Monday, 1 September 2014


He may be back in the real world, but not for long...

Also called the Fairy Dance Arc of Sword Art Online, the second arc of the first season is highly controversial amongst fans. Some want to exile it from continuity because compared to the first arc, Fairy Dance is a joke. Common complaints are that there is no real sense of danger in this arc and that the storyline is cluttered with teen romance/angst drama. Plus, some feel the treatment of Asuna here is completely unwarranted. It's not all bad people! Ever heard of an uncut diamond?


That's precisely what ALO is - an uncut diamond! It might not look as attractive, but that doesn't mean it has no worth. Set a few months after Kirito (Sorry I'm going to be using his avatar name instead of his real name) cleared SAO and was sent back to the real world, he learns that 300 SAO players, including Asuna, still have not awakened yet. Following a clue about Asuna's whereabouts in another VRMMORPG called Alfheim Online (ALO), Kirito also enters the ALO's mainframe. Helped by his sister Suguha Kirigaya, known as Leafa in the game, he learns that the trapped players in ALO are part of a plan conceived to perform illegal experiments on their minds, including Asuna. 

The second arc introduces us to Suguha, Kirito's sister. She had a blink and you'll miss it cameo back in the first episode before Kirito logged on to SAO. In ALO, she assists him, however she also harbors a black secret regarding Kirito: Even though they were raised as siblings, they are actually cousins. Kirito discovered this at a young age and started to distance himself from Suguha. Remember in SAO he told Silica that she reminded him of his sister? Well here we are. While he was trapped in SAO, their mother informed Suguha of their real relationship and she found herself developing feelings for him. I'll stop here for a moment. First off, the whole 'it's okay as long as it's not blood-related' argument concerning incest relationships is garbage. Japan may be a bit iffy, but I'm against it entirely. Usually when this sort of thing comes up in shows, it's treated as romantic or understanding or handwaved for comedic purposes when in reality it's 1) illegal and 2) disgusting. What makes ALO exciting for me is that it isn't treated as it normally is. Suguha knows it's wrong. She's hiding it and fighting it. It's shown to the audience that the story also treats the incest relationship as wrong and that's nice to see. While I'm against it, I pity Suguha as she proves how human she is by demonstrating something everybody (even you reading this) has experienced at some point in their lives: Fancying someone you shouldn't. Be it a teacher, or a friend that's off-limits etc. I get that sometimes, things happen anyway, despite how much we want them not to.

What's worse is that the two don't know they are helping each other in-game and treat each other as online friends. This gladdens Suguha because now she's finally found someone who isn't her brother that she can fall in love with - a normal love - as opposed to these wrongful feelings she keeps having. Half of ALO revolves around Suguha and Kirito's relationship outside the game. He remains oblivious to her feelings and unfortunately acts in his normal charming self which makes not falling for him harder. It's made even more devastating when Suguha eventually deduces that Kirito in-game is her brother/cousin in the real world and that fate has shown it's cruelty again by having her fall in love with someone she can't/shouldn't have.

The other half of ALO revolves around Kirito trying to locate Asuna. Unlike in SAO, where if you die in-game, you die for real, the challenge in this arc has more of a time limit attached to it. He meets a rival suitor - Nobuyuki Sugō - whom has known Asuna longer and who plans to marry her in one week. Asuna isn't awake to dispute this as her family agreed on her behalf while she's comatose. Nobuyuki does a bang-up job of proving that he has no redeeming qualities. It turns out that he is also the reason Asuna hasn't woken up yet. He's trapped her mind and the other SAO players in ALO and is keeping Asuna like a bird in a cage. He has no morals and violates her in-game (in front of Kirito) before gloating to them both that he'll do so to her real body as well even though it's unconscious. It doesn't get sicker than that.

The keeping Asuna as some kind of rare item to be found by the lead is a common complaint amongst fans. I have a little issue with it, but not a whole lot. Asuna is a strong character who is made a victim of opportunity. It's not as if she devolved into a ditz or bimbo. I'd be upset if they did that. Given that her capture and imprisonment has a solid explanation, it's just a plot to me. I'd be really upset if Asuna disappeared from the show entirely as she and Kirito are good for each other and have a real connection.

ALO continues the tradition of giving us awesome fight scenes. Even though it reads like it's more of a drama than a fighting game, ALO has a lot of great fight scenes. Not just the great music that fuels it, but instead of just the random monster, there are handicap fights, one-on-ones, boss fights and even rookie fights. There is no shortage of fights in ALO. One thing ALO has over SAO is time. In SAO, Kirito started at LV1 and by Ep 4 had raised it to 70 or something. It didn't really show us all the hours of continual playing he spent getting there. I'm not saying that should've happened, but even a two minute montage would've sufficed. ALO follows a more leisure pace that shows us steps 1-11, but also including the stuff in-between without dragging down the plot.

Lastly, the voice acting is just as brilliant as in the first arc. Special shout-out goes to Cassandra Morris who voices Suguha. I feel that her portrayal of the victim of fate stole the show. Like Cherami Leigh who always does such a fantastic job voicing emotionally strong characters, Morris' portrayal is chalk-full of that also. I can't fault Bryce Papenbrook's Kirito either. The role feels like it was made for him. Todd Haberkorn who voices Nobuyuki Sugō also calls for a round of applause. Despite wanting Satan to reserve a special place in hell for Nobuyuki, Haberkorn succeeds in bringing the inner scumbag/sociopath/coward/would-be rapist of the character to life.

Rating this arc: 8/10. It's not as perfect as SAO, but it's not nearly as bad as everybody makes it out to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment