Celebrating Yuri!!! On ICE’s First Anniversary! | Blogmas 2017 Day 4

Hey everyone, welcome to day 4 of Blogmas!

Fall 2016 will long be remembered as the season where only one show that aired truly mattered: Yuri!!! On ICE. It was here, there, and everywhere, and like a boomerang IT CAME BACK to bless (or haunt) the fall/winter season of 2017. For about 2-3 months just this past fall, hashtags like #RememberYOIWednesdays circulated like crazy, flooding a typical “empty talk” Twitter feed like mine with hundreds of favorite scene reflections, thousands of beautiful fan theories, and seemingly infinite amounts of dangerously slutty Viktor x Yuuri artwork. (No, like, seriously, there is no end in sight, and I still can’t get enough.)

To kick off the celebration, here is a list of some of my favorite YOI fan artists on Twitter—these people are amazing, and have made every moment that much more special!! (Check them out if you’re needing that extra YOI in your feed like I do, heh heh.) Support these incredible people if you can!!

@kazu_k_yv  |  @bon0501  |  @kobayashi_niki  |  @shiro___mi  |  @sawa_nya

@yomosugara_yoi  |  @nori20170709  |  @pyhu_pd  |  @ASTRO_HO

@_nii21  |  @meyoco_  |  @mouri1977  |  @tanawwww  |  @rueamasawa

@butleronduty  |  @monoyoi  |  @CL_e_y  |  @Yuma_ice  |  @nikipedia_z

@183333ays  |  @GEAROUS

Let me know if there is someone I should be following! Do YOU recognize anyone on this list? 😉

All of their artwork reminds me of how thankful we are that such a show groundbreaking show  even aired, let alone was popularly received. I like to call it groundbreaking because, at least for me, in a time where sincerely honest romance was ruled by the shoujo genre alone, YOI paved the path to a different kind of love—the rare kind that blooms realistically, yet still possesses that magical charm. It was one precious display of affection after another, and it all came together as if it were real, albeit a touch on the fast side.

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So here we are, a year after we were wowed one episode at a time, and we still can’t stop celebrating these boys and the sport they all love: ice-skating. Cheers to all of the fans, whose optimism, appreciation, and raw excitement all contributed to one of the most emotionally thrilling times in anime that I’ve ever been a part of. For all of the far-fetched yet deeply held theories and ships, and to all of the glorious art work that has graciously passed my eyes (and eventually saved onto my phone’s growing +13k photo collection), I’d like to present—in the order they appear in the show—TEN of my own favorite moments from the anime that changed lives one exhilarating winter ago!

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Ten Yuri!!! On ICE Moments That Made Me Love It Even More

SPOILERS PRESENT—YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

1. Yuuri working out

No, I’m not that desperate for my smut. It’s just that, in general, seeing a character in anime exercise is very motivating for me. Whenever I see Yuuri working hard to get back on the ice as Viktor’s pupil, be it cold morning jogs or intense sets of sit-ups, I feel the urge to get up myself and do “something” about my own physical health. Simply put, Yuuri need to work out is both motivating, inspiring, and painfully realistic.

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2. The duel of sexual entities: On Love, Eros vs. Agape

Y’all already know how much I loved episode 3 of this show. From a thematic perspective, it sets up the two big problems that our conflicting leads each have—Yuuri’s insecurities and Yurio’s aggressiveness—and a way to solve them both. By skating the other’s expected routine, both of which choreographed with Viktor’s seal of approval, the two come to understand what it is they’ve been missing in their personalities, and how to express these unknown feelings on and off the ice. It’s smooth, genius character development, and when timed with the two gorgeous songs of the SAME melody, it’s all just so great. (Plus, Eros Yuuri is THE BESTEST BOY. EVER.)

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3. Ambiguity of “The Kiss”

One of those “typical” fave moments, but the reason I like this scene so much isn’t actually because of the kiss itself—it was the community’s reactions to the scene’s ambiguity. “Did they actually kiss?” “Yeah, duh! The lip and body outlines TOTALLY match up!” “Umm, NO, actually, it was just a surprise embrace!” For the longest time, there was no real answer, and though I am definitely glad that the creators confirmed it to be a 100% genuine lip-lock, it was so much fun watching everyone’s scientific reasoning as to why it was or wasn’t a true kiss.

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4. Yurio’s free skate program reveal

Episode 9 had a lot of great things going for it—Yuuri Katsuki’s struggle to skate without his one true love, Yakov’s brief moment of tutelage in the spotlight, as well as the next two things on this list. Arguably, my favorite moment was the reveal of Yuri Plisetsky’s free skate program. We were teased with hints of Yurio’s bold costume in the previous award ceremonies leading up to Russia’s Rostelecom Cup competition, but other than the fact that Yurio was doing ballet, we didn’t know anything else about it. In complete contrast to his beautifully developed Agape short program skate, his wicked, dangerously paced free skate was perfectly described: “A monster that continues to evolve with each performance, reaching new, impossible heights every time.” Eros Yuuri may be my favorite “persona” on ice, but Yurio’s intense skating to the powerful drumming strings of “Allegro Appassionato in B Minor” always excited me the most.

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5. The first act of friendship: Yurio’s gift of pork cutlet pirozhki 

Right after Yurio is declared the Rostelecom Cup winner, the two share a brief yet very peaceful meeting out on the cold snowy streets of Russia. Yurio’s grandfather’s creation of the pork cutlet pirozhki pleases the two boys, as it is not only incredibly tasty (I imagine), but it symbolizes blending the best of both cultures to create something amazing, much as how the entire show and the sports competition itself represents the acceptance of all different peoples to pull off something that challenges and excites the world. It also mends the somewhat hostile bond the two shared, serving as Yurio’s first act of kindness and friendship to his Japanese buddy. Ah, what joys sharing delicious food with nice company can bring~!

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6. The dog doesn’t die (also, that airport reunion tho)

Makkachin, Viktor’s adorable dog, is hinted at several times to be struggling with health issues: the somber expression when he appears lonely during the ED; the passing away of Yuuri’s own dog Vicchan prior to the events of the story; Makkachin’s strong companionship with Viktor (and already accumulated 15-ish years together); and just the cliche that the damn dog always has to die. Though it is highly unlikely that Makkachin is actually sick with anything, his emergency hospital visit did have us all panicking for a hot minute. Silly dog, Japanese buns are for kids. (And Viktor, if ya know what I mean.) Also, watching the two run side-by-side at the airport, gazing into the others’ eyes through the glass wall that divided them, was super romantic. “I wish you’d never retire.” Viktor, SLAY ME.

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7. Barcelona sight-seeing (plus the cathedral scene)

The Grand Prix Final in Barcelona was incredible, but I think what made this “calm before the storm” episode so special was getting to see the characters out of the rink and touring the gorgeous city rich with culture and art. Otabek and Yurio went on a spontaneous motorcycle ride together. Yuuri went shopping and practically PROPOSED to Viktor in front of a gorgeous chapel (ughh those round, golden rings, F*CK ME UP). Everyone walked the cool, frosty, festive streets and met up to enjoy one final meal together in very “The Last Supper” fashion. Chris took a dip in a hot tub, JJ interrupted the fun, and Phichit took lots of selfies. THIS EPISODE IS JUST EVERYTHING, IT’S YURI!!! ON ICE: SLICE-OF-LIFE VERSION. This whole series uses social media and fleeting moments of victory and loss alike to convey how short and transient life is—and this episode is the epitome of those dear-to-heart themes.

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8. Beginning relevancy and the Banquet Scene

AKA How Yuri!!! On ICE invented plot twists. SERIOUSLY THO. This revelation took the series to a whole other level, and arguably a level that was necessary to help tie up so many loose ends: Why did Viktor present himself in bold, full-frontal nude in the first episode? Why did Yuuri not understand Viktor’s emotional attachment from the get-go? Why was Viktor so quick to move to Japan in the first place? By saving this hilarious turn of events for this late in the game, the show is allowed to be seen as an absurd, light-hearted comedy at the beginning; it helps to speed up the developing relationship between the two, which makes full use of the series’s short 12-episode run. Plus, it keeps us in suspense, and allows us to be totally surprised in a show that would otherwise probably be pretty predictable. Very creative presentation (iPhone photo gallery) and use of ending credits to continue telling a story, too!!

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Ironically, getting drunk allows for everything to suddenly make sense. The entire absurdity of the first couple episodes magically becomes relevant, and that’s just awesome.

9. Yurio winning the GPF

Again, I LOVE Yuuri to death—he’s such a good boy, and he’s one of the big reasons I kept watching this show! But man, there are two big prizes to be won here at the final, and it just wouldn’t be fair if Yuuri won both of them. That said, I don’t believe Yurio won the GPF simply because it would’ve been “too much victory” for Yuuri. No. Yurio practiced hard, like, damn hard. He was already a child prodigy from the start, and unlike Yuuri, Yurio was willing to give up everything—pushing himself to the breaking point with the inclusion of his ballet lessons—in order to win the gold. Thinking back, Viktor even promised he would give Yurio the greatest senior debut one could ask for. (There’s that beginning relevancy again.) Well, Viktor wasn’t lyin’, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results. Yuuri may be the heart, but Yurio is perfection.

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10. “History Makers”

Yes, this is reference to not only the pair skate scene, but also the accredited title change in the ending credits. Did anyone else notice that the ED theme was renamed to “History Makers” with that extra “s”? You could say it stands for Yuuri and Viktor considering Yuuri’s new record in the free skate program and the depiction of “love wins” in media. It could also be for Yurio, who was not only the youngest to participate and WIN the GPF, but he, too, surpassed a record of 5-time world champion Viktor Nikiforov. But I like to think that “History Makers” refers to the entirety of the cast—all of the figure skaters who worked hard, together and for themselves, and put it all out there on the rink. After all . . .

There’s a place you just can’t reach unless you have a dream too large to bear alone. We call everything on the ice “love.” – Yuuri Katsuki


It was SOOO hard to just pick 10 moments from this wonderful show!! Also, you’ll notice that I kept it down scenes about the main three: Yuuri, Viktor, and Yurio. If I were to include the entirety of the cast, well, I’d have to have 10 moments for each of them because I love them all so much! Such great characters, despite many of them only appearing for an episode or two. Again, the fandom really made this show what it is for me now. What moments from Yuri!!! On ICE did you absolutely die for?! Let me know! I’m a little late today, but this wraps up Blogmas Day Four of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

 

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Loss Has Little Meaning in Yuki Yuna | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode fall 2014 anime “Yuki Yuna is a Hero,” produced by Studio Gokumi, based on original story by Takahiro and Makoto Uezu.

For the third segment of Hero Week, I’ll warn you now that this anime is extremely hit or miss, especially if you’re familiar with Madoka Magica. Despite any polarizing comments I make, I’d like to let you know that this happens to be my favorite of the three Hero Week anime I’ve reviewed, regardless that it is indeed the “worst-written one,” should I even have to pick. I found that it had the most to offer, and I have to be critical of it because something that means so much should be sought in full light.

Five middle school girls—Yuuna, Togo, Fu, Itsuki, and Karin—are on a quest to save the world. That is, community service, volunteer work, and puppet shows for local children. It all seems trivial on the outside, but their Hero Club is determined to do good deeds for love, justice, and happiness, goals which are outlined and pursued religiously in the club’s Five Tenets. Such is the sweet and simple life of Yuuki Yuuna.

The club’s charismatic president Fu is living two lives, however, and upon phone call is forced to drag her friends into a mystical realm. There, they are to protect the God of the natural world and human blessing, the Shinju, from strange geometric entities called Vertexes. By the single tap on a phone app, the girls are transformed into the extraordinary heroes they so desired to be. But transcending the realm of God and obtaining unimaginable power comes with a price almost not worth paying.

As the girls fight for their lives and the people they love, their perception of the world dramatically warps into a cruel land of delusional grandeur. In the depressing struggle for power, the girls might have to point their guns at beings besides the Vertexes in order to preserve their very belief of what it means to be a true hero.

One of the biggest problems I had with Yuki Yuna was the lame world building. Had I not read the summary provided by Crunchyroll, I wouldn’t not have noticed that the story is set in the far future—YEAR 300, the Era of the Gods. WHAT, but it looks like modern-day Japan?! I enjoy it when stories have good reasons to break the rules set by the setting, but you can’t rebel against an outline that otherwise doesn’t exist!

My second beef with the anime was the lack of each girl’s unique drive to be a magical girl. They just sort of accepted the role because of the club’s influence. Individual motive is largely what make hero stories interesting and standout, so to have such weak trope characters (besides Fu and Togo) was a huge shame. For instance, what if the wheel-chair-bound Togo wanted to keep fighting because she could walk once again? That’s much more compelling than “I’ll do it because Yuna needs my help.” The way Yuna clings to the club tenets is also a bit cheesy and a weak excuse for ‘development.’

This is obviously less apparent if you are unfamiliar with it, but the last somewhat spoiler-free issue I had were the painfully obvious similarities to Madoka Magica. The magical girl system, character destinies, and dark, depressing themes in the second half all have strong correlation with its critically-acclaimed predecessor. Heck, even the music (which is still really, really good) and the animation sometimes feel like snippets borrowed from Madoka. While it is occasionally disappointing, Yuki Yuna managed to have fun longer than Madoka did, heavily maximizing its slice-of-life side for the earlier parts. And while I wanted darker, more twisted, nastier Madoka narrative, watching those girls have fun was what I needed more.

On a positive note, the animation was surprisingly incredible. The Vertexes themselves are CG, but because they are basically Evangelion angels crossed-over with the zodiac, it all works to create a fantastic off-putting vibe. I also appreciated the vivid color patterns for the Shinju realm and the cool magical girl outfits (Yuuna’s elegant armor was actually what got me into this show). The style was more rooted in Asian culture (petals, shrines, zodiac), while something like Madoka featured more European-like classical culture (columns, gates, witches).

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Yuuna

I’ve taken a quick trip to Google to provide qualities of the typical hero. Let’s briefly exercise each prompt:

  • Hero is of humble origins
    • Yuuna is a very friendly and open girl, often willing to accept help and help others at no cost.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • The Taisha, the organization dedicated to the Shinju, calls upon Fu to advance on the incoming Vertex. Yuuna, even though given a choice, steps up to bat and becomes a magical girl
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • Yuuna is a hero just like her friends. What makes her stand out is her unwavering devotion to the hero cause and her gifted fighting abilities. In episode one, she doesn’t just suddenly transform like the other girls, but is able to gradually make her armor appear upon demand. Her unusually rare strength and “true maiden’s heart” make her unstoppable on the battlefield.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • Besides fighting off the Vertexes, Yuuna must be able to lift the spirits of her comrades as the show’s ideal hero. The others will lose their way, and it’s up to Yuuna to lead them back on the path of righteousness. She doesn’t seem like a main character, nor does she change much as a character, and that’s mostly because I believe she’s not supposed to; she’s the guiding light of hope and justice, and as such doesn’t stop fighting even at the end.
  • ***SPOILERS START HERE***
  • PLEASE CONSIDER THIS THEORY TAG BEFORE PROCEEDING
  • The journey and the unhealable wound
    • In the end, the effects of going through Mankai so many times and taking on all of her friends’ pain leaves Yuuna in a catatonic state. When she does reawaken, her physical body is only a crutch for her soul, which is always off fighting. Upon the rebellion, Shinju-sama must have changed the rules so that girls don’t have to suffer long-lasting disabilities in the real world. This makes ALL LOSS ESSENTIALLY MEANINGLESS—All of the heartache the girls go through, then you turn around and say, “Oh, yeah, they don’t have to suffer anymore.” Now, I didn’t want a sad ending for the girls, especially Yuuna, but doesn’t that take away most of the emotional weight? Yuuna’s dedication to the heroic spirit causes her to be Shinju-sama’s ultimate protector, and is forced to keep on fighting even though her friends are retired.
  • Hero experiences atonement with the father
    • I like to consider the “father” not as Shinju-sama or the Taisha, but as the intelligent Togo instead. At first, Yuuna finds most of her purpose for fighting in protecting her friend and vice versa. When Togo is able to walk again at the end, she somewhat pities herself for letting Yuuna burden everyone’s pain even though she shouldn’t. Yuuna is praised like a goddess but somewhat frowned upon as a fool for sticking so close to the hero path.
  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
    • Because I find the theory to be so interesting and quite possible, we can conclude that though her real-world body is somewhat “dead,” Yuuna is still alive and fighting behind the scenes. Her reward? She transcends the mortal world and becomes a goddess who will never stop fighting. Not exactly the prize I would want, but because Yuuna fell hook, line, and sinker for the whole hero bait, I’m sure that’s exactly how she would have wanted it from the beginning.
    • In the end, everyone’s illnesses go away, which contradicts the heavy theme of sacrifice Yuki Yuna spent its entire run on building up.
  • ***SPOILERS END HERE***

Much of Yuki Yuna is unexplained or at least not evident in the anime adaptation. Should the prequel light novels and the sequel manga ever make it here in the U.S., then I would be thrilled to revisit the franchise. Its fascinating world and the somber warriors fighting to protect it have so much more depth to them, and that lack of depth in the anime hinders a truly wonderful experience. The entire story and production of Yuki Yuna also has too many underdeveloped and forced ties to Madoka Magica, which sadly tampers with the mind-blowing aspect of it.

As a fantasy, drama, slice of life magical girl anime that attempts to see Madoka in a different light, I can appreciate all that it tried to pull off. It tackles the painfully realistic hero themes in the most interesting (and very dark) way that just excites me, yet also has rare moments of joy for our characters and a real built sense of unease instead of just scary/dark imagery like Madoka. Even though it stumbles in appreciating loss, we do wind up with one solid ideal: Ultimately, fight for what you want to save, not for what you are burdened by.

“You know that the fairest flowers fade first. But I made it.” – Fu Inubouzaki (best girl)

I award Yuki Yuna is a Hero with a benefit of the doubt 8/10, narrowly allowing it to breach the “Caffé Mocha” classification. It combats the fantastic with heavy ideals and characters that are honestly cared about (can’t say that for most series). Yuki Yuna won’t impress all—most are quite hard on it, actually—but I still encourage people to try it out especially if you like the wildly mentioned Madoka Magica. I’ve been forgetting, but both ERASED and Yuki Yuna is a Hero can be viewed for FREE on Crunchyroll! While I’d LOVE to own it on DVD, Ponycan is releasing these ‘premium’ sets with an okay English dub for a ridiculous $70 each—AND THERE ARE THREE OF THEM. How do you think Yuki Yuna did? Also, do you think Yuuna is a good hero? How about the other girls? Comment below!! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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.)

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.)