「世界の終焉」 (Sekai no Shuuen)
“The End of the World”
Here ends the first major arc of Sword Art Online. I have to say, in fairness to A-1, they handled this episode pretty well. Most of its faults can almost entirely be attributed to the source material. It was certainly a flashy episode, with the final duel between Heathcliff and Kirito topping the rest of the series in terms of animation and style, and it had moments that some might consider touching or emotional. We even had the reveal of one of the few true twists in SAO – Heathcliff’s true identity. As most realised at the time, there was something fishy during his duel with Kirito, and now we know why. It also might help to explain Kirito’s generally poor disposition towards Heathcliff all this time – perhaps a base instinct warning him not to put too much trust into the game’s number one player.
Perhaps falling back to regroup would have been the wiser choice, but Kirito could not allow the chance to set everyone free pass by. After all, given the high casualty rate in the previous boss battle (fourteen dead), the continually dwindling number of clearers, the mounting difficulty, and the fact that they’re only three quarters of the way through the game with almost four thousand dead, what other chance do they actually have? At this rate, the force that would face off against Kayaba Akihiko on the final floor would be rather pitiful. No, in reality, this was their final chance. Kirito took it, and somehow won.
Forgive me for this because it’s not entirely directed at Sword Art Online, but also at a lot of fiction in general. When you strive for realism, it becomes vastly more obvious when something falls outside of what’s feasible. Kawahara Reki falls into this trap quite frequently, sacrificing the attempts at realistic portrayal he’s built up so far in order to execute something with a storybook romantic effect. Overcoming obstacles with belief alone, shattering galaxies with other galaxies… all this is fine… as long as you haven’t spent all your time up to this point trying to build a believable world. Apparently Asuna could recover from a game status effect through belief alone and Kirito was able to soldier on and defeat Kayaba Akihiko despite already being dead. Let’s not forget the fact that Kirito doesn’t actually die in the end anyway, completely revoking any effect created by the scene immediately following his and Asuna’s demise… not that there was ever any real worry – we still have a whole second cour to go! Okay, so there’s the ‘ten minute rule’ that was later established in a side-story, but – retroactively justifying things aside – Kirito certainly didn’t seem to think they were going to survive either. Sure, these things all make a sort of nice story, but with the previous emphasis on realism? The fact that the other four thousand are actually dead?
They say an exception proves the rule (which, to be fair, under its current misuse to justify exceptions to rules in fiction is complete bullshit). But more to the point, when do you arrive at a place where you have so many ‘exceptions’ that the rule itself is brought into question? If almost all the people who matter to the story fall under these exceptions, what’s the point of the rule in the first place? When you declare something a rule, you should apply it to all entities. There should be no special exemption for your favourite characters. Just take a look at George R. R. Martin. When you read through his works, you do so with apprehension. There’s a true sense of danger – you believe that things could go horribly wrong. Of course, main characters don’t have to die for a story to be believable – heck, they wouldn’t really be the main characters if they didn’t survive through to the end of the story. But that certainly doesn’t justify the use of deus ex machina to save them.
To move away from my personal dissatisfactions with certain works of fiction, let’s talk about Kayaba Akihiko’s motivations. He chose to play as Heathcliff because ‘there’s nothing as boring as watching someone else play an RPG.’ Oh the irony of this statement! It’s true to an extent. Watching people play an MMORPG for two solid years without taking part would be nightmarishly boring. If you’ve ever watched a ‘Let’s Play’ video, imagine one of those but for two solid years, with less charismatic individuals, and almost nothing but repetitive grinding. Appealing? I didn’t think so. As to his motivations for trapping everyone in a death game? Those are a little harder to grasp and if I tried to claim I could understand and empathise with them I imagine I’d be branded a psychopath. If I had to guess at this point, I’d say that he wanted people to truly live in the world he created, for it to be more than just a game. Or there could’ve been absolutely no reason at all and he was just crazy. Your choice!
Maybe I’ve come across as being a little harsh on this episode – it was relatively effectively carried out and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it at all. I just found myself sighing a little more often that I probably should’ve been… and for the wrong reasons. At least next week we’ll finally be moving beyond the Sword Art Online game (with a new OP and ED to boot)!
tl;dr: @MoombaDS – This week brings battles, tears, deaths, and some Kawahara Reki style funny business. #SAO
- There were actually quite a few fantasy genre clichés that came into play this episode. For example, Heathcliff training people specifically so that they would one day defeat him… sound familiar?
- This scenario is quite familiar too. How many times have we seen this kind of thing in the lead up to the ‘final battle?’ Although usually the person being set down would be dead.
- Oh dear… that Engrish is slightly… haha whoops!
- It’s nice to see that they actually made Kirito decrepit in the real world – he has been in a coma for two whole years after all!
Full-length images: 13.