Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sword Art Online - 12

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If you were a big fan of this episode, you should probably avoid going anywhere near that “Read more” link.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 12 [720p].mkv_snapshot_01.02_[2012.09.22_13.13.17]I know this will come as a shock to long-time readers of the blog, but simply presenting an endless panorama of moemoe lolis mugging for the camera does not, in itself, recommend an episode as far as I’m concerned.  And it’s certainly no sea change for Sword Art Online to default to a “cute girl of the week” format for its story arcs.  Still – even taking those things into account, I’m hard-pressed to think of a single anime episode that was more insultingly saccharine, sloppily sentimental and crassly manipulative than this one.  Admittedly that’s probably because I avoid series that rely solely on that sort of crap like the plague, but even so, it’s so ingrained in the anime mainstream that you can’t help but encounter it in otherwise good series pretty often.  But this one was the topper – I can only imagine it induced diabetic comas the way Pokemon once induced seizures.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 12 [720p].mkv_snapshot_01.39_[2012.09.22_13.13.54]I don’t want to dwell on all that, because it should be pretty obvious what I’m referring to.  All I can say is, when Asuna said “We’ll be together forever” I might’ve thrown up in my mouth a little.  Fortunately I was pretty confident the episode wouldn’t pass up the opportunity for an overwrought sappy ending, and that could only be delivered with a tearful goodbye – though Kirito managing to heroically save Yui’s “heart” was the icing on the sickeningly sweet cake.  I’ve been pretty happy with SAO over the last few episode and in fact overall, but if Yui had become a permanent cast member I think it’s likely I would have summarily dropped it.  If clearing the game means bringing her back, I hope SAO goes on forever and ever.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 12 [720p].mkv_snapshot_05.34_[2012.09.22_13.17.31]Here again, for me it comes down to a case of Kawahara being much better at crafting the setting than the characters who inhabit it – and the ways they interact with other.  While not new, the notion of a sentient A.I. within the game (which always seemed like the likeliest explanation for Yui) is both interesting and vital for this sort of premise – see Gally from Tad Williams’ Otherland (which has been optioned for a film version) for an example of how this character can succeed through subtlety and skilled writing.  For me Yui’s situation was robbed of any emotional impact by the combination of pandering and heavy-handed “CRY NOW” moments that made up most of her arc.  But that doesn’t mean she’s not an important element of the story, and didn’t shed some light on SAO itself.  That’s the contradiction of Kawahara’s writing, plainly apparent both in SAO and Accel World, but never more painfully than in this arc.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 12 [720p].mkv_snapshot_07.49_[2012.09.22_13.19.46]As for what Yui reveals, it’s interesting enough.  An autonomous software system called Cardinal is responsible for monitoring and controlling all aspects of SAO, and Yui herself was created to monitor the emotions of the players and intervene if necessary – except Cardinal forbade her from doing so, which is the area that interest me.  Why forbid her from doing what she was created to do?  There are a lot of holes in her background story and I find it pretty darn silly that Kirito and Asuna would be so unique among the thousands of players inside the game that they drew her like a moth to a flame – there are surely lots of real-life couples in there, and some of the players we’ve met certainly seem happy enough – but it serves well enough as a vehicle for exposition, even if it fails in terms of character development.  As for Yuniel and Thinker, their thread was pretty much a disposable one, used strictly to push the Yui arc to its conclusion.

[HorribleSubs] Sword Art Online - 12 [720p].mkv_snapshot_08.38_[2012.09.22_13.20.35]I don’t suppose this arc really changes my view of SAO one way or the other, as it didn’t exactly introduce anything new – just the most egregious example of what the show’s known trip wires are and how badly it needs to avoid them.  At least we got a sliver of a look at what’s behind the curtain, and I desperately crave more of that – it’s the mystery behind the mythology and the mindset of Kayaba Akihiko that most interests me, and we’ve seen surprisingly little of it considering the show (or more likely the first season) is almost half over.  I certainly have no problems with Kirito and Asuna as a couple (although their romantic development was extremely simplistic and rushed) and I’m perfectly content to see more development there – but hopefully without resorting to the cheap emotional stunts used in this arc.

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58 comments:

  1. While I won't be as harsh as you Enzo, I too felt that all the emotional scenes were there for the sake of having an emotional scene. In a way, I kind of want the show to stop with the character development and just get on with the world of SOA at large. The episodes that I enjoyed the most had little to no Asuna and Kirito development and just showing the interactions of the characters within that world. Let's not forget the adventures that seems sparse in a older design MMORPG. I think it would be really cool if they had more episodes showing them doing MMORPG stuff like clearing dungeons, questing, friendly PVP or just doing guild stuff. For an anime that is base withing a MMORPG, it seems to be missing the massive multiplayer part imo.

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  2. "I’m hard-pressed to think of a single anime episode that was more insultingly saccharine, sloppily sentimental and crassly manipulative than this one." <<< Gundam Age 38. Remember that ep with the sickly dying Vagan girl? That's what this current SAO ep reminded me of. A character that served nothing more than a prop.

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    1. Not a bad comp, good call - but at least she wasn't mugging for the camera constantly like Yui. And I actually think the emotional manipulation was even worse here.

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    2. Same VA too. This usage of Itou Kanae's wonderful voice is starting to bother me to be honest.

      And I agree that it is worse here, due to the reason of SAO actually managing to make us somewhat emotionally attached while in AGE's case they never even bothered.

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    3. KyoAni's emotional manipulation worked on me on their drama Key stuff.

      This didn't. It was stupid. Agree with you, Enzo, that was horrible. Even though I knew it was coming due to reading this side-story, it still felt really awkward.

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    4. I must say, there are many parts of Clannad that felt very manipulative and full of "cry now" moments to me - I see it as a fault of Maeda Jun's writing largely absent from Hisaya Naoki's, which is why I prefer Kanon. But there's nothing in Clannad approaching this level of offensively, and the execution is obviously an order of magnitude better.

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  3. Enzo, at least you think you puked. I spent a half hour cleaning it from the carpet. Someone bring Watanabe Shinchiro down on these fools. He'll show them how to make a subtle story.

    At the halfway mark I can clearly say that SAO has not been the series I hoped it would be. I expected something grittier and darker, I mean your lives are at stake in this game. The two year time-skip (which is what it is for everyone who says it isn't) effectively meant Kawahara didn't have to deal much with a real character driven topic or plot.

    I think making a setting is the only thing Kawahara is good at, because not just the characters but even the plot, or at least how it is scripted, is crap. There's no suspense, subtlety or surprise and without them how are we supposed to enjoy what should be an adventure.

    I didn't expect him to be Urobuchi Gen but show a bit more backbone. Even a generic shounen is more exciting.

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  4. Enzo, I must say, Bravo. Bravo, you soon-to-be-Tokyoian blogger. Give it to it when and if it deserves it; this show definitely deserves some whacking to its forehead.

    I must also add that this series has been really disappointing and has been going downhill to the poop-poop land and gutter for a quite some time now as far as I am concerned. It pains me to utter this, but this show has turned out to be a cliché/trope-ridden average run-of-the-mill shounen show (at least drawing still looks okay due to its decent budget). Almost every bloody annoying eye-roll inducing trope one can think of you find it here. And to think that this show totally engaged me during its first episode with its setup and premises!!! Why? Why do they do this to us~~! Sure this show still isn't as bad as Accel World, but at this point, I don't have any hope for this show, I'm afraid. I don't know if LN was this cliché-ridden or the studio just screwed this up when adapting it.

    Anyway, at least Enzo can say this here (and so can I) freely... Trying to write anything bad about this show at RC seems to only incur a lynching mob that will bury your posts with negs.

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    1. Pretty much all of this. I already dropped it when it was at introducing a new harem member a week, glad to see it's still the over-rated POS it was.. complete with screechy OP song, bland dude with the sword and other awful cliches. Heck, I was going to check out the LN but I really don't care about anyone in this show. Sigh, when the scriptwriter of Guilty Crown makes a better script that Crap Art Online, I just have to facepalm.

      Also agree that RC has become way too much of a cheerleader site: now it's better than being consistently negative (see Tenka Seiha), but whenever I go look at RC all the bloggers pretty much lavish praise on shows and that Twitter-speak at the end of each post is kinda dumb IMO. Enzo, don't lose that knack of sharp and poignant criticism - THIS is the kinda post I want to see over at RC, that I know won't happen. Not to be a jerk about it, I'm sure you're good friends with the RC bloggers but just keep doing things the way you're doing them - If it ain't broken, don't fix it. I've been reading your SAO posts and while I'm definitely not coming back and watching, I still appreciate your effort in not being one-sided in your writing.

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    2. RC community is turning into the MAL community, which someone on the internet has characterized, "a circlejerk of a bunch of tasteless tweens." He was actually describing the MTV Movie Awards, but same difference (the winner of Best Movie of the Year went to Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1, so you know what I mean)

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    3. RC's community is downright ridiculous. You can't critique or say anything negative about any show or manga there. BORING, and it doesn't lead to any good discussion.

      I won't say anything about the bloggers there.

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    4. @webkid94 I have to admit, you're right on. You put into words something I believed but hadn't quite put into words yet. I came here after I read the post on RC (and comments). I think I might have been drawn over here to read Enzo's post because I knew it would cover the criticisms I had about the episode as well.

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  5. ''I hope SAO goes on forever and ever.''~ Enzo, 2012

    Dem fighting words.

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  6. Your review hits the nail exactly on its head, Enzo. Every scene with Yui was horribly painful to watch. The ep had some interesting bits (like mentions of infighting in the Army or the toad meat scene) but they were buried under a mountain of loli-drama, forced tearjerkers and logical inconsistencies (putting a monster that can wipe the floor with Kirito and Asuna, a couple that pretty much beat a boss by themselves, on 1st floor? Making them stand out emotionally among thousands of players? Seriously...) On a side note, Yui might have been created to help players cope with VR-caused emotional problems while playing a computer game as it was intended (like, ironically, not wanting to return to real life because the virtual one seemed more interesting), and then might have been shut off by this Cardinal to not interrupt Kayaba Akihiko's social experiment by preventing suicides or whatnot.

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  7. "saccharine, sloppily sentimental and crassly manipulative"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XIjxH0bFak&feature=related

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    1. This is exactly my feelings toward Tari Tari. It actually came with the "we'll always be together" line as well, which made me eye-roll harder than this. I think the only reason though is because I've already thrown my hands up and given up on this series to deliver the impact it had in episode 1.

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    2. Lol. Glad to see I'm not the only person using this video as a kneejerk reaction whenever something is overdramatic and is trying too hard to make me cry. :p

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    3. Btw to Anon at 7.01pm:

      Aren't you mixing up Tari Tari with Kokoro Connect. KC is the one with overdramatic, manipulative drama no thanks to that Heartseed (or should I say in this latest arc, Heartseed #2 :/).

      Though I guess Tari Tari does work on sentimental, but what drama doesn't? Also iirc the pilot episode got a bit of flak being really lowkey and down-the-mill until the Wakana arc finally hit which was when it started to shine.

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    4. I don't think either TT or KC manipulates emotionally on anywhere near the clumsy level this ep did, personally - certainly not Tari Tari. It's certainly clichéd, but it doesn't take itself very seriously, and that's the difference.

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    1. Thanks for the fucking spoiler.

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  9. I think Yui was developed for the Beta version of SAO, but when the game finally launched there were quite a few changes.

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  10. It feels great to read your harsh review right after watching this terrible episode!

    The episode's writing was very clunky and manipulative. It could not decide between dumping information and having an emotional dialogue. Ended up doing a bit of both and was terrible in all aspects.

    Kirito and Asuna were just babysitting Yui in the first place. The author tried to convince us that this little time they spent together was worth a lifetime. If was not. The drama would work a lot better if it was secondary. Instead of trying to suffocate us with those feelings, the information dumping should have been the priority, and the departure would work as an epilogue to wrap this arc up.

    Yui is a terrible character that cheapens the story. If they changed her design to an ugly old female character, there would be absolutely no value left. She doesn't even serve for fanservice purposes, as the other girls so far are much cuter than her.

    On the positive side, at least for now she is gone. And other than her, i have been enjoying SAO immensely.

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  11. We are not going to get too much quality drama from an author that was in high school at the time of the writing (ten years ago).

    Now I understand more why most anime adaptation are just marketing. They are taking too little liberties and are staying too faithful for it's own good. Even the author thought this about SAO's publication in 2008, six years after writing it (Quoting from Vol 1's Author Notes).

    >It was true that I felt a little anxious as well. That was because there were so
    many problems with this story that I can't even begin to list them here. The biggest reason was my hesitation about "is it really alright to take everything I wrote up and just publish them?"

    Source: http://pastebin.com/mbFTzydn (Spoiler-Free edited version)

    By the end of the road, SAO anime is going to get hurt (critically) because of how bad it was both advertised and hyped.

    I share Ishruns's opinion about this series as whole so far. Luckily, future episodes are going to focus on its strengths not it's weaknesses.

    It's shame, because I'm at Vol 5 and it does get somewhat better regarding it's "character depth" problem (Anime is going to cover up to Vol 4).

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  12. lol you mentioned pokemon after my comment yesterday lol

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  13. Wow, never seen you like this Enzo!!

    I will say this for the sake of this episode. When this story/Yui was created for Vol. 2, it was made as a deux ex machina so that the convertion of Kirito from Vol. 1 to Vol.3 was easier and helped the overall story. How big was the change? Think FF7 change into Ocarina of Time.

    I think the script writers should have read up to volume 6 to get a better understanding of the story and fill in as necessary rather than follow the volumes in a chronological order. They should have added two or three episode to show the "Crusade" against the Laughing Coffin and Kirito and Asuna`s "RL" situation before being trapped.

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  14. Right on, Enzo! You even compared it to Pokemon, nice.

    I'm on the same boat with this one; I hated Yui since she woke up last episode. She basically took away some much needed KiritoxAsuna - not that they didn't have their scenes, but they need some good scenes now, that don't feel overly dramatic or comedy relief.
    How many thousand times have we seen this archetype already? In the end, she even summoned a giant sword with flames to defeat the boss. Oh, Japan. Like you said, the cherry on top was Kirito hacking in the last second and recovering Yui's heart. Seriously SAO, lmao, I knew you were mainstream, but this - wtf?!

    The front's plot was left behind altogether too, which is unfortunate because it was arguably the most interesting plot thread this week. But at least Yui's gone now, so let's hope the horrible scenes that followed her wherever she appeared will also be gone as well.

    Perhaps the best scene this week were those frog legs that came out of the blue, until Yui cut in with the cliched 'You smiled :D'...

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    1. On a side note, I guess that's why I never go to RC for these shows anymore (almost every show, really). Feels like the new wave of RC writers are following some kind of 'praise praise praise' policy, it all feels like one big fanboy comment, rather than a good, critic insight.

      Keep sticking to your guns Enzo - or else!
      http://randomc.net/image/Sword%20Art%20Online/Sword%20Art%20Online%20-%2012%20-%20Large%20End%20Card.jpg

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    2. I´m seriously the only one who disliked the frog legs scene? I wanted to beat the crap out of Asuna right there!!

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    3. What was wrong with her that made you want to beat her :P ? That she was repulsed by the legs? They did look yummy to me though..

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    4. I love frogs, and thought interesting the idea of cooking those legs. I guess you can tell my reaction when Asuna treated them as the most disgusting thing in Earth.
      That was definitely the only part which made me react strongly in a otherwise average-ish episode, too bad it was from such a superficial scene that was intended to be comical... :(

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  15. Reading all the comments on Random Curiosity and those here made me realize that both crowds are generally separated by a one-word difference when it comes to their opinion of this episode. By commenting here, I'm certainly part of the latter group:

    RC: "I LOVED YUI BECAUSE SHE WAS A CUTE, ONE-DIMENSIONAL, MELODRAMA-INDUCING PLOT DEVICE"

    LiA: "I HATED YUI BECAUSE SHE WAS A CUTE, ONE-DIMENSIONAL, MELODRAMA-INDUCING PLOT DEVICE"

    I enjoy watching SAO because I'm intrigued by everything it can be. Every time I stop to think about each episode, though, I realize how completely squandered that potential is. Only episodes 1, 2, 8, and 9 have managed to truly engage me in the story. That's only a third of the show that has managed to convince me that this is a worthwhile series; the rest of the episodes have equivalently convinced me that this series is inherently flawed. Hopefully I can just jump into the second half of the show and find it to have all the essential storytelling elements I expect from such a high-profile production.

    The only thing I really enjoyed about this episode was the daycare for the alone and stranded children of SAO. I like that Kawahara considered that possibility and accounted for it by having someone who was genuinely caring and well-meaning address the needs of the kids. It was the only part of the episode that felt real, meaningful, and substantial because there are actually people like that in the real world.

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  16. The new info was interesting but the emotion completely fell flat on its face. Honestly, I knew they wanted me to cry but I just didn't feel like it was very sad at all. Maybe I'm desensitized from the near weekly character deaths from earlier in the series. Or maybe Yui just wasn't a character they got me to be emotionally invested in in the first place. Despite that I didn't think they were being particularly emotionally manipulative either, well when we've already had Sachi's arc it just felt run-of-the-mill-SAO. The info was interesting though and it was still an enjoyable ep with just what I expected from this show.

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  17. In summary, the ending of this episode was the biggest asspull/deus ex bulls*** on the same level as certain Guilty Crown and Aquarion EVOL episodes. I am not absolutely buying this Yui development (which was effectively 1.5 episodes) which apparently was alluring to SAO being hacked or glitchy. I like the idea, but the execution is god awful.

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  18. I see all the Yui haters, rational or not, on Random Curiosity have found refuge here, hailing Enzo as their saviour.

    At least you did put a disclaimer saying to turn away if one liked the episode, but this must be the most disappointingly harshest critique I've ever heard from you.

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    1. Still better than RandomC's cheerleading and refusal to criticize anything.

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    2. Should stay away from ANN in general then. They are critical of everything there :p

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    3. Disappointing because I disagree with you? All I did was state my opinion - I never tried to portray it as any kind of holy crusade.

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    4. Talking about Enzo, I saved this pic from RC about a month ago (forgot what series), which sums up my reaction for this episode:

      http://i.imgur.com/ACK0x.jpg

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    5. Meant to say Talking about RC (Not Enzo. Sorry bud!)

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    6. I don't hate Yui, in fact I love Yui. She is the type of character that I love. I love the whole HNNNnnngg moe type character. It's just that the show expected you to be emotional when it did little to nothing to invest you into the characters you are suppose to be emotional about. Maybe in the light novel you know the inner workings of the characters and this event had more impact but just base on the anime itself, we don't have that.

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  19. Apparently this is the week of bad episodes. Seems like a lot of shows are making serious missteps this week, this one just made the list. All of the mentioned "cry now" moments had no impact whatsoever since I didn't care one bit about Yui's character. The only interesting aspects of the episode (especially the infighting in the Front guild) were glossed over and never mentioned again. A bad episode from a show that so far has not even remotely lived up to the hype, all I can think while watching most episodes is "THIS is what people were creaming their pants over before the season started?" Apparently the same thing that true in music, American television, and movies also applies to anime. Crap sells.

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  20. Should stay away from ANN in general then. They are critical of everything there :p

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  21. So like am I the only one who is starting to think of Kawahara as the Stephenie Meyer of Japan? Accel World and SAO are both enormously popular, both had immense hype surrounding them before they came out, and both have been largely mediocre crap. I can't really say that they're bad per se, just... forgettable. I mean they aren't Guilty Crown but they aren't exactly the bard either. They're just throwaway entertainment, a show you watch and feel somewhat entertained by for 20-25 minutes but at the end you know you won't even remember what happened 6 months from now.

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  22. Wow, all the hate. I think I can understand why for the most part, and it more or less makes sense. I didn't particularly like Yui, but I didn't really mind it. Towards the end there I was just thinking about how Kirito and Asuna were taking a program as their child, and what that says about them rather than being sad or annoyed about the "emotional" scene.
    Let's just hope that if they get out of the game they don't neglect their virtual daughter. >_>

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  23. I didn't hate the episode but it was forgettable. I still like SAO for what it has been and could still be.

    I was mostly interested in the dungeon they were in and how it seems to open up more as more floors above are cleared. Also interested in the levels of the mobs including a probably 90+ NM or boss.

    It was also good to learn about Cardinal, and not surprising that the evil genius developer had the Social Worker AI blocked.

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  24. Well so I guess Yui's purpose is to pull some deus ex machina to secure Kiritos victory against the final boss of SAO eh?
    And after that i guess a scene where i will really die from diabetes....

    I my lawd I really hope it doesnt turn out like that.

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. Didn´t think it would be a serious spoiler, plus the main lead already mentioned the possibility of bringing said character and thought most viewers should be aware that another arc is gonna be fully adapted in this anime.
      Sorry about that.

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    3. Still a spoiler though.

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  25. This episode was so terribly awful, and I enjoyed it. I think I should compare it to Guilty Crown - awful but quite entertaining, especially after I realized that it was awful.

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    1. It was a different sort of awful. With GC it was more just sort of bumbling - this was just plain shameless.

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  26. Well any developer would like their NPCs to be part of the "beautiful people" so your concern with Yui being moe is overthinking. "There's a reason why she's moe." Make your NPCs cool or beautiful or it will never sell.

    Also I have to point out that Asuna's loss of Yui was true because this game had been RL for them for almost two years now. Like one poster in RC mentioned, adopted or not, a parent's loss of someone they started to consider their child is real. Also remember how Kirito once protested Asuna's suggestion to use the NPCs as bait? Put two together and you'd realize that this world is real to them. I'd understand why most people cannot comprehend that, because none of us had been trapped in an MMO VR game for two years with no way out except either by dying or by finishing the game.

    It's really hard for many people to accept why an arc like this came out of nowhere in SAO without acutally spoiling them to some of the future events. This arc isn't part of the main storyline in the novel and that what made a future epsiode confusing for people who didn't read the side stories. So, understandably, this episode was put here.

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  27. It shocks me that SAO followers are discussing about psychological aspect of familyhood as if after watching Code Geass, discussing politics wasn't enough. I'm glad I'm not wasting my time on this show. After watching up to episode 3, I knew it wasn't going to be worth my time.

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  28. The recent SAO episodes have been rather underwhelming for me. I guess it's because I was expecting more exposition about the MMO virtual setting that was introduced in the earlier episodes, which made the story more intriguing then. As this setting hasn't been explored further in the recent episodes, the story feels more like any other generic fantasy anime...

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  29. I've been falling further and further behind with this show (instead of keeping up with this, I decided to finally watch "AnoHana"--good choice, no?). I thought I might come back to it eventually, but after reading this review I think I've officially decided to drop it. The pilot promised enough that I was willing to put up with a slow start, but if this is the direction it's continuing to go, ehhhh... there's too many older goodies out there for me to waste my limited anime-watchin' time on mediocrity.

    As always, thanks a ton for blogging these shows, Enzo. Barring your - let's call it "ambivalence" - for Mari Okada (lol), your tastes tend to align with mine eerily well, so these episode reviews are a huge help when I'm trying to decide on new shows.

    Geez... "Jinrui" is the only summer show I managed to finish. ^^; Talk about a slow season. Here's hoping Autumn has some better titles under its belt.

    Cheers!
    ~R

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    1. Autumn will almost certainly be better, as it almost always is. But I did rather enjoy Tari Tari and KoiChoco, and Natsuyuki for that matter. Even Kokoro Connect has had its moments. Not a terrible season, but certainly on the mediocre level.

      SAO or AnoHana? Yeah, no-brainer there. But I'll continue to believe SAO is better than what it showed us this week.

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