Tag Archives: Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 6

I could have sat down and guessed at potential plots for this show all day long, and I have to admit, I never would have predicted this one. I thought there would be some mysterious, shadowy conspiracy, or an evil villain trying to hack the game, but Karen drawn into the romantic nonsense of two certifiably insane people? Did not see that coming.

First, let’s deal with the rhythmic gymnastics team. Initially I thought having the girls meet up with Karen post-Squad Jam was just a pointless bit of fluff, but as the girls explained their motivation for playing GGO, they presented a good justification for the existence of violent video games in general. Thanks to GGO, the girls were able to become “war buddies,” without the risk or inconvenience of actual war. They’ve bonded as a team, and while they could have done that in many different ways, fighting for their virtual lives together was a very effective way to do it.

However, before you think the show is declaring “Violent games are great! Video Games will solve all problems!” it becomes pretty obvious that there’s a downside; the girls don’t seem to care too much about their chosen sport anymore. They started playing to improve their teamwork, but the means became an end unto itself. I wonder how often this happens in real life; people play games in part to address specific problems, only to get so into the game that they forgot about the problem in the first place. It’s something that’s likely to only become more common as games get more immersive, so it’s an important thing to look out for.

Gun Gale Online: Quite possibly the only MMO where the gamers are actually more attractive in real life than they are in the game.

Then there’s Pito, who’s so upset that she missed out on Sword Art Online the first time around that she’s trying to put another Death Game together. Logically, thinking about the way even the most horrible things seem to become memes that people want to repeat, it makes perfect sense that someone would do this. I mean, Pito and M are clearly nuts (which Karen realizes immediately), but it’s completely believable that they would be crazy in this exact way.

What this storyline seems to be dealing with is how the world would have changed in the wake of the Death Game, but from a different angle from the original series. The main show dealt with a lot of the details, like how SAO kids were sent to a special school for survivors and whatnot, but this show seems to be dealing with how the broader culture has changed as a result.*

I hesitate to bring up school shootings, because I don’t want to get dragged into a gun control argument (and whatever merits those arguments may have, I don’t think there’s any point to having one here), but there are obvious parallels. No matter what we try to do about it, school shootings are part of the culture of the United States right now: it’s awful, frightening, sickening culture, but it’s real. Now, in this anime’s world, killing and dying in real life based on video games is becoming the new culture.

I wonder how much we have to worry about this in the future. Up until now, video games (violent and otherwise) have done little to inspire real-life violence. I’m sure there’re cases where players have hunted down other players in real life to get revenge for in-game altercations, but considering just how many people play video games, that sort of thing is still astonishingly rare. Will it remain so? Are we just waiting on a grisly, seminal event, to get it ingrained in the public consciousness to the point where it becomes a meme, and thus, infinitely repeatable?

This is getting a little too dark for one of my typical anime posts, I think. But one of the things SAO does well, just like Ghost in the Shell, is get us to anticipate societal problems that new technology may enable, before that technology exists. Maybe it’ll never exist; maybe virtual reality will remain as basically clunky and limited as it is now (unlikely, but possible I guess), and we’ll never experience the full-dive games Karen and Pito play. Maybe killing yourself in real life because you died in a game will never take off as a concept. But if games continue to become more and more immersive, this is something we’re eventually going to have to deal with.

I’m impressed that this show brought this problem to my attention, but I think I probably would have been happier if I could have remained ignorant a little longer. So I’m an impressed, depressed anime blogger right now.

Just in case this was all too serious for you, here’s Goushi being ridiculous, because he is a crazy man with an even crazier girlfriend. Come to think of it, is Pito even his girlfriend? He could just work for her, for all we know.

*I don’t want to say that mainline SAO never tackles these themes, because I haven’t read novels. I’m just comparing this show to the other animated entries in the franchise that we’ve had so far.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episodes 4 & 5

It’s just as well that I’m doubling up on these episodes, because I don’t have a whole lot to say about these two. The action was quite entertaining, but there’s a limit to the amount of times I can say “LLENN is really fast and agile and it looks cool.” Come to think of it, LLENN is so fast that if this GGO thing ever starts to get old, she could consider racing the horse girls on the track in Uma Musume. I even hear that a spot may be opening up….

Episode 5: Real Guns Are Not A Joke

This episode touched on something that doesn’t get mentioned often, and I’m really glad that it did. I’m not really into shooting, but I did spend some time at the rifle range as a teenager and have some idea how real shooting works. I’ve also played video games where you shoot a gun, and it’s very different from the real thing. I assume, as games have gotten more realistic, some have added targeting mechanics that are more akin to real shooting, but in general, real life shooting and in-game shooting don’t have a whole lot in common.

Since GGO is fully virtual reality, the game could emulate real shooting accurately, but this episode goes into why the game designers deliberately chose not to do that. Still, because the option for manual targeting exists, someone like M– who obviously has quite a bit of real life experience– can smoke the competition, because he can bypass all of the bells and whistles that were put in to make the game more competitive.

I just appreciate this acknowledgement, both that real-life shooting and game shooting are different (and probably will continue to be different in the future), and that developing good marksmanship in real life is time-consuming and difficult. Too many people labor under the illusion that a few hours playing a first-person shooter can turn someone into the equivalent of a deadly mercenary, and that’s just not how it works.

All that is overshadowed by a twist ending though, when M turns on LLENN and nearly kills her in-game. At the time, I thought M had just been told (or perhaps lied to) that the SAO-style “if you die in the game, you die in real life” rules were back in effect, and he had panicked. This led me to wonder if M is an SAO survivor, which– considering his military experience– seems like pretty bad luck. I mean, how cursed do you have to be that you have people shooting at you for a living, then when you go to play video games on your day off, you’re stuck in some deranged programmer’s murder fantasy?

Episode 6: P-chan, A Requiem

You can shoot at LLENN, kick her, try to blow her up with a plasma grenade; but when you hurt her gun, that’s when she has just HAD IT with you and your crap.

Fortunately, the show went a less predictable route. Instead of the Death Game rules being reinstated, M is just afraid that Pito will kill him, because apparently that there bitch be crazy. The way he talks about it though, it sounds like either Pito is an SAO survivor, or simply obsessed with the SAO event. I think it’s important to remember that even though we’re not dealing with the SAO game anymore, the whole SAO Death Game tragedy is a major historical event in this world, and the repercussions from that are still being felt. I know people who have limited tolerance for this franchise want SAO Alternative to distance itself as much from its predecessor as possible, but I think that’s misguided; that history is important.

This episode then features a bizarre sequence where either a stressed-out LLENN hallucinates her gun, P-chan, talking to her, OR P-chan achieves sentience. I’m 99% sure it’s supposed to be the first scenario and meant as comic relief, but part of me is hoping the guns in GGO are becoming sentient AI because that would be batshit insane and I kind of dig it. It would also be a lot like the Tachikomas in Ghost in the Shell, further proving my theory that SAO and it’s spinoffs are all really GITS: Junior.

I get a weird Pink Elephants on Parade vibe from LLENN talking to her pink gun while the gun bats it’s eyelashes at her. That’s cool though, I love Dumbo. Underrated masterpiece, that film.

In the climax of Squad Jam, LLENN takes on a squad full of Amazon-like soldier women, using Kirito-like skills to edge out a victory while outnumbered. I wonder if the people who claim to like this show because LLENN is not Kirito are now saying “Dammit, LLENN is just like Kirito, screw this show!”, or if LLENN’s badassery makes Kirito less egregious, because he’s less special if other people have the same skills? Whatever.

At the end of Squad Jam, Karen seems to have come to terms with her height, which is…a little forced, but I’ll accept it. I can see how being in that kind of adrenalin-pumping situation would force someone to reevaluate their priorities a little bit. What’s awesome is that the team she was playing against turns out to be the same group of cute girls she’s been walking past every episode, which means that the girls are using GGO to deal with their height the same way Karen is. Apparently, no one smokes the competition in the FPS games of the future like girls with serious body image issues.

Seriously though, it’s pretty cool that the final battle of this big tournament came down to LLENN, who isn’t meant to be sexy at all, versus a bunch of bulky warrior women who also weren’t portrayed as sexy. In terms of representation, this is a pretty rare thing for anime (and in general), but because this is SAO, the franchise that must be slammed for misogyny at every turn, expect the series to get absolutely zero credit for doing this.

Well, that was all fun, but I can’t say I’m super-excited to see next week’s episode. If the big question left looming is “Is Pito actually super-duper insane?”, then that’s a problem, since I still don’t care about Pito. However, this show has been competent enough that I pretty much trust them to keep my interest moving forward, however they end up doing it.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 3

LLENN’s face in the picture above kind of mirrors my feelings on this episode. I appreciate what the show has done– starting us out in media res for the first episode, then carefully explaining who these people are and what they’re doing– but it’s taking a little too long. I think half of this episode could have been spent on the material covered here, and then we could have gotten back to the Squad Jam, where the action is happening. Too much time in this episode is spent going over the mechanics of the game, most of which we already knew from seeing it in action during episode 1.

On the subject of Squad Jam, I have mixed feelings about the origin of the tournament that we’re given here. Apparently SJ came about because someone was so inspired by Kirito and Sinon’s cooperation during the Ballet of Bullets* that he wanted to see a whole tournament based around team play. I appreciate the reference to the mainline SAO story, but uh…someone really needed to see Kirito and Sinon work together to get the inspiration for team-based play in a shooter? How anti-social is the playerbase of GGO that “Hey, maybe we could have a tournament featuring teams that work together,” is treated as some kind of innovative suggestion? You would think they would just do that as a matter of course.

I appreciate getting more insight into Karen’s life (and not just because we have the same name), but I’m not sure what to make about her fangirling over her favorite singer in this episode. Writing the fan letter seems like an immature thing to do, but then again, she is a fairly young girl; I think I’m making the mistake of assuming that because she’s tall and looks mature, she must therefore be mature. If that was the intention, wow, way to mess with me on a meta-level, show.

Anyway, I’m impatient for them to get back to the Squad Jam, not so much because I want to see it, but more to get it over with so the show can move on to other things. I’m pretty sure there’s a compelling plot in here somewhere, and I’d like to be introduced to it one of these days.

*I know CR calls it the Bullet of Bullets, but I refuse to accept that. It’s the Ballet of Bullets until Reki Kawahara personally tells me otherwise.*

 

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode Two

There’s some good news: this episode provides a clear answer to the main question I’ve had about this show all along, which is “Why doesn’t Karen just play ALO?” The bad news is it’s a stupid answer.

Apparently, in 2025, avatar customization options do not exist in MMORPGs, and you are stuck with random character rolls. So Karen (player of the LLENN avatar) starts playing Gun Gale Online because it’s the first game where she rolls a short, cute avatar. That is literally the only reason why she starts playing; she rolled a short character.

Okay, I don’t have a problem with the fact that Karen wanted to play someone short and cute (more on that later), but how, in 2025, do they not have any avatar customization options in any of these games? Why can’t she just choose to play a short character in ALO, or whatever game she wants? This seems like a really obvious feature to be missing from games in the SAO world.

This shot bugs me because I’ve had the maxim “never point your gun at anything you don’t intend to destroy” drilled into my head, and it looks especially wrong to break this rule at a shooting range, where gun safety etiquette is paramount. I know that this is a virtual shooting range in a video game and no one is actually at risk, but something about it still kind of bugs me. Don’t use GGO to teach bad gun etiquette, world of 2025!

If you want to overthink it (who? me?), it could have something to do with how Sword Art Online started, in-universe. That game did have avatar customization, which was then undone by the villain once the Death Game plan was revealed, leaving people effectively naked without their chosen avatars. So it could be that in MMO culture in this world, avatar customization options are associated with  SAO because that’s the last time they were used, and no one wants to be reminded of that. Maybe it’s a superstitious thing, like the way some buildings don’t include a 13th floor. Alternately, it could just be that for some reason, the people developing these games all decided at some point that rolling random avatars was the best way to keep everybody honest, rather than letting people stack the deck in various ways.

Really, I would accept many explanations for why there’s no customization in GGO or any of these other “advanced” MMORPGs; I’m just a little ticked that we don’t get one at all. This is probably one of those things where I have to go read the novel for it to make sense, right?

Anyway, back to Karen’s desire to play as a short character, that I don’t have any problem with. As a six-foot-tall woman in Japan, she’s used to standing out, and she wants to use VR to experience the other side of the coin for once. Also, her comments early in the episode to the effect of “if only I were small and cute…” can actually be interpreted as a tiny bit of commentary on moe as a phenomenon. Just as seeing women with thin bodies held up as the standard in art and advertising can upset women with stockier builds (whether it should or not, or whether it should to the extent that it often does is another story), seeing women with small bodies as the standard can be upsetting if you happen to be really tall.

Tao Okamoto, the actress who played Mariko Yashida in The Wolverine, said that she always felt out of place as a tall Japanese girl, so she related to the story of the mutants in the X-Men movies. Now remember that Karen is supposed to be several inches taller than Okamoto is, and imagine how she must feel.

Also, it’s not just a cosmetic difference. Karen is used to bumping her head on signs and always being seen, wherever she goes; as the tiny LLENN, not only is she extraordinarily agile, but she can hide from other players with ease. It’s not just about being small and cute, it’s about choosing when and if people see her, after feeling like she’s been on display for her whole life. I can see why that experience would be liberating for her, and would make the game more addictive.

So I’m definitely on board with Karen’s motivations for playing the game and playing the way that she does, but I’m still not sure if I have that much interest beyond that. In addition to introducing Karen and LLENN properly, this episode also introduces Pito, another female GGO player with a penchant for PVP combat. I think I’m supposed to be anticipating the inevitable LLENN vs. Pito fight, but so far, I really don’t care about Pito. Funny note: I just dropped into Wikipedia to double-check what Pito’s name was, Wikipedia spoiled me as to Pito’s true identity (which is exactly what I thought it was), and I still don’t care about her.

Trying to work up the energy to care about Pito…trying again…caring engines at maximum thrust…Imma givin’ ’em all I can, Captain…nope just don’t care nope nope nope

Plus, GGO just looks so boring to play. At least the PVE campaign looks action-packed, but once LLENN “graduates” to PVP, she seems to spend most of her time sitting around in the desert, waiting for targets to show up. If you’re watching an anime about a video game, I think it helps if it looks like a game you’d actually like to play; then again, maybe it’s just me? Maybe a lot of viewers would love to play a game like GGO, and I’m the only one with this problem?

Anyway, I’m interested enough to keep tuning in and see what Karen/LLENN are up to next week, but for me to really get into this show, either it has to introduce more than one character that I care about, or the action has to get more interesting; or hey, even both. I wouldn’t say no to both.

Otakusphere Weekly #13: Sword Art Online

Download this episode (right click and save)

In our first “Let’s look back and talk about an anime we all think was significant” episode, we discuss Sword Art Online, warts and all. We also bid farewell to a bunch of shows including And You Thought There Was Never A Girl Online, High School Fleet, Cerberus (sniff), Anne-Happy (sniff), and Pan de Peace (no sniff.)

…and that’s all I’ve got this week. Normally I try to tease a bunch of stuff we talked about to get you to listen to the episode, but it’s been a rough day and I just want to take a nap. Do I come to your house and say mean things about your podcast? No, I don’t, so what are you doing here? What do you mean you’re not in my house? If it’s not you, then who’s in my house? Do they have cake?

On second thought, screw this anime nonsense, I’m starting a podcast all about cake. The answer was right in front of me all along.

00:00:25 Sword Art Online discussion: what makes the show interesting, where does it falter, and why is it so hated by anime bloggers in particular?

SENPAI LEAGUE
00:43:38 Shonen Maid 11
00:49:19 Kiznaiver 12 (END)
00:59:25 Re:Zero 13
01:04:14 Macross Delta 13
01:08:41 And You Thought There Was Never A Girl Online 12 (END)

KOHAI LEAGUE
01:19:30 High School Fleet 12 (END)
01:23:38 Anne-Happy 12 (END)
01:26:47 Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto 11
01:34:09 Tanaka-kun is Always Listless 12 (END)
01:36:45 Cerberus 12 (END)

chibi leage
01:41:37 Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou (END)
01:45:11 Space Patrol Luluco 13 (END)
01:51:34 Pan de Peace (END)

Notes:

  1. I wrote a piece a few years back picking apart the various fan complaints with SAO, so if you want to see some things addressed that we only touched on in the podcast, give it a whirl. I had no idea until just now, but people are still leaving comments on it.
  2. We recorded this just before AX, thus before the announcement that the SAO TV series was continuing in Spring 2017. So if you’re wondering why we seem confused about when/if SAO was coming back, it’s because we didn’t know until a day or two later.

Sword Art Online II, Ep. 2: Sniper chaps

Sinon1Really, all there is to say about this episode is “Wow, Sinon is a badass, huh?” That’s not such a bad thing; considering she’s clearly going to be very important in the GGO arc, spending an episode introducing her is reasonable. But beyond wondering what a seemingly honorable girl like Sinon is doing with a bunch of thugs who steal other players’ virtual lunch money, I didn’t have many thoughts on this episode.

I just took it as an excuse to draw Chibi-Sinon above, which I have mixed feelings about: On the one hand, Sinon is fun to draw, but on the other, if I ever want to do a “serious” drawing of her, I’ll have to learn how to draw all her damn guns. And rifles with long barrels require actual rulers and everything. Dammit.

Oh, and I hear the “criticism” of this episode was that “no one would really take video games that seriously.” I’m just…what? Really? You really can’t imagine people taking a game super-seriously? People already treat the console war metagame as though it were a matter of life and death, but thinking that virtual-reality assassins would be really absorbed into their VR game is just crossing a line?

Wow.

Hopefully next time I’ll have something to say about SAO II, since I’m assuming Kirito enters a new world and tries to bring a sword to a gunfight, or something. I hear you’re really, really not supposed to do that.

Sword Art Online II, Ep. 1: Dating for nerds

KiritoAsunaSo, Sword Art Online kicked off another season. Not much happens in this first episode, but the mystery of “How are people being killed in a videogame THIS TIME?” is compelling enough to keep me interested.

I only have a few thoughts on this episode so far, so I figured I’d just dash them off in devil-may-care note format. A rebel is me! Continue reading Sword Art Online II, Ep. 1: Dating for nerds

On Sword Art Online 24

I noted a couple of months ago in response to the accusations that My Little Monster perpetuated rape culture that I acknowledged that rape culture was a real problem, just that I didn’t feel Monster-kun was one of the perpetrators. I’m beginning to wonder if I was premature on that.

I knew when I watched SAO 24 that people were going to say it perpetuated rape culture; what surprised me is, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was absolutely nothing SAO 24 could have done that couldn’t have been, with a fair amount of legitimacy, accused of that. There is literally nothing the writers could have done that you could not make a rational argument was harmful for the reasons of perpetuating rape culture. I continue to believe there are trends in the media that popularize false, harmful ideas about rape, but in light of this situation, I don’t know if the term “rape culture” is even useful.

Continue reading On Sword Art Online 24

Study Finds Sword Art Online Viewers Most Polarized

A new study released by the Otakusphere Anime Foundation (OAF) has found that viewers of the show Sword Art Online represent, perhaps, the most polarized group currently extant; more so than one finds in the cases of deeply religious people vs. atheists, different warring factions in the Middle East, or people who think that the last two episodes of the Evangelion TV series were a valid artistic statement versus the people who think the former group needs to look up the definition of the word “pretentious” in the dictionary.

“We’ve found that there is no group more set in their ways, no group less capable of acknowledging their shared humanity, than viewers of SAO: the fans, and the people who aren’t fans but nevertheless watch it every week for some reason,” said a researcher who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals. “In the trials, it reached the point where just saying Asuna’s name would lead to savage fights over territory. On the team, we started referring to her by the code name ‘General Butterscotch’ just to avoid that.”

Continue reading Study Finds Sword Art Online Viewers Most Polarized