My relationship with Sword Art Online after watching the majority of Alicization has changed.
I still have strong feelings for Sword Art Online, although my feelings about it have changed from story arc to story arc. SAO is a divisive anime and for good reason. It has a lot of great ideas behind it but struggles with execution on those ideas in terms of storytelling. I remember thinking to myself when I first started watching SAO all those years ago that VR diving was really cool and it was an interesting first look at where the future of technology could take us. If you fast forward to 2020 we have already had VR technology for several years at this point. How has SAO held up in the course of the years now that we live in that VR future?
Well I am going to knock the obvious flaws out of the way and start with the fact that most SAO villains are the same, psychopathic rapists. Also SAO overly relies on rape as a plot device. When it first happened to Asuna during the Alfheim Online arc, I was filled with rage. It was an effective tool for driving home how terrible some of these villains were. But after it became a running theme for the series it became stale and distasteful. I stopped wanting to see it. It didn’t feel real anymore, but just a convenient excuse for Kirito to always be white-knighting when the story needed that extra something. Honestly a lot of times it could have been cut out of the story and the story would have been just fine.
Despite SAO’s storytelling flaws, I am still in love with SAO in some ways. I still root for the Kirito and Asuna ship.
Now that we got the parts of SAO that I hate, I want to talk more about what I love from the series. What I like mostly about SAO are the ideas behind it. I like the idea of Virtual reality MMO’s. I liked the idea that SAO was more than just a game, but it became the new reality of the players trapped inside of it. I liked the exploration of a game that you couldn’t leave and how that mentally affected those trapped inside. I found it fascinating how people would act given the circumstances. Kirito served less as the end-all-be-all. He was just another gamer who was smart, skilled, and overall was a good person despite being a shut-in.
As SAO evolved from the first arc, Kirito took on overall more importance to the story itself. Instead of it being a shared story of those trapped in SAO it became more about Kirito and what he was now able to do because of the SAO experience. Given the nature of the story, that in itself is a good or decent direction for continuing the story. We had several interesting story arcs, including Gun Gale Online, and we even got another story arc that was exclusively about Asuna. But those only felt like an after story to SAO more than their own original stories. That was until we got to SAO Alicization.
Viewed from a distance SAO Alicization is able to recreate and recapture the core of the SAO experience, both the good and the bad. SAO Alicization can be viewed as its own independent arc that doesn’t rely on the audience having watched everything before it.
Kirito once again becomes trapped in a digital world, but this time it’s to medically heal him. There is no exit for him from this world, and he doesn’t even know why he is trapped in it. His recollection is fuzzy as he doesn’t realize he is there because he is on the verge of death. But true to himself he explores this digital landscape and lives as though he is one of the people from this digital frontier. The terms are different. Instead of players being trapped in a digital landscape, it’s actually a government experiment to create an AI with human emotions and understandings. Eventually that AI is supposed to be capable of deciding the fate of wars and be capable of balancing tough moral decisions.
We get to explore the world of Alicization which is both fun and interesting, it recaptures much of the original SAO spirit. But the flaws of the story that were present before also appear. We get rapists and psychopaths. It’s unfortunate we can’t get good without the bad. Yes I have been triggered at moments watching Alicization to the point I almost couldn’t keep watching. Overall the story is still for better or worse the pinnacle of the SAO story.
SAO Alicization brings all the running ideas of SAO to the forefront. We get a cool, advanced, and futuristic world we can only truly dream of. We push the limits of what technology can do. We get the dual nature of humanity that is both good and evil. I have enjoyed SAO Alicization for what it is. While I can’t ignore some of the outstanding problems and narratives within it, I still find myself still enjoying SAO even after all these years.
Thank you Reki Kawahara for the fun.
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