「世界の種子」 (Sekai no Shoushi)
“The World Seed”
I’m not really sure how to begin this post – it’s been a long ride and the finale is one that leaves me with some conflicted emotions. It felt both fitting and unfitting as a finale to Sword Art Online. The final few moments before the credits rolled felt like a good way to conclude the series, as did the return of every single character of import from the two arcs and the final showdown between Sugou and Kirito. These were all things worthy of being in what came across as a finale-epilogue combination. Yet at the same time it felt as though a lot of the episode dragged, that it could’ve been shortened dramatically. The ‘climax’ came too early, and while it was good to see how things wound up in the wake of Asuna’s awakening, it felt like it was petering out slowly rather than trying to end on a strong note. Admittedly, I did feel as though it ended on a relatively strong note, but much of what occurred between the climax and final moments felt a little on the dull side.
That said, there was a momentarily nice contrast between the video game world and the real world – a difference SAO hasn’t really deigned to show us until now. Even if Kirito faced death within the video game world, knowing that to die in SAO would cause death in the real world, is not the same as actually dying within the real world. There was no pain in SAO, no blood or injury of that kind. The fear in Kirito’s eyes as he’s faced with true death is wonderful – he’s not a Gary Stu here, his mad gaming skills won’t save him now! But it’s only a fleeting moment before his normal self kicks back in and Sugou ends up bleeding from the neck. I know I’m not the only one who thought he might actually slit Sugou’s throat at that moment – that Kawahara Reki might actually slide so low as to believe that the death would be justified after the brutality Kirito inflicted last week. Fortunately, that outcome was narrowly evaded or else this post might be entirely different.
There’s something I find rather curious about Sugou’s injuries. While I think it was handled relatively well, it seems a little strange to me. Kirito set the pain absorber to zero, which implies that you would be feeling the full amount of pain inflicted – the amount you’d feel if you received such wounds on your real body. Sugou lost an arm, was shorn in half and then had a giant sword ram through his eye and essentially smash his entire face and head. Now, I’m no expert on psychology here, but those are some pretty serious wounds. How is he even still sane? Sure, the wounds don’t actually directly transfer to his real body, but it was apparently enough to cause permanent damage to his eye. Shouldn’t he be a babbling wreck somewhere? This is a genuine question born of curiosity that perhaps someone with a greater understanding of severe pain and its effect on the psyche can answer.
With The Seed, new VRMMOs are born, allowing everyone to continue playing despite the financial failings of the major companies. It’s hardly surprising that things would go downhill – two serious crimes relating to VRMMOs within such a close span of each other? It’s a little surprising that no attempt was made to stop The Seed – I hope they at least got trained analysts to take a proper look at it before it was released worldwide. The damn thing was created by Kayaba Akihiko after all, a notorious indirect mass-murderer who trapped ten thousand people in a game by tampering with its core design.
In the end, I still feel bad for all the female characters, forced to continue enduring their love for Kirito despite being unable to win. It would’ve been nice if we could’ve seen them move on – it’s not really like other harems where it feels as though there might be a chance for someone else, leaving their continued adoration for him nothing more than a cruelty. Sugu seems to remain the worst off, unable even to fit in with the rest of the group having never faced the same things they did. There was a sort of nice parallel between watching Sugu attempt to fly to unreachable heights, denied by system itself, and her continued pursuit of Kirito, ever held beyond reach by the author of the construct. For a moment I thought Asuna had been callously cast aside for the final scenes, until I realised she was the blue-haired elf girl. I’m not even going to ask.
tl;dr: @MoombaDS – And so #SAO ends, with an episode that felt a little like a finale, and a little like an epilogue.
- For a moment all I could see was the psychotic grin.
- Those representations of their past selves walking off into the distance would’ve been clever… if it wasn’t horribly cliché.
- I love how these guys actually made yet another cameo!
- Kirito’s look of exasperation during his congratulatory party was one of the few times I’ve actually empathised with him. At least he’s not revelling in it as though he deserved it.
- Why are they spinning again dammit?!
ED3: 「crossing field」 by LiSA
Sword Art Online has been an extremely polarising series. On the one hand, there are those who grace it with endless praise, calling it the best anime of all time, a masterpiece, the smartest anime in recent years, and all manner of other things. On the other, lie those who loathe its very existence. I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle ground. I don’t hate Sword Art Online – it’s far from the worst anime of 2012 and there was certainly enjoyment to be had, mostly in the first half of the series, but it was still there. The first episode was magnificent, but when we moved into the side-stories, some began to drift away due to the broken pace and sudden departure from what they’d seen as an awesome premise. A lot of people wanted a new Guilty Crown, a series to ridicule, much in the same way as people seek Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica in every show that has the potential to suddenly turn dark or want to see an MMO turn into the next SWTOR. There’s an enjoyment in the kind of buzz those types of controversies spark, something that only really comes once but others wish to see repeated.
The Story & Writing: Aincrad Arc
The Sword Art Online arc was, for the most part, genuinely entertaining. It had interesting mechanics, guild interactions, boss fights, a story that felt like it had some moderate danger to it even if it never really felt like Kirito was exposed, and male characters who didn’t exist purely to be ridiculed in order to make Kirito seem even more badass. Egil and Klein were truly likeable people where almost every male character in ALO is made out to be a horribly clingy nuisance as a foil to Kirito or pure evil. There was even a well executed twist in the form of Heathcliff’s true identity and most of the time, Kirito was sufferable – he had Asuna to temper him so that he never felt too far ahead of everyone else and the Gary Stu didn’t really set in quite as much until the final scenes.
The Story & Writing: Fairy Dance Arc
ALO is my single biggest issue with the series as a whole. While the SAO arc did gradually begun to turn sour for many people in its final episode, ALO is where it began to earn ridicule. Perhaps had we stopped after the completion of SAO, more viewers would be left with a much better view of the series in general. The SAO arc felt like a self-contained story – it had a strong MMO world that felt believable within the scope of VR and gaming business, a passing-decent story, a myriad of characters to offset Kirito, and a sense of danger conveyed by the fact it was a death game. ALO cast all these things aside in order to be a world that exists solely as a playground in order to show off how incredibly awesome Kirito is supposed to be. Rather than building a game world and then forcing Kirito to conform to it as SAO did, it felt like Kawahara wrote the game world around Kirito instead. From a design standpoint, ALO is a terrible game and would most likely be an immense financial failure.
The Story & Writing: General Thoughts
Kawahara Reki seems to write in extremes. This is not an inherently bad thing as many people do it to great effect. But those people are writing entirely different genres for an entirely different purpose. Accel World suffered from this too, with things like Noumi and his flawed plot. There’s no subtlety. ‘You must like this person! This person is cool!’ or ‘You must hate this person! This person is pure evil!’ I don’t like being told who I should and shouldn’t like – I want to form my own opinions based upon what their actions and thoughts tell me. Slapping me constantly in the face with how incredibly badass Kirito is supposed to be or how incredibly evil Sugou is meant to be was never the right way to get me to feel the correct emotions towards them.
The Music & Animation
To move away from the storyline aspects, it has to be said that for the most part, Kajiura’s music didn’t really come across as magnificently as it has in other works. There were certainly moments during climatic scenes where we heard some wonderful choral chanting and beautiful orchestral cues, but these were generally few and far between. Much of the other stuff was fairly similar and frequently recycled ad nauseum. Part of this could be blamed on those in charge of making the selections of which cues to use in which scenes – the blame for overuse of certain parts of the score falls squarely on their shoulders – and perhaps on the director who may or may not have given the original directions on what type of music Kajiura should be writing. But it’s unfair to push all of the blame away from Kajiura – at the end of the day, each of these cues was her work, and as I understand it, anime composers are given quite a bit of flexibility in what they write – if particular tracks were uninteresting, that is a fault which likely originates from the composer rather than the staff. Most of the composition is done away from the material itself, so to say that SAO itself did not give her the opportunity to shine is not entirely true.
The Highlights & Final Words
If we want to look at the series’ highlights, those would largely be the moments when teamwork was present – when it wasn’t just Kirito acting alone, when he had Klein, Egil and Asuna to back him up, along with countless nameless players in boss battles. The best moments came when Sword Art Online actually mirrored the things one can expect from an MMORPG. Many of the viewers who were drawn to it (myself included) came because of a love for MMORPGs and everything they represent. At times, it was a series where we could go ‘Oh, I remember doing something like that!’ There were situations we could empathise with as fellow gamers. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why ALO feels so wrong – because it no longer acts in a way which is believable by the standards of the MMO archetype. Had it remained true to the original concepts set down during the first arc, I feel it would’ve come across a lot better.
So, as always, we come to the last and quite possibly most important question – was it entertaining? Anime exists primarily to entertain and make money after all and it most certainly succeeded in the later department. I have to say both yes and no. I’ve discussed some of the enjoyable moments elsewhere in this post, and there are many more to be found throughout the series as a whole. There was entertainment generated by the atmosphere and worlds (mostly SAO) – world building was one of the series’ strongest points during that first arc – by the depictions of players working together to survive in a hostile and unfamiliar world, and in watching them deal with the many issues that come from a video game world where death is final. There were clever ideas, interesting systems and mechanics, and even some cool battles. But there was also much frustration to be found towards the end of SAO and over the course of ALO. While there was still enjoyment to be had, it can be hard to properly appreciate it while there’s an underlying feeling of irritation towards a main character who went from being moderately likeable to being nothing more than a walking Ken doll we’re supposed to feel admiration for as he ignores any attempts by others to help him and dismisses their value through his existence alone. He even becomes all preachy at times, many of these sermons consisting of utter nonsense. I feel as though ending after the SAO arc concluded would have been a much better way to go out. That conclusion was not ideal either, but at least it was more satisfying than seeing ALO tromp all over what had made the series appeal to me in the first place.