Grimgar: Stronger Together, Now & Forever | OWLS “Strength”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  fifth monthly topic, “Strength,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Grimgar review into this pep talk about keeping your chin up. I’m also celebrating its recent release, which includes a strong English dub by a set of newbie-ish VAs!

“Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.” In anime, characters struggle with inner demons or physical weaknesses that make them feel insecure and prevent them from achieving goals, which makes viewers feel empathetic toward their battle. Yet when these characters overcome their adversity, they can finally be able to express who they are, or in other words, “Free to be Me.” 

I’m also gonna try a new, shorter, more poetic form of writing, since I seem to have been named such a writer by blogger buddy LitaKino and the OWLS YT squad. Let me know if you prefer this, oh, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!


A brief discussion on the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions,” produced by A-1 Pictures, directed by Ryousuke Nakamura, based on the light novel by Ao Jyumonji.

The Past is Irrelevant

Waking up in an alternate world not too far off from a fantasy, a group of strangers with no recollection of their past lives are welcomed to Grimgar, a vast magical landscape that spans as far as the eye can see. Much like an RPG system, parties, guilds, and other factions exist in packs to ensure survival and decent living conditions.

With no home to call their own, six teenagers bound by the simple wish to live in this bizarre landscape form their own party. Unbeknownst to them, what awaits their poor squad in this harsh new world is nothing but grief, loss, misfortune, and tragedy at every bend in the beaten dirt path.

Image result for grimgar party

Grimgar‘s greatest appeal is its attention to the realities of living in a fantasy world. From finding a place to sleep to having enough copper pieces to afford simple luxuries like a fresh pair of underwear after using the same one for days on end, the anime never fails to appeal to logic and frugality. This comes with a downside—dreadfully slow pacing—but a show like this shouldn’t be rushed. Otherwise we’d miss out on another uneventful tidbit of coping with life’s pain, a quality that, where other trapped-in-an-RPG anime stumble, Grimgar excels.

Image result for grimgar crying

Being primarily main character Haruhiro’s story, I only wish we got to see through the eyes of the other party members. They’re all unique, classes and stats aside, and it could’ve been the cherry on top to understand what the Ranta the dark knight or Moguzo the tank thought before they went to bed each night.

A World Painted Unlike Any Other

Surprisingly, A-1 Pictures paints a glorious watercolor backdrop to accompany our volunteer soldier trainees as they run across the ruins of old attempting to slay a single goblin. If this anime has a winning feature, it’s the artwork. Reminiscent of the quiet world of Maoyu, it’s rare to find such wallpaper-worthy scenery at every shot, every frame. Exquisite and personalized, yet very simplistic, and it all works magically in Grimgar. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Also fantastic is the soundtrack, more specifically the joyous and exciting violin hoedown of the opening, “Knew day” by (K)NoW_NAME, along with the bittersweet ending, “Harvest,” a song by the same band, which frequently cues in early to accent a feeling of mourning and memorial. Both are equally enjoyable and very appropriate.

Strength is More Than Good Stats

When you think RPG stats, STRENGTH or TOUGHNESS are what jump at you first, naturally.

Now, when I say STRONGEST, having the best weapons, armor, or other gear is essential, right?

In Grimgar, that’s what Haruhiro and the gang thought, too. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.

You see, outfitting oneself with top-notch equipment sure does help, but there’s one part of your body you forget to protect most of all.

You heart.

?

When sleeping, eating, or socializing are the only forms of relaxation and entertainment, you can bet much of your time is spent on the battlefield, a land where your life is always on the line. At any moment, you could get slashed on your side with a dagger, or

Struck in the back with an arrow.

Tragedy follows the pathetic party everywhere they go, and when they first experienced loss, none of them could handle themselves. It was almost as if one member meant the lives of all six.

With no one to comfort them, they all experienced petty conflict with one another—they all tore themselves up for not being cautious enough. Day by day, they milled around in the doldrums, incapable of moving forward from the horrors of their last fight.

It wasn’t until they openly cried and poured their hearts out in front of one another that they realized how each member felt. You could almost say that the wound in their hearts finally bled out.

But like scars, sadness heals itself with time, comfort, and care. But also like scars, they will never fully heal. And that’s okay.

For the Grimgar crew, strength blossomed from the heartache they experienced. Loss, tragedy, and depression, poisons that normally corrupt the body, became ironclad armor to protect them from whatever came next—as best as armor could, that is.

They came to understand just what “ashes” meant, and used their tears, innate weaknesses, and unfamiliarity to bond closer with one another. Slowly but surely, they worked harder on the field and with one another to grow as people, and to move on from that day.

For they had endured a torn heart, and what doesn’t kill you DOES make you stronger.

They learned that true strength lies not in good stats, but in their faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune TOGETHER.

You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.

All you have to do is grit your teeth and keep on rolling with the punches.

manato.PNG

“Living has its own challenges. I’ll give you just one piece of advice. Don’t quit. Yes, when you die, you die. But if you give up, you’re definitely going to die. That, I am sure of.” – Brittany


Fortune favors the bold, right?! Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is full of unfortunate pitfalls for a cast of endearing teens, but so long as they stick together, they can overcome any challenge. A special shoutout goes to Rocco B (In the Cubbyhole) and Jamie (Jamie Talks Anime), two very special people who shouldn’t have had to wait so long for my thoughts on this series! I give it the certified “Cake” rating! Everyone, let me know what you thought about this series in the comments!!

Image result for grimgar poster

This concludes my May 26th entry in the OWLS “Strength” blog tour. Please check out Lita (LitaKinoAnimeCorner), who went right before me and wrote about the astounding latest-hit film A Silent Voice. And now, I’ll give you the weekend before we return with Naja (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero) on equally powerful film, Colorful, this Monday, May 29th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Advertisements

One Punch Man is Absurd, Out-of-this-World Fun! | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode fall 2015 anime “One Punch Man,” produced by Madhouse, based on the web manga by ONE (story) and Yusuke Murata (manga art).

Travel back one season from ERASED and you have the anime that etched 2015 in history: One Punch Man. Its grossly over-popular yet dorky concept captivated web manga fans, and when an anime adaptation by THE Madhouse was announced people went hysterical; cosplay, fan art, and “OK.” memes circulated like no other. But what gives OPM a fiery kick like no other, and why do fans gloriously rave about this bald athlete?

In a world under siege by gigantically wacky monsters and bizarre extraterrestrials, Saitama wanted to be a hero. So, he trained ruthlessly for three years, got abs, but lost his hair. Now he has arguably become the world’s strongest hero. Unequivocal strength comes with a price, however, as now all it takes is a single punch—ONE PUNCH—to knock is opponent into next Tuesday. What was thought to be a thrilling and rewarding hobby became tedious and unsatisfactory. Because he defeats his foes in an unbelievably swift manner, people and the media are also unable to credit him properly.

To keep the story fresh, life must change for Saitama. And it does. A cold, brutal, 19-year-old cyborg by the name of Genos stumbles upon the one-hit-wonder’s performance, and urges Saitama to take him as his disciple, admitting he has much to learn from him. Genos then leads his master to the Hero Association, where the two can become certified heroes and *fingers crossed* be officially recognized (and rewarded) for their work saving City Z. As anticipation reignites in odd Saitama’s eyes, he clings to the hope that tougher enemies will head his way, and that one day soon, the people might actually turn to him for help in this chaotic world.

One Punch Man is simple; a tough guy follows his all-powerful master in hopes that the two find excitement in experience, challenge, and fame. While most of the intent is on the explosive battles, much of what people took away from this experience was the comedy, in that it doesn’t try too hard to make us laugh because it’s inherently goofy. The whole scenario of a bald, self-proclaimed hero in a mustard-colored onesie running through the streets yet managing to obliterate any target in one punch is satire in itself. Saitama is an unapproachable fool who defies the typical superhero because he’s an egg-head who exercised a sh*t ton—not receiving any supernatural/monetary help as we know it—to become strong. Since battles are nothing for him, where we see Saitama struggle is against the public eye and the Hero Association’s ranking system itself.

But with the crudely drawn monsters and frankly disgusting defeats, I was turned off by the extreme ends of the repetitive earlier fights. I admit, I thought the anime would run out of steam quite early on, making it just another shounen series out there (but epic-er). Then episode 5 came around—the bout between Genos and Saitama—and I fully realized that this was going to be a good show.

I should applaud Makoto Furukawa’s performance as Saitama because holy crud, how can anyone sound so bland and ordinary yet make me sh*t bricks whenever he opens his dumb mouth?? He really did capture our Egg-head’s nonchalant dialogue, yet appropriately ramped it up for intense battles. I ended up enjoying Saitama as a character much more than I thought I did, for even though he’s clearly the world’s strongest man, he grows as a human in seeking attention and ‘raise’ Genos at the same time. Like the seemingly basic plot, much more development boiled within each emotional scene.

Genos is your typical knight in shining armor (literally, hah!), needing little introduction to sway the crowd in his favor. He’s a straight-up badass cyborg, after all, though he too knows his flaws and overly criticizes himself for the few things he couldn’t do rather than celebrating his accomplishments—there’s always room for improvement. I sympathize with Tin-can on this one. Good thing Genos has a buddy to support him.

We also get to see the variety of heroes, low and high rankings, which are part of the Hero Association. Most A Class top dogs tend to do it for the fame and luxury life, while the C Class underdogs usually put the good of the cause before themselves. Such is the instance of MUMEN RIDER, a “catch-my-flying-balloon” hero who cycles all across the atomically-wrecked City Z to fight evil (even though he’s typically too little, too late). More than that, he represents the “man at the bottom of the totem pole,” and though his arms are weak, his heart burns passionately like a fool trying to stop the rain by yelling at it.

Madhouse. Ah, Madhouse. I’ve seen very little by them, and honestly, the first couple episodes made me cringe more than anything . . . until that episode 5, man, I’m telling you that’s the crazy action I was anticipating from the beginning. Each match just tries to absurdly 1-Up the one that came before it. After that, I was pretty much glued to the screen, appreciating the contrast between Genos and Saitama’s menial routine (hilarious faces and gestures, oh god) and the ridiculously high-octane fight sequences.

A musical score rides side-by-side with the energetic animation. Makoto Miyazaki combines fierce electric guitar rifts with overpowering strings and techno beats to form the definition of “action film music.” Personal favorites include the eerie “Kowa,” the epic “Crisis,” and of course, the “Theme of ONE PUNCH MAN” and its many acoustic and piano renditions. It’s enough to make you want to jump out of your bed each morning, shout a bloodcurdling cry, then proceed with air punches and a billion push-ups.

Where would I be without mentioning the show’s anthem OP “THE HERO!!” by JAM Project? While it alone contains enough awesomeness to serve as a substitute for your morning coffee, I also speak for the ending, “Hoshi yori Saki ni Mitsukete Ageru” by Hiroko Moriguchi. It was just such a nice balance between “GOOD FREAKIN’ MORNING, NOW GO GET ‘EM” and “Welcome back ~ it’s been a long day. Rest.”

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Saitama

(Why not Genos? Because that cyborg fits the formula all too well. With One Punch Man also being an adaption of a longer-running series, we do not know how the overarching story ends. I have taken those bullets out to accommodate this cut-short adaptation.)

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

  • Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or born into royalty
    • We assume that Saitama is as average as middle-aged upstanding Japanese citizen as you can get.
  • Comes from humble origins
    • Saitama is about as humble as you can get. You’d frequently encounter him at the local convenient store.
  • Leaves family or land and lives with others
    • Again, we don’t know about his family background, but we can guess he lives alone and has bent his life’s goal on becoming a hero for the fun of it.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • No trauma here. Just a monster-invaded world that needs a hero to combat evil. I guess he trained daily with “100 PUSH-UPS, 100 SIT-UPS, 100 . . .” yeah, enough of that.
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • Actually, no. This is just a normal dude who exercised like a maniac to be fit.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • It’s quite hard for Saitama to prove himself if every challenge just isn’t challenging. Instead, he must be deemed heroic by the public, and as frustrating as that often is, he somehow manages to push through if even just by a tiny margin. He must also prove a worthy master to Genos and a notable hero for the Association, which though humorous at times, it’s all ultimately not enough to bring about complete development (that is mostly due to it being a mere adaptation).

Notice the lack of similarities between typical heroes? Unlike ERASED’s Satoru Fujinuma, who received supernatural help, fought on to improve himself and save others, and even challenged fate, Saitama is a laughing stock, and his anime, the “proclaimed satire of hero genre” is more just for action and comedy than anything. HOWEVER, Saitama still manages to mangle himself into the hero mold—especially by the end—and I only wish we got more. I’m sure much deeper and emotional struggles await ALL of the cast, but based on these 12 episodes, you’ll walk away giggling rather than contemplating heroism and life as we know it, that blah-blah stuff. We like Saitama because he’s different—because he’s a dork.

Watch One Punch Man for the grotesque, energetic, explosive, out-of-this-world action scenes and the natural hilarity and fun that is Saitama. Should neither of those things intrigue you, then it wouldn’t be a crime to skip it (Genos might say otherwise). I had an epic time with the show, and I’ll leave you with an inspiring quote to contrast the nonsense the anime is more infamously known for. One Punch Man is A-“OK.”

“The true power of us human beings is that we can change ourselves on our own.” – Saitama

ZOOM-BANG-POW! These are my thoughts on 9/10 “Caffé Mocha” One Punch Man. As you can tell, I was pretty darn satisfied with what I signed up for. Most people were. Did OPM satisfy your craving for brutal bashing, or did the quirky facial expressions fuel your smiles? You really ought to let me know! Also, do you have any Saitama or Genos-like figures in your life? I’ve known this guy who’s always trying to do the right thing, but his clunky demeanor and unsuspected heroic deeds hardly ever get credited. Haha, the whole situation just makes me laugh, but should I? ‘Till next time everyone,

– Takuto, your host

This is why people are awesome. See? I’m not crazy. He does look like an egg.

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.