To the Top of the Tower: How Alicization Encodes its Lore || OWLS “Fantasy”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s tenth monthly topic of 2019, “Fantasy,” I decided to head down a less conventional route for portraying this genre with none other than the (in)famous Sword Art Online. But fear not, for in my most humblest opinion, the Alicization story is not only the franchise’s most competent arc, but most fantasy-heavy one as well.

In the month of October, we will be exploring the world of fantasy in pop culture. The genre of fantasy focuses on telling stories about our external and internal environments. There are many ways we can interpret the word fantasy. For example, we can talk about how a fantastical place could glorify what reality should be, or the dangers of ideal expectations. Fantasy could also be seen as taking a “wild journey” or a “hallucination,” and how that can affect our psyche and well-being. Additionally, fantasy can focus on our personal dreams and expectations, and how those expectations do not align with our reality. Overall, our posts will reflect on how we view the fantasy genre and what we can learn about these pop culture mediums.

Since I’ve got a review of the series coming in a couple days, it’ll be nice to focus exclusively on the cool story elements at play here. SPOILERS will be present. Thanks Lyn and Aria for the prompt!

kirito luminous element.PNG


A brief discussion of the 24-episode fall 2018 anime “Sword Art Online: Alicization” as well as the original novel series, animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Manabu Ono, and based on the light novel by Reki Kawahara. MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT. 

How SAO Blends Magic & Science Fiction

Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online has amassed into a franchise that sets its stories in a variety of fantasy worlds, but with a caveat: They are gaming worlds, virtual lands created by programming, and code is the law of the land. My favorite aspect of each season is watching how they seamlessly blends the two genres I love most—fantasy and sci-fi—with one another to create some of the coolest adventure stories out there. SAO is cool, yeah, I said it.

stay cool kirito.PNG

Every magical attack, legendary item, or floor boss is portrayed through a fantasy lens, but can be broken down scientifically by sword skills and hit-points, system stats, and in-game features. SAO, GGO, ALO, and the latest VR world “Underworld” all operate on systems that actively try to rationalize even their most fantastical of elements. Often, yet most especially with this third season, the series isn’t afraid to dive into weapon lore and in-game backstory whenever permissible to explain certain mechanics and unique properties. As such, SAO is a universe structured around duality: the relationship between code (the outside world) and lore (the inside world)

In this community, however, it is rare for people to call parts—let alone entire story arcs—of SAO “good” or even “great” like I do, which kinda sucks as a fan. But the coming of Alicization changed the game, truly, and imparted with us a story of epic proportions unlike anything the series has tackled before. And with the grand War of Underworld on the horizon, there’s no better time than now to sit down and take a look at the inner mechanisms of this latest world our hero finds himself trapped in.

underworld human realm.PNG

System Call: Underworld’s Unique Features

As with previous seasons, Kirito is forced into another virtual world due to circumstances far out of his control. What immediately draws his eyes to this virtual reality, unlike others have done before, however, is that “Underworld” looks and feels very real. And it should—it’s based on a network of real human memories, after all. By highlighting the neural pathways of the brain—the “Fluctlight”—and flooding them with visual imagery that stimulates one’s haptic, echoic, and visual senses, a person hooked up to the “Soul Translator” can essentially experience life in an entirely different world, detailed down to the tiniest speck of dirt.

While the mind is in some far off world full of swords and dragons, the physical body remains intact on the outside. You could almost view Kirito’s wild journey through the fantastical unknown as one big hallucination, as every memory made in the game world is erased upon awakening (due to a contractual agreement made between the Rath Scientists and the subject). This allows Kirito’s mind to continue operating and maintain the neural connections that would otherwise be lost due to his fatal encounter at the third season’s beginning.

And so here we are, in this world that looks just like ours on the surface, but operates under an entirely different set of encoded gimmicks and laws. Instead of chemical properties and physics, everything in Underworld has life and experience points. Rocks, trees, food, weapons, and of course people are all bound to a numerical HP. Can’t seem to lift a heavy blade or open a particular door? Perhaps it’s not your own strength at fault, but the fact that such “objects” may be assigned a higher priority number than your own level can currently interact with. And you don’t “make” fires—you “Generate Thermal Elements.” Such cool coding lingo.

stacia window.PNG

The system gets even more interesting when it comes to the Integrity Knights’ Divine Object-class weapons, one-of-a-kind arms they wield to protect the human realm. Each with their own unique origin, such legendary swords or bows can unleash unimaginable powers beyond their prescribed damage set, especially if the weapon’s memory is triggered via the “Enhance Armament” system command, followed by “Release Recollection.”

For instance, Kirito’s Night Sky Sword, made from the highest branch of the once-infellable Gigas Cedar, can summon all of the darkness amassed through years of gazing at the stars in one incredible blast when its memory is released. Eugeo’s Blue Rose Sword, born from a lonely rose which blossomed in the snow and ice of the End Mountains, freezes all in its user’s path, encasing foes in icy vines and frost.

Eugeo enhance armament.PNG

For the Integrity Knights, the lore embedded within their Divine Objects runs even deeper due to their creator’s self-assigned calling as Ruler of Underworld. The titular Alice Synthesis Thirty’s golden-petaled Osmanthus Blade was originally the first tree programmed in Underworld, and thus the oldest creation in the land. Fanatio Synthesis Two’s Heaven Piercing Sword was a physics experiment of Administrator’s in which the concentrated the light of a thousand mirrors was forged into a single blade in an attempt to mimmick the great Solus itself.

And get this: the great Bercouli Synthesis One’s Time Piercing Sword was crafted from the needle on the first village’s clock tower—Underworld’s own system clock. I just love the way Kawahara marries gaming mechanics and programming with story lore to form not just creative weapon origin stories, but an entire world full of intrigue and wonder to be fascinated with.

Osmanthus tree.PNG

Cracking open the Central Cathedral

When a story presents you with a tower, you climb it. Whether you’re adventurous or not, that’s just what you do. Kirito seeks out the towering Central Cathedral at the center of the human realm in hopes that somewhere waiting for him on the very top lies a console in which he can log himself out through. While he’s not technically wrong, the costs of getting to the 100th floor far outweigh the prize he seeks.

The very act of ascending Central Cathedral floor by floor feeds us with hope that whatever lies at the top will scratch that itch we’ve had since Kirito first woke up in Underworld. Little did any of us realize how truly unprepared we were for the rich irony awaiting our poor characters, as well as the truth behind the horrific secrets holding the fabric of their world together. 

quinella is god.PNG

As the Pontifex of the church, Administrator, imparts her devious and wicked plots to Kirito and his friend Eugeo, we finally come to understand that some truths are in fact better not knowing. The holy order that’s been maintaining peace in the realm, the legend of the three goddesses who blessed the land, the very truth behind the coming cataclysmic invasion by the forces of the Dark Territory—

Of course, it’s all fake. Yup. Fantasy often leaves us spellbound, instilling within us a feeling that something holds deeper meaning than it really does. Perhaps that’s because we want fantasies to entertain us, to dress up the real world, even if the characters may be desperately trying to tear it all down. Like Administrator’s Integrity Knights, which have been brutally brainwashed into fighting on the behalf of some made-up higher power than themselves, we want to believe there is deeper meaning to what we do, and that we’re not just vehicles for someone else’s success or failure.

To trust in that illusion is to fall for deception, and that’s exactly what Administrator did. She deceived people. She built up several lifetimes worth of fraud, lies, and corruption, which are manifested by the imposing, all-seeing tower of Central Cathedral itself. As Kirito remarks toward Administrator, toward Quinella: she’s no god or ruler, but a thief. Quinella preached unconditional love to her followers, but all she really desired was absolute control. So she stole what she wanted from the humans of Underworld, and fabricated layers of mythos to protect her frail ego from the mere thought of losing her power, her authority, and her control over others.

quinella looks down

Imagination Holds the Power to Change Everything

Central Cathedral and the Integrity Knights—“born” to fight for the good of the human realm yet unknowingly bow to Administrator’s whim—represent just how a land of honor, bravery, and magic can glorify these noble concepts: People should be born with the freedom to love and protect as they wish to, not as someone else pleases. Kirito and Eugeo’s quest to right the wrongs of this land’s all-powerful Ruler present the dangers of ideal expectations in the form Quinella’s knights that were led astray by her lust. But most of all, we experience firsthand how human morals can be easily twisted when the right bait is dangled in front of our faces.

The power of using imagination to change the world—or in this case create one—is the philosophy that lies at the core of the fantasy genre. If we can dream it, it shall be, and SAO is no exception to this principle. Fantasies can conjure forth one’s greatest mystical musings about how the world can be, and Quinella took this power in her own hands to create a reality where the world bows to her wishes, not the other way around. When Kirito forces his way to her chambers on the 100th floor, her expectations of the fantasy world she created are called into question.

As a VRMMORPG fanatic, I guess you could say Kirito’s ideas of a truly enjoyable fantasy world overpowered even the Ruler’s imagination of such a world, and thus he manages to slay Administrator in combat, single-handed. By then, it was not a battle of strength, but a clash of two individual wills—and an exchange for the truth that resulted in the shattering of over 300 years worth of painstakingly crafted illusions, and the destruction of a young greedy girl’s entire fantasy.

IMG_7084


The only proof of my existence is the control I exert. That desire is the one thing that motives me and gives me life! These legs of mine are meant only to trample over others. They are not for bending at the knees! — Administrator


Afterword

Lots of foreshadowing there at the end, I know! It’s not THE Quinella post I wanted to write, but it’ll do for now. This post probably made no sense whatsoever to non-SAO fans, and perhaps even to people who watched and even enjoyed Alicization‘s first half. I often ramble in these posts, but man, someone really should’ve cut me off with this one! A full series review of Alicization is in the works, so I’ll save any kind of rating for then. In the meantime, if you, too, liked the first half of this epic third season, I encourage you to share your favorite aspects about the series in the comments!

This concludes my October 29th entry in the OWLS “Fantasy” blog tour. Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) went right before me with a much more pleasant post over the light-hearted Flying Witch that you can read right here! Now, look out for Naja (Blerdy Otome) with an excellent post about the portrayal of romance in her favorite otome games tomorrow, October 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Only Three Months Left To Go . . . || Quarterly Update (Fall)

Hello all!

“It’s crazy to think that the next time I write an update like this it’ll be October.” That’s how I ended my July quarterly update, and wow, those three months are now behind us. I hope everyone enjoyed a hot summer full of fun and freedom. I miss those days already, lemme tell you.

Anime watching has slowed immensely due to work, classes, research, and extracurriculars. While I have been able to keep up with simulcasts (mopping up the last few episodes as I write this), very few films or Blu-rays from my personal library were tackled these past couple months.  With only three months in 2019 left to go, I fear that I will not have watched and read through as much as I would’ve liked.

On the other hand, the series I have gotten to enjoy were particularly awesome watches. Same goes for the few books that I’ve read. I’m sure you’re just itchin’ to know what I’ve been up to, so let’s get to it. Oh, but first, here’s the last reflection of my 2019 blog goals before December—and the last chance to improve before the end of the year is upon us!

Goal Reflection


#1 — Read More Posts

I am proud to announce (probably for the first time this year, actually), that I have successfully been keeping up with the blogging community! I usually check in with the reader every 3-5 days or so, and my home screen is for the most part free of to-be-read posts. Now, as school gets more and more intense post-midterms, I might have to bow out for a little bit. Until then, I’ve been enjoying keeping up with everyone like I used to once more.

#2 – Write More Succinct Reviews Posts

Ok, so my OWLS posts are still fairly long, as are my reviews, but participating in The Animanga Festival will allow me to tackle this goal more appropriately. I’ve really loved throwing together little pieces for the festival and just sending them out there into the world. The spontaneity and brevity of each festival post falls much more in line with what I believe blogging should be about (as opposed to me pushing out long formalized essays). There’s nothing wrong with a hefty analytical post, but it’s quite nice to know that the posts over the course of this month will be written quickly, easily, and in vivo.

#3 – Post More Often

Again, another goal that The Animanga Festival contributes to immensely! I wrote five posts in July, six in August, five in September, AND, looking ahead, TEN posts in October (if I keep to my schedule). Like I’ve said in each update, even posting four posts per month is huge for me, let alone six or even TEN. Half of those posts will be for the festival, but still—that’s five or six more posts more than the goal, so I’m calling this one a win for sure!

#4 – Bring Back Cafe Talk

I ACTUALLY WROTE ONE. As I’ve reported in each update, this is one of my goals that I’ve been terrible at following through with. So, to have even a single one slip through the cracks is something I’m content with. (“Jeez Taku, that’s low standards.” Yeah yeah, I know :/) For what it’s worth, half of my festival posts practically fall under “Cafe Talk’s” range. But just so it doesn’t seem like I’m being to lenient with myself, I’ll surrender and wave the white flag to this one. Maybe the winter will bring more talks.

#5 – Write More Haul/Collection Posts

I’ve posted THREE haul posts these past three months—that’s practically one a month, YEET. The reason you haven’t seen more lately is because I haven’t bought anything because I’m broke. My two July hauls and August birthday haul have been about it, so I’m confident that I’ve satiated this goal for now. I’m sure the winter season will bring more purchases—as it tends to do—and I’ll definitely share with you all my seasonal hauls!

What I’ve Watched


Continuing right where we left off mid-July, I finally got around to watching the classic Akira, and wow was it a trip. Like seriously, I was so excited to be able to write about it, only to be left without words by the end.

Two quieter titles from my shelves were used to sedate me after my long days at work: Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World-, which I talked about in July’s OWLS post, and the spiritual Mushi-Shi, which I still have four episodes left before I review it. Both of these titles are beautifully atmospheric and thought-provoking, telling many traveler’s tales as they tread through their respective narratives.

For films, I FINALLY saw A Silent Voice, and get this: I had taken notes throughout my watch of the movie . . . and then accidentally deleted them from the WP app (damn the system!). It’s tragic, it really is, so when I rewatch it someday, I’ll definitely let you know my thoughts. I saw the most recent Yugioh movie, The Dark Side of Dimensions, with my brother and was hella impressed with all of it. In fact, looking back on the summer, it was probablly one of my favorite watches cause of the insane nostalgia and Seto FREAKIN Kaiba. I also watched and reviewed the thrilling Perfect Blue, as well as Origin: Spirits of the Past, a [long-awaited] watch I wasn’t expecting much from, and, well, didn’t get all that much from.

Somewhere in the heat of the summer was a recommendation from my sister, which we watched together: Kiss Him, Not Me!. THIS IS SUCH A GOOD SHOW Y’ALL WHY DOESN’T ANYONE TALK ABOUT IT. I never published my own review of it from watching, so I probably shouldn’t be preaching to the choir. But yeah, good stuff. Same goes for Tokyo Magnitude 8.0—now that’s some depressing shit, but really powerful writing, too.

My sister and I tore into Viz Media’s fifth set for Ranma 1/2 while taking her to Texas for uni, which I’ll continue when the call for 80’s comedy hits again. Since we were on a South-bound road-trip, it was only natural that I’d start her on Michiko & Hatchin, which I had to go and finish rewatching on my own cause DAMN that shit slaps so much harder now than it did years ago. (Thank you for the positive reception on that OWLS post btw! ^ . ^)

Also, and I was meaning to make a post about it, but I started Dragon Ball! Like, the first one when Goku’s a kid! I never saw past the first thirteen or so episodes (with Emperor Pilaf) as a child, so it’s been kinda surreal seeing what happens next. I’m 30 episodes in and taking a small break from it for now, but it’s been fairly pleasant overall.

When the rainy season hit, I made sure to finally watch Typhoon Noruda, which I reviewed and even wrote a “Cafe Talk” over! Really happy to have that one under my belt. The Blu-ray included a little short film on it, so I still have it out so I can get to that sometime soon.

Going back to the beginning, I’m currently working through my summer simulcasts, many of which are delayed since I’m watching them as a simuldub. I’ve finished Given and The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II, both of which will have reviews soon come hell or high water. Still waiting on the last dubbed episodes for Astra Lost in Space, Fire Force, and A Certain Scientific Accelerator.

Oh, and I randomly watched the Tokyo Ghoul live action film the other night for some reason. Lots of fluids, but was actually pretty good. Maybe I’ll review it since Halloween and all, but we’ll see.

Lastly, the most influential watch for me as of late has been Sword Art Online: Alicization, which started airing last year but I held off on to finish the books. I loved it, all of it. So much. Now that I’ve read the first half AND watched the anime for it, I’m excited to finally continue the epic story with the books, and pick up War of Underworld once I’ve finished reading those. Don’t worry: I’ve got not one but TWO Alicization posts coming out at the end of this month alone, so please look forward to those!

I Played NieR:Automata in Three Days


Considering that I’m not a gamer, I thought this was worth sharing. After Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, I was craving more apocalyptic cityscapes, which led me to this overgrown world of machines and androids. Three nights later and I’d played through all the major story routes (on easy, mind you). Yup, A-E my friend, and I freakin’ loved all of it. Seriously, this game is so good. It’s STILL stuck with me now, and I find myself often bouncing back between Alicization‘s soundtrack and this one’s.

I was intending on writing a post chronicling my experience—and maybe that’ll still happen, I’d like it to—but we’ll see. I’m just still shook by it all. Ending C. Dammit A2, you turned me into an emotional wreck!

A Figure-Buying Addiction


Before I close out this update, I just wanted to inform you all that ya boi has spent waaaaaaay too much money on figures as of late. Seriously, I’ve been draining $150 purchases like #BUCKETS over at TOM (Tokyo Otaku Mode), and I think it’s about time I deleted the app or something cause I CAN’T KEEP SPENDING MONEY LIKE THIS. This is probably why anime-buying has slowed these past few months lmao.

In case you need to know how bad it is, from now till June 2020, I’m expected to receive TWO figures in the mail PER MONTH. And get this, SIX in JUNE. We ain’t talkin’ cheap prize figures either. No, for the most part, these are fancy $75 scales and $40+ Nendos (and one $120 statue of Shinra that broke my bank, lord help me). It’s become a problem, an addiction, and I probably need to stop. I don’t need three scale figures of Todoroki or Eugeo, but I NEED THEM.

Thank You For Five Wonderful Years


I’ll keep it short, but just last month, Takuto’s Anime Cafe turned five! I distinctly remember starting this blog back in high school sophomore year. Wild how far we’ve come together. I consider every single like, comment, share, and follow a blessing, as y’all totally don’t have to hang out here. But you do, and I can’t thank you enough for pulling up a chair and listen to some kid rattle on about anime.

It’s kind of been an unintentional tradition of sorts, but each year I’ve gained ~100 followers. As of writing this update, I’m sitting at 480. It’d be totally awesome if we could hit 500 by the end of 2019—and I really think we can do it, too!

Alright, I’ve talked too much. But, I suppose there was a lot to talk about this time around. So, I’ll keep on slogging through the reviews of stuff from the summer. In the meantime, you can also look forward to the Animanga festivities, my Alicization love letter posts, and eventually a fall simulcast line-up sometime soon. Can you believe it, fall anime are here! What the heck!

With cooler weather settling in my town and studies starting to kick it up a notch, I hope I’ll still be as present here as I’d like to. Next time we meet for one of these it’ll be to recap 2019 and welcome 2020. Ain’t that nuts? 2020. Huh. Well, please, feel free to share your thoughts on what I’ve been doing or what you’ve been up to this fall season down in the comments. Until that final update post, thank you so much for reading, and take care of yourself!

– Takuto, your host

2017: The Year of the SEASON 3 Announcements! | Blogmas 2017 Day 3

Hey everyone, welcome to day 3 of Blogmas!

If 2017 meant anything for some of the biggest anime franchises out there, it was THE YEAR of season three announcements. Many of my favorite franchises received surprising third season announcements, some of them being announced directly after the last episode of their second season (which would have aired, BTW, just this year), others miraculously being blessed despite years of pleading.

Without further ado, let’s into this appropriately labeled day 3 of season 3 announcements! Like with day 2’s “Top 10 Long-Awaited U.S. Anime Releases” (which you should totally check out if you haven’t yet!), I’ll be ordering these in least-to-most anticipated. (But know that I desperately want ALL OF THESE!)

blogmasday3.PNG

Top 6 Season Three Announcements Made This Year

#6  Sword Art Online: Alicization 

Airing in 2018

If one stuck around for the credits of the franchise’s first film in February, Ordinal Scale, they would’ve seen an ominous message: “SAO will return.” Following the next arc in the hit light novel series, the Alicization arc covers volumes 9 through 18, which would make it SAO‘s largest arc to date. Will the anime cover that much? Oh god I hope not. Well, unless this “third adaption” gets more cours. Length is unknown, but despite the negative press coverage and stereotypes, SAO has always been entertaining to me, and I can’t wait to see what its arguably strongest arc holds in store for me! [link to official ANN article here]

***NOTE: Also recently announced was a SAO spin-off series, which features a new cast of characters gaming in the second series’s Gun Gale Online. I’m also excited for that!

#5  Food Wars! The Third Plate

Airing now, in 2017 fall

This was one of those sequels announced following its second season’s run. I’m a little late to the Food Wars! game, but don’t get me wrong—THIS SHOW IS THE SHIT, YO. I can recall so many humbling memories of chatting with aniblogger Jamie, my Food Wars! buddy, about this crazy show. Advertised as the “Battle against the Council of Ten,” The Third Plate will continue the trend of leaving off exactly where its predecessor left off. Now, J.C. Staff acts fast, as this announcement was made only with only ONE SUMMER between the two seasons. You know what that means—almost ALL of season three is already out, and we can only hope that we’ll hear about a fourth sometime soon!! [link to official ANN article here]

Related image

#4  My Hero Academia 3rd Season

Airing in 2018

TODOROKI, MY GUY, YOU GETTIN’ A THIRD SEASON BOI. While I found the first season to be “good” at best, season two turned up the freakin’ heat with a kickass TOURNAMENT ARC followed by one intense hero-killing act. Now I can’t stop watching this show, and I can’t wait to see what this fun, lovable, and creative cast does next! Forest school trip?? SIGN ME THE F*CK UP. [link to official ANN article here]

Image result

#3  Free! (subtitle TBD)

Airing in 2018 summer

Ok, ok, before I freak out, Free! has one ~wild~ franchise:

Free – Iwatobi Swim Club –  Aired 2013, first season, 12 episodes + some OVA shorts. Follows the rebirth of the Iwatobi swim club and its four main members, as well as their struggle against rival team Samezuka and their team’s leader.

Free – Eternal Summer –  Aired 2014, second season, 13 episodes + one water-gun war OVA. Continues the story of the two swim clubs into their next year of high school—for some, their last. Resolves the relationships and rivalries between all of the boys, and opens us up to their possible futures.

High☆Speed! – Free! Starting Days –   Aired 2015, film. A prequel to the first season which is an adaptation of light novel High☆Speed!. It’s all about Haru and Makoto’s first relay, I believe.

Free! Movie 1 – Timeless Medley – Kizuna (Bonds)   Aired 2017, film. Recap of the first season, focusing on the Iwatobi Swim Club.

Free! Movie 2 – Timeless Medley – Yakusoku (Promise)    Aired 2017, film. Recap of the second season, focusing on the Samezuka team and Rin and Sousuke’s relationship.

Free! – Take Your Marks –   Aired 2017, film divided into four episodes. A sequel to the second season (NEWEST MATERIAL), taking us to early spring time as Haruka prepares to graduate.

AND NOW . . .

[Untitled] Free! Season Three   Airing 2018. Unknown. Freaking stoked.

[link to official ANN article here]

Image result

#2  Attack on Titan Season 3

Airing in 2018 summer, after third compilation film in January

Announced first on Twitter directly following the final episode of the thrilling second season, this was one of the more unexpected announcements. Having already been truncated to half its length (from 24 episodes like season one to 12), many thought that the Attack on Titan anime had lost popularity with its fan base. It was disappointing, honestly. BUT NO, far from it, for just as if it had been secretly planned and intended from the start, the second season’s finale brought the hype back, and this season three announcement sealed the deal: Attack on Titan WILL be back, and when we do return, we’re heading seaward. WOAHHHH!!! [link to official ANN article here]

Image result

BEHOLD, the kinkiest AoT poster I’ve ever seen. But what does it all mean???

#1  A Certain Magical Index III

Airing in 2018

Like we were graced with license rescues including the long-awaited Hyouka and Gosick, 2017 was full of all sorts of surprising saves, this one arguably being the coolest!! This past spring, author Kazuma Kamachi and his editor Miki attempted to calm and reassure fans that a third season of the hit light novel series (which I just started reading—it’s good) was plausible, and that we just needed to “Wait a little longer.” WELL, the wait is FINALLY over, as J.C. Staff will be delivering the continuation of the highly anticipated A Certain Magical Index, announced October 1st, which will likely cover the events of WWIII (though it’s too soon to say for “certain”). But that’s not even the best part—the series was announced as part of  “A Certain Project 2018” (2018-Nen To Aru Project), which insinuates that the possibility of a Railgun 3rd season is not too far off either. I’M PRACTICALLY SCREAMING. [link to official ANN article here]


And there you have it. BOOM. Season three coming soon. 2018 is sure going to be “magical,” and I can’t wait for it all. I guess I say that every year, though. 😛 Were there any second, third, or fourth season adaptions from this year that shocked you? What about films, or new adaptations of beloved novel series? Also, are you excited for any of these? Let me know! This wraps up Blogmas Day Three of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

End of March Update 4/10/16

Hello cafegoers! March was a big month for me. I finished all ongoing anime that I started way back in the winter and concluded my research over one particularly tedious project. With all slates wiped clean, it’s time to move on to bigger and better anime. But first, we must recap the cool things I finished! Onto the update!

Recently Finished:

Cowboy Bebop – We (my family) arranged a weekend solely dedicated to finishing this classic “space western.” Let’s just say we were in for a long (12 episodes) and emotional haul. The end was a bit underwhelming, yet at the same time being everything that I wanted from a show such as this. The manner in which the crew disperses towards the finale is a sort of wake-up call, like a reminder that this wasn’t the kind of story we’ve been really following. It left a depressing hole in my heart, but that’s not to say I wasn’t satisfied. More thoughts to come in a brief review!

Girls und Panzer – You might recall this lil’ title in a previous haul, but yeah, finally got around to watching it. While the dub was pretty cringy (probably the worst I’ve ever seen), I managed to love EVERY SINGLE MOMENT of this tanks-meet-chicks comedy. I marathoned it in like two or three days, actually! Review on the way!

Baccano! – Mhmm, that’s right, the mafia stopped by to tell me that my job wasn’t over. In just 16 episodes, I witnessed a ragtag chase in the back alleys of the Big Apple, the struggle for immortality by alchemists, and a chain of bloody, grisly murders aboard the continental train The Flying Pussyfoot (HAHA HE SAID PUSSY). This was one of the most confusing anime I have seen, but oh boy, does Baccano! do A LOT of things right! You can bet your sweet tuckus I’ll hit more on it in a future review!

Erased – This one kept me entertained until about the last two or three episodes. It tried – it really did – but I just found the end predictable and lackluster. The thriller vibe it upheld through the entire ride, however, was absolutely incredible. Erased was only the most-watched and reviewed show of the season, so if I do write a review, it’ll be brief like my Bebop one would be.

Dimension W – This was the greatest disappointment of the season for me. I came in expecting so much: It was the season’s only big sci-fi, FUNimation had a part in the anime’s production, and the premise was thoroughly invested in a futuristic concept. It was only natural to expect something grand to come from all of this, but the story fell so short so early on. After episode 6 or so, I lost interest. Don’t worry – I still finished it and plan to write a semi-rant/review.

Yuki Yuna is a Hero – Last but certainly not least is this seemingly innocent magical girl anime . . . Gosh, have there been any pure, fluffy magical girl anime since Madoka Magica? This one takes inspiration from its groundbreaking ‘predecessor’ by throwing all kinds of twists and turns in the typical magical girl system. As such, you can expect it to go from zero to one hundred come two-thirds into watching. I have many good (and iffy) things to say about Yuki Yuna coming soon, particularly why the show falls a tad bit short of PMMM!

Currently Watching:

One Punch Man – That’s right! Takuto finally gets around to the top hitter of last season AND possibly the best anime of 2015! Is it a man? Is it an egg? Is he bored with all things in life? Yes to all! I’m three episodes in, and so far it’s not half bad. Will I like it more than, say, Sound! Euphonium or Food Wars!? Hmm, probably not . . . but I’m very excited to see how the show will carry on without dulling its satire.

Simulcasts I plan to follow this spring:

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – HYPE HYPE HYPE ATTACK ON TITAN HYPE HYPE HYPE

Kiznaiver – It’s studio Trigger and it’s not Ninja Slayer. Need I say more?

My Hero Academia – THE REAL HYPE. Mainly watching this to know what all the buzz is.

Mayoiga – I’m a sucker for mysteries, and this one looks genuinely interesting. It also sounds sort of like a survival game, which is another trick to bait Takuto.

Any Sword Art Online fans out there? I wrote this humongous five-part comprehensive analysis over the first season’s second half, “Fairy Dance.” CLICK HERE for the series! Be warned, it’s quite wordy, but it’s so far THE hardest thing I’ve ever written for this blog. I had a blast writing all of it, and I encourage you to check it out if you’ve enjoyed my musings thus far!

Now that the “Fairy Dance” analysis is out of the way, I’ve been slowly working on a lot of new projects behind the scenes. Some involve just tackling new simulcasts, some just checking on previous popular shows, and some are secret. More to come on those later, hyuk-hyuk-hyuk.

I had the time of my life at Naka-Kon 2016! Click here for more!

I’ll also be testing out some new review formats, so be on the lookout for your favorite one and let me know! I normally clock in with 1,000 to 1,400 words per review, but I’d like to try writing these next few in under 900. Partial reasoning for this cut is to practice my wording, but another comes from the fact that most bloggers (and readers) prefer shorter posts. It’s rare to come across a person who enjoys 5,000+ words of analysis 🙂 so I want to try shorter, more meaningful posts! I’m sure we all know the struggles.

So yeah, that’s about it. I’ve been busy with music and academic competitions these past several weeks (studying, practicing, studying). As you can see, I have no problem fitting in time to watch anime. It’s just hard to get around to writing about it, publishing a post, reading other posts, commenting, then replying to everything – WAH! But I enjoy reading from you guys, and I definitely get motivational-boosters from reading the comments you leave. 😀

In other news, it’s getting much warmer here . . . so much so that some afternoons are unbearable, ugh. Why can’t we get more rain?? I’ll be up all night drafting reviews for the many shows that I want to talk about, so I better end things here. What shows did you recently complete that knocked your socks off? Y’all have a pleasant week, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

CAFÉ NOTICE | Aftermath of Being Logged in ALO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La vie est drôle

“Life is Funny,” eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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

dayii_HHS017710B1_1

dayii

dayiii

dayiv

dayv

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.)