Sword Art Online: Episode 23

spinning

Recap: After reconciling with his sister, Kirito attempts the Yggdrasil raid dungeon again.

Iro’s Thoughts:
After the supposed emotional climax last episode, this week we have the action climax, with Kirito challenging Yggdrasil for the second time in two episodes. But of course, not before spending half the episode on the emotions of the characters. What emotions, though? Kirito just thinks to himself that HE was actually the one who was left out, not Suguha! And that makes it okay somehow, because Leafa and Suguha are the same person just like how Kirito and Kazuto are the same person. If this sounds silly and doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, well, I’m sure you can finish that thought for yourself. There’s a moral in there somewhere (probably), but it’s lost among the faux philosophical talk.

At any rate, the siblings duel for… some reason, and end up spinning in midair for far too long as they have a heart-to-heart that solves nothing. They continue on to challenge Yggdrasil along with Recon, that side character nobody cares about, because of course three of them trying the dungeon will do so much better than just one. Recon ends up blowing himself up with self-destruct magic, which is presumably supposed to be dramatic but falls completely flat because we don’t actually care about him and it doesn’t even help in the end. He’ll just respawn later anyway, so who cares?

recon

As was obvious the moment that subplot ended, the Cait Sith and Sylph forces show up to help with the charge, which is hilarious when viewed from an outside perspective. If you recall, the entire point of their alliance and such was to reach the top of Yggdrasil, where supposedly the first race to reach the top gets the ability to fly forever. But everyone seems perfectly fine with just showing up to kill some mooks and then mounting a full retreat to let the random guy from a race unrelated to either of your own finish the charge and complete the quest. We as viewers all know that isn’t what Kirito is after, but in-context only Leafa should know this. What possible reason could the rest of the Cait Sith and Sylphs have to help a random Spriggan finish the quest before them? They hand wave this with “we sure owe that guy a lot” but it comes off as incredibly silly.

Anyway, after whipping out a bunch of new abilities that he has for no reason, Kirito finds a sealed door, and another supposedly dramatic moment is drained of all tension. What is hailed as a truly impassable obstacle (DUN DUN DUNNN) is easily overcome by using the key card Asuna dropped for them beforehand, in a method that was said to be impossible last episode. Cue abrupt cliffhanger.

Next week should be the conclusion to the ALO plot arc, and having read the novels in preparation for covering this show, I am looking forward to seeing some of the reactions.

cavalry

Zigg’s Thoughts:
With this episode, Sword Art Online finally enters the endgame of this Alfheim arc and I’m not going to lie – I was very disappointed.  This is an episode that has multiple issues, with tone, pacing, story and characters, and it’s disheartening to see the show continue to indulge in the same mistakes it has all throughout its run, rather than attempt to mature its characters for the last hurdle. After the dramatic emotional meltdown that ended the last episode, you’d expect some pretty hefty soul-searching before the quest can continue. Instead we have Kirito monologuing to himself about how much of an outsider he is, and how he was always different from the rest of his family. I found this pretty insulting to be honest – the suggestion that Kirito feels left out because he’s adopted is a pretty harsh backhanded insult to his parents, and the dialogue is just moribund. Suguha meanwhile doesn’t even get the benefit of that. Instead, she just shows up in Alfheim again, despite apparently being emotionally destroyed because…she just can’t resist Kirito I guess?

It’s just really silly and while I appreciate it’s necessary to get the plot up and moving again, the fact that we get so little relative fallout from what was supposed to be such a dramatic moment in the plot is depressing. yes, Suguha challenges Kirito to a duel (for some reason) and then there’s a silly sequence where they hug each other while spinning in the air and Kirito apologizes despite not doing anything wrong, but ultimately there’s no real change in the way these two interact. They’re back to the way they were before by the episodes halfway point, except Suguha now gets to call Kirito ‘Onii-chan’ in the game as well.

oniichan

The title of this episode is ‘Bonds’ wich seems to imply we’ll get some rabble rousing all-for-one and one-for-all teamups. To achieve that, we get a return appearance for Recon! You know, that guy who…err….I’m sure I’ll remember in a second. Seriously though, was this meant to be rousing return? He was barely a character when he first appeared and to have him appear out of nowhere as a last minute reinforcement smacks of the need for a sacrificial lamb. And indeed, that’s exactly what happens, as he blows himself up in the fight against the guardians. This is dumb for multiple reasons:

  1. He’s a character we’re barely familiar with, so there’s little emotional impact to his sacrifice
  2. His sacrifice is worthless because it achieves absolutely nothing.
  3. HE’S NOT DEAD

This highlights a repeated issue with SAO – it seems to think the big emotional moments it presents are much more effective than they actually are. We’re clearly meant to react with devastation to Recon’s ‘death’ but there’s no drama at all because he’ll be back on the scene in ten minutes. Fortunately, we’re mercifully saved from an endless series of corpse runs by the appearance of the Sylphan and Cait Sith factions (complete with epic dragon mounts). This bit was kind of cool, with some neat battle choreography, and it’s a pretty decent payoff for the political wrangling we saw a few episodes earlier.

backtoback

Unfortunately, the momentum of this last section is ruined by a dumb last minute obstacle that is solved in about ten seconds flat. While installing a door that can’t be opened by players is without doubt a sensible tactic to protect your prisoner, this again raises the thorny question of why Asuna is even being kept in the game at all. We’ll leave that one for the final thoughts, but I feel I’d be remiss not to point out that Yui explicitly mentioned the card couldn’t be used without a console just last episode. That’s poor writing, pure and simple.

I’d long held out hopes that once we got to the World Tree and everything kicked off properly that SAO could rouse itself from its slumber to deliver a powerful finale. Unfortunately that’s looking less and less likely. There were inherent niggles with the ALO story from the start, but over time those cracks have widened, and now are in danger of making the show’s finale a damp squib. Given how the problems with the ending of the first arc, I can’t say I’m super optimistic.

yelling

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