One may ask something. After my scathing and relentless reviews of “Sword Art Online” (hosted at Pojo), why in the world would I ever return to the series? I gave it a 1, after all.
Well, to be fair- I’ve refined my rating system since then. SAO, under that, would be a 3 or a 4. Not that the rating itself matters too much, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve seen.
I returned to the series for two reasons.
A; The concept of Gun Gale Online was genuinely interesting, though it wouldn’t be the first time this series dropped the ball.
B; Death Gun. Holy shit. Funniest shit. If I was rating this series purely off of how enjoyable he was, it’d get a 10. I was laughing my ass off everytime he was on screen.
…That’s not a good sign, is it? One of the main motivations I had for watching it was literally because an element was done so poorly that it became comical.
Before we get to the meat of what’s wrong with this nonsense (Death Gun), we’re going to over another important point – Sinon.
Sinon’s character is actually interesting. A PTSD victim who’s trying to basically become two different people. On one end, you have her real-life self (that’s seriously afraid of finger guns) and on the other you have a confident sniper.
I like her introduction and her backstory, and the very last scene in the arc is actually well done. This is an actual character who has an arc, differentiating her from pretty much the entire cast. It’s kind of sad I’m giving this series credit for having the audacity to produce something resembling an actual personality, but that’s about how far low the bar was set in season one.
The problem with Sinon’s character is that she falls into the same pitfalls the other supporting female characters fell into. She finds herself charmed by him and interested in him for no discernable reason.
He lies to her to begin with, he really has no interest in helping her to begin with, yet she’s astounded by his… uh… I don’t know. Kirito kind of sucks. Him beating Death Gun is literally the only time he’s accomplished beating an arc villain without a mind-bendingly stupid deus ex machina, and even THAT is upended when the luck of God saves him just minutes later against Kyoji.
Sinon has a problem, though. She’s a split personality, and part of her arc is her closing the gap between her shy and scared real life self and her confident online persona. This, like many other ideas presented in SAO, could’ve been well done. But there’s just this key littttle problem.
HOW THE FUCK DOES SHE PLAY A GAME ABOUT GUNS WHEN SHE’S AFRAID OF SOMEONE MIMICKING GUNS WITH THEIR FINGER
Now, I get where she is in the show- again, a split personality. But how did she get there?! One of her introductory scenes in the real world is her being afraid of Comical Bully Squad #4524514413 and her breaking down when they mimmick a gun motion. This is over the top and stupid already. Why not just show the airsoft gun to her? That would’ve made sense.
It’s not like we lost anything with her confronting her bullies later in the arc, where there’s a can placed nearby conveniently so she can show off her aim to the bullies. Also, the bullies were going to shoot Sinon in the face with an airsoft gun. Why is it that every villain in this series is either a comically mean jackass or a rapist?
I mean, I like the idea of Sinon’s struggle. It’s an exaggeration of a real-life thing where some people can live around online people much easier than real life people, and it could’ve been really interesting. But it’s played out too much and her character gets attached to much to Kirito’s.
SPEAKING OF THE MARY SUE WONDER
Kirito is still in this show, so we have more of his droll personality trying to figure out how Death Gun does things. He’s hired to investigate for the Japanese government. After doing so, he’s jumped into Gun Gale Online. His avatar is female.
“ONTO THE NEXT THING”
Kirito amazingly isn’t immediately good at the gun aspect of the game, but he defies the metagame by using a sword. This is an often ridiculed aspect of this arc, but I’m going to give it an actual chance. It’s not adequately explained, but GGO’s game engine is the same one that Aincrad used. Kirito was used to Aincrad’s physics and whatnot because he was stuck there for years, so I can actually buy this.
It’s a sort of muscle memory where he’s naturally more accustomed to doing flips and tricks from Aincrad. This is versus newer players who aren’t used to the game, bog themselves down with heavy armor, ammunition, guns, etc.
The problem is that while it makes sense from the perspective of being a game engine, it ruins tension. To the credit of the show, the antagonist is similarly an Aincrad player and Kirito doesn’t actually fight many people on-screen, so this potential problem for tension is nowhere near as bad as it could’ve been.
The final fight between Death Gun and Kirito wasn’t particularly engaging. Really, the best fight of the arc is between a man named Pale Rider and some guy they gets his ass kicked, only for Pale Rider to get stunned by Death Gun. Here’s where we run into a really big problem.
Pale Rider’s life could’ve been saved, but the duo of Kirito and Sinon were far too dense to realize it. So, the Death Gun collective wants to convince the GGO world that they have the power to kill people in-game. Kirito and Sinon know Rider is going to get shot, yet they resolve to fire at Death Gun despite Kirito previously saying minutes ago that he didn’t think sniper fire would work.
What do you know, it doesn’t. Death Gun avoids the shot and shoots Pale Rider, resulting in the latter’s death. All they had to do was snipe out Pale Rider and it’s unlikely Death Gun would’ve proceeded with his actual plan since it wouldn’t have looked like him committing the murder.
THE CRAZY CHRONICLES OF DEATH GUN/MURDER SWORD – SPACE BATTLESHIP EDITION
So, why was Death Gun done badly? How did GGO drop the ball? Well, hold on – I’m going to split the atom here. Death Gun and the twist surrounding him is THE worst. I have never soon a plot twist this poorly conceived. It’s not just one or two things that don’t work, everything is contradictory. Every portion of this nonsensical plot constantly contradicts itself episode-by-episode.
Death Gun, as funny as he was, was still intended to be a dramatic villain. The nonsensical and plot-breaking twist built upon contrivance after contrivance backs this up.
I’ve been an active part of many online communities. A guy in a black cloak in a skull mask waving his toy gun around and talking big words isn’t intimidating. The reaction people had in the prologue is about how it’d always go – he’s funny, not scary.
The audience’s knowledge that he’s a killer doesn’t really make him any scarier, especially when you understand how the twist completely destroys the entire plot. There is no reason to feel tension because Death Gun is not logically life threatening throughout 90% of the story to our main cast.
How is this the case? Well.
Death Gun, according to the story, is an in-game avatar used by three different people. These three people all belong to a former guild known as “Laughing Coffin”, which was a gang of serial killers from Aincrad.
-Johnny Black is someone we never see. It’s implied he kills Pale Rider and some other guy named Garrett we never see.
-Kyoji, Sinon’s supposed close friend. He’s secretly next to Sinon in real life holding a syringe for much of the arc, yet… he’s obsessed with her. What.
-Red Eyed XaXa, Kyoji’s brother. He’s the in-game Death Gun.
Here’s where the plot breaks.
There is a major point towards the end of the arc about Sinon’s life being in danger. Yet, we know ultimately that Kyoji is the one holding the syringe. Am I to infer when XaXa is about to shoot Sinon in-game that Kyoji would have killed her, in spite of that being contradictory to his character?
The writer didn’t think this through. That’s not all he didn’t think about, though.
What is the central motivation of Death Gun? For Kyoji, it seems to be getting attention from Sinon, yet XaXa and (preumably) Johnny Black seem more concerned with killing people. As far as I know, Kyoji never actually kills anybody. It’s probably exclusively Johnny Black that injects people, in fact, since XaXa plays the in-game Death Gun in every instance except the Prologue.
Additionally, Death Gun as a collective is attempting to make people believe he can kill people through in-game means. Yet… law enforcement will eventually catch on. Were the bodies that were found not given autopsies? Why didn’t the authorities take the claims of cybercrime more seriously, especially considering how cyber-crimes have been committed before?
Even if they didn’t perform autopsies, a pattern will emerge – people mysteriously die the same time they’re shot in-game. If a bunch of these cases pop up, they WILL start performing autopsies and looking for marks or poisons.
In fact, Death Gun presents a detectable pattern. He only enters homes/apartments where the person lives by themselves, and the lock is electric. Additionally, all of the people that get killed are top-level players.
Death Gun obtained their addresses through using invisibility cloaks and spying on people while they entered their information. The fuck? What kind of game developer would seriously make it where this could ever, ever happen? You could, if nothing else, probably steal credit card information using this.
The more of these things you have to conveniently excuse due to circumstances made up for no reason other than to cover up plot holes, the more the plot becomes contrives. It gets worse, though.
In-game Death Gun is XaXa. XaXa knows who Kirito is. Death Gun’s one in-universe way of being exposed involves his Aincrad identity being remembered because the Japanese government has a name list of both the usernames and real life names of every person who played in Aincrad. Kirito was an Aincrad player who met and fought XaXa.
XaXa literally walks up to Kirito and basically flaunts the fact he’s XaXa. He reveals his Laughing Coffin tattoo that confirms he’s an SAO survivor, he says things XaXa said, and the plot (at this point) is based purely on the fact that Kirito forgot who XaXa was.
That’s how flimsy this plot is. The villain, who is shown to be extremely careful (yet his plan is literally self-defeating) walks up and more or less tries to jog the memory of the one guy who can identify him. If Kirito immediately remembered, he literally could have logged off and identified the killer. Bam. Boom. Done.
It gets even worse when Death Gun LITERALLY ADMITS TO KILLING PALE RIDER AND GIVES AN OMINOUS SPEECH ABOUT IT
Like, even if Kirito wasn’t there, the authorities could easily time stamp Pale Rider’s in-game death and go check on him in real life. Once they find out he’s dead, boom goes the dynamite. They know Death Gun is legit and they have a victim pattern. After an autopsy, they’d know the poison used.
Then all they’d need to do is look for medical students that play GGO. Once they find an SAO survivor… yeah.
Basically, Death Gun is chronically and gravely stupid and the collective’s plan makes no sense.
If Death Gun has access to a name list of Bullet of Bullets entrants, that means – presumably – real names and addresses were used or required across the board. If this is the case, the Japanese government could compare the BoB and SAO name lists and instantly identify Death Gun. WHOOPS
Kyoji is the only part of this plot that more often than not makes sense. The revelation that there are multiple Death Guns isn’t a bad one, and it’s set up pretty well, but the actual meat of it is a trainwreck.
Kyoji as the bad guy is set up well – only for him to become another generic crazy rapist. Kirito is, once again, saved by virtue of Deus Ex Machina. I don’t think I ever went over this point in my original topic, but Kirito kind of sucks. He tends to only win as a result of the author intervening and throwing out stupid nonsense that saves the day. For a series focused on gaming, Kirito rarely wins as a result of skill.
So, in essence, SAO has made a mockery of:
What’s next, a terminal dise-
THE CHRONICLES OF TERMINAL ILLNESS AND HOW TO EXPLOIT IT FOR THE ILLUSION OF DRAMA
So, after a point three-episode arc nobody cares about that did nothing and was a pseudo-OVA given airtime (presumably signed off by the same people who sign off on edo-period One Piece filler episodes), we reach the somehow best part of the series.
This arc is pretty much free of Kirito. There are a few instances of him being in it, but he’s not really that integral to the plot. The plot is more focused on Asuna, who really had no character prior to this. She was a female sidekick that was deemed progressive or interesting just people she could fight. Much like Mikasa of Attack on Titan, however, she has no actual character traits and just sort of exists.
This arc changed that a little bit by introducing a surprisingly subtle and interesting bit of drama between her and her mother. I found it well animated, well scripted, and overall a good start at creating an interesting teenaged character. It highlights some of the after affects of Aincrad, it gives Asuna personality, and it gives someone opposed to the protagonist who isn’t comically evil.
So, yeah, that’s all pretty good. Too bad it’s ruined by a manufactured drama.
There’s a point in the original SAO that I used to consider “good”. It was the episode with the Black Cats, where they all die and Kirito feels immense guilt for it. Since then, I’ve come to understand more about representing grief in stories.
We’re supposed to feel sad like he is, yet we spent so little time with the Black Cats that it’s hard to care. It’s extremely bare-bones, and it’s hard to connect with the protagonist over it unless you take a “b-but muh waifu” mentality on it. It needed more time and character interaction to be meaningful.
This is the exact reason why Yuuki’s arc isn’t really compelling. It’s more compelling than the above, but it’s oversold on multiple levels. From the extent in which the disease affected her life and family to her death scene, everything is overdone. It gives us littl;e to care about then manufactures as much drama as possible, when minimalism with her situation would have helped sell a more meaningful death scene.
This is something the series managed to do at the end of GGO. Sinon meeting with the people she saved was a low-key, well done moment to an otherwise disaster of a story arc.
Yet, they felt the need to not just give Yuuki AIDs, but to give her entire family AIDs, have them all die from it, then have a death scene where hundreds of people gather to watch her pass.
I was watching this with my group, and one of the members keenly pointed out how it felt kind of exploitive. He’s right. It is. It’s very, very exploitive, to the point where it’s inconsistent with reality.
You’d think this takes place in the 1980s or 90s. yet HIV and AIDs are now considered chronic illnesses rather than automatic death sentences. Japan has an NHS. The story is nearly at 2030, and perfect VR exists. It’s very hard to grasp that AIDs isn’t either cured to some extent or is easy to live with given adequate medication, yet she and her entire family die from it. Contrived, stupid, and all made that way to make it sad.
No amount of that many players would care about one person in the community dying so much as to log on and flood the skies. Especially not without some people being, well, dicks. This is still the internet, after all.
The audience does not spend much time with Yuuki or know a ton about her until after they drop the anvil of her disease into the audience. She’s honestly a Mary Sue, and it’s really grimy that this arc exists the way it does.
So add “AIDs” to the list of things this series made a mockery of. So, do I still consider it the best arc? Yes, mostly because the story is coherent and the subplot involving Asuna’s mother is genuinely good.
Rating: 4/10. Good animation and soundtrack and an improvement over SAO1, but still pretty disastrous.