Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sword Art Online - 04

[CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_03.32_[2012.07.28_12.57.24] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_09.30_[2012.07.28_13.03.23] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_20.15_[2012.07.28_13.14.07]

There were a few surprises for me in this week's SAO.

That was another pretty solid ep of Sword Art Online, though it had an odd sort of stand-alone quality.  I also find it interesting that the series so far doesn't have an especially linear feel to it.  Maybe this is a result of chapters being adapted out of sequence, but it feels very much as if the story continues to move in-between episodes, and we happen to be looking in on it at t point somewhat removed from where it left off.  That isn't a bad thing, necessarily – just different from what I expected going in.

This tale of Silica-chan (Hidaka Rina) the loli beast-tamer and her pet dragon was certainly somewhat less depressing than last week’s rather grisly tale of death, though there were dark moments.  I’m not especially enamored of loli service and Silica came off about as close to a textbook moeblob as you can get, so that part of the ep really didn’t do a whole bunch for me.  But there were some nice world-building elements, as well as some revealing moments about Kirito – enough so that I can get a little sense of why some fans of the LN see him as a little too perfect.  I don’t personally share that view based on what I’ve seen so far, but there’s no question an awful lot of ground seems to have been covered between the end of the last episode and the start of this one.

So what did we learn here?  A little bit about Kirito, and about the world of SAO as well.  As he tells Silica, people’s personalities tend to change when they slip into online personas.  Some of them like to play as rogues (their indicators turn orange after attacking other players) and even those who become “Reds” – players who kill other players.  As for Kirito, he reveals a little about his past.  His “sister” is actually a younger cousin, who took of martial arts training as a way to rescue Kirito from the abuses of their overbearing grandfather after he flamed out himself.  It’s a bit of an odd story and the exposition a bit clumsy, but it does add a little texture to Kirito’s character and perhaps offer a partial explanation of why he seems so cautious socially – and why he may have chosen to pursue a life in MMO’s, perceiving himself to have failed at his real one.  It’s certainly understandable that he’d feel self-conscious around Suguha, for fear that his weakness forced her to live a life that wasn’t what she would have chosen for herself.

Of course, of more immediate concern is that Kirito has already reached 78th level, and earned himself a fearsome reputation and the nickname “The Black Swordsman”.  I was a little taken aback at such a dramatic change since the last episode, though I suppose it was never likely that the events in SAO would be shown in anything  close to real time.  The whole side story with Silica – Kirito says she reminds him of Suguha, so he rescues her and takes her to Hill of Memories on the 47th level to retrieve the artifact that will revive her pet – was cute and pleasant, but honestly didn’t pack a whole lot of weight on its own terms for me.  I was more interested in the way it reflected on Kirito – on what drives him and on how SAO has changed him – and on the world itself.  It’s a place where dangerous criminals are a threat just like in RL (and there are even prisons to house them), where bullying and social climbing are part of the fabric of society and where there are still those who believe the whole life-and-death aspect of SAO to be a bad joke.

That’s assuming, of course, that Rosaria (Toyoguchi Megumi) and her band of villains really believe that SAO’s supposed fatal realism is a scam – maybe that’s just a convenient lie they tell themselves so they don’t feel too guilty about the lives they’ve taken.  In addition to all the other off-screen developments, I find is a bit disconcerting that Kirito has apparently gotten so strong that Rosaria and her entire party – not exactly weaklings – can’t do enough damage to him to even keep pace with his healing powers.  Kirito basically made the claim that he’s immortal and undefeatable, and we have no direct evidence that he’s wrong – but I can’t imagine he isn’t wrong.  If the hero is infallible fur episodes into a two-cour show, that’s going to get boring pretty quickly. Plot armor is one thing – omnipotence something else entirely.  As has been pointed out he's likely only infalliable vs. those of a lower level than him (though this isn't expressly stated) so I imagine he’s going to be reminded of his vulnerabilities at some point, and fairly soon – I’ll be interested to see how that plays out.

[CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_04.31_[2012.07.28_12.58.23] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_06.20_[2012.07.28_13.00.13] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_06.49_[2012.07.28_13.00.42]
[CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_08.01_[2012.07.28_13.01.54] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_10.22_[2012.07.28_13.04.15] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_11.10_[2012.07.28_13.05.03]
[CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_12.00_[2012.07.28_13.05.53] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_12.24_[2012.07.28_13.06.17] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_12.58_[2012.07.28_13.06.50]
[CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_14.47_[2012.07.28_13.08.40] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_14.56_[2012.07.28_13.08.48] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_15.19_[2012.07.28_13.09.12]
[CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_16.08_[2012.07.28_13.10.00] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_17.44_[2012.07.28_13.11.36] [CR] Sword Art Online - 04 [1280x720].mkv_snapshot_20.11_[2012.07.28_13.14.03]


29 comments:

  1. Isn't he only invincible because he's higher level than them? If he went back up to the top floors his life would be in danger. What he was saying was that "YOU can't defeat me", not that "no one can defeat me". Which is true, for the purposes of this sidestory.

    Of course, he also says later in the episode that gameplay strength is an illusion, and that true strength is something more than that. So I don't see this as a case of a "boring invincible hero" quite yet. We'd have to see him fighting on the front lines or against a PKer of equal level to know that for sure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah you're absolutely right. He's been hanging around lowbie areas so far. The lower level players basically can't scratch him. It's standard mmorpg mechanics when it comes to a huge player/npc level gaps. Once we see him progress through areas that are level appropriate, he will struggle for sure. I haven't read the light novel. Just using my mmorpg/gamer knowledge to make sense of things.

      Delete
    2. I agree with these guys too.

      I liked the episode. I have yet to be dissapointed by SAO. I don't find it odd either that Kirito's showing off in these episodes: it's the beginning of a story, where the hero usually shows his strengths and weaknesses - the latter are mostly psychological btw.
      Remembering FMA, a story I believe had a solid development, I don't recall Edward Elric having the least bit of trouble fighting the weekly enemies at the beginning, until plot got heavier in 4th(or was it 5th?) Laboratory --aka much later on.

      In fact, I enjoy things a lot more here, where they *explain* Kirito's plot armor, rather than saying BS like "Whoa! That was close!".

      The only thing I fear in this setting is the possibility of too many deus ex machinas, where anyone can pull off a super-rare item which makes everything easier for him/her (this applies to enemies too, ofc). Frankly, during Pina's revival scene, I was on the edge of my seat fearing the warm music to suddenly stop, Pina be revived into a lv 99 evil dragon and Kirito go all "UH OH THIS WASN'T AS PLANNED!" --everything was going just so smoothly.
      Getting back to the main point, SAO's world is an MMO, a virtual, fake reality. Meaning it's the ideal place to have items or weapons with unfair solutions. I hope they don't exploit this factor for narrative's sake, and focus on the much better aspects SAO has been displaying throughout these four episodes.

      I liked your review Enzo...I just hope those SAO-anime haters haven't made a pessimist out of you in regards to SAO, Enzo!

      Delete
    3. It took me a while to figure what you were talking about in terms of "items with unfair solutions" until I realized that for two episodes in a row we've been presented with rare and legendary revival items.

      I think the important thing to take into account there though is that before this was a death game, it was just a game. it was made by earnest game developers and artists, and was given a proper beta test which had a good reception. It turns out that Kayama hijacked it from the beginning to do whatever the hell it is he's doing (I assume he has a God complex), but the gameplay is designed first and foremost to be fun. For a normal game, a revive item would be a cool perk that could save your friends the time of running back, or maybe even reduce the experience penalty. It isn't a pseudo-magical back-from-the-dead thing that people would be fighting over. It's not "unfair" in any sense.

      Fundamentally a game like this is designed to have "controlled imbalance". Everyone is on equal footing by default, but if you come across a rare item it can give you a little edge. This is to give people incentive to seek out rare items, and therefore to continue playing. People with better stuff are, well, better, but it's not completely unfair. Silica has her rare dragon pet that heals her, but it doesn't make her heads and shoulders above her peers, and of course she can't stand on the same level as someone much higher level than her.

      Since the show has been pretty faithful to MMO-logic so far I doubt they'll have "unfair" weapons or items at any point. So far all major differences in power has been shown as purely level-based.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, that's a fair point that he's likely only infallible against those lower than he is. It just seemed odd that he'd be infallible against so many so quickly, especially as they didn't exactly seem all that weak.

      Delete
    5. Enzo, you haven't played a lot of MMO's I'm guessing?

      Delete
    6. If they were all around level 50, they would be 28 levels lower than Kirito.

      If he were well-equipped (he obviously is) and 28 levels higher then his point about level-based games is very good.

      Delete
    7. You're basically correct - not a lot. And I think this was the sort of thing that would have been fine with a little more detailed exposition. As it was, it felt kind of jarring for me as a new viewer.

      Delete
    8. Kirito did explain properly why those PKers couldn't touch him. Levels aside (which is a major factor in MMOs), if your health regeneration exceeds the damage your enemies can do to you, it's logical that you won't receive any lasting damage. In Kirito's case, for every 4 damage the entire party of PKers did to him, he recovered 6 health.

      I think this not only shows how powerful Kirito is atm (HP regen is generally a relatively low stat in MMOs), but how powerful the monsters will be in the later levels.

      Delete
    9. For the record, healing ~4% of your health every 10 seconds is hardly impressive. At best, it would reduce the downtime between monsters by a few seconds, which admittedly can start to add up when you're trying to level up efficiently. What's more important than how much he was healing was how little damage he was taking. He must have a lot of armor. It would have taken them 6 minutes to kill him even if he wasn't regenerating. The regeneration was just adding insult to injury.

      It's also worth noting that power growth in RPGs is usually exponential rather than linear.

      Delete
  2. Good episode. I just started reading Vol 2 yesterday and left it when they arrived to the city.
    My only complaint is how they choose to put a second tentacle rape scene instead of showing how Silica met Pina.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't think Kirito thinks he's immortal or unbeatable. He's too smart to think that. He just said that particular group couldn't beat him.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maybe I read Kirito's "levels are just numbers and illusions" speech wrong, but was I the only one who found it a little hypocritical of him to pull that one out less than a minute after his high level allowed him to defeat the orange group with impunity? I get that it's about personal character trumping lifeless stats, but it seems like incredibly bad advice to give a young, vulnerable player when the world they are forced to live in makes those illusions a very fatal reality.

    The biggest problem I had was the countless panty gags the episode pulled here. I was interested to find that real-world anatomy/undergarment "mechanics" are applied in SAO, but once we hit the dungeon they seemed entirely inappropriate. As weak as the monsters there may have been, the fact remains that Silica's life is on the line with every encounter. Since the last two episodes have treated player death with such brutal finality, the light-hearted nature of most of the encounters was pretty jarring.

    I get that these episodes are being adapted from side stories to the main plot, but it also bugged me that aside from Kirito's high level and fearsome reputation we could have exchanged this one with the third episode and not really have missed a beat. It's hard having seen Kirito take such a traumatic development last episode only to have him appear here as a fairly stock hero figure here. Even with the added backstory, I still can't say that I understand him as a fleshed out person because his personality has been so inconsistent over the past three episodes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that the transition between the previous episode and this one could have been done a lot better. I was actually wondering how they'd do it... and then they didn't. Arguably you could say that Silica was supposed to opening his heart again by making him think of his sister, but it wasn't really presented that way, and then it turns out that before he met her he was already doing favors for strangers. We're left to infer his character development, which is somewhat awkward. Apparently he overcame the trauma at some point and was left with simply strong feelings about death and losing people around him. ...which is also somewhat inconsistent with using Silica as bait. Bah.

      As for the advice about levels and stats, I took it the opposite way. Silica was just lamenting how long it would take her to get high level, Kirito reminds her that it takes more than levels to be strong. He isn't saying he ISN'T strong, but rather that the people risking their lives on the front line have more than higher levels. They have, simply put, the guts to risk their lives to escape the game. This goes along with Sachi's letter from the previous episode about how she wasn't the sort of person who'd be able to survive in a game like this.

      Delete
    2. It's hard having seen Kirito take such a traumatic development last episode only to have him appear here as a fairly stock hero figure here

      Have you wondered why Kirito is hanging around the low level areas, helping out people like Silica?

      Delete
    3. Have you wondered why Kirito is hanging around the low level areas, helping out people like Silica?

      So he can give them a false sense of security and get them killed like his old guild? If that's his trauma, I'd expect him to be less confident or at least more open about his levels. Neither of which he was in this episode.

      Delete
    4. The reason for the numbers speach was to comfort Silica as he had to part with her due to her levels being to low to fight at the frontline. That was the motive behind telling her numbers was just an illusion and part of this game and they can meet later in real life instead.

      The main character aspect to take from this episode I think is that he is still socially akward and still soloing instead of joining a guild.

      This episode obviously also served as introduction to a new character.

      Delete
    5. The reason he spend 4 days not in the front line, not getting higher EXP and not aiming for better equipment is so people at the lower levels dont get killed by the Titan Guild.
      He is being kind and helpful. You seriously think any low level player can give anything someone at Kirito's level does not help?
      All the other front liners are too busy trying to get better equipment and gain levels but Kirito still goes to help. It is in his nature to not let people die in front of him. Because he aint a bastard and cause Sachi's death weights on him. Compared to the time of Sachi his level is way higher. His power is many times higher. He can fly.

      Delete
  5. I must opine that for me, this has been the weakest episode so far. Granted, by this season's standards that's still pretty good, but the tonal shift was a little much. The first 3 episodes have been pretty heavy on the doom & gloom and this episode for the most part threw that out the window in favor of lighthearted mild ecchi stuff. I don't know if the LN was like this and the anime just did what it could or what but either way the tone was too different, it was jarring.

    So, if Kirito is 78, what the hell was he doing in that forest in the first place to be there to save Silica? I feel like those mobs would be totally gray to him so it's not like he could have been grinding XP. What would bring a 78 character into a forest filled with mobs half his level?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He told us what he was doing, didn't he? He was hunting for Rosalia and her guild, using Silica as bait. He's shown in the past two episodes that he has high level tracking abilities, so he was probably following their party from a distance and then followed Silica when she went off on her own.

      Delete
    2. What Anon said - he was bounty hunting, and Silica was the bait.

      Delete
  6. We warned that Kirito was a Marty Stu. I like these stand alone world building episodes, it really builds out how fascinating the game world is.

    Silica is a moeblob but as her appearance is a short one in doesn't become grating. I like that Kirito has become a bit of a single handed vigilante but refuses to fall to their level and kill players. The omnipotence is a bit lame and if Kirito is the strongest player in the game I hope we see some really powerful bosses soon.

    I expect a more linear plot revolving around why they're stuck in SAO to appear in the second half of the series.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think that the players in SAO won't really die in real life. Maybe the time in RL is different in SAO. Like in Accel World. I think when they finish the game, only a few hours had past in RL. The idea of the author who made the game is to teach the players the value of real life. All the stunts in the 1st episode were just an add on effect so that the players may think that it was all real. To think that the scientist who made the entire SAO couldn't make fake news.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, regardless of whether or not that's really true, the doubt that the players have would be the same. Could be like that, could be real, or it could be both (teach the survivors the value of life by killing the rest).

      Of course, that doesn't excuse PKing. If there's even the slightest possibility that it leads to real death, people really shouldn't be so callous about it. And the series makes no attempt to present Rosalia as anything but a jerk. If she really believes that, why doesn't she kill herself to escape, etc etc. She's clearly just rationalizing her own behavior to herself.

      Delete
    2. This is answered in the LN and will be in the anime as well.

      Delete
  8. i realy suprised they going to animate the murder mystery side story since it was long chapter in the light novel and it will be 2 episodes also i wont spoil anything but we will get some points in this side story which will be connected later to the main plot.enzo the side stories will end after a story called warmth of the heart which also connected to the plot

    ReplyDelete
  9. this anime will have 25 episodes

    ReplyDelete
  10. This episode was a nice change to me from the past 3 dark and gloomy episodes. Although, it wasn't a smooth transition and I wasn't a big fan of Silica-Chan. I think the writers had her blush 5 times too many and two tentacle monsters? Two? I'll admit the first time I laughed at the gag, but the second time was a bit much. I think they could of left out the 10 blushes and tentacle monster gag and made this an episode that further developed Kirito's character and possibly gave a better introduction to Silica-Chan. Overall, though it's still an entertaining series and I have high hopes for this anime.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think that the best way to think of the SAO anime (and to some degree, the LNs, as well) is that it's the story of Kirito--not the story of X plot. If you apply how even these semi-standalone episode develop and reflect upon him and the world he's currently inhabiting, I think they work a whole lot better.

    I'm not trying to defend what I feel to be a questionable decision by the studio to adapt all the Vol 2 side stories in strict chronological order, but the point still stands, that even if you only consider Vol 1's "main plot," it's still paper-thin, and only really effective as a bildungsroman.

    To their credit, I think they have taken the oppotunity with these SS to flesh out the world without resorting to massive infodumps during what most people will see as the main Aincrad story.

    ReplyDelete