WorldEnd — The Lack of Connection Between You and Me | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?”, also known as “SukaSuka,” animated by Satelight and C2C, directed by Junichi Wada, and based on Akira Kareno’s light novel series of the same name.

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At the End of the World

Awakening from a cryogenic slumber 500 years after his ferocious fight with a mysterious monster, Willem Kmetsch finds himself to be the last human alive. During his icy slumber, creatures of terrifying proportions known as “Beasts” emerged on Earth’s surface and destroyed the human race—all except for one, that is. Together with the other surviving races of this fantasy world, Willem takes refuge in the floating islands, living in fear of what terror still lies below. His new life feels lonely and meaningless, for all he has tied to him now is a number of odd jobs to merely get by.

One day, a surprise offer to become a weapons storehouse caretaker graces Willem’s presence, to which he takes thinking nothing of it. When arriving at this “warehouse,” however, he finds it not to be filled with guns and other arms, but instead a handful of young girls. And boy are they a handful. Connecting the dots, Willem realizes that these Leprechauns, though resembling humans, have no regard for their own lives, as they identify themselves as mere weapons of war. These are the weapons he was tasked to look after.

Becoming something of a father figure for the young Leprechauns, Willem spends his days watching over them fondly and supporting them in any way he can. Among them is blue-haired Chtholly Nota Seniorious, the dutiful yet stubborn eldest who is more than willing to sacrifice herself if it means defeating the Beasts and safeguarding peace. The two strike up an endearing relationship, and as Leprechauns are sent off to battle at the end of the world, Willem—who knows the tragedies of war all too well—can only cling to the hope that those who fight bravely will someday return home safe and sound.

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I remember this plot stirring up a lot of hearts back when it aired in 2017, but I found myself emotionally detached from not only most of the characters but also the story itself. It’s kind of like Seraph of the End‘s opening in that you are shown a deeply impressionable first episode (made notable largely for its music, which I’ll get to), and then directed to an entirely different story. For me at least, the show has a hard time of maintaining a particular mood, be it happiness, sadness, or somewhere in between.

It also quite honestly feels like WorldEnd is trying to balance so many different genres that it fails to excel at any of them. While it’s certainly not an action series, it wouldn’t be proper to label it as slice of life. But it does have enough excitement to be this weird sci-fi/fantasy blend, something that definitely makes it feel like a light novel adaptation. Romance might be a better genre category, but even then the dramatic intensity is ALL over the place, hardly a fit for a “true” story of love and romance.

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All the Lolis in the World Can’t Make You Relatable

Ready for me to break some hearts? Alright, well I’ll start with Willem, the story’s “hero” who falls for the girl doomed to a terrible fate. While I enjoy the message of defying said fate and cautiously yet optimistically gazing toward the future, I just couldn’t get into Willem’s character. Let me explain.

His unusual circumstances as “weapons keeper” places him with the undivided attention of all the lolicauns (heh, get it?). Each of their little problems are designed to unfold around him with the intent of unlocking a new facet of his character. Oh, so we find out everyone is afraid of him? Makes sense, he’s a human and a dude at that. But he’s a good cook? And he’s able to make them all love him through food? How convenient. But wait, he can also tune their weapons, a quality that is unique only to him. And we can’t forget that he’s a lover of little kids, a pro nurse, and a massage therapist, too. Plus, even though he can whoop all of these magical fairies in combat, he’s totally willing to die for them at any given time, OF COURSE.

Willem is just . . . too perfect, and I just couldn’t connect with him because of his overwhelming home-ec expertise. And speaking of disconnection, I never really cared for Chtholly, the lead female, as much as I was *supposed* to either. The two are cute together, don’t get me wrong, but I only recall like one or two instances where I thought their chemistry felt honest and true—and not being manipulated by the choppy plot lines.

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“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

Studios Satelite and C2C team up to animate this breathtaking fantasy world and it’s . . . alright? Aside from a few gorgeous landscape shots, the animation merely gets the job done. WorldEnd’s characters are drawn delicately, and the copious amounts of crimson blood that spill out during the fight scenes create quite the stark contrast (which I believe was the point). Given the lack of brazen fanservice we’ve come to see with these LN adaptations, the modesty here sure is appreciated. All in all, it may not be worth solely watching for the animation, but there is one production component that makes WorldEnd stand above the crowd: Tatsuya Katou’s soundtrack.

I’m a sucker for insert songs. They can hype up a scene to unbelievable levels and allow emotions transcend logic, a quality which can be tricky to master. But oh man does Tatsuya Katou have it down. Specifically here, he arranges traditional English ballads and folk songs as insert songs. Between the rich and powerful “Scarborough Fair” opening up this story’s curtains in episode one to the deeply resonate “Always in my Heart” closing out the final fight, it’s easy to be moved to tears. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Both sung in English by the graceful Tamaru Yamada, these insert songs become perfect representations of WorldEnd‘s tragic duality.

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The rest of the OST maintains this same orchestral beauty: soaring strings, somber violin solos, cheerful guitar, blissful piano—a winning combination. Absolutely fantastic, and perfect for the fantasy atmosphere. Also worthy of mention is the series’ OP “DEAREST DROP” by Azusa Tadokoro, a song that easily made it into my personal music playlist.

For English dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t exactly enjoy Willem’s character, but this isn’t my favorite Micah Solusod performance. Amber Lee Connors’ Chtholly definitely grows on you if you allow her a few episodes, though. Overall, I’m still curious about how the Japanese handled the emotional scenes, but the dub works just fine.

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Hinging on Feelings

Between a story that is neither this nor that and a bland protagonist that I just couldn’t seem to connect with, we’ve got a few touching scenes weakly strung together by a heavy reliance on the viewer loving the cast. The romance genre hinges on your attachment to (at least one of) the leads, making it almost entirely based on personal preference (to which I didn’t quite fancy here). At least it has some encouraging messages on embracing oneself through the process of change.

I wanted to love this anime with all my heart—after all, it was the talk of 2017 for quite some time. But in the end, a lack of connection—between plot points, characters, and myself as the viewer—prevents me from recommending the series unconditionally. There’s something special going on here, there really is, but I don’t think this anime adaptation showcases WorldEnd at its true best.

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I can’t find happiness, meaning there’s really no reason to pursue it. How can one pursue what they already have? Don’t you understand—I’m already the happiest girl in the world. — Chtholly


Afterword

I admittedly feel terrible for spitting on this beloved title. But if it makes fans feel better, I would like to check out the original light novel series some day, as I’ve heard wonderful things from people who are reading it. By the way, THAT TITLE THO. This is LN culture at its peak. For all those curious, WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? is rated a “Coffee” here at the cafe, a show that’s rich in all the right areas, and quite possibly satisfying if its characters can win over your heart.

Do you have any thoughts on this sweet little title? Let me know if you share some of the same disappointments or praises of WorldEnd that I do in the comments. I’d totally be willing to give this title a second try if given the reason to, so come and voice your thoughts on WorldEnd or this review! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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When Science & Magic Collide: Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun | OWLS “Thankful”

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!” For the OWLS blog tour’s  eleventh monthly topic for 2018, “Thankful,” I wanted to shed some light on a certain franchise that doesn’t ever get too much public love from me. Believe it or not, back in the day when I only had about 20 or so anime under my belt, A Certain Scientific Railgun was one of, if not my favorite anime ever. And because of its decline in publicity following the climactic Index II finale, I never really got to express how much this incredible franchise meant to me (and still does mean to me).

Here at OWLS, we are pretty thankful that we are able to come together as a community and share a love and appreciation for anime and manga. This month we will be showcasing our appreciation by giving a shout out post to our favorite manga artists, creators, production companies, and writers who produced some of our favorite works. We will be discussing our favorite works by these creators and our reasons as to why we appreciate them.

A very simple yet fitting topic for this month, I’m excited to put on the nostalgia lens and celebrate just a few of the many reasons why I’m overjoyed to have this electrifying world where science and magic collide in my life. Cause trust me–there’s never a dull moment in this city!

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A brief, spoiler-free glimpse into the massive “A Certain Magical Index/A Certain Scientific Railgun” or “Raildex” franchise, all animated by J.C. Staff, and originally written by Kazuma Kamachi.

Been a while? Let’s briefly review!

The world of Index is one where having supernatural powers is commonplace—that is, for the 2.3 million residents of Academy City. A sprawling metropolis boasting the technological prowess of a city existing 30 years in the future, everything in Academy City is regulated and organized to perfection. Because its inhabitants or Espers must develop their psychokinetic powers, an elaborate education system dominates much of the city. Sprinkle in several hundred research institutions and it’s no wonder these supercharged Espers have become associated with the scientific community.

A poor Level 0 possessing no powers but a strange knack for canceling out others’ with his right hand, Touma Kamijou finds himself ironically disenchanted by reality when he discovers that Espers aren’t the only power users roaming the planet. One day, he finds a nun literally draped over his balcony who claims to be on the run from a group of magicians. Magicians are those who practice magical arts, usually subscribing to a certain religion, church, sect, or philosophy to guide their training.

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But Touma doesn’t care about any of that—he’s already got a bunch of classes to make up, a Level 5 “bug zapper” out for guts, and a case of rotten luck that seems to follow him wherever he goes!

A Certain Magical Index chronicles Touma Kamijou’s mishaps as he stumbles through the magical side of things and entangles himself in situations that eventually threaten the balance of the two communities vying for supremacy in Academy City. Meanwhile, the spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun functions as a sister series to Index in that it follows the Level 5 Electromaster Mikoto Misaka and the trials and tribulations she faces while encountering the dark side of Academy City.

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun


#5 – The Incredible Cast of Characters

Whether you prefer the diversity of Index or the raw friendship in Railgun, you can’t deny that as a whole, both series offer a fascinating cast of characters. While some are much better developed than others (such as the “heroes” vs. the “villains”), you get the sense that each character is fighting for reasons beyond their role. As the story goes along, we see the complexities of each character shine in their individual little arcs, and although you could argue that Railgun put more love into its cast (good guys and bad guys alike), all of them are fascinating in their own right, be it with their powers, their relationships to others, or their system of beliefs. So many different personalities! The cast becomes even more fun to watch when the two stories collide, but I’ll get to that here in a minute.

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#4 – The Insane Architecture & Animation

I wanted to keep this reason separate from another on this list because it truly does deserve its own category. Simply put, this is the best set of works from J.C. Staff that I’ve ever seen, especially Railgun S. Admittedly, Index season one has aged quite a bit in all aspects; that’s not to say it’s bad, but rather quite average for a mid-2000s shounen anime. Railgun, on the other hand, looks timeless in practically all areas, be it the riveting action sequences or the more down-to-earth comedic moments. With each new season comes a more vivid, dynamic vision of what these supernatural power users are truly capable of, and naturally, newer entries will look far superior to older ones. From the explosive energy of Misaka’s signature “railgun” to the mystical spells and arts cast by magicians, the animation remains a high point for this beloved franchise. As an Esper, you are only limited by what you can’t mentally compute quick enough!

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And can we give those background artists a freakin’ round of applause?? They are the ones responsible for bringing Academy City to life: towering skyscrapers, glowing lights, roving highway streets, radiant research institutions, dirty alleyways—heck, even the seemingly infinite number of CG wind turbines littered throughout the city! The clean sci-fi aesthetic matched with homely elements like the occasional brick-paved sidewalk or flower box really does make it feel like Academy City exists in the near future—a future well within our grasp. So I’m glad we’re getting more Index and Railgun, not only for the story and characters, but because I can rely on J.C. Staff for turning these sequels into top-notch productions.

 

#3 – The Intricate, Intertwined Storytelling

We all like a good cameo here and there, right?  Well, Index is FULL of them, so much so to the point that certain characters from the science side of Railgun will hop onto the magic side and have a little fun. Sometimes these visits are brief, such as seeing the dangerous Level 5 Meltdowner chilling in a coffee shop with her friends; others are extended, like when Accelerator had that whole encounter with Index and even bought her food at everyone’s favorite family restaurant Joseph’s. We love seeing our favorite characters thriving in their element, but it can be even more fun to see them out of it and even chatting with characters we know from what feels like entirely different worlds.

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The sheer level of articulation needed to not only tell each story but intertwine them on the same time line is monstrous. To keep each little side story straight yet consistent with the main plot and other happenings in the universe boggles my mind, as I’m sure it does the writers’. I mean, how do you remember that X character went into Y store at this time and saw Z AND keep this seemingly pointless interaction in-line with everything else that is slowly unfolding around us?? Having two series that bounce off of each other so well is one of the franchise’s great hallmarks without a doubt!

The franchise’s most famous story, the “Sisters Arc”, is known throughout all seasons and reiterations of the story for its complexity, and has been heralded as a brilliant story all on its own between its gripping characters and powerful, conflicting emotions. Having been told in both Index season one and elaborated on in Railgun S, the multi-lens perspective of both Touma and Misaka only proves that the writers of the Raildex franchise know exactly what they are doing, and I just can’t wait for more.

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#2 – The Battle of Concepts: Science VS Magic

Kind of an obvious one, as I like my action scenes just as much as the next guy. But beyond just visuals, Index makes it especially clear that actions are rooted in beliefs, faiths even, and this battle of concepts—of ideologies—is the real fight I’m talking about here. One of the first things that drew me to this universe was Esper power hierarchy, which rates a student’s ability from 0 to 5. This power system also influences the socioeconomic balance, where your Level 4s and 5s are practically viewed as pop stars living lavish lifestyles. (We quickly find this doesn’t apply to everyone, though.)

But just like real science, researchers are all working to push the boundaries of what humans are capable of—the ultimate goal, of course, being to produce the first Level 6. Some scientists lie in the depths of Academy City’s darkness to deceive, trap, and capture innocent children and Espers alike for the sake of their research. Although twisted, the dedication to making the process as truly scientific as possible was what won me over as a fan. Misaka’s railgun is grounded in real scientific principles, and there’s always a satisfying explanation to how an Esper uses their supernatural powers.

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Unlike science’s dedication to mapping the brain and dissecting DNA, magic is a difficult concept to unravel, which makes sense given that magic in this world and in ours is tied to myths, legends, and stories of old. Religious doctrines and artifacts are referenced left and right in Index, and although not as clearly defined as the science side, it’s always fascinating to see how these mythical ideas and religious figures translate to a medium as exploratory as anime.

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#1 – The Sprawling Metropolis of Academy City

Annnnd my favorite reason I love this franchise is for the setting itself, Academy City. In fact, if I could live in any one fictional anime setting it would be Academy City. I mean, beautiful buildings sparkle in the sunlight, shopping districts are everywhere, the weather is predicted down to the second, cafes can be found at every street corner—it MUST be the place for me! Not to mention a chance at having psychokinetic abilities and a curriculum to develop those powers?? HECK YEAH COUNT ME IN. It is essentially a utopia, a perfect place for near-perfect people. But what we find is that this drive for perfection also makes it the perfect place for underground organizations to manipulate social happenings.

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Arguably more of a character than a location, Academy City becomes the converging point for nearly every element of the story. Watching it become warped over the course of series as the climate for war increases is astounding, and it’s awesome that we’re finally getting to find out what will happen in this climactic third world war. For every conflict between religious institutions there has been an illegal experiment in some seemingly defunct laboratory. Between the Mages and Espers, scientists and magicians, and terrorists within and outside the walls all trying to maintain their hold on this sprawling metropolis, Academy City has mastered the duality of darkness. Possibilities are quite literally endless in a place that favors advancement and new ideas, and that’s why I love it so much.

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A Thank-You to Everyone Involved

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this entire franchise, specifically the Railgun side, has meant a lot to me over my years an anime fan. Yet, I never really have expressed my love for it before on my blog (maybe after I rewatch it all I’ll have something to say). And so, I just wanted to offer my sincerest thanks to everyone who has been involved with this massive project:

To all the writers, especially Kazuma Kamachi for the original story of Index; to artist Kiyotaka Haimura for his art in the Index light novel as well as for all the memorable character designs; to Motoi Fuyukawa for creating the Railgun spin-off manga; to Hiroshi Nishikiori and Tatsuyuki Nagai for directing Index and Railgun, respectively; to the endearing Kawada Mami on Index and electrifying fripSide on Railgun for providing their incredible opening theme songs; to all the producers, voice actors (both sub and dub), TV broadcasters, licensing companies like Funimation, Crunchyroll, Seven Seas, and Yen On for bringing over the anime and books to the states, and to everyone else that I missed—

Words cannot express how thankful I am to have had such an incredibly fascinating and intricate universe of thought brought to me over the years. Your collaborative efforts on this tremendous project have inspired a generation of young fans, myself included, to think outside the box and create our own personal realities. Thank you all!

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Afterword

Guys, I used to be OBSESSED with this franchise you have no idea. With the suddenly recent airing of the long-awaited Index III (as well as an announcement of a third season of Railgun and EVEN an adaptation of the Accelerator spin-off), there’s never been a better time to be a fan. And if you’ve held off for this long for one reason or another, now’s an excellent time to jump right on in. You’ve got novels, manga, several TV series, and even a film to enjoy at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. My personal recommendation? If you’re an anime-only person, start with A Certain Scientific Railgun season one. It introduces the world and Academy City better than Index does in my opinion. Then hit up Index’s first season, Railgun SIndex II, and the Endymion film. If you’re already a fan, then where have ya been?? Let me know in the comments, and also what your favorite entry or story in the franchise is!

This concludes my November 20th entry in the OWLS “Thankful” blog tour. YumDeku (MyAnime2go) talked about two anime they were thankful for, which you can find out what those were right here! Now, look out for our good friend and prompt-writer Lyn (LynLyn Says) with a post coming Wednesday, November 21st! Thanks for listening to me fanboy about Index for over 2,000 words (you rock!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

CAFÉ NOTICE | Aftermath of Being Logged in ALO

Hello café-goers, how should I start this? Well, it’s evening here, so perhaps “Good evening, all!” or something to that effect. What I’m about to talk about is more on the serious side, but don’t worry, it’s that good kind of serious – that satisfactory seriousness that comes from adult praise, for instance. The topic? You read the title. I was logged into ALO for admittedly far too long, and you’ve probably realized that. Also, I lost a lot of you guys from my first anticipation post of the project, haha! What happened?!

I started to analyze Reki Kawahara’s Fairy Dance not by choice; I was sick and tired of nearly every goddamn anime fan beating up on SAO’s second half, and I had to change that by defending it as my sole right as a reviewer and a fan. We stick up for things we appreciate, see, and we also criticize the aspects that could’ve been better. But this was a defense series for the positive aspects, not the negative ones. I’m not saying Fairy Dance is pure gold – Oh gosh, no – but aren’t there other series out there begging to be picked apart like the literary vultures we are?

Now you probably think, “What about all those fans out there that praise SAO as the chief of all anime, huh? We must stop their ignorance!” Well, I agree, you can tear Sword Art Online limb from limb, whether that be the anime, the novels, or both, but the series’ problem is rooted in the the lead character himself, and sadly I can’t do much about that. However, I can point out a few of the cool tricks the series performed correctly. Hence, my motives for writing this.

This journey of 10,000 words starts with a single letter. Cheesy as it sounds, it is what it is. Clocking in at around 10,000 words altogether (parts I through this reflection), this is one of my greatest achievements as a blogger. A Word document this large is at risk of EXPLODING! Am I proud that I threw a sh*t ton of words on a page and called it an analysis? Not necessarily. I proclaim this to be one of my greatest achievements in blogging because this is my grandest collection of argumentative text on this blog. I dare say it means more to me than my reviews . . . This is a project I can look back on and actually feel really, really proud of the hours of work that went into this. I went into it thinking it would just be another review series. Hah, how little did I predict the longstanding effects it would come to have.

I realize this topic is taboo by bloggers, but here I go. “In Defense of Fairy Dance” had quite possibly one of the worst ‘statistical’ receptions on this blog – and THAT’S FINE. I believe it to be one of my highest of highs even though the number of likes and comments dictate it was one of my lowest of lows. It just means that you as a reader didn’t want to, well, read it, and that’s totally okay. Read what won’t waste your time, after all. That’s how I’ve always seen it. Just know that despite my efforts (and I don’t blame you AT ALL for not knowing the struggle), they ultimately mean so little, statistically. Thus, I’d like to extend my warmest thanks to those who stuck around, read, liked, commented – You know who you are. Thank you, it is an absolute joy reading your comments overflowing with your own responses and opinions!!!

If you’ve learned anything by now, it’s that Sword Art Online is a franchise rich with irony. Dramatic Irony ringin’ any bells? Gosh, we’ve beaten this horse quite dead. I won’t rattle on more, but I hope you’ve been able to take out this popular theme and apply it to other media. SAO doesn’t do anything particularly special with it; it just does a fantastic job working it into the story and characters. I also hope that, through reading this, you’ve been reinforced with the thought that “appearances aren’t everything.” Oh, it’s a juvenile theme, but one that applies itself here in many more ways than one.

Lastly, before I bow out of this enchanting land of fairies and bid the franchise farewell, I have one last lesson to reign it all in. You question, “What could possibly be more important than dramatic irony, Takuto???”

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“Life is Funny,” eh?

You might recall this phrase rolling off the tongue of Ragyo Kiryuin from Kill la Kill, but its meaning is can be equally applied to the entirety of Sword Art Online.

A story of kids who finally get their hands on virtual reality, only to get trapped in it with death as the only escape.

How about when they finally do manage to return to the real world, and the main character’s lover has been relocated into another cage?

Or even when she gets out, and a mysterious marauder threatens to kill players in-game with one pull of his trigger?

Heck, even a girl struggling through terminal illness seeks refuge in the game world.

What about a blogger who expended his time, energy, and soul into a project that got less hits than his dinky little haul post? I think you get the picture.

When you look at it, life sure is funny, eh?

I’m using the wings I gained from ALfheim Online to soar to new heights. This experience has been troublesome, yet surprisingly a wake-up call much-delayed as well. I am still trying to work out a review format I am comfortable with, and this comprehensive review stuff has helped reduce my options (because at this point, I just can’t decide). Maybe now you’ll get to endorse yourself with tastier content. Or, perhaps, things could take a sour turn. Anything could happen, and so whatever does come our way, I’d like to reaffirm my thanks to all who have flown by my side during this journey. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t – I’m sure there’s a reason for your absence. Just know that we had a grand ol’ time here with dramatic irony, right fellows? Yeah, don’t answer that.

With more positive announcements on the horizon, I sincerely hope you have emerged as enlightened as I have! Keep on rolling with the punches, and until the next post, thank you very much for reading!

– Takuto, your host

Oh, before I leave, I’ll be dropping the headers for each section of the series below. You are encouraged to click on the image (if my computer’s not being fickle) to direct you to the page. Everything under “In Defense of Fairy Dance” will be compiled under the “Cafe Talk” section of the blog for future reference! 🙂

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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.)

Asuna’s Position Cannot Define Her Personality | PART II: In Defense of Fairy Dance

This is part two 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.

Introductions out of the way, we’re now getting down to business. For this second session, I’ll be taking a look at the target reason why Sword Art Online has a big fat red “X” scarred across itself on many people’s anime list. Her name was Asuna the Flash: Fierce, courageous, vigilant, and a knight for the people. Notice how I said was.

In “Fairy Dance,” our superior heroine was reduced to a weeping twig of a fairy begging for her mighty Kirito-kun to save her from her perverted, slimy (in more ways than one) captors. This unnecessary shift from castle knight to caged canary puts a fowl taste in the mouths of many, but was Asuna really as pathetic as she seems, or, perhaps, was there a special kind of development in play underneath the foliage? Did our coined “Damsel in Distress” actually have an iron backbone under those glittering wings we so frown upon?

Titania . . . That Stupid Name

Finding Asuna alone in the first half of “Fairy Dance” (third volume) is pretty rare. Often her sleazy captor Oberon the Fairy King AKA Sugou is found loafing around her chamber, mocking her hero, her helplessness, and even the game itself . . . We’ll cover that later. What is known is that by being forced into ALO, Asuna is unarmed – but still dangerous, mind you!

The book doesn’t start her off too strong, though. Upon her entrance in chapter three (98, vol.3), our first impression is her ‘silent prayer to Him,’ “’Hurry . . . Hurry and come save me, Kirito . . .’” Yeah, not a good start to our favorite ruby knight. Already, we feel her frailness of being a caged princess, as she first clings to the thought of someone else rescuing her rather than escaping herself.

That all fades away when Oberon graces his darling ‘Titania’ with his presence. In Aniplex’s English dub for the anime, she snappily remarks,

’Stop calling me by that stupid name. My name is Asuna, Sugou.’

In comparison, the light novel uses

’And stop calling me by that stupid name. I’m Asuna, Oberon . . . I mean, Mr. Sugou.’

If you read that second one closely enough, Asuna still reveres Sugou as an adult, hence, the respective Mr. in front. The ellipses further implies a cautioning, while the anime, specifically Cherami Leigh’s role of Asuna, is clearly firm with an unwavering glare to match it. That is one tiny detail where the anime did a better job at maintaining “The Flash’s” fire.

Another variance in tone between the two versions is shortly after, where Oberon requests that Asuna ‘give her heart to him.’ In the English dub:

’Never. The only things I’ll give you are disgust and hatred, and nothing more.’

Ooh, that’s tough talk. How about the LN?

’You will be waiting until the end of your days. All I feel for you is scorn and disgust.’

Interesting. Both are equally fierce and nearly identical in translation, but that wordier LN quote (Japanese language probably has something to do with that) comes across as a bit more, say, romantic, no? Not romantic as in “Oh Sugou, I love you” but more like a sweeter sass than “Never.” That brings us to the next point.

Romantic VS (not-so) Sexy 

Anime. Yup, that’s fan service, not motivation for Kirito.

I’ll stop here, but you get the point.

comparison

Here is a side-by-side, LN Left, anime Right, same chain scene. The LN looks more graceful, as if to be romantic. Little too submissive, but I think it’s better than the anime’s gritty, busty, shadowed version. The anime tried to be sexier, and it almost worked had we not gotten a full-fledged tongue rape by Sugou. Notice how the shackles are cruder in the anime as well. I realize the LN is cover art, but it is still there to represent the same scene or state of being.

 

Reading a scene versus watching the same scene visually are two completely different translations. In that regard, the Asuna in the LNs embodies this air of “romantically clinging to hope,” while the anime is more of an “Oh God please save me from this disgusting man.” Support for this comes from the repeated reference to other aspects of nature in the LNs:

The World Tree Warriors are moths, the Sylph are grasshoppers, the Cait Sith are beasts, Kirito is a cockroach, Asuna is a bird trapped in a cage . . . And this all makes sense considering ALfheim’s fairy world theme – Everything is supposed to be lovely, full of wildlife and excitement! Asuna also translates as more of a delicate, gold-shackled woman than the anime’s bustier bod meant to attract your eyes. She is an item for Kirito and Sugou in the anime rather than a prize to be revered and softly handled.

And that’s where people draw the line with the second half – Sugou’s ridiculously inappropriate touching of Asuna towards the end. Was it necessary? Arguably, I think yes. By then, we are asleep. Kirito will reach the top, kill Sugou, and save the girl. The end. So didn’t having the female physically exploited before the MC’s eyes by this atrocious monster fuel the excitement, the rage?! It’s completely disgusting and humiliating (and fan service) in the anime (not that it isn’t in the LN) but you cannot say it wasn’t effective. It was the most infuriating yet engaging moment in the entire second half!

As for the tentacle slug things that nearly raped her? Yeah, THAT is poor, stupid, and totally uncalled-for writing. An alarm system or perhaps HUMAN guards would have not only made more sense, but also would have purified the show even if just a tad bit more. This was plain disgraceful and distasteful, not to mention unjustifiable. *shudders*

Parallels with the Legend

Okay, so it’s not a legend, but Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” clearly was the basis for the second half’s cast. Oberon is the ruthless fairy king driven by jealousy and power. He is a man to be enthralled by jokes, and will wickedly pursue his lust by making an ass of his wife, Titania, his object, wife, and queen. Titania is the strongest female fairy in the land, and her struggle against her King’s will puts her foster son, whom she loves more and spends more time with, on Oberon’s wanted list – He even contemplates making him his servant! Now, whom do these characters sound like? I wonder . . .

By Bravely Leaving the Nest, POSITION DOES NOT DEFINE PERSONALITY

If you once thought that Asuna was a weak gal in ALO, think again. Sure, her sword was taken away, but the true sword is her commendable courage (call it corny, but it is true). Asuna could’ve been stuck in that damned cage forever and gotten her mind wiped clean had she been caught by Sugou – Yet this birdie still boldly left the nest. “’That ends today,’” she tells herself. The only sign of reliability at this point is her murmuring “’Kirito . . . I’ll do my best.’” That’s not, “Kirito, come save me when I get out.” That is “Kirito, you’re out there fighting, and I’ll do my upmost to match your spirit.” Know the difference.

And I’m so freaking sick of everyone calling her a “Damsel in Distress!” Urban Dictionary defines it as “a stereotype of portraying an unmarried female who needs to be saved.”

  1. Asuna is married. Childlike in execution, but nevertheless an item with the Black Knight in the first half.
  2. She doesn’t need saving – She’s doing it herself! Why else would she risk her life in the game and in the real world? Kirito is trying her hardest, and she knows she must reinforce her own backbone with the thought that they will both be reunited TO ESCAPE BY HERSELF. This Asuna is just as clever and observant as her red counterpart. Look how she figured out a way to sneak out using the mirror; How about when she did escape, saw the 300 trapped players, and muttered that she would save them, too; Or when she did find a logout source, was pulled away, but took the key with her only to give it to her best fighting option – Her daughter and husband down below the clouds. And she did this all without pissing off her captor enough to have him wipe her mind. She’ll push his buttons and resist as long as she can without closing off any chance of escape.

Asuna shook her hair back, puffed out her chest in resolution, and strode forward purposefully, the way she had once done in a different world . . . ‘I won’t stop. I’m getting back to the real world, alive. I have to see him again,’ she swore to herself, and then resumed her march. (202, vol.3)

Guys, she’s an incredibly talented and valiant spirit on the inside, so please do not let that piece of cloth they call a dress and her whimpering in disgust hamper that belief. This, above many moments in the franchise, shows her true willingness to live and free herself (struggled with when she first arrived in SAO) – That iron will to push through the impossible is the mark of a true heroine. I admit that I’d rather watch her slice and dice demons on the battlefield, but I can, to a degree, at least understand the position/inner conflict (to live, and to do so freely), and why it the series took this route. It’s setting up Kirito as the main hero and Asuna as a secondary character for future content. Again, I don’t prefer it, but observing Asuna endure in this manner was still nevertheless intriguing if you look past the fairy glitter. Queens can be just as resilient as the mighty knights they call upon.


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

(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.

Dramatic Irony Causes Suguha’s Terrible Fate | INTRO & PART I: In Defense of Fairy Dance

This is part one 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.

Welcome to ALfheim Online, a virtual realm where you and your friends can soar the skies of a fantasy world, fight enemy fairy clans, and, one day, reach the top of the World Tr—

Why fool ourselves? Nobody likes the “Fairy Dance” arc. Well, I shouldn’t say everyone, as those who merely dismiss the entirely new plot, characters, and atmosphere just to watch it for fun most likely don’t realize all of the sudden, arguably hypocritical, dishes the second half of the infamous Sword Art Online brings to the table.

But is it as “downright lazy, sexist, and stupid” as opponents claim? Do the underlying themes of dramatic irony, devotion towards love, true freedom, and misunderstanding of the bounds of humanity’s evil even matter if our favorite character gets her sword taken away? Can we merely cast these intense messages aside? Never, and this compilation will hopefully show you why.

Accompanying me on this journey will be the third and fourth volumes of the series because hey, “The books are always better than the movies, right?”

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FIRST, learn the difference:

IRONY . . . the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

DRAMATIC IRONY . . . a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.


“You’ve been met with a terrible fate.”

Kawahara hints Suguha Kirigaya’s love for her brother Kazuto from as early as page 20. While we’ll eventually find out that they are not blood related, incest is its own beast to be tackled at a later date. All we know is that she is love-struck, and that love will be her driving focus to improve herself. She doesn’t discover this truth for herself until seeing the pain in Kazuto’s eyes when she visits the hospital with him for the first time. Just as they were spending sunrises together, training, happy as can be, Suguha immediately withdraws her heart, for she “realized what her heart truly desired, and that it was in a place she could never reach, (74, vol.4).” It is at this time where, for Suguha, the gaming world is all she can rely on. The real world will bring pain – a pain which sharing with anyone can destroy you from the inside out – and she knows this well.

Tragedy likes following Sugu around, though, as now it is Leafa’s turn to shoulder her agony. After her hospital visit, Sugu hits up ALO to vent. “If she cried here, she knew she’d never be able to give up on this. Instead, she’d cry a bit in the fairy world. Leafa was always peppy and energetic; she’d be back to laughing in no time, (74, vol.4).” Crying here means giving up, and girl’s got more backbone than that. So she thinks, “Ah, Leafa’s a good chap, she’ll fix me up right away!”

Wrong. Leafa was fighting her own battles regarding Kirito love, and now she’s got a war. From here on, Sugu will scarcely leave the virtual world. One reason is the quest at hand, to reach the World Tree, but the other is to avoid the tragic reality waiting for her back home. How do you confess your love to a sibling? I honestly don’t think you can without it corrupting the relationship. Holding it back as tightly as you can is the only safeguard (forgetting about a loved one is hard to do when you LIVE with them), so what better place to store the key than in an intangible world.

As the “stabbing pain deep in her heart” continues to ring, Leafa awakens in Alne following their overnight venture to “wait for the pain to turn into liquid so it could drip from her eyes.” When further confronted by Kirito, she replies, attempting to put a smile on her face, “’Well, Kirito . . . I . . . I’ve got a broken heart,’ (76, vol.4).” To which he charismatically responds:

’You’re allowed to cry when it’s hard – there or here. There’s no rule that says you can’t express your emotions in a game.’

I’m not the biggest Kirito fan, but that line was just the “bit of awkwardness” Leafa – no, Sugu – needed to hear most. “’I love my brother,’ she told herself . . . ‘But I can’t speak this feeling aloud. I have to keep it trapped deep in the deepest part of my heart. That way I might actually forget about it one day.’” This will have to be the tying point for her, and she’ll try her damnedest to bury her lust. If SAO and life itself has taught us one thing, however, it’s that everything comes to an end.

Suguha finds out

It’s a catastrophic moment we saw coming since episode one of the second half, yet here it is, and it’s even more devastating than we could’ve imagined. 

On page 102 of volume four, Suguha breaks down. Her efforts to conceal her “wicked thoughts” have been all for not when her knight in black armor Kirito reveals that cursed name of the princess he is searching for: Asuna.

’I . . . I . . .’ Her feelings turned into tears and tears into words before she could stop them. ‘I-I betrayed my own heart. I betrayed my love for you . . . ‘I was going to forget, to give up, to fall in love with Kirito. In fact, I already had. And yet . . . and yet . . . I’ . . . ‘I was so happy when you came back from SAO. I was so happy when you started treating me the way you used to. I thought you finally saw me for who I was’ . . . ‘But . . . after this, I’d rather you kept being cold to me. Then I wouldn’t have realized that I love you . . . I wouldn’t have been sad to learn about Asuna . . . and I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Kirito to replace you!!’

‘. . . Sorry . . . ‘

The ball just dropped. Readers and audience members only look to the floor in guilt and self-loath just like Suguha. Her slamming the door is the final sound to finish off her tirade, and it’s scary effective. Her thoughts of holding it in and shoving it down her throat are worthless now. For once, I have to give Aniplex’s English dub the props for providing the best reenactment of the performance. Cassandra Lee Morris absolutely crushes the role, vocalizing herself like she would in Sugu’s feet and topping it off with a tear-filled shattering cry.

Video posted by NintendoxWolf on YouTube. I do NOT own Sword Art Online.

The secret’s out, and this could arguably be where the curtain closes for SAO. The dramatic irony for Sugu, if you haven’t already guessed, is the multilayered thought she loves her brother, but that is, quote, “wrong.” So instead, she abandons her love to fall for Kirito, a bishounen badass whom she feels so alive with on quests. She’ll escape the harsh reality for a fantasy world of electrons only to discover the black avatar is none other than the boy she tried so hard to hide her heart from in the first place.

The legacy of this tragic yet classic scene

This scene is not only the most emotional and gut-wrenching part Sugu will ever shine in, but also a decent hit on Kazuto. All this time, he has known the Net to be a place where everyone has a “secret inner side.” It’s now that he questions his own familial and relationship status with his cousin: “Who is this person, exactly? Do I really know them? (105, vol.4).” This guilt is almost as heavy a burden as being responsible for killing off his first group of friends back in Aincrad. You should realize by now that it’s nearly impossible to knock Kirito off his feet – And Sugu did it verbally in less than two minutes.

As much as tragedy has woven these two fates together, SAO will once again prove that gaming and friendship can mend the bonds once broken by the game. Knowing that her knight would wipe his tears aside and grab his sword, Suguha reaches out to her “shining crown ahead of her” and “set it on her head.” Though its resolution was shamefully brief (a mere shrug to the side cause Asuna comes first), SAO fans of the dramatic irony device will revel in this classic scenario for years to come, and its outstanding effects it set on Suguha will not be forgotten so long as we remember the sacrifices she made to truly grow wings and take off.

Kawahara is guilty of adding more females to the story not only because he claims it’s easier to add a new face to give the MC a new relationship, but also because he likes the idea (Afterword vol.3). However, the light novel series is a monumental step up in terms of more cohesive understanding and better execution of elements like dramatic irony. In comparison to the anime, the “boobs and butts” are also much less distracting and in your face, being a bouncy visual production and all. I’m sure it’s meant to be pleasing to the eyes, yet I believe it deflowers Kawahara’s vision given the much more intricate and meaningful (and appropriate) actions, pauses, romantic elements, and thought processing found in text.

I realize that that her situation could be very difficult to imagine yourself in, but gosh dang, you’ve got to give a teen girl props for trying her hardest yet still falling into heartbreak – Not once, but twice. You may not like Suguha or Leafa – You may even detest SAO – but understanding both sides to every argument is half of life. The other half is of course being able to place your judgment on an issue. All I can recommend is that if you feel “lost” or ashamed of SAO, do try reading the original light novel series to possibly formulate a new outlook on the series that means something to you. I managed to uncover many of the less-apparent literary devices, dramatic irony being one, and that opened up a whole new window of exploration. Also, I just want to give Sugu a big ol’ hug after everything she’s been through, that poor, poor girl.


Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for PART II!

(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.)