Sword Art Online – 01 Review
SAO II 01 – The Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For
Sword Art Online 2. It’s what anime fans across the world have been waiting for, right? I, too, have been waiting for this day, with clenched fists and gritted teeth. Something about the first few episodes of SAO 1 captured my imagination, and then it went downhill. Quickly. A series I loved transformed into a series I hated, but I kept watching every week hoping it would get better. Sadly, it did not. What will SAO 2 bring?
So…. What exactly was my beef with the first season of SAO?
At some point in the first series, Asuna transformed from a skilled gamer girl into a coveted treasure-drop. Asuna became an in-game object – an ideal-beautiful-idiot-female-stereotype-object. Although looking back, I think she was always intended to be this way, but it really became apparent to me when Kirito and Asuna acquired Yui. Asuna’s response was to pretend that she and Kirito had a baby; her instinct was to play house and be the good mom and loving wife. Throughout the whole Yui-is-our-child arc, Kirito was the one who had to bring Asuna to her senses; he had to stand up and be the “strong stoic man” and drag her out of her fantasy world and back to the front lines. Asuna followed Kirito, not because she wanted to beat the game or rescue everyone in it, but because beating the game meant that she and Kirito could be together in real life.
How did Asuna go from this (left) to this (right)??
That was the point when Asuna became a Kirito-worshipping-bot. After that, Asuna’s only motivation for anything was to be with Kirito, or to save Kirito, or whatever: Kirito, Kirito, Kirito. As a result, the little bit of personality she had, and any chance for meaningful character development was totally lost. Asuna was no longer a character in the story, she was just one of Kirito’s accessories.
Asuna’s change into an object was never more apparent than in the second half of the first season. She was literally an object in a cage in ALO, and just a helpless vegetable in real life. The only reason she existed at all was to be the prize in the who-has-the-bigger-dick battle between Sugou and Kirito. Also, by the second half of the series, SAO had fully fallen into the typical harem genre; every girl that Kirito interacted with fell in love with him instantly, including his own sister.
Here are some classic baka-Asuna moments.
Sadly for Asuna, SAO 2 picks up where SAO 1 left off. Asuna, as the female-type-object, is spouting totally inane, totally stereotypical-female fluff at Kirito. Asuna is the epitome of bland femaleness: she nags Kirito about doing his laundry, she listens wide-eyed to Kirito’s explanations of technology and reality (typical complicated man-thoughts, right?), and when asked about her future plans, she replies that she has no ambitions, hopes, or dreams – she just wants to be with Kirito forever.
Ahhhh! Yuck! It’s just gross. Asuna has become a catch-all for what the author thinks is female-ness – she’s a mom nagging about chores, she’s a child who thinks Kirito is her omniscient father, and she’s a dull and obedient wife who exists only as Kirito’s sidekick. Clearly, the author of the light novels has never had any meaningful relationships with women. If he had, he would know that women (every single one of them) have personalities that are just as multifaceted and developed as those of men. Maybe that was the problem though? Perhaps the writer had bad experiences with women, and grew into being a bitter misogynist, who wished all women were mute, tit-and-vagina-bearing-objects to cook for him and do his laundry?
In the light novels, when Kirito is meeting at the restaurant with the government agent, Kikuoka Seijirou, he talks about the motivation of male gamers:
“…Boys will, no matter who, always seek strength at one point or another… doing things such as reading fighting-based manga and wanting to train the same way they do. But, usually most of them will immediately recognize the futility of doing so, and start to pursue a more realistic goal… – I see, then are VRMMO’s not another chance to pursue such goals, I wonder.”
So what exactly do girls do? Girls always want to play house and fantasize about getting married to Prince Charming, giving birth to his brats, washing his dirty underwear, and sitting around cooking while he plays video games? What the hell?!?! Women never train in dojos, or play at sword fighting, or study hard so they can out-perform their male peers on exams? Women never lift weights, become CEO’s, join the track team, or go into politics? Women don’t care about becoming powerful; they just want to find a powerful man to follow around, right? Little girls should practice giggling, blushing, putting on makeup, and acting like retards, of course. Arghhhh!
Is this new girl, Shinon, another part of Kirito’s harem?
I don’t want to lay all the blame on the author, Reki Kawahara. Unfortunately, I think this objectification of women is very common in shounen series, and much of the anime- and gaming-related media that I’ve seen. You ask: “Why is that, Kelfio?” Well, I’ve got a few theories about that. However, I am going to spare you the hard truths of the origins of otaku-misogyny for now. As the series progresses, I will probably get inspired frustrated enough to share my thoughts.
Anyways, back to my review.
I came into SAO 2 expecting to hate it, since I hated the last half of SAO 1. Surprisingly though, I liked what was presented in this episode. If I can ignore my issues with Asuna (and the treatment of women in general in this series), I might end up really enjoying this sequel.
While re-watching some of SAO 1 in preparation for Episode 1 of SAO 2, I thought about why I hated the series so much. After all, there are tons of misogynist, harem-genre, big-dick-hero anime, right? And none of them really offended me, so why did SAO? I mean, I even watched both seasons of High School DxD, and I thought it was a fun series that I would recommend to anyone wanting to see an anime with nipples. I’ve come to the conclusion that I ended up hating the series so much simply because I loved it so much at the beginning.
Aincrad really was pretty, wasn’t it?
What I most enjoyed about SAO was the ideas that were presented. It made me think, “Could something like this ever actually happen in real life?” It also made me think about the advances in technology required to make something like the Nerve Gear, and what that would mean for the neuroscience field. If scientists understood the brain well enough to make a gaming console like that, they would likely be able to cure brain- and nerve-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis. How cool is that? It also made me wonder if VR games could be used for post-operative rehabilitation. When Kirito came back from SAO, his body was weak, but he retained muscle memory of sword swinging and other things he learned in the game. That could be a total game-changer for someone recovering from a stroke. There could be other applications too; I understand that if you do things while lucid dreaming, like practicing playing a musical instrument, the practice time and skills obtained will remain even after waking. Could a VR-game like SAO be used in a similar way? Awesome!
SAO was special because of this. The recent SAO-knock-off series, Log Horizon, wasn’t thought provoking for me at all. Why? I think it’s because SAO always made a point of reminding the viewer that the real world was still around. Even when deep in the game, the fact that dying in SAO meant dying in real life kept the story relevant and sharp. Actions in the game had consequences in real life, and the impact on the characters of being stuck in a video game for two years was apparent when they returned.
It wasn’t much, but briefly showing the news reports of gamers being transported to hospitals and their suffering families prevented SAO from falling into the trap that most anime do – teenagers doing special things in a vacuum. An example of that vacuum: in No Game No Life, Sora and Shiro were abducted from earth and teleported into a game universe. Where were their parents? What happened to their bodies? Didn’t someone report them as missing persons to the police? Most anime don’t take the time to answer troubling questions like that. SAO did, and did it pretty well.
Here are some of the new menaces of SAO 2.
Luckily, SAO 2 seems to be a return to that thought-provoking-goodness that was the highlight of SAO 1 for me. SAO 2 seems like it may turn into more of a mystery-thriller series, rather than the harem-princess-saving abomination it degraded into at the end of SAO 1. That makes me really happy.
I also like the fact that there’s a government agent involved. While Kikuoka Seijirou seems at first glance to be a convenient way to advance the plot of a story that should have ended, he actually enhances the continuity of the story. If 4,000 people died in a video game, and evil scientists trapped people in comas to do unethical research on their brains, it only makes sense that the government would get involved. It’s a bit of a stretch that the equivalent of the Department of Homeland Security would ask a kid like Kirito to be an agent, but it’s an anime after all. For me, it’s bringing back one of SAO’s original good points: the game-incident actually had consequences for people in the real world.
The new GGO world.
I’m curious to see this new, post-The-Seed universe that Kirito and Asuna helped to create. I’ll miss the gorgeous scenery of Aincrad, but the world of Gun Gale Online seems promising. GGO looks post-apocalyptic; with it as a back-drop, I can imagine SAO 2 being darker than SAO 1. With this new setting, introducing connections between game-play and real-life murder and money, SAO 2 is gearing up to be a much more adult-themed series than its predecessor.
All in all, if I can prevent myself from seeing red when Asuna is on screen, I think I am going to like SAO 2. I am pleased that this new series seems to be a return to what I loved about SAO 1. I can’t promise that I won’t be driven to more anti-misogyny rants, but hopefully the thought-provoking content will outshine the woman-hating that is characteristic of the series. The fresh, mature setting and scary new villain are exciting. And, hopefully, Shinon will be an intelligent and skilled female gamer who is more than just another member of Kirito’s harem.
What do you readers think about SAO 2? Love it? Hate it? Tell me what you think in the comments! 🙂
Also, did anyone else notice the suspiciously Kirito-like female character in the ED? How do you all think that will play out?
Episode Rating: 7.5/10.0