Before the Black Out: More Human Than Human | OWLS “Diplomacy”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  eleventh monthly topic, “Diplomacy,” I decided to incorporate my loose thoughts on Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 into this glance at the past, the present, and the future of the franchise’s iconic sci-fi world. The matter at hand: In an age rife with incredible development, improvement, and achievement, when did humanity lose its defining future–its ability to reason compassionately?

Whenever we have a disagreement with someone, we use our words to express our thoughts and opinions. However, there are those who would rather use fists instead of words—those who forget that being “right” isn’t the most important thing, and those who lose sight of compromising and acknowledging differences in opinion and belief. Diplomacy is an important skill and tactic that not many of us have or are able to utilize properly especially in “social media wars” for sensitive issues and anime discourse—we just express our opinions without really listening.

We will be exploring some of the best negotiations scenes in pop culture media and discuss how effective these diplomatic moments are and what we can learn from them. We will also discuss why communication and listening are important traits to have, and whether or not there are other means to enforce peace.

I’ll be taking this in a bit of a different direction, like say, what happens in a world without diplomacy—a world without choice—where issues can’t merely be talked through, but require brute force to get a point across. War is necessity. I’m talkin’ about the dawn of a revolution, the beginning of the blackout bigger and darker than the world had ever known. Welcome to Blade Runner.

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Thanks Lyn for the prompt (this month’s theme was admittedly tricky for me, so I hope you all enjoy a VERY different OWLS post)!


A brief discussion on the 15-min fall 2017 anime short “Blade Runner: Black Out 2022,” produced by Cygames, directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop). It serves as one of three short films based on the original film by Ridley Scott as an intended sequel to fill in the events before “Blade Runner 2049.” SPOILERS only for “BLACK OUT 2022” will be present.

A Dystopian Vision of Our World, the Not-So-Far-Off Future

Set three years after the events of Blade Runner, we are presented with a vision of Los Angeles in 2022: a grim, metal and rain-coated field of shacks and skyscrapers that continues beyond the horizon as far as the eye can reach. It’s an overcrowded metropolis in which millions of people roam the streets, shoulders practically touching, yet people couldn’t feel more disconnected on a personal level. The scene is gloomy, very neo-noir in tone, and the only sense of organization comes from not the city’s inhabitants, but its layout and structure; a handful of massive, sprawling, and imposing ziggurats distinguish between the penniless street-dwellers and those empowered with privilege.

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Between the maze of ominous alleyways and towering steel spires, one would find two types of species: the living, us standard human types, and the manufactured, bio-engineered androids coined “replicants” (these happen to be new Nexus-8 models, mind you, which mean that their lifespans are programmed to be just as long as a normal human’s—a significant improvement since the four-year lifespans of Nexus-6 models in the original Blade Runner). Already faster, stronger, and smarter than humans, this latest replicant enhancement robbed humans of their final upper edge against the robots, and unfortunately, this didn’t settle well with the populous.

Hunters, fighters, and police began their assaults on a race that didn’t even get to choose its genes—their maker, in fact, was human, so why the cause for outrage? Human nature, that’s why (cue events of 1982’s Blade Runner). Replicants were brutally hunted down, more killed than imprisoned. Feeling the urge, the drive, the right to power over all they create and manipulate, unjust violence by humanity broke out everywhere, and it’d only be a matter of time before the Replicants as a whole decided to fight back. In their rise, humanity fell further to the lowest levels of jealousy, corruption, and greed.

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A Means to an End

FINALLY, we get to Black Out 2022, a brief tale that begins at the climax of the Replicant Revolution, a stage craftily set by what I’d imagine to be many painstaking hours of sorting out the details so that the franchise’s history flowed smoothly with the coming of Blade Runner 2049. We find a young female, a replicant named Trixie, in the streets being approached by a group of thugs when Iggy, a once-soldier replicant, bursts onto the scene and rescues her. Iggy had left the battlefield once he realized that, in the war on terror, BOTH sides were using replicants as disposable pawns. Flash forward and together the two team up with other members of the underground replicant freedom movement to destroy the Tyrell Corporation’s database of registered replicants, so that replicants can no longer be hunted, as well as plunge Los Angeles into the dark ages via atomic bomb. Heaven and hell are for the humans—now, THIS life, is all the replicants have.

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Too often, these war shows about rebellion cause us to contemplate the same questions: How did things turn out this way? Was this really the only way to win? Did we even really win anything in the end? And you know, I find them to be more rhetorical than anything. Rather than asking a serious question and expecting a straight answer, these questions merely exist to put a point out there. How did things turn out this way? Well, because we kept agreeing to disagree, that’s how. But really, perhaps it’s because, somewhere deep down in the darkest of our human selves, we wanted this result—this form of means to bring us to the end. As the saying goes, “If you go down, go down fighting,” right? Then WHAT is so wrong about rigging a bomb to protect the lives of millions of ill-fated replicants? (rhetorical question, just think)

Maybe there isn’t a way outta this one. Sometimes, words alone are not enough to probe individuals to act. Replicant injustice was akin to a crueler version of slavery by the time of the revolution—it was humanity who created beings capable of achieving self-realization and freedom, and it was humanity who purposefully dangled that freedom in front of their innocent, unknowing faces, far beyond their grasp. I hate to admit it (and no, I don’t condemn the use of atomic bombs, ever), but maybe the replicants were right on this one.

According to basic psychology, Kohlberg’s theory on moral development might have an explanation to the justification of rigging the great black out of 2022:

Of his 6 stages, the last is the rarest case of man, one in which he weighs universal ethical principles. Gifted individuals like Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. fit this bill, as they pass judgments based on universal human rights (whether it’s for or against the law, this is inherently right/wrong). They tend to disregard law and social agreement for what is believed to be the greatest good for all, kinda like groovin’ to the beat of their own drum. Whoever is leading the Replicant Revolution is likely such a charismatic character, one who is seeking an end where replicants can live freely regardless of how many laws they have to break getting there. Now, back to the Blade Runner . . .

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If Only We Could Talk Things Through

BEHOLD, THIS is the future you asked for, humanity. THIS is the world in which you gave all of your power up to an oppressive state that knows all and sees all, and thus it created more slaves. THIS is the route where humans essentially reduced a complex lifeform into a machine. This is . . . the black out is . . .

It’s the world you deserve.

Call me bitter, but there’s a time and place for war, there really is. When some people get their head SO far up their asses that they close off their mind to new ideas and thoughts, it’s time for change. And that is EXACTLY what the replicants did and in the most peaceful way possible. Through the black out, two lowly replicants transcend their original purposes to become free-thinking individuals.

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The film ends just as it began: Iggy walking away from a storm of ash and flames with an eye patch, symbolizing that he, like Trixie, has cast aside his original purpose as a replicant soldier (replicant IDs are located under the eye), transforming him into a cold warrior fighting for justice and the freedom of his kind. Now, in theory, all men are equal, and the means of terrorism have brought upon a glorious end: all of the world is painted black. There is no record of who is or isn’t a replicant. Is it an ending of hope? Well, if you find their actions to be “stage 6 justification” like I do, then it might be. Enslavement of any kind should never be tolerated, and as such, sometimes we need action to prove a point—much like asking a rhetorical question. To quote MLK Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Blade Runner: Black Out 2022, as with the rest of the franchise, shows us a future void of diplomacy. It’s a world where those who are inferior neither get a voice nor a chance to negotiate their terms of living. There is no fairness. There is no thoughtfulness, or sensitivity, or care given to the replicants. To change the treatment of their kind, the replicants had to think bigger and above themselves—to a region of thought that even most humans fail to fathom—accurately becoming, as ironically as the Tyrell Corporation proclaims, “more human than human.” And it is through the awe-inspiring darkness of the black out that we see the light.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK Jr. 
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Once again, I didn’t even get to discuss the art and animation of the world of Blade Runner in the anime style—which is perhaps the single most interesting element about this entire short film!!! Guys, 2022 is seriously beautiful, both fluid and engaging during the action scenes, and simply breathtaking in terms of landscape. JUST LOOK AT IT. MY GOD, what I’d give to just walk through the blue, rainy, compact streets of the city!! It’s like a dirtier, grittier version of Ghost in the Shell, and if that means anything to you then you ought to give the franchise a watch.

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Speaking of, this is NOT RECOMMENDED for a blind watch. You won’t get any of it. It’s designed to serve as a one of three prequel short films to the latest Blade Runner 2049and boy did they help a ton! So yes, start with the 1982 Blade Runner, as I highly recommend it, then make your way up. For Black Out 2022, I’ll gladly place it under the “Cakes” menu for future reference.

This concludes my November 10th entry in the OWLS “Diplomacy” blog tour. A new friend of mine, Irina (Drunken Anime Blog) chose to explore how her otome stories and games taught her that you can’t please all the boys with your charming diplomatic ways. Then look out for Lita (Lita Kino Anime Corner) tomorrow, November 11th with, well, it’s a surprise!  Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

LISTEN TO THIS. “Almost Human” by pop-singer Lauren Daigle is an interesting choice for an ED theme, and I wouldn’t have picked a different one. SO GOOD!!

 

2017 August Anime Haul [Birthday Edition]!

Greetings cafe goers!

August was a special month for me: first day of college, beginning my Funimation Now and Amazon Prime subscriptions, and most special of all, my birthday! Thank you so much to all those who sent me birthday wishes and good cheer that August 27th! It was just another reminder as to how many friends I’ve met thanks to blogging, and how far we’ve all gone together. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Now, my siblings like to go overboard on birthdays. They’re HUGE in my house. Like, even if you’re 40 or 50 you’re gonna get a ton of gifts and feel celebrated for—that’s just how we roll!

This year, my siblings asked for a list, and while that doesn’t guarantee anything will get picked, it gives them an idea of what I like (even though they already know by now). As always, I try to remain cost efficient, pulling together items that are currently on sale from various sites and places into one big list of fairly inexpensive anime-related items.

At the time, the biggest sale going on was Funimation’s end of summer (or was it middle of summer, I can’t remember) sale. We’re talking $5 films, $10 classics, and $30 new shows—that’s like RIDICULOUSLY CHEAP. And for that reason, I can understand why I received so many new titles. I’m now gonna brag about how cool they are by showing off what I got, so thanks bro and sis!

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My sister gifted to me one of the big hitters, if not THE biggest, of 2015: the chic yet suspenseful Death Parade. We’ve already busted it open, and have been watching an episode each night to relieve stress (or to add to it since there’s so much suspense and, well, death). She also got me the Trigun: Badlands Rumble film, and while that’s neat and all, I don’t have Trigun, nor have I watched it. There’s a reason she gave it to me (and wrapped it in my signature paper wrapping decorated with hints to the show as a little guessing game) . . .

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AND THIS is why she got me the film, hahaha she had coordinated with my brother!! Now I can enjoy this classic and not feel bad that they spent a ton of money on anything. He also got me the last book in the Bakemonogatari trilogy, which I’ve been reading since the first, Kizumonogatari.

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But he doesn’t stop there, oh no. He got me the SECOND big-hitter of 2015, everybody’s favorite Blood Blockade Battlefront, as well as the next film in the Project Itoh trilogy, harmony. (I showed the first film, The Empire of Corpses, to them, and told them the history of the project’s writer. Guess it must’ve made him curious.) I haven’t watched either of these yet, but I can’t wait!!

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To finish of my Ghost in the Shell collection (which I also showed to them the 1995 film), he got me the second of two OVA sets, which contains borders: 3 & 4Ghost Tears and Ghost Stands Alone. While I thought that Arise was mediocre at best, I am a collector, and this is just as wonderful as receiving a 10/10 title!

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LAST BUT NOT LEAST (oh god, how truly spoiled I am), he gifted to me this curious little oddity I found in the RightStuf 30th Anniversary sale, Freedom, which is supposedly from the creators of the apocalyptic Akira. I haven’t watched either of these yet, but I’m excited to explore more of the anime sci-fi branch and its origins. Plus it came in this stupidly high-quality box set (despite being under $30), complete with a mini artbook and YES black Blu-ray cases. Again, thank you so much bro!!

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But OF COURSE, I had to spoil myself #treatyoself with two titles that I’ve been VERY excited to watch! The first, a short series (like Arise, composed of four or five one-hour-long episodes) which takes place between the legendary Code Geass‘s first and second seasons: Akito the Exiled. After rewatching the series with my siblings this past summer (which they ABSOLUTELY LOVED TO DEATH), getting this ASAP was a must. Now we can enjoy the events that took place between the two seasons, as well as witness stunning CG mecha fights. I’ve plugged in the first two episodes, and so far it’s quite entertaining. Oh, and it came with an art card set like the first did, YAY! (ugh I’m wet for Clamp artwork.)

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The other movie I picked up was the wildly anticipated 2016 Japanese masterpiece film Shin Godzilla. I’m not a huge Godzilla fan, but knowing that Evangelion director Hidaeki Anno directed this project, too, made it a MUST HAVE. I NEED to know what he worked on between 3.33 and his upcoming 3.0+1.0 in order to understand the emotions running through his mind (or dare try), so the other title I need to pick up is Sentai Filmworks’ The Dragon Dentist, which I believe comes out in the fall.

I also know that Life-in-Japan YouTuber Sharla (Sharla in Japan, Sharmander) worked with the lead actors and actresses on pronouncing their English, as there is quite a bit despite being an otherwise subtitled film. I like Sharla, her videos being a large source of relaxation, exploration, and fun for me.

For another #TakutoMovieNight on Twiter, I watched Shin Godzilla as soon as it came in and I LOVED IT to pieces!!! Still not converted to a full-on Godzilla fan, haha, no, but the directing is very much like his films (1.11 especially), to which I honestly can’t get enough of. I’ll review it sometime if you’d like, just know that it’s already a thumbs up from me! When I watch it again, I’ll try out Funimation’s English track to see if it’s any good!

That’s all from me! For those wondering, I had a nice relaxing weekend with the family, to which we exchanged good food, laughs, and films together. Specifically, we continued the tradition of watching a film of my choice, and to follow up last year’s 1.11 (review here), we watched Evangelion 2.22 (review here).

Surprisingly, it left my parents intrigued as to what happens next, so my dad decided we’d watch 3.33 (review here) the following week. That made me happy. After watching it, however, they both got pretty confused (no surprise there), but I still think that they hold as much hope for the last film as I do, and that also reassures me.

In otherwords, it’s been a very Evangelion weekend, but I wouldn’t have it any other way~!

Again, big thank you to all who said such kind things to me throughout my little holiday!! I’ll be posting an End of August Update soon, so look forward to that! I really do have the BEST, most supportive family one could ever want, both IRL and through the net. Thanks for making my day that lil’ bit of “extra” we all need! Love you all, you party crew!!!

– Takuto, your host

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Overfly, To Be So Close Yet So Far Away | PART V & FINALE: In Defense of Fairy Dance

This is part five and finale of the five-part series “In Defense of Fairy Dance,” a collection and comprehensive analysis defending the positive aspects of Reki Kawahara’s “Fairy Dance” arc in Sword Art Online. Research was gathered from the anime (sub and dub versions) and volumes three and four of the light novel series. This is in NO WAY written to justify all of the second half of the series, nor is it to say that it is particularly well-written. Instead, it is a half-full glass of the neat things the series did, and why I enjoyed myself with most of the content despite the glaring flaws. HEAVY SPOILERS EXIST.

Well readers, we’ve reached the final stretch! Instead of boring you with another wave of novel quotes and anime screenshots, I decided to go out on a limb [insert World Tree joke here] and bring in sound to this comprehensive analysis. Specifically, Sword Art Online’s second ending (my favorite song) “Overfly” by Luna Haruna. For this post, I’d like to seek the great YouTuber and vocalist Amanda Lee and her cover of “Overfly” to wrap everything up, as its lyrical brilliance encompasses the heart and soul of the “Fairy Dance.” Even though the multi-meaningful lyrics can be applied to practically all characters in the franchise (dramatic irony and all), I want to tag-team with AmaLee and let one Sylph in particular shine above the crowd.

I DO NOT OWN “OVERFLY” OR THIS COVER. THE SONG BELONGS TO LUNA HARUNA AND THE COVER BELONGS TO AMANDA LEE.

First, a note from AmaLee herself. If you read the description box, she quotes:

“I wanted to chime in about this song (rare, I know!) If you’ve watched the anime you can probably see that this song is written from Sugu’s perspective. (spoiler warning) Throughout the song she’s realizing that her love is one-sided and is trying to deal with that heartbreak. I know many people don’t like Sugu but I just want to give her a big hug after singing this song~ ;;;A;;; I the lyrics are extremely touching because everyone knows the feeling of wanting something so badly but ultimately knowing that no matter what you do, you can’t make it happen. Betcha didn’t think this song was that bittersweet when you heard it in Japanese!”

Oh yeah, then why the Asuna picture instead of Suguha? How does this play into the sad irony we’ve thoroughly established?

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Ah yes, the truth is polarizing. Onto the song!

ENGLISH “Overfly” Sword Art Online (AmaLee)

 

Hands up high Raise them high

And cast your worries to the sky

There’s no doubt Not one doubt

As I make my wish and let it cry out

Two hands in the air not only represent a surrender, but also an “AGH, I give up!” action. And that’s exactly what Suguha’s doing here – She’s throwing her burdens and troubles towards the heavens in hopes that – without doubt – she will be able to dream without worry and just let it all out.

If I gathered all the love in my heart

That grows with every passing day

I would find a confusing puzzle

That changes and rearranges

Every day, Sugu’s love for Kazuto grows more and more. Love isn’t an emotion to stop by for an hour, sip on a drink, then depart. No. Each passing moment she shares with him adds to the complexity of the scenario – Should I love him, should I not . . . ? Sugu knows the chaos that would spread should she declare her love to her brother, and that not only hurts but confuses her. Shouldn’t she be entitled to pursue love passionately and freely? In this case, society (and some health studies) indicate otherwise.

Will I ever find my place? I’m not sure

Or will I forever feel insecure?

And the moment all the questions fade

I notice my tears

But I can’t hold them back

Will Sugu eventually find a place where she is comfortable with this forbidden lust? She doesn’t know. Perhaps she’ll be clutching that intangible and silly reality forever, like a kid at a carnival still waiting by the Ferris wheel with a ticket despite it having closed hours ago. However, the moment she thinks she’s come up with a solution and/or breaks the ice, Sugu is reminded about how wrong that love is, and cries indefinitely.

Maybe it’s too late

I’ve lost my chance

All of my questions shall go unanswered

Will I keep fighting to find the light or

Will I descend to a bitter end?

It might even be too late! I mean, Kazuto loves Asuna with a desire unlike any other; Perhaps Sugu should just throw in the towel now. I mean, the two are a good match. What would you do – Pursue love passionately and vigorously, or end the struggle only to wallow in more regret, guilt, and heartbreak?

Hands up high Raise them high

And cast your worries to the sky

If you can’t stand

Then take my hand

And I will rise to fight by your side

My beating heart is burning on

And as it races I realize

There’s no doubt Not one doubt

As I make my wish and let it cry out

Chorus time. Toss up those hands in prayer, as all will eventually be fine. Here, I imagine Leafa’s personality peeking through the clouds. The fierce Sylph warrior is reaching out to Kirito’s hand in an effort to help him rise and rescue his seemingly long-lost ‘wife.’ This encouragement, in turn, causes reinvention to take root within Leafa. “Now I have purpose,” and this excites her heart into motion. If he can pursue that wildly at impossible odds, so can she. The wish is back into focus.

I have always danced to my own beat

But you always throw me out of sync

‘Cause around you I am holding back

And I’m mastering a fake brave smile

Sugu is tough on the outside and on the inside. She’s in kendo, and damn good at it, too! Ever since, she’s had her own rhythm – her own ebb and flow. Even in ALO, flying through missions is the only thing on her mind. But romance keeps disrupting the waters; a heartbeat that keeps accelerating. Leafa has to act tough around Kirito so that he is not discouraged, even if her heart is overflowing with anticipation and mixed signals.

Maybe it’s too late

I’ve lost to my dreams

All of my wishes come true only here

If I wake up now, I’ll lose this moment

I fear my dreams will fade around me

Kazuto returned to the real world nicer than ever before, and that also offsets Sugu. “Why is he so kind to me?” As reality keeps tormenting her, indecision crawls back into the forefront. All of Sugu’s greatest dreams come true in the enchanting land of the fairies, ALfheim Online. She can fly, rest, make friends, and most of all, be truly free. If Sugu decides to “wake up” and choose Kazuto over ALO, she knows she’ll lose many things in the process, including her one true dream of flying higher than the clouds.

I’m so close yet so far

I can’t reach out to where you are

I’d give my heart I’d give my soul

But somethings are not in our control

“I’m so close, yet so far.” This is the ideal caption for Sword Art Online’s second half. It ties to Asuna and Kirito being in the same gaming world, yet not being able to meet up. It applies to Kirito standing over her real body in the hospital, yet not being able to say a word. It enforces the thought that Suguha has tragically fallen in love with her own brother, and despite them being closer than ever before (they live in the same house for chrissake), she feels so far apart. How about Leafa wanting to break the flight barrier? She’s so damn close all the time, yet the game has set it so that it’s impossible to breech. It’s all of that damn Dramatic Irony crap we’ve been delving into for the past two weeks!! Everyone on this cruel stage is willing to risk their heart and soul, but whether it be game admins, societal roles, or virtual connections, it’s not for them to decide the rules.

Your hand’s not meant for me to hold

And I’ll be lonely when you’re gone

I’m aware So aware

Only through my memory you’ll be there

A sister knows she cannot be with her own brother in matrimony. Thus, when Asuna and Kazuto go off and wed in the real world, Sugu will feel very lonely. Same with Kirito – Once he finds the princess he’s searching for, Leafa will lose her daring knight and precious friend. Only in reminiscence will she savor these wonderful joys.

It’s not the destiny that I’ve dreamed of

And as I cry I know this is goodbye

How can I ever reach you

When I can’t even see the sky?

She didn’t want to fall in love with Kazuto – That’s why she moved on to Kirito! But when Kirito proclaims his lover’s name, “Asuna,” she realizes that she was just another player in this punishing game of tag. Why she “can’t see the sky” could represent her tears filling and blurring out the view. Or perhaps another hint at the flight barrier which she cannot breech. Even more so could be that at the beginning of the song (and at the end here), Sugu cast her dreams to the sky, and that vision has now become muddied.

Hands up high Raise them high

And cast your worries to the sky

If you can’t stand

Then take my hand

And I will rise to fight by your side

My beating heart is burning on

And as it races I realize

There’s no doubt Not one doubt

As I make my wish and let it cry out

Regardless, the sky will always hold her heavy heart and greatest wishes. If Kirito needs help, then she will help him like he did for her. Simple as that, and this foreshadows the route she takes following the revelation (Sugu finds out) and the conclusion. Fighting with him excites her, and as her heart beats firmly, the Sylph now knows where she stands: In the sky, high above spiraling towers where her desires can cry out, yet out of reach for anyone else to hear. What else could “Overfly” mean?


Thank you for reading! Please, share any thoughts below and stay tuned for a brief REFLECTION!

(I own neither the anime nor the light novel series of Sword Art Online. All images and videos belong to A-1 Pictures and Reki Kawahara. “Overfly” belongs to Luna Haruna, and this English cover belongs to AmaLee.)

The Deadly Power of the Game | PART IV: In Defense of Fairy Dance

This is part four of the five-part series “In Defense of Fairy Dance,” a collection and comprehensive analysis defending the positive aspects of Reki Kawahara’s “Fairy Dance” arc in Sword Art Online. Research was gathered from the anime (sub and dub versions) and volumes three and four of the light novel series. This is in NO WAY written to justify all of the second half of the series, nor is it to say that it is particularly well-written. Instead, it is a half-full glass of the neat things the series did, and why I enjoyed myself with most of the content despite the glaring flaws. HEAVY SPOILERS EXIST.

Much like with PART III, this section will focus on the dramatic irony behind ALfheim Online itself, along with VR gaming altogether. Again, we’ll be analyzing many of the quotes from the light novels to bring the truth to light. The anime does a fair job at captioning the satire of the entire ordeal, so bringing in further clips would only clutter the analysis. There are pictures, though. Many pretty pictures.

“Land of the Fairies,” Eh?

Don’t worry, Kazuto thought the exact same thing. I mean, what’s a bunch of fairies doing in games anyway? After nearly dying in a world of knights and castles, nobody wants to be a dumb fairy – They’re just bloated pixies. But when Kazuto questioned Agil, apparently ALO isn’t just another laid-back, casual MMO. No, in fact it’s “actually pretty hard-core,” as the system is set up to be entirely skill-based so that player skill is rewarded. PK-ing is encouraged as a result. Where each VRMMORPG tests its players, Leafa believes that pride is what was being challenged in ALO. “How hard could you struggle? If you lost, how would you regroup and hold your head high? That was the test, (24, vol.4).” Also, imagine losing to a bunch of fairies. That’s dumb.

Right off the bat irony is up and ready for a home run. That should be every viewer’s first thought – What’s so tough about ALfheim? The second arc’s game is totally based on athletic abilities rather than keyboarding techniques, essentially meaning that if you lose in-game, it means that you literally weren’t strong enough. It’s also funny how they mention it’s basically SAO with magic. Magic. Doesn’t ALO feel magical? Everyone has glittery wings that allow them to fly higher than in any other MMO, and who doesn’t want that? ALO must be a DREAM COME TRUE, no flaws whatsoever. HAH! What a joke.

The Sad, Scientific Truth behind ALfheim

I don’t want to turn this already-way-too-long series into a summary, so let’s just jog our noggins. Sugou inverted SAO into ALO, kidnapping +300 entrapped minds as tools to further his research. That being, to study and prove that if the brain could be significantly controlled, then so could emotions.

“’Ha-ha! You won’t be singing that tune for long. Very soon, I will control your emotions in the palm of my hand. Look, Titania. Can you see them? Thousands and thousands of players, diving into this expansive world, enjoying the game. The thing is . . . none of them has any idea that the full-dive system isn’t just a tool for mere entertainment!’ (102, vol.3).”

Games are meant to be innocent fun, nothing more or less. But here, the grand Fairy King has rewritten the rules and taken control of all pawns on the board. He cheats, abusing the gift of the virtual world to benefit his own research – And at the extent of risking human lives, to which he casts aside! Sugou is a villain in both pixels and cold blood, and I’d say he’s a good one at that. He is, after all, a scientist, and furthering one’s knowledge of the world whenever and WHEREVER possible is sincerely worth pursuing. While you can only go so far to justify his motives, Sugou is still a creepy bastard who treats his soon-to-be wife without any regard, and he also kidnaps kiddos and pokes around their brain while they sleep. His jealousy over Kayaba’s success drove him to be even more passionate, yet he was outraged when the creator sacrificed himself.

“’Mr. Kayaba was a genius. But he was also a fool. How could he utilize that incredible potential just to create a stupid game?’ (103, vol.3).”

But his methods are where I see the crowd diverge. His henchmen find it more humane than exposing test animals’ brains to open air and jamming electrodes into them. “I mean, all they’re doing here is dreaming.” Very true, it’s all one big farce, and the series mentions that research on the human brain is incredibly slow due to the, well, human subjects needed. It’s not like you can get folks to consent on the matter, though. Otherwise we’d be leaps and bounds ahead of what we know! His research is admirable, but Sugou’s methods cross the line of sanity. He’s also an ass, which adds to what makes pure villainy – hatred. He’s supposed to be unlikable, and I think we can all agree that he is without falter.

This is One Tree You Can’t Climb

After giving Kirito the info-dump as to the features in ALO, Kirito assesses that the World Tree – The Master Quest – is essentially unbeatable because the only indication to standing a chance involves guild cooperation. However, the prize is only awarded to a single race that completes the mission, and no one would compete if it just means forfeiting the prize to the other team.

A while later, Kirito truly understands the game’s irony. “’ALO’s a nasty game, testing its players’ greed like this. I’m guessing its designer is a real piece of work,’ (191, vol.3).”

Oh trust me, he is. He is the self-proclaimed “Fairy King.” He’s also a narcissistic fiend.

Even Leafa, while tackling the Tree at the end of the series, feels the unfairness in the omnipresent guardian knights. She’s starting to sense that this world isn’t built around the hopes and dreams that flying fulfills. Something’s amiss. I just love this quote:

“But now, for the first time, Leafa began to sense a kind of malice within the system. Some unseen force, which was supposedly keeping everything in a fair balance, was wickedly, cruelly swinging a bloody scythe at the players’ necks within this arena. There was no way to overcome this trap, (124, vol.4).”

And when Kirito finally resurfaces (because he’s too OP) he becomes speechless. He has some excellent mental grammar, though:

“The grand quest at the center of the game – to reach the city atop the World Tree and be reborn as true fairies – was nothing more than a giant carrot, endlessly dangled out of reach of the game’s player base? So not only was this battle’s difficulty set to the extreme, the door was locked by nothing more than the will of the game manager . . . ? (133, vol.4).”

THIS RIGHT HERE is the MOST SIGNIFICANT piece of DRAMATICAL IRONY found in the work. We’ve covered Suguha and Asuna, but this realization is the ultimate plot underlying Sword Art Online. Even the revelation to Kirito that Sugou – the nasty man trying to steal his girl IRL – is the mastermind doesn’t compare in shock value to this. The game is rigged. It was from the start to its game manager’s end. Those who fought for life in this world – to fly high among the stars and one day, a palace in the sky – is all for not. Hell, the option doesn’t exist. Just like you couldn’t log out of SAO, a freakin’ game, ALO’s master storyline isn’t designed to finish – EVER. What keeps players like Asuna and Kirito coming back to VRs if they only bring painful revelations and ironically cruel clickbait?

Treasures ALO Gave its Players

The irreplaceable positive memories and true friendships formed, that’s what. People form ideals off of scenarios like these. For Kirito, everything was just a game. “Kill what you want, take what you want.” After surviving SAO and enduring ALO, he’s seen enough to realize that “there are things you have to protect and uphold because it’s a virtual world, even if that makes you look stupid, (168, vol.3).” Paraphrasing from the novel: Though it sounds paradoxical, you can’t completely separate the player and the role-playing. Letting your inner greed run wild in the virtual world and that will come back to haunt your real-life personality. The player and the character are one in the same. That’s powerful; it’s an influential statement I’m sure actors, cosplayers, gamers, and the like can relate to.

For Leafa – No, for Suguha – she found true friendship along with hope and purpose through her wings of freedom. When rescuing Tonky from the three-faced giant, Sugu wasn’t going stand and watch the murder of something she’d labeled as a friend and given a name. There’d be no point to playing a VRMMO if it’s all fake! Even when they get out of Jotunheim, she reflects on the happy accident that arose from falling in the first place, and all of the rare experience and friendship they gained being side-by-side.

To think that Sugou can manipulate these emotions is catastrophic, and Asuna of all people knows this by heart. “The research being done here was one of the great taboos, like human cloning. It wasn’t just a simple crime. This was the destruction and desecration of the last vestige of human dignity: the soul, (59, vol.4).” Robbing humans of emotions doesn’t make them human anymore, yet the person reaping the souls of others is the most inhumane of all. It’s almost unfathomable, really, and I only wish the series took this issue more seriously.

Lastly, along with memories, friendships, and ideals comes initiative – the drive to take charge and change fate. In his final bouts, Kirito reflects that ultimately, a virtual world is just a game, and he thought it was all real. He ponders his desire to return to the deadly SAO just because he was that world’s strongest hero. This notion of might clouded his judgement upon landing in ALO to foolishly save the princess without professional help, and it sadly resulted in borrowed mental toughness, nothing more. “I must have been very happy regaining my imaginary power, crushing other players and satisfying my ugly pride and self-esteem, (151, vol.4).” And even though the hideous God of this world is in absolute dominance, Kirito still prays. To a God in the real world? To a system glitch? To fate itself?

The most logical choice is the one whom blessed him with strength in the first place. The God of that old world. And just like that, Kayaba shows up in disappointment at what has become of the ideals which blossomed from their duel – That the HUMAN WILL could surpass a COMPUTER. Kirito wins not because his stats were higher, or that his blade was sharper. He wins because his will overpowered Sugou’s corrupted vision. The God of Old indirectly causes the downfall of the New God by channeling his spirit into the knight that beat him in a past life. That’s golden irony.

Thank you for reading! Please, share any thoughts below and stay tuned for PART V & FINALE!

(I own neither the anime nor the light novel series of Sword Art Online. All images and videos belong to A-1 Pictures and Reki Kawahara.)

Wings of Freedom, Cage of Gold | PART III: In Defense of Fairy Dance

This is part three of the five-part series “In Defense of Fairy Dance,” a collection and comprehensive analysis defending the positive aspects of Reki Kawahara’s “Fairy Dance” arc in Sword Art Online. Research was gathered from the anime (sub and dub versions) and volumes three and four of the light novel series. This is in NO WAY written to justify all of the second half of the series, nor is it to say that it is particularly well-written. Instead, it is a half-full glass of the neat things the series did, and why I enjoyed myself with most of the content despite the glaring flaws. HEAVY SPOILERS EXIST.

For this third part I think we’ll have a little more fun. Are you sick of dramatic irony yet? No? Good, because realizing how large of a role it plays in Sword Art Online’s second half could make or break the experience, and here at the café, enlightenment is something we strive for!

As I mentioned, today’s post a little different. Instead of analyzing one line for +1,500 words, I thought I’d briefly list quotes from the light novels hinting at the rich irony in play, this being the symbolism behind the fairy wings and the birdcage suspended in the heavens. It’ll largely be, once again, a look into Suguha and Asuna.

Wings of Freedom, a Look into Suguha’s Case

“But she knew that when it happened, Kazuto’s heart would be forever beyond her reach, (92, vol.3).”

Ah, this refers to the incest we glanced over due to its taboo nature and my modest stance with the whole thing. Regardless, isn’t it funny that the person whom she is closest to – they live together for crying out loud – is the one person whom she is not allowed to love? Siblings, cousins, or otherwise, that’s pretty cruel.

“. . . Leafa felt the heavy, clinging web of hassles descending upon her. The only thing she wanted from ALO was the feeling of flight, of escape from pressure. To cast aside her troubles and fly as far as she desired. Nothing more. But it seemed that was a naiveté born of ignorance. Perhaps it was just a fantasy of hers, that this virtual world where everyone had wings would be enough to help her forget the gravity of real life, (116, vol.3).”

Apologies for the lengthy passage, but this is the bottom line, the viewpoint through which Sugu sees ALO and gaming altogether. Stats, battles, monsters? She couldn’t give a ‘flying’ flip. How can we tell? She could’ve joined any other game, but she chose the one VR with flight capabilities – Wings of Freedom (no, not a tribute to the overly popular titan-slaying hit). After school when she logs on and becomes Leafa, she believes she can sprout her wings and take off, leaving her problems grounded. She wants to float around, to soar against the moon and the stars, to leave it all behind and fly away from her issues. She knows it’s a foolish thought, yet here she is still playing the same game.

“’I wonder . . . Why does everything have to come down to control-or-be-controlled? I mean, we have these wonderful wings . . .’ (120, vol.3).”

“The stronger she grew, the wider her range of activities. Just flying through the sky over unfamiliar territory was a thrill. But as she became one of the strongest sylphs in the game, along with her knowledge came hassles. In time, she felt she was just going through the motions. The obligation to fight for her race became an invisible chain shackled to her wings, (133, vo.3).”

Here’s that punchline again. Imagine having weighty responsibilities in the real world, like most of us do. These obligations are noisome, so we log on a play games to leave these worries behind if only for a brief moment. Now, just because she became attached to flight, Leafa has become a significant figure in the game, and her controlling guild leader has burdened her with unnecessary responsibilities. It’s just a game, sheesh! All the girl wants to do is fly, so quit dragging her off to be a battlefield celebrity!

“Suguha’s stature was far from large for a kendo athlete, but compared to Leafa the sylph, she was rather big-boned. When she moved her shoulders, stomach, or thighs, the muscles rose to the surface of the skin. She thought her breasts had grown quite a bit recently, too. She couldn’t help but feel that the inescapable reality of that body reflected her own inner conflict, so Suguha shut her eyes tight again, (132, vol.3).”

This is another long but good one. We don’t get this in the anime. Also, another point from my heart to Suguha. Sugu is a big-boned, short, well-endowed women. To her, she’s anything but a woman, that being her sylph idol. Leafa is slender, tall, big-chested (as well), yet just as strong, if not more so. That’s not fair. All of her painful kendo training and I look like this? That’s what she probably is telling herself. It doesn’t help that her bro is a perfect fem-boy – Even Klein wants a piece of Kirito’s meat. Sugu, I feel your pain. Any chance I get to create a virtual avatar, I change the hair color to blond (because I’m a brunette), change the eyes to bold blue (cause mine are dull brown), and chop off a good +50 lbs just because I CAN. I’d RATHER look like this! Having body-image issues makes us feel like we have done something wrong, and sometimes, kiddo, that’s just the way this world works.

“She’d be lying if she claimed that loving Kazuto as Suguha and being attracted to Kirito as Leafa didn’t fill her with guilt. But it was Kirito who had taught her that the world of ALfheim didn’t have to be just an extension of a virtual flight simulator, but another true reality. Because of that, Leafa had realized that the feelings she felt here were true, not just digital data . . . ‘This can’t be happening . . . This is so wrong,’ (101, vol.4).”

This is the grand reveal we covered in PART I, and might I add that the entire five or ten pages this encompasses could’ve been marked down as quote material. Obviously, the irony here is that Sugu loved her brother, but that was ‘wrong.’ Thus, she put her mind to VR games like he did and discovered flight. It wasn’t long before she buried those feelings and met Kirito, a gamer who brought a whole new level of experience to her. Her life feels forever revolutionized – that she’s moved on – until the boy (should’ve been obvious duh from the start, as the similarities are off the chart) reveals himself to be the knight she found new love in. She betrayed her own heart, and the guilt is incomprehensible.

“I was on top of the World Tree. The peak of the world. The place that Leafa . . . that Suguha had dreamed of for so long. But . . . ‘There’s no city in the sky’ . . . It was all an empty gift box. Past the enticing wrapping paper and ribbon, it was empty lies. How could I explain this to Leafa, after all of her dreams of being reborn as a high fairy? ‘This is unforgivable . . .’ (137, vol.4).”

Right before the fated reunion in the clouds, Kirito gets a peak at the world of fairies for what it truly is – A huge hoax. I put this here because, as he brings up, this was Suguha’s biggest dream: To soar through the clouds, and beyond. Now, Kirito is high above in the World Tree, only to realize that what the high and mighty sylph was clinging to this whole time was false. There is no master race, only one terrible, greedy man behind it all. Even though I’m not old enough, it’d be like breaking it to your daughter that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist . . . I still cry about that one, not that the idea broke my heart or anything, but that almost every other kid will have to go through the same trauma. Why even do it in the first place? You give me wings, ALfheim, but I’ll never truly be free?

Cage of Gold: A Look into Asuna’s Case

“The space between the bars was just wide enough that Asuna could have squeezed through if she tried, but the system prevented her from doing so. The intersecting golden bars stretched vertically before meshing together overhead in a dome . . . Which made this room a giant golden birdcage, hanging from the branch of an impossibly large tree – but no, that description wasn’t right. The birds who came to visit could come and go freely between the metal bars. It was a cell designed to hold a single prisoner: Asuna. A fragile, elegant, beautiful, but cruel cell. (98, vol.3).”

This is the punchline in Asuna’s case. Can you imagine the beauty of a floating golden birdcage with foliage wrapping around the bars and the horizon melting through each day? Don’t be fooled, as its beauty is insulting. The bars are purposefully positioned far enough to feed a sense of escape, but only after a natural attempt would one realize it was all a joke – You can’t actually squeeze through. Birds can weave in and out whenever they please (pair of black and white birds represent Kirito and Asuna’s relationship, BTW), stretching their wings wide outside the bars, and here you are not being able to move a wink. I’m surprised she didn’t go crazy on us and start talking to the birds.

Anyway, this “fragile, elegant, and beautiful” cell is more than cruel. It’s an insult to the prize it has imprisoned, and that mockery is pointed at ALO’s current Fairy Queen, Titania. Remember covering the story of Oberon and Titania in PART II? Well, how does the fairy world’s strongest fairy look now? That’s pretty ironic. Also, who puts a bird in a birdcage OUTSIDE ON A TREE?

“It was that world she longed for now, even more than the real world that she couldn’t be sure actually existed anymore. When she realized that tears were coming to her eyes, Asuna shook her head to get her feelings under control. Kirito was waiting for her in the real world. The only place she truly belonged was in his arms. She had to keep moving to make that happen. This hallway was not quite so long, (57, vol.4).”

So the cage has warped Asuna. While she would love more than anything to fight alongside her best friend and lover, after all she’s gone through, Asuna would rather rest in his arms. Is that weakness? No, that’s what we call settling down, hence the cabin in Aincrad and her “motherly” stance after this season. She just wants to relax with her love and put this cruel mockery of gaming behind her. But, even in desperate times, Asuna is always strategizing and being sneaky, much like her old avatar. Time passes when reminiscing on nice, old, happy memories, which is why the current hallway she is pacing, though identical to the seemingly never-ending one beforehand, went by so quickly, and she’ll cling to these memories to pull through.

“Suguha forgot to breathe when she saw the girl sleeping on the spacious bed. For a moment, she thought it wasn’t a person. It must be a fairy – one of the Alfs, the true fairies that lived on top of the World Tree. Such was the otherworldly beauty of the sleeping girl before her, (72, vol.4).”

Hmmmm, you can put this one together without my help . . . Funny how things turn out, huh? The irony is dripping wet.

asunasleeping

“Asuna’s fighting, too. She’s doing her best to resist, to escape this world. There must be more that I can do, (87, vol.4).”

If Kirito’s not already got a sense of direction, then here’s his eye-opener. Asuna deliberately dropped a key card to them from above. She senses Kirito and Yui, and they sense Asuna. With passion starting to reignite, this is the excitement leading up to the fantastic, cataclysmic reveal! In other words, Suguha’s about to find out the cold truth that’s been staring her dead in the eyes.

“’I always believed . . . No . . . I still believe. I did in the past, and I will in the future. You’re my hero . . . You’ll come to save me anywhere, anytime . . . (158, vol.4).”

From peasant fighter, to powerful knight, to heart-warming wife, to caged princess, to freed women, Asuna has grown reluctant to struggling anymore. She hardly recalls the SAO days, let alone her own real home life. The cage has brought unnecessary strife and resignation to the resilient fighter. The quote, however, implies with “I did in the past” that she depended on him, and this could be tracing back to as early as when he saved her guild, or even when they first teamed up, though unlikely. Point is, I’m not surprised that she is tired of carrying the torch. She’s by no means weak all of a sudden, just that the front lines are a place of the past now. Everyone can have a hero in life.

“Her thin arms were resting in her lap, holding a shining, blue, egg-shaped object. Her NerveGear. The crown of thorns that had held her prisoner for so long was finally silent, its job finished, (173, vol.4).”

This is a statement of closure. Do you recall Suguha in her final moments spotting her “shining crown ahead of her” to place it atop her head? Notice how they are both identified as “crowns,” but for different reasons. A crown of thorns is one full of burden, imprisonment, and painful sin; horns, almost. Meanwhile, Sugu’s shining crown is a halo that will transcend her into a free being with wings. Again, both are crowns, but they crown the wearer for drastically different reasons. I honestly wish the story ended here, rather than with Kayaba’s cheap RPG maker egg. This crowning glory where one bestows themselves with it while the other relinquishes it is much more symbolic, much more touching, and much more . . . dramatically ironic.

Thank you for reading! Please, share any thoughts below and stay tuned for PART IV!

(I own neither the anime nor the light novel series of Sword Art Online. All images and videos belong to A-1 Pictures and Reki Kawahara.)