As a long time Sword Art Online fan I am relatively pleased with the amount of content that has been produced over the years for the show. I found myself enjoying the worlds of online games created by Reki Kawahara and following Kirito in his journeys from one world to the next. Sure there were times when things didn’t always make sense and there were problems with plot and character development, but I could easily overlook them as both a die hard fan and someone who dismisses the small problems along the way in storytelling. I will not be critical of a problem until it has become a glaring problem. Right now even I find myself still enjoying and exploring the world created for the Alicization universe, but there is a big glaring problem that can’t be ignored that it first began turning me off in the during the last few episodes of last season’s Alicization. In an alternate universe perhaps where Alicization was the only SAO content I could overlook this problem. It’s time to be honest with myself, SAO has a huge problem with its villains: they have all been relatively the same, psychopaths and rapists, who have no real justification or reason for their actions other than they just commit heinous atrocities for the fun of it.
While the vast majority of Reki Kawahara’s villains may be psychopaths and rapists there is a big exception of the first antagonist of the SAO, Heathcliff or better known as Akihiko Kayaba. Akihiko Kayaba was a far more interesting villain and antagonist for Kirito than any of the others he has faced. I can say that while I find Kayaba’s plan despicable, the plan to entrap excited gamers into a literal death game for his own amusement and research purposes, at least there is some kind of justification for his plan. Akihiko Kayaba always planned on dying for his crime at the hands of those he imprisoned, but before he died he would give a special gamer the world seed to recreate the SAO experience for other gamers, minus the death trap part. Akihiko Kayaba’s plan kills thousands for playing his game for the sake of his dream world created in virtual reality. It is elaborate and for the sake of a villian’s motivations interesting.
After Kirito finds himself surviving the SAO incident, he is forced to fight Oberon in Alfheim Online, a would be rapist and psychopath. I did at first cheer for Kirito in his fight to save Asuna in the Alfheim Online arc, because I was drawn into the relationship Kirito and Asuna had formed in the SAO World. We witness Oberon, the fairy king, attempt to rape Asuna in front of Kirito, while also subjecting Kirito to insane amounts of physical pain. Obviously this is compelling as a story telling tool to hate Oberon with every fiber of my being. While Oberon wants the family fortune from Asuna, he doesn’t actually have a reason to rape her besides making Kirito suffer. After Oberon is defeated we can all breath a sigh of relief, but there are more of his ilk to come.
In the Gun Gale Online arc Kirito gets to fight the remaining members of the Laughing Coffin still at large in society, who are trying to recreate the power they had in SAO by murdering players in a new game. Without saying so they are also psychopaths who want to kill Sinon for no other reason than she has been marked for death. The trouble is Laughing Coffin can’t actually kill anyone in a game like they used to so they use the game as a stage for death, while they actually just kill the person in real life with poison. And yes at the very end of the GGO arc a Laughing Coffin member tries to rape Sinon before murdering her with poison. While Sinon is again saved by Kirito, the idea of people killing for no justification other than to relive a high from SAO is only vaguely interesting and the reason for rape is unknown other than the Laughing Coffin member could do it. The archetype of psychopaths and rapists doesn’t stop there.
In Alicization we get yet another example of a psychopath and rapist in Quinella. While Kirito and Eugeo try to make their way to Pontifex, they get split up and since Quinella likes to party in her birthday suit its an easy to take advantage of the lone Eugeo. It’s not of free will that Eugeo finds himself taken by the Pontifex. After Quinella is confronted by Kirito and Alice she reveals that she is willing to do anything to stay in power and do anything she wants to others. While finding Quinella absolutely repulsive, I can say the effect of the psychotic villains was definitely becoming an old trope that Sword Art Online has become overly dependent on. It’s no longer fun or interesting, it’s just getting stupid.
Now again we get another psychopath in our new villain for Sword Art Online Alicization War of Underworld. At this point I just really want it to stop. Can we get villains who might have even a small amount of justification for what they are doing? I would really like to get another Akihiko Kayaba, someone who is motivated for reasons besides they are psychotic power freaks that are coincidentally also rapists. Sword Art Online still has elements that I love and find interesting. If we could only have an antagonist that was equally interesting to match then I would be less likely to gripe about how I feel that Sword Art Online Alicization War of Underworld. It won’t have much interesting to offer, despite having the potential to.