I’m confused. Did I just witness some character development in Sword Art Online II? Who let that happen? I guess Kawahara Reki must have remembered that Asuna exists and might stand to have a little bit of time dedicated to her character that wasn’t entirely demeaning and misogynist. The material isn’t too much, to be sure: the storyline is telegraphing some arranged marriage proposal that Asuna, like an idiot, naturally won’t tell anyone about until the most inconvenient time, creating some emotional drama and no doubt requiring some shenanigans in ALO-land to rectify because the evil, lecherous man with rapey-eyes will just happen to play ALO hardcore. Or something like that. They could just play a children’s card game and save some time, you know. What’s nice is that Asuna stopped being the neglected trophy wife for an episode and was depicted as something resembling an actual human being, even though she’s still not fucking Kirito every second they’re alone together like a repressed rich girl would. Here we saw a little bit of refreshing criticism, as paltry as it was, toward Japanese culture and its treatment of women. Asuna had the gall to say that dressing up in kimonos and play the part of a rich girl sucked, even though none of her friends took her seriously despite all the obvious red flags she was waving. You guys are terrible friends, by the way. Can’t you take a hint? Sinon didn’t even see Shinkawa coming, and that shit was color-coded with neon lights and blaring trumpets.
Kirito, of course, is over there not noticing any of this because he’s a moron. I don’t hold this against him, though, since it serves to make him less of a Mary Sue. The guy is really only good for defying computer code in contrived life-or-death situations. When it comes to the normal grind of everyday life, he’s just another Joe Schmoe. Moreover, he’s always sucked ass at reading people or paying attention to the emotional needs of the friends/creepy admirers he’s surrounded himself with. It’s not like we had an entire half of a season to watch this character flaw unfold in slow motion. Oh wait, we did.
So Asuna is going to fight this Zekken guy and probably win, leading to her getting a badass Original Sword Skill. That would be nice. It would be nicer if Kirito had nothing to do with her success in this particular venture and this arc focused on her doing things her own way. Am I holding my breath? You know the answer, but still, this was the first SAO2 episode in a while that didn’t rub me the wrong way. There is some balm in Gilead after all.
Kirito Sue the Magnificent is the biggest cheater on the face of the planet.
This was a bad episode. The writers skimped on everything here. Instead of doing something ambitious, like, say, crafting an epic duel between Kirito and Sinon over several episodes that might define the whole season, having them go back and forth and using the terrain, environments, etc. to play to their strengths and weaknesses, while diving into the themes and issues they brought up in this episode during the battle–something an anime made ten years ago would’ve done without the slightest bit of hesitation–they set up some stupid traumatic memory to get Kirito REALLY ANGRY, then have him win because reasons. We all knew this was going to happen, but the devil’s in the details, kids. Sinon misses like ten shots when she’s sitting completely still while Kirito is standing completely still and not making the slightest bit of effort to move. Not one of them hit him, too. Not even a graze. Given how probability works in these games, I’m pretty sure *one* of them should have damaged him. Furthermore, the sudden shift in Sinon’s behavior was just stupid. She’s already stared down some monsters while her teammates were getting massacred and handled everything perfectly. Why the fuck does she care if this random twerp she’s come across is throwing the match? If you want to set up Sinon as some stone-cold killer, you have to be consistent about it, not transform her into a weak-willed Japanese girl falling for Kirito’s nonexistent charms on the turn of a dime/bullet. Come on, writers: this is basic character development. Ugh.
I also didn’t buy Kirito’s whole PTSD thing. How many people did he kill in SAO? Why is he all of the sudden remembering this now? Like, haven’t we already gone through this character arc before? You’re not going to get me to believe Kirito is still wrapped up in that. One, it cheapens the real issues that people with PTSD go through, and two, it just feels way too forced and convenient here to be really convincing. Also, Sinon, why the fuck didn’t you just call for a reset on the duel, cool your jets, and kick the guy’s ass? Why settle for conditions where you know Kirito can pull some of his crazy shit you’ve been watching for hours already?
This episode was not as bad as last week’s, but it wasn’t as good as the three before that either. Only the abrupt resolution of the gender confusion subplot, something no experienced online gamer would find shocking in the slightest, surprised me. I had thought they would drag that out for a good while longer. In retrospect, this ruined the episode for me, as it just wasn’t believable that Sinon was so naive about guys using female avatars. This would be like being astounded at finding out that online gamers cuss or something. The nerve!
The rest was smooth, predictable sailing on a balmy sea. Kirito had his first match and won; it was the opposite of gripping. Really? A hardcore MMO hasn’t figured out how to make melee weapons work? You don’t say. To add insult to injury, Sinon got little screentime, because “fuck feminism,” says Japan. Death Gun finally showed up, confronting Kirito mask-to-face and implying he’s someone he’s met before. How did Kirito discern this from a sterile video game avatar? Why would Death Gun have an obscure tattoo to identify himself with? Seems kinda problematic.
Anyway, not very exciting, but not boring. Whatever.
Just dodge the damn telegraphs, Sinon. Haven’t you played Wildstar? Anyway, I really don’t have too much to say about this episode, other than it’s the worst of the season so far. Kirito did some bullshit because reasons, while Sinon stood around explaining gameplay mechanics that aren’t likely to ever play any significant role again. This is what I don’t like about SAO: the writing is far too lazy. Instead of using the gameplay mechanics it goes out of its way to demonstrate and establish in order to create compelling constraints for the characters to overcome, the series just plays the Deus Ex Machina card as much as it can. It felt like they copy-pasted an episode from season 1. Likewise, I hate how Kirito doesn’t have to worry about the stat mechanics and shit in this “hardcore” game. You might want to withdraw that adjective, as no “hardcore” game I know of allows that kind of nonsense. Whatever.
I was delighted by the fact that they hired a native English speaker–or at least someone who knows how to pronounce the language–to voice the gunman NPC. “I’m gonna shoot you from here to the Moon!” You’re getting there, Japan. Keep trying. Go for it with gusto. Moreover, I didn’t buy how somehow the game offers melee weapons but makes them completely useless. MMO players are notoriously good at optimization and min-maxing. If someone figured out how to pull off a melee build with success, it would’ve been done long before Kirito Sue ever showed up.
Yeah, kinda of a letdown compared to the last two episodes. We saw the seeds of Sinon falling for Kirito too at the end there. Blaaaaaaaaaaah. I’ll be a little bummed if this turns out to be the season’s peak. Let’s hope not.