A Teen Genre Romance with a Believable Relationship?
Before we really start to delve into the goods and bads of this portion of the SAO review, let me just say that I never once would have thought that the first time I ever believed a relationship in a teen genre romance would be in an anime about kids stuck in a VR MMO.
And yet, here we are.
Last Review’s Follow Up
In the last review, I listed five points that would determine whether or not the series was hitting its stride, or if it was tumbling down the jagged staircase of mediocre story lines. So let’s address those first.
1. Asuna never hides behind Kirito again.
Well, this was a yes and a no. She hid behind him when they were walking through the forest and Kirito is telling her ghost stories, but that’s fair. That was flirting not hiding. Also, Kirito got to hide behind her in a later episode, though that was just a chance to be goofy.
And, to be completely fair, I guess I can look back on that horrible incident with a little more forgiveness. I need to remember that these two are teenagers, so when they revert to “teenage behavior,” like, hiding from an adult authority figure who doesn’t want you to spend time with your boyfriend… okay. Maybe it’s passable. Maybe.
2. We delve the mystery of “why” a little more.
While the question of why does, in fact, come up, it is not resolved satisfactorily. In fact, I think they kind of wuss out on the answer a little.
3. Kirito experiences a real setback that is used to overcome something later.
Yup. This we do see.
4. Kirito remains basically likeable.
Yup. In fact, every time they had an opportunity to turn him into the stereotypical, uninteresting butt-head anime boy, they resist all temptation and, instead, we get a new side to him and some personal growth.
5. More “moments” like the afternoon nap.
Got those, too. They even discuss that it was that one moment that changed Asuna’s life. Not a boss fight, not finding an awesome weapon, but realizing it’s okay to live her life.
In a way, this becomes the entire point of these five episodes.
So let’s get into it a little more in detail.
This time, though, we’re going to discuss a lot more that could be considered spoilerific, so you’ve been warned. If you want to avoid all chances of spoilers, just skip to the end.
Good for What It’s Not
So if we stick with the premise that this portion of the show is really just a teen genre romance in disguise, we can compare it to most modern popular western stories in the same genre and appreciate SAO for having nothing to do with some overused tropes.
- No post-apocalyptic/dystopian future. It’s just a game in a slightly futuristic world.
- No adults who exist for no other reason than to be wrong about, well… everything.
- No need to rebel against said adults.
- No absurd love triangle. Just when you think they’re aiming for one, they totally fake you out and don’t.
- They don’t find stupid reasons to keep the relationship in the “will-they-won’t-they” stage. They both want the relationship, so they both express themselves and make the relationship work.
- Every time they could make things weird, they don’t.
- Every time they could have them get into an argument because of a misunderstanding (because then you can “recapture the magic when they make up”) they don’t.
But, in general, a person really ought to talk about what a show does have. Anyone can not do something, after all. So what do they do right?
Good for What It Is
This batch of episodes steps away from the status quo by stepping away from the front lines, and the things that involve character growth actually happen on screen. There isn’t as much “Hey, these are the things that Kirito can do because he’s been grinding levels off screen.”
What it all comes down to, though, is the relationship between Kirito and Asuna. This is a relationship that took time to build. It’s one that’s built on the fact that they actually like each other. It’s not like other genre stories that involve one person being so spectacular and amazing and unique that of course everyone would like him/her. Kirito isn’t that much better than Asuna. In fact, Asuna is by for the more popular/famous in the world and can easily deliver the thunder on her own.
She doesn’t have to pity him, she doesn’t have to be in awe of him. She just likes him. And they’re both ready and able to go to extreme lengths to help and protect each other.
This was skillfully shown when they go into a dungeon with the lady from the Army. She’s had a really rough go of things lately, but Kirito and Asuna make her laugh just by, well, being Kirito and Asuna.
They also started getting to some cool “team up” fights and animations, but not as much as there could have been. I wanted to see them working in tandem a little more, but what they have is pretty good.
A Note on Fishing
This was one of those moments that I said I hoped they’d focus more on – people just living life one way or another and enjoying the simpler things that surround them. Kirito has not spent any time improving his fishing skills, which is fun to consider. Fishing is one of those things that my friends would often have their small children do for them when they stepped away from the computer. But in SAO, there are people who make the most of life doing just that. And including it here was a fun break from the normal episodes.
Yui’s story is an important story arc in these episodes. We introduce a small, mystery child into the mix, and I was so sure they were going to get really weird about this one. Again, they get right up to the “Boy, is Asuna really acting weird over this” line, but they never cross it.
They also introduce the name “Cardinal” in this arc… which is… interesting. They introduce it as the program that controls the workings of the entire world, and for some reason it decided to stop Yui from doing her thing. It is basically torturing her in the process, and they never actually say why.
It could be that Cardinal is developing into a type of GLaDOS and enjoying the suffering of others, but Kirito basically equates Cardinal to Kayaba, the creator of the game. And, when the episodes are over, we don’t hear the name again.
Alright, we obviously can’t say much here, but what I will say is that I liked it. And I liked it because if you know your video game RPGs, you should have seen it coming. The characters even say as much.
In The End
It’s not a spoiler to say that they’re going to enter another game after these episodes. You can see that much just by looking at the thumbnails and promo images of later episodes/seasons. And that is something that might hold me back from continuing with the series.
So it should be fairly obvious that I really enjoyed this show. But by episode 14, it really is a great, self-contained story. I’d almost rather decide for myself what happens next, because it just seems like any other game – without the threat of imminent real-life death – just won’t have the same weight. And it also seems like any attempt to make the next game a life and death situation would be ham-fisted at best.
And, it has to be said, that the biggest question from the first set of episodes remains largely unanswered. As in: Why?
So here’s what I’m looking for going forward:
- How they play out the relationship.
- How they justify another game and give it enough weight to matter.
- How they use (or fail to use) Cardinal.
Bottom line: The story is good and, more surprisingly, the relationship in extreme circumstances was actually believable. I fear for how the story will continue because the wrong choices will either not carry enough weight, seem too forced, or minimize the importance of the entire first game the characters spent two years of their lives suffering through.