How to Fix Sword Art Online

Alright, I got into a furious Facebook discussion on why SAO is terrible and it got me thinking, SAO is actually pretty easy to fix. So let’s take it from the top with a (relatively) short blog post.

What is Sword Art Online?

Sword Art Online is known to be a popular anime produced by A-1 studios based on the light novel of the same name by Reki Kawahara. Some people have read the light novel. I have not. So everything here will be based on the animation. And I’m doing this from memory so if some of the details are a little fuzzy, my mistake. Not going to go rewatch it. Make of that what you will.

So the animation features Kirigaya Kazuto. He is a gamer in high school. He is incredibly excited for the release of Sword Art Online (SAO). SAO is a fully virtual MMO where you really feel like you’re Batman Spiderman in the game. He is fortunate enough to receive 1 of only 10,000 copies sold. He logs in immediately like any normal person does. Meets his totally-not-homoerotic friend after which he is told by a Game Moderator that no one can log out and if you die in the game you die in real life. The only way to get the logout button back is to beat the game. Thus begins the struggle to beat the game without dying once.

What’s wrong with Sword Art Online?

Well, a lot, actually. Many people I talk to online say that things went down during the second arc (Alfheim). I disagree. I think it was wrong from the get-go. A lot of this next bit might sound familiar if you’ve literally seen any coverage of SAO but I have to put it in for completeness. Also I’m going to keep it to the Aincrad arc because I did say we’d have a relatively short one. If I do Aincrad + Alfheim you’ll be here all day reading this.

It has a pretty good starting premise and for 1-3 episodes it’s actually pretty good. However around episode 4-6 or so, it begins undercutting its premise by making Kirito (oh yeah, Kirigaya Kazuto’s IGN is Kirito) overpowered. He gets mobbed by like 10 guys and they can’t do enough damage to outpace his natural regen. What the $#@! And it only gets worse. Kirito goes through the motions of having a hard time but he always seems to come out ahead and it never feels satisfying. Feels like he got out easy most of the time. Even at the end of Aincrad he loses all of his HP and dies but somehow can break through the death and deal a killing blow to the final boss.

That’s not to say that overpowered characters are bad by design. We can take a look at Superman for a relatively overpowered character that is well done. Superman is effectively god. There’s really not a whole lot that can actually stop the guy barring Kryptonite (we’ll get back to that). So when your character is overpowered, nothing can kill them, how do you manufacture conflict? In the case of Superman, morality is used. Superman’s greatest foe is his own sense of morality and justice. His greatest enemy is his own naivete.

When your gimmick is “If you die in the game, you die in real life”, don’t make us follow a character that can’t die. Make us follow someone that actually struggles and fears for life.

 

Dying

“Hold up Artemis, there are at least 3 times he almost died and on the third time he did actually die,” I hear you say. Well, let’s actually look at those.

The first near-death for Kirito is against Gleam Eyes, or is it. No. It isn’t. This chump lets a ton of people die because he doesn’t want to show his two-handed skill for no reason. He could’ve won the fight at any time without incurring as large a loss of human life if he had not waited for everyone except tsundere-chan to die.

The second near-death for Kirito is when he’s paralyzed by poison and his assailant takes his sweet time killing him 1HP-by-1HP. Which buys Kirito enough time to pull a deus-ex-machina and have tsundere-chan arrive to save his ass. And then Kirito kills the guy even though it would have been more satisfying (from a writing perspective) to have tsundere-chan kill the creep.

The last near-death experience is at the end of Aincrad when he dies and somehow manages to magic his way through death when no one else can. It’s bullshit. Now you’ve done one step further. For 99% of this series there was no risk of death and when there actually is death, it doesn’t even matter?

Tsundere-chan

Let’s take a moment to talk about tsundere-chan. At the beginning of the series we’re introduced to tsundere-chan and she comes out strong like a total BAMF. She’s made to seem like someone who is naturally almost as good as Kirito. Bear in mind that Kirito had some 2 months or so to play the game in beta while this grill did not. So she’s been given a high initial rating. You see her 4 episodes later and she’s been totally domesticated. She’s cooking and stuff. Cowering behind Kirito from a creep she should easily be able to take out in seconds. Kawahara neutered this character. And he does it with every character. Any time you want a character to come out strong and define themselves they turn into harem bait. Even the guys. The guy from the beginning, his name is Klein. I just remembered it. I ain’t editing this after I finish writing it so if his name is still Klaus from paragraph 2 or something that’s what it’ll be when I hit publish. Anyway literally everyone becomes “X person”. “Blacksmith girl”. “Dragon girl”. “Black man shopkeeper”. “Best guy is a girl”. I think there was one more harem member but it might’ve come after the series. *Shrug*

The Writing Makes No Sense

I’d like to take this moment to point out that this game is definitely rated PG-13 at least. Probably rated whatever the highest rating is because you get naked and (probably) have sex. So now I gotta ask the question, why are there like over nine thousand 5 year-olds in it? Did Mom and Dad let drunk Uncle Rick watch the kids that day? Because after 2 years there’s still like a bajillion 5 year-olds and they’re all being watched by full-time starting town people.

Honestly Kawahara loses track of how many people are supposed to be alive in this game which also kinda takes away from the series.

About half-way through the series Kirito and girlfriend encounter a program (yes, a program) that looks like a little girl that they decide to ‘adopt’. Then, holy shit, she’s as broken as Kirito is. She can delete (yes, right click, delete) boss enemies and chooses to do so to save Kirito. Why, why does such a program exist. Why does it have that power either? It was designed as a psychology robot, being able to delete other programs should be well beyond the scope of its power. Then Kirito suddenly becomes expert hacker, familiar with the system intimately, and manages to save the program as an item. What? Where did all of that come from?

This guy has literally no struggles. The authors try to frame things as struggles but they can’t do it properly because the characters that they’re working with are broken. The source material has to be fundamentally broken by design. There’s no excuse for this.

How to Fix It

Alright, I could go on all day about how the series is bad. We see sub-plots that lead to absolutely nothing, yadda-yadda. But we’re already at 1300 words and I want to keep this relatively short.

Break things down as simply as we can, what is SAO? SAO is a shounen anime with no threat and side-stories that go nowhere. Without the struggle, there’s no point to making this a shounen series. The most enjoyable scenes of this anime were the slice-of-life scenes and the whodunnit episodes in the middle. So how do we fix SAO? Simple. We focus on what it does well and drop what it does poorly. If SAO was purely a slice-of-life anime it would actually be quite decent. The action scenes (while well-crafted) are pointless because we know Kirito will win. Every. Single. Time. Remove them. This life-or-death game isn’t life-or-death. It’s just life. And since it’s just life, just make a slice-of-life anime about a man and his waifu in a medieval world. The music is excellent. The stories are fun enough. At least this way, I’d be forced to give you a 6 for being meh rather than a 1 for being awful. Do something about your characters. We see some characters for all of one episode before they’re relegated to the harem and exist to be an extra voice in a later scene.

So yeah, that’s my fix. Make it full-on slice-of-life. Problem solved. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

 

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How to Fix Sword Art Online

Updates on Me: 6/13/2016

No, there is no 13th month. I’m an American. Seriously guys, when the only arguments I find for putting the day first or last come down to “biggest to smallest” or “smallest to biggest”, I stick to what’s comfortable. Speaking of sticking to what’s comfortable, I reconnected with an old friend this past week. We had met over the internet some 7 or 8 years ago but had drifted apart as we split off to our separate lives. What brought us together to begin with was a mutual interest in the Naruto anime and the lure of programming our own games. They’re a friend a mine on Steam, so we’ve exchanged a few words along the years. But as I have more free time thanks to being a temporary day laborer, I find myself wanting to program again. I find myself wanting to develop games again. So I messaged my friend, remembering that they too enjoy game development, and now we have a tentative agreement to make something together. Right now we plan to use Unity and I won’t say much else about it until I have some physical results to show you.

The Orlando gun shooting happened yesterday. And with me being the usual Facebook complainer that I am, I have to complain about the follow-up images my friends have posted. My friends post some images, and this is one.

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So right away, without even bothering to read the statements these groups are being made out to say, we see ‘white cishet conservative christians’. Why. Why are you intentionally attempting to make conservative christians out to be the bad guys. Why are you trying to slander their name before anything is even said? Anyway, the question is whether or not the shooting was religiously motivated. Well, the shooter called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS on the day of the shooting. Is ISIS a homophobic organization. Certainly. But on what grounds? Religion. Remove the religion from ISIS and you get… well you don’t have ISIS anymore. ISIS is the ISLAMIC state. They propose a merging of religion and government and they recently put out a call to action during Ramadan. It seems a little too coincidental to dismiss it as pure homophobia.

While we’re on the topic, let’s push the intent a little further. The image above attempts to paint the conservative christian right as attempting to politicize this shooting to push their own agenda of ‘a white America’ or something. The idea being that the American Left? They’re not like the American Right. They mourn for the loss and would in no way attempt to politicize this shooting… except they have. This shooting is now being used as yet another excuse for the Left to push their anti-gun agenda. And let me be clear, I don’t see a problem with that. I don’t mind people using local events to push their agenda. What I do have a problem with is claiming to be better than your opponents while employing the very tactic you attempt to demean them with. Shame on you. Shame on your family. Shame on your cow.

Okay, what else. I’ve been watching a lot of “How I Met Your Mother”. I saw it once while on vacation and it seemed legit enough to continue watching. I find it odd though, on Netflix the picture on the title card is Barney, while the narrator is Ted. Seems a bit… wrong. But Neil Patrick Harris is hot so I don’t mind. What I do notice though, is at first all of the characters seemed fairly believable and real. As the show progresses, the characters change to fit some mould. Robin starts off as hot new girl with her life well put-together. She slowly devolves into some woman-child. Lily and Marshall take on an interesting dynamic as time continues. They started as college sweethearts and they kinda end that way too, but something just feels off. The only characters that I feel stay relatively constant throughout the show are (definitely) Barney and (loosely) Ted. Maybe the sitcom evolves with time? It’s still amusing in that ‘I need some white noise while I program’ way, but it’s not really a five star experience (whatever that means).

I also downed half a bottle of vodka for the first time ever. That was… weird. No comments there.

Ooh and I picked up a total of 10 likes on my blog posts and got another follower! That made my day! A 100% increase in followers, at this rate I’ll have over a million followers in a year! All joking aside, I do appreciate the likes. Thank you.

What was the point of this blog post? I just want to make sure that I don’t let this blog fall by the wayside. It’s better to write effectively nothing and be writing, be active, than it is to only update when something of note happens. Usually I can find at least one thing a week to complain about or I can complete a game to review, but this time… not really. (Soon though, I should have another game review soon) I got the idea from National Novel Writing Month literature. I read it like four years ago though, so pardon me if I don’t provide the quote directly. The idea is that just getting writing done is useful, even if it’s “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”? I dunno. Anyway, that’ll do it this time.

Artemis Hunt

 

Updates on Me: 6/13/2016