Recap: While traveling underground, Leafa and Kirito are ambushed by Salamanders.
As we saw at the end of last episode, our heroes were being tracked by a tracer familiar, leading an attack party of Salamanders right to them – they get cornered, and a fight ensues. For once, people start acting tactically – the Salamanders have a group of shield men to block Kirito’s attacks, a group of healers, and a group of long range artillery. By all accounts, they shouldn’t have lost – but they are as nothing compared to the power of plot! Kirito whips out a magic spell, turning into the Gleameyes (a decent callback, considering how it was allegedly rather intimidating) and massacring the enemy.
Magic is poorly explained in this setting, which wouldn’t be as egregious if it clearly ran on the same rules as other skills in the game. We’re told that each race has its own specialty (Spriggans like Kirito can use mostly illusion magic, it seems), but apparently having a high enough magic skills lets you circumvent that via brute force. At least, that’s my assumption – we’re not told otherwise, or given any other information other than the fact that you have to speak the incantation to get the spell to work. So where does this huge and powerful transformation spell come from? It’s clearly not just an illusion if Kirito uses his newfound claws and fangs to attack. Kirito’s sudden skill with magic is ignored, as well. Magic explicitly did not exist in SAO, so there’s no way it could have carried over to ALO at a high level – it would have started at the level of a fresh character. Or can you just cast any spell at any level? How does that fit any sense of game progression?
At any rate, we find out that it was okay Leafa completely ditched her old party because they were assholes anyway, part of a conspiracy to take down their own race. The Salamanders plan on disrupting the alliance between the Cait Siths and Sylphs, unwilling to allow anyone else to get closer to climbing Yggdrasil. Not that we’re given any reason to actually care about this conflict other than being told that we definitely should, of course. Kirito’s motivation for helping Leafa boils down to shonen friendship, spouting rhetoric about how you shouldn’t be a jerk in video games because it will definitely corrupt you in real life. It’s a relevant theme, but rather trite for my tastes.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Kirito’s outburst during the ambush was presented in a rather silly manner, but it made sense from a character standpoint – after spending two years in a game world where death was permanent, one would probably have a compulsion to protect their friends at almost any cost. Of course, much of the weight of this moment is lost, seeing as how Kirito gleefully slaughtered multiple players only a few episodes ago with no remorse at all.
In the end, this episode of Sword Art Online follows the trend the series has been following its entire run: it has good ideas and good setting, but the execution of those ideas gimps them almost entirely.
I appreciate it when shows try to layer depth in their worlds. It’s vital to add weight to the action of the characters and to sell the illusion of a living, breathing place. The problem is, that depth must also be relevant to the plot and interesting, else it runs the risk of just coming off as pointless filler. That’s my major concern here with the fairy politicking which makes up a good deal of this episode – I don’t really find it very interesting and it has practically nothing to do with Kirito and Leafa’s quest for the world tree, aside from Leafa’s aside that Kirito would be better off being an asshole and jumping to join the traitors. It would be a lot more effective if we knew who these factions are, or why we should care about them, but as they are it’s sort of just mumbo-jumbo the show clearly wants us to care about, but we have no reason to.
Furthermore, the ALO arc necessarily loses some drama value purely from not having the ‘death is death’ schtick that SAO possessed. The leader of the Cait Sith is going to be cut down, oh no!…So what? Sure, there are what appear to be some pretty serious in game repercussions, but they’re exactly that – in game, and certainly not comparable to an actual real life issue like Asuna’s impending wedlock to a vile villain. This is where my tired old complaint about Sword Art Online being more effective as an actual fantasy rather than a computer game comes into play again. If this were a genuine diplomatic sabotage with thousands of lives and a world’s political stability at stake, you can sort of see Kirito deciding it has to be a priority. But in actual fact, the end result of this will be that a bunch of players will lose some fake space bucks and be turfed out of their town for a while. Sort of lowers the stakes somewhat no?
Iro has already talked about the issues with Kirito’s ‘illusion’ magic so I won’t harp on, except to say that it’s very clearly something more than a simple illusion, despite the presumable attempt to explain it by a line of dialogue mentioning he has increased reach. However, I really liked his little speech on how people’s behaviour in the game should be the same as it is in real life. It’s a little on the nose, but I can forgive that for a good moral and some nice dialogue. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I love the design of the underground city, all rainbow skies and watery bounds.
Sword Art Online continues to frustrate with it’s deviation from what’s clearly the main thrust of the story. While efforts to make Aelfheim a little more complex than it seems are welcome, they need to be executed better to prevent them from being merely boring. That’s not to say the show has become bad, but it does seem to have fallen into a rut slightly, and I’ll be happier when our journey towards Yggdrasil resumes for real.
- “The enemy knows we’ve destroyed their tracer. We won’t be able to trick them again”. Why? Why can’t you trick them again? Surely hiding will actually be more effective now they don’t have a tracer on you?
- How did Recon track the Salamanders after they put on invisibility cloaks? If he did it purely by hearing that’s pretty impressive.
(Iro’s note: there is a Tracking skill in the game, we saw Kirito use it in SAO)
- Is Suguha just allergic to trousers or something?