Unpopular Opinion: SAO Part 2- A Forced Fairy Dance

If you’re reading this post then I will assume you’ve already read part one.  Everything written here will assume you already know the problems I’ve talked about before.  This post will apply the same style of thinking to the Alfheim arc.  So let’s begin with the premise and why Alfheim struggles to deliver.

The story set in Alfheim has a simple premise, Kirito has to rush to save Asuna within seven days or Asuna gets raped.  And much like the death game from Aincrad, the way A-1 adapted the Alfheim books gets in the way of the premise.  Given that Kirito should be very motivated to get Asuna back there is no reason he should slow his journey down unless there is an immediate gain to be had for doing so.  For example it makes sense that he would save Leafa when they first meet because she can give him all kinds of information in exchange.  However it makes no sense for him to help her during the Salamander attack on the Cait Sith and Sylph leaders.  It ends up working out for Kirito but before he goes and saves them he has no reason to follow Leafa and help them, because he has no idea what accompanying her even entails and failure could set him back by about a day.  The reason there is this whole races subplot is because of the way A-1 adapts the light novels.  In the novels this plotting between the different fairy races and the battle with Eugene, the Salamander with the magic claymore, is the climax of book 1 of the fairy dance arc.  Book 2 covers the more important parts of Kirito’s journey through Alfheim and his rescuing Asuna.  A-1 mixes both books which sounds fine but works out poorly, albeit not quite as bad as it did in Aincrad.  However it leads to some very weirdly paced episodes and bad flow in general.  Because we have episodes where Kirito is understandably busting his balls to save Asuna and episodes where he leisurely dawdles and picks up some new chicks.  It makes for a jarring story but more importantly it struggles to work given the premise.  If the premise is that Asuna gets raped in a week, Kirito has no time to waste and we should buckle down for a short, driven arc that’s all about Kirito pushing forward.  But Alfheim needed to fill out more episodes meaning that A-1 padded out the story with elements that are at odds with the rescue Asuna premise.  It’s almost like they didn’t learn anything from Aincrad.  Did they at least get the setting right this time?

Actually yes they did, sort of.  Of all the game worlds in SAO Alheim is far and away the most complete.  It has racial bonuses, faction mechanics, and more diverse skill sets than Aincrad.  Players still have no classes and level their abilities in a style more closely related to an Elder Scrolls game than a MMO but because there are more skills in play, this problem isn’t quite as pronounced as it was in Aincrad.  It’s a shame that due to the premise we don’t have time to leisurely explore the world of Alfheim, but it at least gets points for effort.  It still has some serious issues though.  People from the same races all dress the same, nobody really changes gear and we still have an MMO where a single player is somehow more important than the whole community put together.  So while Alfheim was an improvement relative to Aincrad in terms of the setting, it still doesn’t quite capture the MMO setting very well.  That’s too bad, maybe if the characters improve we can do fine right?

SAO is terrible at characters and Alfheim doesn’t betray those abysmal expectations.  I’m not going to talk about people we already know, but the same formula of characters with one or two traits still applies.  Leafa/Suguha: loves Kirito, is imotou character.  Eugene: loves to fight.  Sakuya: wants Kirito, has big tits.  Alicia: wants Kirito, has cat ears.  Sugou: wants Asuna, is fucked in the head.  Since I’ve brought up the villain already let’s check him out in a bit more detail.  Kayaba may have been a boring villain but his successor was much much worse.  Sugou is built from the concept that we the audience should want to hate him.  That’s cool, many good villains play that role, I’m down.  Unfortunately the execution is where Kawahara fails.  He just throws subtlety out the window and settles for crazy and rapey.  As a result we get a character who is so one note and unbelievable he comes off as offensive.  You don’t want that.  I enjoyed hating Seiryu from Akame ga Kill for what I like to think are obvious reasons but she never managed to offend me.  You don’t have to be offensive to be a subject of hatred.  Hell if we go back to some old school stuff, Naraku from Inuyasha was a great villain to hate.  Was he tactless and offensive?  No he was a manipulative schemer who targeted our heroes’ weak points at every chance he got.  Trust me if his goal had been that wanted to rape Kikyo or Kagome instead, he would have flopped miserably as a villain.  It’s because he is insidious that we hate Naraku not because he’s offensive.  It’s not even me saying this either.  Even among SAO fans the consensus is that Sugou is shit at best and offensive at worst.  Now let’s move to the target of Sugou’s perverse attentions.

Asuna was the best written character in Aincrad.  So naturally Kawahara turned her into a helpless damsel in distress for Alfheim because the man has a talent for nerfing the shit out his own strengths.  The same kind of issues I had with Asuna in Aincrad, mainly that the series would screw her to put Kirito on a pedestal, still apply in Alfheim but they’ve gotten considerably worse.  Where before Asuna was sidelined on occasion for the sake of more Kirito worship this time she’s been sidelined entirely.  Even worse she’s now become the target of sexual assault at the hands of an older man, because apparently Kawahara decided it was time to put the strong female lead in her place.  This whole arc is massive slap in the face to Asuna’s character and pretty offensive, especially to women I would imagine, overall.  Asuna almost gets raped twice in the show, first by tentacle monsters that really should not have been part of the show and then again by Sugou.  In addition, when Kirito does finally get Asuna out, their romance, which you think would get stronger, is sidelined for more harem pandering because again Kawahara is great at destroying his own strengths.  There isn’t much else to say about Asuna, her role is so minor in Alfheim that she’s basically a prize to be won not a character to root for, and the fact I even had to write a sentence that dehumanizes her so is pretty fucking disgusting… Kawahara ya done fucked up.  Sadly Asuna is not the most problematic character in Alfheim, that dubious honor goes to her “daughter”.

In Aincrad Yui was basically all good, I wouldn’t say anything about her was great but nothing was broken the way it was the rest of Aincrad was.  Now Yui is a walking, talking deus ex machina.  Anything that Kirito and Leafa don’t know, Yui knows.  Every time Kirito and Leafa need help, Yui’s got the best plan.  All this despite the fact she’s supposedly just a navigation AI in Alfheim.  Now I admit that pixie Yui is cute, but being cute can’t save a character after they become Kawahara’s get out of jail free card.  Literally anytime he writes himself into a bind in Alfheim, he just has Yui step in and boom problem fixed.  Normally I wouldn’t make a big deal about this sort of thing but it just makes the whole story feel forced and artificial when Kawahara uses Yui to fix a problem over and over again.  Stories should ideally feel natural and flow well but relying on a deus ex machina to blast through every kink in the story has the opposite effect, it makes everything feel contrived.  And speaking of contrivances, let’s look a few conceits Alfheim expects us to swallow without question.

First and foremost, in a realistic world there would not be another VRMMO after the Aincrad incident.  No one would make Alfheim and almost no would buy it even if it got made.  So that’s a problem.  But this story is strung together out of contrived bullshit connecting all the literary dots.  For example the game glitches when Kirito starts so that he ends up by Leafa.  There’s no reason for the game to glitch up like that and no other glitches ever occur, it exists solely so Kirito can find Leafa right away.  I understand why Kawahara did it but that makes it no less stupid.  Another major conceptual conceit we have to just accept is that Sugou despite clearly being a crazy and evil bastard avoids detection from everyone but Kirito.  See assuming that another VRMMO got made, you can bet that the government would be regulating/supervising/auditing the hell out of the game and the men running it to avoid having another madman like Kayaba take control.  And yet Sugou who is even crazier than Kayaba is in total control of the game and running some seriously illegal shit on the side.  I refuse to believe that would be a thing.  Government work may be famously mediocre but it’s not so incompetent that it would let an Aincrad incident happen twice in a few years, I would know because I’ve done work for a variety of government offices.  And even if you don’t take my word for it, do you remember there being a second 9/11 a few years after that tragedy?  Of course not, the government knew we wouldn’t stand for such a thing and got its ass in gear.  After the Aincraid incident the Japanese government of SAO’s world would do the same.  Also I thought I should mention that Kawahara apparently does not understand how magic works.  In the bridge battle where Kirito turns into the Gleam Eyes, my favorite scene in Alfheim, he uses what is repeatedly called an illusion spell to look like a monster.  Yet for some reason he totally becomes the Gleam Eyes and crushes everyone in a few seconds.  I know it’s a minor thing compared to everything else but come the fuck on, if you’re going to use magic at least have it make some kind of sense.  The final contrivance I want to bring up is Goldeneye Mode.  It happens twice in Alfheim and both times are retarded.  The first time it happens, is when Kirito is dual wielding which he explicitly explains early on no longer gives him any kind of boost because the dual wield skill doesn’t exist anymore.  Yet when he dual wields he powers way the fuck up, goes into Goldeneye Mode and blasts through an army of enemies like a meteor…  He doesn’t even use any special skills, it just sort of happens due to sheer willpower, just like how it did in Aincrad.  The second time, Kirito somehow speaks with the digital ghost of Kayaba and then defeats Sugou.  This one isn’t as skull-fuckingly dumb as the first time but the existence of Kayaba’s ghost is kind of dumb and the fact Kirito treats him like a mentor is downright bizarre.  And that about wraps up the problems of the Alfheim arc.  You can find part three of this series here, or if you’re interested in how Alfheim could have been good, check out this post.  Hopefully you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

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