Sword Art Online – Emotional Attachment Through Repeated Exposure

Sword Art Online cover image, from Crunchyroll

Sword Art Online is a series that had occupied an important part of my psyche for a while, and even now I think of it often and fondly. It was the right show at the right time for me, though I suspect any time it’d have come out in the past few years would’ve been the right time. It’s not without its blemishes, but it’s still one of my all-time favourite shows.
It also helped that the concept was something that had immediately drawn me in – “MMO, the players are stuck within, and if they die inside the game they die in reality.” I probably expected it to be a lot more “Lord of the Flies” than Shonen kick-assery, but I liked it, it had a lot of heart moments as well.
EDIT: This is something I meant to write in but forgot – I watch anime in large part in order to feel, this is why I watch anime. As such, the story is often secondary to how much the show makes me care, so long as the story isn’t broken so much I can’t stomach things any longer.

When I’ve began watching the show, it had about 15 episodes out. I’ve watched them, rapt with admiration for the show. And then, about episode 9 I’ve caught myself thinking, “Wait, in a couple of hours I’ll catch up to where the show currently is, and what will I do then? How will I wait one week at a time for an episode?!” and indeed, I’ve been in nearly physical agony at times, thinking of the show, undergoing withdrawal as I was waiting for the next episode to come out.

But, I did not just wait for the next episode to come out, as I will go over in a future article, I’ve rewatched episodes, I’ve rewatched sequences that were fraught with emotional impact in the show, for me, and those scenes did not only keep my attachment for the characters, but it reinforced it, and made me think of the way emotional attachment can form, and how we can grow to like characters more.

(This is a “Things I Like” post, and as such covers more my thoughts, and is less focused as an actual bona fide review. There will be a medium amount of spoilers in this post. I will also talk a bit of things happening in the Light Novels but not yet covered in the anime, but only with regards to pacing and emotional manipulation – not story content.)

Now, there are the obvious sequences to rewatch, where Kirito is all cool – where he unleashes Double Sword for the first time and takes on a boss more or less on his own to save everyone, when he becomes the anti-hero to shoulder the blame for having participated in the Beta and not having shared the information with everyone else, when he adopts the form of the boss he defeated in Aincrad to fight the Salamanders in the second arc of the show… these are all “cool” moments, but they’re not what had me really coming back to the show.

Let us look at a sequence I found especially important, as early as the third episode. Kirito ends up feeling responsible for the deaths of a group of other players. He hears a rumour of an item that can resurrect players who die within the game, and sets out to obtain that item. I am not going to tell you exactly what happens, but it’s sad, it’s heart-wrenching, in fact. Now, the first time I’ve watched it I’ve had the slight pressure in the back of my throat which I often experience while taking in sad moments in media, but as I’ve watched that sequence time and time again (And I’ve probably watched it more than a dozen times), is that I’ve shed tears. The sequence acted in two different ways depending on when I’ve experienced it.

Kirito, Asuna, Sword Art Online, Aincrad

Kirito and Asuna say goodbye, to Aincrad, and to one another.

You see, it’s like infatuation – when you meet someone who looks average, they look average to you (surprise!), but if you keep on meeting them and actually grow to like them, then slowly they might look better to you. Now, if anyone watches the series and accuses the writers of being heavy-handed in how they lay on the emotional manipulation, then they are probably right. This sequence is horribly sad. The goal of this sequence is to make us care for Kirito, and for everyone else who is trapped in this insane death-game. They lay such sequences in every single episode going from episode 1-4, and at episode 7. These episodes truly make us care for Kirito, because how can we not?
(Episodes 5-6 cover a side-story written much later in the Light Novels, so the reason it feels kind of out of place is unsurprising).

But then, when I’ve rewatched the episodes, it was different. Beforehand, the sad sequences were made to make me care for Kirito, but what happens when you read or watch really sad things happening to people (characters) you deeply care about? You are sad. Before, the connection was created, later, the connection was there. By rewatching the show time after time I did not only pass the time until the next episode had been released, but I had deepened my connection to Kirito, Asuna, and the other characters. As I watched the series more to alleviate my need to watch it I only needed to watch it more, in turn.

This is also part of why the second half of the series doesn’t feel as impactful. After we sped the first half of the show growing attached to certain characters, the characters who have the more emotionally heavy and impactful scenes are different characters. We’ve grown attached to not just Kirito, but his relationship with Asuna, which doesn’t really exist until the final two episodes, and even Kirito’s scenes pale compared to Suguha’s, his cousin. But the scenes with Suguha, which are nearly as sad as some of the ones Kirito goes through in the first half of the show don’t impact us nearly as much – they mean a lot to her, but sadly, she doesn’t mean a lot to us, just yet.

Suguha, Kirito's cousin in Sword Art Online

Suguha, we don’t care for you just yet.

Not only that, there is a pacing “problem” in the second half of the series. The first half of the series does end on a sort of resolution, but we really didn’t resolve everything, especially not what we really cared for – which wasn’t people being able escape the game, but Kirito and Asuna, our friends, outside the game. But after the first half of the show ends explosively, with things happening quickly each episode, we expect the second half of the season, if it’s not to start explosively (after all, we could use a bit of exposition), that it’d at least get back to the action pretty quickly.
This doesn’t happen, and things go on quite slowly for the most part, with not a lot of “Action” action – or say when Kirito saves the Sylph and Cait-Sith meeting in half an episode, you expect them to keep on advancing the plot in the latter half, but they just talk.

In understanding this, it helps knowing how the light novels are constructed – what happens in the second half of the first arc, all the “Action” and Kirito and Asuna’s relationship happens in the first light novel. The moments that make us care about Kirito happen for the most part in the second light novel, which is about side-stories from Aincrad. The second half of the anime series is contained within the 3rd and 4th books. As such, those who’ve been reading the books had been waiting a long time for the story to resume, and in books it is much more natural for there to be a journey and exposition. It’s just that the anime really left us hanging, and then the break in the pacing came as quite of a shock.

But, if you watch the second half of the show patiently, you see a lot of the non-action is the same as the emotionally heavy sequences of the first half, while more care-free, they’re still there to teach about the new world, to get us to care for the characters, and because as far as the books are concerned, this is a new journey. Could it have been done better? Certainly, but it wasn’t bad.

Now, about the future of Sword Art Online. I am sure there’d be more seasons, seeing how immensely popular this show seems to be. And as you can imagine, I couldn’t really say goodbye to Kirito and all the others and had read some of the upcoming light novels. While the next world “Gun Gale Online (GGO)”, will definitely start slow, it’d come off more natural – it’d be a completely new season, and things HAD been answered to a satisfactory level after the first season ended.
I’ve also read Mother Rosario, which is sort of a side-story. The emotional manipulation there is extremely heavy-handed, and there I realized once more that Reki Kawahara, the author of the series, is probably not the best writer there is (part of it could definitely be the fan-translation I was reading), but recognizing that I’m being emotionally manipulated did not make it any less effective, at quite a few sequences, and I still found myself tearing up reading the story or thinking of it.
This is a blog post about the Shigofumi anime, which deals almost entirely with emotional manipulation.

Score: Sword Art Online gets 9.7/10 loving tears from me. The art is very well done, the music score works very well to complement the show, and the voice actors have all done an admirable job, for the most part.
The first half is a perfect 10. I suspect that watching this series all at once might have made me feel different about the second arc – it might have made me like it more because I wouldn’t have kept thinking “Man, where is the action, when will we get to Asuna?” which I kept thinking, but maybe without rewatching so many scenes and episodes time and time again I wouldn’t have cared as much for the show to begin with?

Enhanced by Zemanta

30 comments on “Sword Art Online – Emotional Attachment Through Repeated Exposure

  1. Mattias says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_0__wwgY0o is my response.
    [Guy’s Note – Video is Asuka Sohryu saying “Anta Baka” for 10 minutes.]

    • Guy says:

      Now, why don’t you explain why, rather than just leave a trolly link to Asuka saying “Anta baka” for 10 minutes?
      I mean, I’m less than impressed right now.

      • Mattias says:

        Sorry, now when I have some alcohol in my body I might be able to give a better response.

        So some background on me to represent the angle I viewed this from. I’m 20, I started watching anime this Christmas with Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell and Psycho-pass. I had watched a few more things when I watched SAO

        I did see someone mention this anime on twitter and I read the sypnosis and thought it sounded cool. A MMO VR anime, I had no expectations or did I know the show was controversial when I watched it in early January.

        So my first impression was really good, the setup was great and how they introduced the characters. I didn’t really have an opinion on the MC but he seemed somewhat generic.

        Then after a few episodes he was having random encounters with different girls that was clearly in to him, well I guess a 14 years old loner thats stupidly OP in the game has some appeal. But here also comes the “Fanservice” a concept I had not grasped when I was watching this, it was incredibly awkward with all the creepy “camera” angles, showing breasts and butts all the time of the girls. It didn’t contribute to the story(in the first arc still) which was ok so far.
        Then suddenly two years pass… What ok thats a really big timeskip.

        And the romance between Kirito and Asuna is so unexplored it just happens and they decide to stop contributing to the effort to save everyone, I guess being a bit selfish is ok but why, it wasn’t really entertaining seeing them live a normal life in a VR.Then they adopt a cute AI, why how is that not wierd both ingame and meta-wise.

        Then the plot of the first ark is revealed and they didn’t really do shit to save them other than expose the bad guy.

        Oh all this time, his little sister is longing for him because they are really cousins, what…… How is that not creepy(this was before I had watched other cute little sisters).

        Oh no, Asuna is trapped still and now I will have to fight my way thru another MMO RPG to save her. And this time the story is even worse. Every episode I laughed at the “plot”.

        Oh yeah, his sister totally falls in love with his character ingame. Where is the cool action of live and death that the first three episodes had. I really liked them.
        Fast forward to ep 21, where I…. This is like a hentai, why is this stuff in an action anime… Well the villian was a week creep, that was killed with help from the old villian?!?!?! What, why would he help.

        And the only healthy relationship was on ice the whole second part because she was trapped. How fun was that, I wanted them to fight the badass way they defeated monsters in the first part but no, he has to adventure with his “sister”.

        I did love the animation, background and music.

        But I can’t understand why people liked it.

        Sorry for rambling and submitting such a troll-full first post.
        And my train of thought have derailed more times than I can count while writing this.

      • Guy says:

        Since you’ve come back and replied, I forgive you, and say “Don’t sweat it” :)

        Hm, does my lengthy post not explain to you why I liked it? Aside from liking “Determinators” like Kirito, even if they’re basically two-dimensional characters, I cared because it made me feel.

        About the plot, it definitely has weak parts, but I’ve explained about the skipping – it’s due to the light novels’ structure, and the series also flipped that around. The “Life and Death” is going to be explored more in the future novels and some of their side-stories, as actions we didn’t get to see in the first series will have ramifications on the future and thus we’ll get them as flashbacks. But I also expected a lot more “life and death”.

        Fan-service, well, I both like fan-service, and as someone who’s watched so much anime it probably doesn’t even register to me on some accounts, like if it’s below-average for anime, I won’t even recognize it. It probably says some things about both myself and anime.
        The harem was a bit weird, though I felt the harem was a lot less fitting and caused me much more cognitive dissonance was Steins;Gate which was a really good show, but why was the main character surrounded by all these females? It was just so weird (It was based on a visual novel, that’s why).
        Edit: Suddenly remembered Leafa had a lot of needless fan-service, like when she helps Kirito, or when he takes her sword… was completely unnecessary, you’re right. I too shook my head at those segments.

        And Sugu was an extremely disappointing villain. Him abusing Asuna to show us how he’s really “Evil” was just weak, just like showing us blood to make us flinch doesn’t make Django an emotional movie. It felt cheap, yup.

  2. Guy says:

    You guys can see this thread on Reddit where I’ve reposted this post, it has some interesting discussion.

    And though it seems I accept SAO has downsides, that in no way makes me less appreciative of its good qualities, or less enamored of what it does, for me, to me.

    We can like different things, though we accept the other side is correct in their praise/pointing out downsides.

  3. Asian Ed says:

    I think one of the problems with the anime was due to the way the novels were written. I don’t believe this was ever meant to be a serial novel, leaving the script writers with a bit to fill in between the first novel and the third novel. After all, the author wrote the first book to be an entry for a contest, ended up writing too much, and wound up not entering with SAO (he later went back and entered with Accel World, I believe).

    The first book was meant to be a standalone story. Like many Japanese stories, the ending was left open for interpretation, not because there could be a sequel. Kirito wakes up. He doesn’t go looking for Asuna, and for all the reader knows, she didn’t actually survive. You only know that Kirito survived.

    Then came the second book, which actually caused the first arc of the anime to feel extremely disjointed. The anime writers took the side stories from book 2 and put them where they were supposed to be in the timeline. It sort of ruined the flow and almost felt like filler.

    As for the future, GGO would be interesting to see animated, I could also see an OVA come out for some of the ALO side stories (like the quest for Excalibur). I’d be most interested to see the Aliciazation arc, which is still ongoing in novel format.

    • Guy says:

      Hello Ed, it’s been a while! :)

      Checking wikipedia it was originally written in 2002, and published after he won the contest with Accel World. It says he wrote 4 novels during 2002, but we can’t tell if it’s the 4 we know, and how far apart things were – he serialized it on the web, so the information is probably available somewhere, I might dig deeper later on. Also, who knows what changes he’s made between the original stories and what was later published.

      Also, I think you do know that Kirito and Asuna survived, or can guess (why would Asuna not survive?), you just don’t get told what happens later. It’s only when we see Kirito in the real world without Asuna, that things feel “off”, that the closure we expected to exist – even if we don’t see it, is not there. This is doubly so in the anime – they get out at episode 15, so you expect to see them together in episode 16, or hear she died, not… this. Just like Kirito himself said “Nothing can begin until it ends.” We had closure, and then it was snatched from us, it was a classic “The Princess is in another castle!” moment.

      As for the “side stories”, which you say are “Almost filler” – I disagree, they are what made the characters personable, and to me contain many of the best parts of the first season/first 4 books. The murder mystery did feel sort of meh to me, compared to the others, and IS a side-story’s side-story, written several years later in a side-story book.

      I think the Excalibur quest could be a movie, and it must come after GGO, after all, but it might require a two-part OVA thingy, since they cut Tonkii out of the first season, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it never gets into the anime… movie/OVA seems the most likely solution.
      Didn’t read Alicatization yet, been holding off, will read it at some point, but then I’ll catch up, and be sad cause I’ll know there’s no new content I can just go and read at anu point ;-)

      • Asian Ed says:

        In honor of the fact that SAO is based on an MMO, I propose changing the term from “side stories” to “side quests.” XD

        There’s no explicit “Asuna survives” moment at the end of the first SAO book, only Kirito’s assumption that she did. It leaves it open ended in such a way for the reader to interpret. She could be alive and awake, she may have not survived. Taking the book as a standalone entity, I’m sure there was a lot of fanfiction that was written with both of those scenarios. Personally, I liked the “happy ending?” way that the book ended, there was hope, but you didn’t know for sure.

        On the side stories, I really enjoyed them as standalone chapters. They do give Kirito’s character a lot of depth. They way they were inserted into the anime, however, really called out the fact that they were side quests. They also introduced a lot of other characters that weren’t present in the “original” story (book 1) and went towards building Kirito a harem. I’m not sure if there would have been a better way to handle them, I just got the feeling that the overall plot got lost during those episodes.

        In reading the author’s notes from volume 1, it looks like the 4 books he wrote were SAO related: “But because of my weak personality, I couldn’t erase the whole manuscript and simply thought ‘why don’t I post this up on the internet then?’; I made a website that fall. Luckily I was able to receive good responses from a lot of people. With this as my motivation, I kept on going with the series; I wrote a sequel, a side-story, and then another sequel. I carried on like this and before I knew it, six years had already passed.”

        So he wrote the SAO novels before getting to Accel World, which he won the Dengenki Light Novel award. Also, somewhere in there he wrote the Material Editions and a bunch of other side stories that haven’t been published in book form (yet). Several of those wound up in the anime, including the battle on the first floor.

        Of all the stories written since the original Aincrad arc, the Alicization arc is probably my favorite in terms of pure story. There’s no weird side quests or anything, it’s just a nice straightforward read. The only criticism that I have is that some of the side characters feel a bit disposable. Even so, I highly recommend that you check them out!

      • Guy says:

        Personally, it felt to me like it’s based off of Monster Hunter more than other MMOs :D Of course, the side quests we see in the “First Night” story did make it feel a bit more MMO-like, but still.

        Well, it’s more that they robbed our closure from us, no explicit, but I don’t see why anyone would think she hadn’t, really.

  4. I’m very much the person outside looking in… I watched the first 2 episodes when SAO first came out. I didn’t really dismiss it, however I compared it to .hack, which wasn’t really fair, but it was similar. Then I just keep hearing about SAO this, SAO that. Still didn’t make me watch it yet. After everything was done, I think I finally sat down and watched the whole thing. Even at one point there was a cliffhanger in the first arc and it was already 4am and it made me stay up til 4:30 just to see the resolution ^^;

    One of the things that kinda irked the heck out of me was the fact they never showed the real world til SAO ended; also one of the reasons why I delayed in watching SAO. I know this would’ve taken us out of this fantasy world, but it bothered me too much. I wanted to know about what’s happening in the real world so badly. It felt like it was just another fantasy world instead of modern future. I’m not sure how to explain this, but it just felt like it wasn’t real.

    Which brings up to the reason why I liked the second arc better… ^^; I might be one of the only ones who actually liked second arc better, heh. The back and forth switch between Alfheim and the real world was refreshing! It was like, oh hey, I got a real life to deal with, so I can’t play games all day! I was so giddy when they showed Suguha taking off the goggle the first time. It was fun and hilarious at the same time XD The dynamics of when they both have to go offline and then back to ALO; it felt more real. I really loved the revelation episode! It was just too fun. I mean, poor Suguha, but her situation makes a great show ^^;

    Anyway… I rambled quite a bit here. In the end, I’m not as enraptured as other people about SAO, but I like what I like about it ^^ Leafa/Suguha is probably my favourite character. I do like Kirito and Asuna too, but well, they’re better together than separate imo.

    Maybe I should blog about this too, haha.

    • Guy says:

      I think not showing the real world is kinda important – they’re trapped in the game, just like they’re trapped in the castle. Even though there are worlds within, and many of them look like open vistas, it’s still claustrophobic. I think the other part is that the author just didn’t spend that much time thinking of and fleshing out the outside world.
      Even Accel Worlds, which seems like a science fiction story, very quickly resolves into a shonen fantasy tale about fights, and the veneer of “What can you do with these awesome powers, and how is society different with this technology” is answered with “Fight Club.”
      The author writes good shonen with some nice emotional touches, but keeps making use of a sci-fi backdrop, which is a fake, and it’s important to remember. I think you might have been disappointed had we seen more of the external world, in any capacity other than crying families.

      I suspect you liked Suguha because some part of you recognized her as Kirino :P I didn’t, but when I watched Oreimo S2 episode 1, it immediately popped out to me that she’s Sugu.

      You know, I like Asuna and Kirito, and indeed, together. I don’t even have an interest in making Asuna my “Waifu”. I like them together, and I like them as my friends.

      • I can see how it’s important to not show the outside world in the first arc, but it was just nerve-wracking. Though it was good they showed a part of what’s happening during those 2 years in the second arc. I don’t know if I’d be disappointed if I see the crying families in the real world. I just felt it’d be more… “real”. Also what the authorities are doing to stop and capture Akihiko or anything to get people out of the game. It would be an interesting story. But yeah, I can how Reki probably didn’t flesh out the outside world, haha.

        Guess in the end SAO and Accel World just become action anime where you go oohs and aahs ^^;

        I don’t know if I knew right away that Suguha is Kirino. I do like Kirino, but I’m so far away from the seiyuu scene now that I can’t recognize voices right away anymore =/ It’s gotten so bad that I didn’t even know Leafa and Sugu is the same, ahahahaha! I think Sugu didn’t even caught my attention until Leafa logged out for the very first time, haha. It was Leafa really ^^;;;

        • Guy says:

          It kinda made me sad, it can be that in the light novels it gets more space, but I doubt it – we have the always connected world, we have this amazing power, in Accel World, and it just turns into a “Let’s fight everyone to keep on fighting.” – the actual uses of the technology in the real world are very minor, and the ones who use it are “villains”, which is a very simplistic viewpoint.

          The only point, and it’s a point, where you feel he actually gave it some weight, showing the common world relevance of technology is how intimate of an act it is to connect to someone with a cable, and how the length of the cable has certain connotations for high school students – so they repeat it multiple times in the anime, but that’s more or less it.

  5. Artemis says:

    Despite its problems I really enjoyed SAO overall. The flaws are obvious enough and you’ve already done an admirable job of pointing them out, so I won’t repeat them, but I’m glad I gave in to peer pressure this time around and watched the series. I don’t tend to enjoy long shows, especially since sequels are very rarely as good as the original, but in this case I’d be more than happy to see another season if there is one. It drew in great numbers both in Japan as well as overseas, so at the moment I’m optimistic.

    • Guy says:

      I think the next season will be better than the 2nd half of the first season, if we can judge by the quality of the novels they’re based on. I am also somewhat amused by calling 25 episodes “long shows” – or you mean when combined with the predicted future seasons? Yeah, as seasons go by it gets harder and harder to decide to make the leap and begin watching a show – I’ve done so with Fairy Tail recently (175 episodes) but am scared at the prospect of One Piece (nearly 600 episodes)…

      Also, your blog is pretty nice thus far, didn’t have time to really comment, keep it up!

      • Artemis says:

        Ah, sorry – by ‘long shows’ I just meant in contrast to the 12 or 13-episode trend that seems to be the norm now. Back when I first started watching anime, almost every major series was either 24 or 26 episodes in length. This season though, I couldn’t help but notice that every single new show I’m watching other than one is 13 episodes or less.

      • Guy says:

        I think in part it is because we get less “serious” shows, and more shows that are comedies, or dramatic comedies/slice-of-life. I have seen before that different seasons usually have a different type of shows aimed at them.

        I do wonder if another part of it is taking less of a gamble – especially on unknown shows, for the exact same reason so very few shows these days seem based on original content and most seem to be based on light novels, visual novels, manga, etc. They just don’t want to take risks.

  6. Kai says:

    A bit unrelated but I had always wonder just what’s the purpose of naming the whole series “Sword Art Online” when it was only just one arc, a good enough arc that already had the proper resolution ages ago. But seeing Ed’s information on how the books were released, it makes sense.

    Sword Art Online has it’s shortcomings, indeed, I’m likewise not a fan of the ALO arc. I read that the way the light novels structured it’s events were slightly different than that of the anime. I do plan to read the light novels of Sword Art Online soon, as I’m curious at it’s empowering fame. Of cause, reading the infamous 16.5 is one of my hidden purpose too..

    • Guy says:

      Well, most shows are named after the first arc, because that’s what was there. In Israel where movie names get weird translations, then a sequel comes out and they’re screwed.

      Take a recent example, “Despicable Me” was translated as “Crazy/Stolen about the Moon”, making use of a pun with a certain slang term.
      Now Despicable Me 2 is out, and they had to translate it as “Crazy/stolen about the Minions”, or with the Stephen Seagal movie “Under Siege” which had been translated to “Naval Siege”, which was really funny with “Naval Siege 2” which happened on a train in the mountains ;-)

      ALO mostly cut out a whole underground part which is relevant for the side-story where Kirito obtains Excalibur later on. The GGO chapter has some really good moments, and Mother Rosario is a real tear-jerker. Once I’m done with some school stuff I’ll be reading the 4 Alicatization novels out currently.

      I still need to read 16.5 :P

  7. […] 1. Sword Art Online is a solid show, with a non-horrible romantic relationship. (See blog post.) […]

  8. […] to life, and a few days later I’ve made one of the entries I’m still more pleased with, my editorial-review about Sword Art Online, where I discuss falling in love with a show and its characters, and perhaps describe the process […]

  9. You know, for kids! says:

    I think the first “half” needed to be longer and the second “half” shorter. Though SAO and ALO are distinct stories, I saw ALO as a story arc of SAO. I couldn’t feel the story progression in SAO when Kirito is having all these side adventures. Not that they’re bad, but the main plot of having to progress through the game was kind of abandoned. And instead of having the latter half of the series prolonged, it should’ve been over in fewer episodes.

    • Guy says:

      There was sort of nothing extra to add in SAO… ALO they’ve actually cut a side-story.

      GGO is one story that progresses, and it’s better than ALO/Aincrad, so it should be good.

  10. Coming to this party waaaay late from the look of it. Just wanted to say I had similar emotions swirling around when I first came across this series. Watched up to a point and did more homework, found the light novels online back when they were posted on Baka-Tsuki and chewed through them all while the anime was ongoing. I couldn’t believe the depth and the answered ‘what-if’s about this kind of tech being used in the real world. Granted there is a great deal of assumption society would accept such a thing by 2025 (think, 10 years from now, nerve-based VR? Science is still tinkering with so many other things…), but it does pose interesting views on how modern society may develop with the advent of such tech.

    Perhaps its the immersion in computers and gaming in high school that drew me in, or a desire to see some josei elements tied into a shounen story like this (since most of Jump’s titles or very many others skirt around the romance aspect but rarely finalize it), but it really melded so many elements of my background and desires to see a realistic plot line. By far, one of the most influential stories to have come out in quite some time. Always a good rerun, and I wish the franchise would knock it off on all the Asuna/Sugu fan service figurines/artwork, but the series was brilliant. Like you said, it really makes you think, and –feel–.

    • Guy says:

      So long you don’t mind replies not being the fastest, then it’s fine. This is asynchronous discussion anyway, and this is one of the posts I like and link to more, so no problem :)

      I think “adopting technology by year XXXX” should be “Whenever it’s adopted”, without really paying too much attention to the dates. Don’t forget the series was originally written a bit earlier than it’s been published, and the point is “Future”. Accel World actually deals more with ramifications of sci-fi or living in such a world. SAO only really gets to have actual sci-fi moments in book 7, and then in 9 onward.

      About romance, I think since it was originally only having a book or two, that it got away with it. Romance really seems to be allowed to shine when it’s not the main point of a series, or when the series isn’t planned to keep going. Quite an interesting situation.

      As for figurines and merch, that will always be fan-servicey, cause that’s what makes money. But hey, I got at least one, and might get another, fully armoured Asuna figure. No fan-service there.

  11. […] probably the most popular anime to air during 2012. It had and has many fans, and many detractors. I for one liked it a whole lot. I liked it enough that after it ended, still in the throes of desiring to know what happened next, […]

  12. Aaron says:

    Another latecomer to this show. I finished the first Arc so far, and I hear the second is quite different, so this is mainly relevant to my experience at this point…

    I feel like a certain amount of emotional maturity is needed to enjoy it. I’ve seen a number of complaints about the lack of/weak action, and too much focus on the Kirito/Asuna relationship. However, I do not think the show it will “click” unless you have actually loved somebody so much that the thought of separating is physically painful. What many people interpret as “emo” is, within the context of the lonely, dangerous box in which they are locked, quite realistic. They DO NOT know what’s going outside the box, nor COULD they, so they can only react according to what they understand inside it. Neither are we, the audience, granted the godlike level of perception necessary to see simulataneously both inside and outside that box. And with good reason.

    Saying it again, I don’t think the emotion is overwrought at all, I think it is really human. A few months ago I finished Attack on Titan, which I also enjoyed greatly, but the emotional tension was cranked up so high that it was exhausting at times. It felt like emotional manipulation at times, and although I still fell for it every time, it just pulled a bit too hard. It was not bittersweet, it was just bitter.

    But there are scenes in SAO which are just… beautifully orchestrated. Almost painfully so. The way Kirito and Asuna slowly grow together is so refreshing in a world of ADD “love at first sight” stories, or stories with unnecessary, dramatic obstacles. I think in particular the subplot in which Kirito and Asuna leave the battlefield for the countryside and “adopt” the little girl was perfectly done. Seeing those three walking happily together as a family unit, in spite of the alienating loneliness and pain of that world, is something I won’t forget. The fact that Kirito and Asuna are probably barely out of highschool only enhances the effect. Children having to step up as adults is a REAL THING in this world, and it demonstrates a real depth of character.

    Also I think that even Kirito’s obsessive leveling for most of the show is not some kind of mindless quest for power but almost something to keep himself occupied in his loneliness and inability to connect with others. Your character level is just a number, he says at one point. And he never uses his strength to randomly show off or intimitate, but always in a purposeful way. He’s a damn LIKEABLE character, without being goody-goody.

    If you’re willing to accept it, SOA has more to show in a handful of episodes than most tv shows have in hundreds of episodes.

    • Jesse says:

      I’m incredibly late to the game–I’m not even sure if this section is “functioning” in any meaningful way, but I wanted to comment regardless. I’ve read many posts since finishing the show a few days ago, and this post (and this comment in particular) resonated with a lot of what I was thinking/feeling about the experience.

      I had a sister who died in childbirth when I was three (surprisingly I was old enough to grieve the fact someone had gone away and wasn’t coming to live with me after all), and I said farewell to someone I loved very much several years ago. The latter was not life-and-death, it was relational, but the circumstances made it just about as absolute.

      In both cases, saying goodbye and letting go was a soul-rending experience. Emotion choked almost all thought and expression, leaving me with nothing to say or think except, “I love you. Don’t leave me”. It’s a very desperate, helpless moment of existence that drains all joy and desire to live. Fortunately that level of intensity doesn’t last, and after a grieving period everything starts to re-callibrate, but I remember those moments when the prospect and realization of loss hit home.

      The first arc of SAO does a surprisingly good job of connecting the characters amidst the action and suspense of the series. The relationships and the love between them is simple. In a world where living is purely about survival and the ultimate hope of experiencing peace again, there’s no room for drama or games or any of the other garbage that clutters contemporary romance. There’s no need to be tactful or indirect; there isn’t time. In such a terrifying, joyless world, if you find happiness and something worthwhile beyond yourself, you embrace it and hold it more dear than your own existence.

      We know that real wars have forged deep bonds and love between those who fought in them, and this is one of the rare times when we are able to see that love manifest between a young man and woman. Their youth makes it uncluttered, awkward and simple, and the violent circumstance enhances the connection and streamlines the process.

      All that to say, the emotional beats in this series were very genuine and resonated with my own experience and projections. Sometimes anime is…odd. The way characters react to different situations and events often feels foreign to me; they are either too detached or too connected. They process things differently, assuming false absolutes or caring about the strangest things (from my westernized POV). SAO nailed each moment, including the reprieve in the forest and the connection with Yui. Through the animation, voice acting, and the very simple-yet-poignant dialogue, the raw desire, fear and love were palpable in several powerful moments.

      It’s that combination that made both main characters multi-dimensional. Kirito’s written off as a “badass” and Ausna is characterized as “strong”. While both classifications are true in a sense, the emotion they feel and openly express, as well as the lengths they will go to just to stay in each other’s lives makes them incredibly vulnerable. Typical “badasses” are allowed to show some signs of grief, but mostly it’s anger and vengeance that dominate. Kirito states many times that he isn’t powerful, he isn’t some amazing hero; he’s a kid trapped in a game who has good gaming reflexes and high stats. His constant awareness that strength in the game is mostly an illusion and that he actually can do very little to protect Asuna fosters compassion for him and his longing. The events of episode three are a constant reminder that despite his virtual power, the game isn’t fair and he ultimately cannot guarantee that anyone he cares about will survive. When he tearfully promises to get Asuna back to the real world and expresses his love for her, he does it not as an infallible avatar of victory simply having a tender moment, but as a boy with a fierce and desperate longing to protect the only person who gives his life purpose in the hopes of one day knowing her in the fullness of the real world.

      The same sentiments are true for Asuna. Stereotypical “strong” characters (particularly females) seemingly have to remain in control and aloof all the time. They can flirt with love, but never embrace it. They can shed a tear for loss, but not merely for the idea of loss. Asuna is highly skilled and focused during fights, and she is suitably reserved towards members of the very militant guild she’s a part of, but those traits clearly come from situational necessity. While her life before the game probably forged a degree of independence and defiance in her, when she feels safe and cherished, she becomes the open, exuberant, passionate young lady she was born to be.

      That level of depth isn’t typically realized and expressed in such a beautiful, surreal way. It’s hard for me to see it as contrived because I think if you’re telling a story about kids who have spent two years of their short lives fighting and dying together, emotions and passion will be fierce. Matured beyond their years, they found a love so simple and immersive that they don’t want to face a future without each other.

      To see that yearning and feel them desperately clinging to life–which is now defined by more than just their own existence–is a moving experience. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t like the second arc very much; while it ultimately provided catharsis, it seemed to be a very cruel twist to make reality–the supposed haven from the threat of eternal separation and misery–almost worse than the vicious virtual world they strove so hard to escape from. It’s no secret that the real world hardly means “happily ever after”, but all they wanted was “together ever after”. I can relate to that, which is why I mourn the characters who never got to experience it, and why seeing them have to let go of that dream and each other resonated so strongly with me.

  13. Lightning says:

    Something to point out that a lot of people seem to miss on the first half of the first season needs only to be pointed to a particular part in episode 3. It shows Kirito shoving off to grind out some levels. By episode 4, he has already managed to reach 4/5 of his level by the end of the arc. He uses this high level as a sort of buffer to lower his chances of being killed off.

    Outside of the battle plans made throughout the series to determine how to take out bosses, a lot of the leading parties spent an awful lot of time leveling, grinding out equipment, acquiring resources and so on. In a game without healer classes, these things would have been taken seriously by these groups.

    Not all of the floor bosses are going to be all that spectacular. Not all of the grinding is going to be all that exciting to watch either. Asuna even criticized Kirito in one episode for being too laid back. Once the chaos of the first few floors died off, and the seeming speed that floors started to get cleared off at about 9 days on average. Time to train, find out where the boss room, figure out what sort of boss it is and what sort of party is needed to defeat it, gathering resources, recruiting people, gathering gear from producing players, etc… Most of the time spent in Aincrad for the main party would have been boring to watch repeatedly. Kirito being far more relaxed than everyone else is likely part of the reason that anything from SAO is worth telling anyway.

  14. Rairai says:

    hello ! I am sorry i know i am really late on this topic , i started watching different anime very recently but i wanted to tell that SAO is an anime which literally toys around with the viewers emotions.After watching just the first season, it has literally made me nervous to watch the second season….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.