekken wants help with
  • AND there’s no scissoring
  • cmon sao youre better than this

Addendum

  • Another update on SAO II should happen this week.
  • For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter or follow the Anime Power Rankings over at Behind the Nihon Review, I’ve definitely been watching anime these past six months and you can see what I’ve been watching in the Currently Watching/History tab up top.
  • I have a draft about Charlotte in the works and it’ll take a bit of proper motivation to get that done as well.
  • im alive
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One comment

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