Some of you readers may remember that I have wanted to do some sort of colloquium with another blogger for quite some time now. I am happy to introduce you to Myst from the blog Through the Frozen Glass, with whom I will blog the fifteenth episode of Sword Art Online. Hopefully you will enjoy it as much we did! And since this is our first time, please provide your thoughts!
Marow: After the last few weeks of utter disappointment and mental torture, it really surprises me that Sword Art Online yet again manages to make me interested, just like it once did with its very first episode.
With the first “arc”, or game, finished, the return to the real world is a breath of fresh air. Gone is the confusing and unrealized concept of being trapped in a game. Moreover, the lack of focus is also a thing of the past. Instead, this new arc of Sword Art Online sets up a visible goal with a drive, plus it even gives some character development (although, one could argue how much development cardboard characters can get) right from the get-go.
In contrast to the first arc, this one seems to be much more thought out. Asuna, playing the role of damsel in distress, has yet to awaken and naturally Kirito has to rescue her by going into another game, this time with… with… elf ears (excuse me while I barf). Here, we have the character motivation and a plot that hints at this being a rather linear experience.
Even the obvious villain, Sugou the pervert, has a reason for his actions, something the previous arc completely botched. Add a little background information to the characters (such as Kirito being adopted) and it all seems to be so much more focused this time around.
Myst: It is interesting that you mention the new plot being a “linear experience” because the first arc was also a linear experience. The end goal of the SAO arc was to clear all one-hundred bosses in order to escape the game. That is about as straightforward as it gets. Unfortunately, that particular plot doesn’t lend itself to being a very exciting experience as there is only so many times we can watch a boss fight before getting tired of it.
In comparison, the plot for the new arc is also fairly straightforward and linear. Dive into a new MMO and rescue Asuna from the clutches of the evil villain is both linear and unoriginal. But if there is anything that this clichéd, rage-inducing new plot offers it would be that the focus on a singular objective gives the story a better opportunity to build around it. As much as I hate the idea of Asuna’s “damsel in distress” level going through the roof, she does at least function as a centerpiece for the rest of the story. The new story, new villain, and arguably even the imouto all focus around Asuna. In terms of focus, this is a little better than Sword Art Online’s scattered first arc.
That said, I would disagree that the new villain, Sugou, is any better than Heathcliff. Sure, he has motives, which is what Heathcliff lacked. However, essentially the story has just traded out a villain of one extreme for one of the next. If Heathcliff was the villain that was non-existent, Sugou is the villain that is evil for the sake of being evil. Calling Sugou the antagonist because he does evil things is like saying the protagonist is the protagonist because he/she is the one who does nice things. He’s just a comically evil villain put in place for us to hate on.
Marow: As you said, the plot of the first arc was also a rather straightforward and linear experience. However, I would argue that in comparison to this new one, SAO was very scattered. While it primarily was about beating the game, everything that happened, and could have happened, barely mattered for the overall plot, making it very unfocused. Since every player could advance at her own pace and do whatever she pleased, there was an obvious lack of urgency. Nothing really mattered. To me, this made it appear as having a lack of focus, something the side-stories did not help with in the slightest.
The difference now is that in this new arc, there is a, what I would call, proper focus. Or as you called it: “a focus on a singular objective (Asuna)”. This does not leave room for anything outside of that very objective, which is a good thing to me when taking how Sword Art Online shallowly handles things into account. Since Kirito has a time-limit on bringing Asuna back to the real world, there is no time for helping every female he meets. Or at least, so I wish.
I do agree with Sugou being a very poor antagonist on the other hand. But I would rather take someone who is evil for the sake of being evil over a mass murderer who talks about magical flying castles because why the heck not. It is not that much better, but since when has Sword Art Online done anything remarkably good? The best we can expect from this new arc is for it to be decent. Luckily for me, I believe it might just be that.
Myst: I’m afraid I’m not quite as optimistic as you are with regards to this new villain. If anything, I might start preferring the old villain, Heathcliff, to the new antagonist if things develop as I suspect. I really hate his character and what he represents.
Marow: I think you are falling right into the trap. It seems as if Sugou’s entire reason to exist is to be someone the viewer will hate. It would not surprise me if he molests Asuna or anything similar just to induce even more hate. Wait, is this more wish-fulfillment?
Myst: Right, as I said before, he is the comically evil villain that we are supposed to hate. The story doesn’t bother to hide the fact that Sugou’s role in the story is to violate Asuna, and this in particular is what bothers me. The reason why I don’t like Sugou’s character is because he represents the annoying and utterly wrong idea that rape makes the story darker or more mature. Rape or violence doesn’t make a story more mature, it just makes it gratuitous. Also, as creepy as it sounds, I think you are right about this being more wish-fulfillment. It’s pretty screwed up, but having the girl get abused and violated by the villain is all part of the fantasy. It makes the hero seem even more heroic when he comes and rescues her from the clutches of the filthy antagonist.
The story may have moved into a new arc, but as a show Sword Art Online really hasn’t changed on the inside. It is still male wish-fulfillment in a horribly misused setting. That said, the switch from SAO to whatever new MMO it will be does create some interest for me. Most notably with how things will differ from the first arc now that players are no longer trapped in the world and threatened by death should they be killed in-game. The interactions between Kirito and Suguha in the dojo were the most interesting part of episode fifteen because it reflected on Kirito’s time trapped in the game-world. My hope is that after the story has dived into the next MMO, there will still be moments out in the real-world that reflect upon the events in the virtual reality.
Marow: Well, let us hope, shall we?