This second episode of Sword Art Online left me somewhat disappointed. Cramming a ~250 pages volume, side story or not, in only one episode is definitely not a good move, no matter how you look at it. The amount of relevant happenings, as well as a huge amount of character development present in the source material that were completely cut left a bitter taste in my mouth. However, I do admit this must have not been a bad episode for viewers who haven’t read the source material, hence my decision to take a different approach to the coverage this time and reserve a final paragraph for my ranting and novel comparisons, keeping the bulk of the post as free as possibly from those biased, yet unavoidable qualms. Sometimes the knowledge of the original material does ruin one’s experience…
One month into the game and the first floor has yet to be cleared, while two thousand people already died. That’s less than 1% of the game completed and 20% of the players dead, which means at such a rate, the game is impossible to clear. Many people have also given up, staying in the safety of towns and living peacefully. Fortunately, though, the first floor dungeon was mapped to its top and boss room has finally been discovered. Therefore, a strategy meeting between frontline players is held, in order to discuss how to defeat said threat to their clearing progress.
It’s actually interesting to notice how few people actually gathered there. An impressively small group when compared to the total of 8000 remaining in Aincrad. Not that it is a surprising fact, since it is human nature to put one’s safety above anything else. That might also be a sign that some people are already conforming themselves with living inside SAO, which isn’t unexpected, but happened perhaps a bit earlier than one would think. Well, if you discard the problem of eminent death, than that virtual reality really isn’t a bad place to live in, at least in my opinion.
Leading the cleaning group is Diabel, as flashy individual who entitled himself as a “Knight”, despite the lack of a class system in SAO, and dyed his hair of an outstanding blue (hair style is the only customizable avatar characteristic inside SAO, has everything else mirrors their real bodies, thanks to Kayaba’s little interference). He starts by announcing that his party discovered the boss room and as such, a raid party should be formed and the first step towards cleaning the game should be taken. He tells the players to divide in parties of six, and Kirito, in his social awkwardness ends up watching all the parties being formed at a lightning-fast speed. After such, only one person remains alone – a hooded individual at his right, whom he approaches and asks to form a party with. Asuna silently agrees.
Diabel gives continuation to the meeting but it’s not long until his speech is interrupted by a short and robust sword-wielder with a spiky hair style who jumps to the front. Such man, named Kibaou, proceeds to make a demand – that all beta testers apologize and provide compensation to the other players. Apparently, Kirito wasn’t the only one to take the selfish route of sure but lone survival, as the beta testers quickly occupied what they knew to be good hunting grounds and took the best quests, leveling up faster and more efficiently and leaving the inexperienced players in the dark, having to find out the best course of action by themselves in a situation where trial and error is a fatal strategy for obtaining knowledge. As such, distrust and hatred towards the beta testers started brewing within SAO. Of course the facts Kibaou gave to justify it are not the whole truth, as it’s quickly made known by Egil, a tall and muscular axe-wielder who steps forth in defense of the beta-testers with a small book in hand. (There’s more to the “whole truth”, though I’ll leave that to the comparisons paragraph.) Such book is a strategy guide of the most complete one could possibly find, with monster drops, good hunting areas and guides to useful quests and item locations. The guide contains information of a detail that couldn’t have been obtained and compiled that fast, which proves it to have been written by a beta tester. Moreover, the book is available in NPC stores in every town. For free. That information settles the matter and Diabel proceeds with the meeting, assigning different duties to each party and settling the time of the raid to 10am the next morning.
What follows the meeting is probably my favorite part of the episode. Excluding that last awesome scene I’ll talk about later, that is. Asuna is sitting in a stone bench, slowly eating one bread for the simple sake of emulating the real world experience of eating. Kirito approaches her and ends up telling her he actually finds the bread delicious, though he adds it cream. As he offers her some, it’s easily noticeable by Asuna’s reaction how the taste was enhanced. Kirito proceeds to explain that he got the cream from a quest but Asuna doesn’t really show much interest in completing it as she says she didn’t come to that town to get tasty food.
This is the best insight we get into her character, as her development is cut completely short in the anime version. Nonetheless, from her resolve of not wanting to lose to “this world”, we can see the mindset of someone who, despite having accepted not to ever leave her current predicament alive, wants to keep trying her hardest. If she dies, she’ll die fighting and struggling as she’d have done in the real world and she won’t let the SAO world control her personality or fill her mind with paralyzing fear.
On next Sunday, the raid party finally arrives at the boss room and confirms their information was correct. Or so they thought. As Kirito notices, the first floor boss, Illfang the Kobold Lord, didn’t have the same weapon and attack pattern as in the beta test, which ends up dictating Diabel’s death due to his ambition of wanting to get the last attack bonus item. Oh, Kayaba, how evil can you get, giving them the impression that everything has remained the same until and surprise them at the last moment? Seriously, that man’s concept of having fun is amazingly twisted.
Upon Diabel’s death, he tells Kirito to defeat the boss for the sake of everyone, which he does along with Asuna and with some help from the other parties. The animation in the battle wasn’t exactly amazing, and was even a bit too flashy to my taste, but it still was a nice fight on visual terms. But the really awesome part comes right up next, as Kirito’s shout out to Diabel to stop reveals his status as a beta-tester.
As this episode so emphasizes, beta-testers didn’t have a nice reputation between other players, and Kibaou’s claim that Kirito had let Diabel die provided yet one more reason for all the hatred building. Kirito was concerned about other beta-testers and how they could be excluded from fights if discovered, hampering the chances of clearing the remaining floors, or even be PK’d. So, in an act of selflessness, he totally destroyed his own reputation, putting on an arrogant façade and diminishing the beta-testers, deeming their skills as insignificant even compared to the inexperienced players which were present in the room, and elevating himself at a higher status, someone who had reached way higher in Aincrad than anyone else during the beta test, someone with way better skills and information. The equipping of the Coat of Midnight, the bonus item from striking the last attack against Illfang the Kobold Lord, was simply the cherry on top of the cake. Yes, he ruined any public image he might have been able to establish later on, but he saved the other beta-testers from the threat of extreme suspicion in doing so. Now, the original beta-testers were separated into simply beta-testers, who didn’t deserve any hate for their status, and “Beaters”, a name Kirito gave rise to and that would identify people like him, or, for the time being, only him. Therefore, all the others could rest. He was simply… so cool in that scene…
[Light novel spoilers only for already adapted material – read at your own risk]~
Here, I’m finally allowed to rant about what I disliked in this episode. And I had plenty of qualms with it, especially where character development his concerned. Almost half of the original material is cut, including the part where Kirito and Asuna meet for the first time. Yes, they already knew each other in the boss meeting – in the novel, that is. It was actually Kirito who invited her, by the way. The lack of those scenes is something I sorely miss, for it shows a lot of backstory concerning Asuna, as well as the suicidal attitude she first faced the world with, her willpower, and how she slowly learns from Kirito to enjoy the virtual world she despised. It doesn’t mention it is the first time she’s ever played a MMORPG, it doesn’t show how her lightning-fast “Linear” impressed Kirito and it’s missing one of the scenes I enjoyed the most when she compares Kirito’s wish not to be left behind when it came to the boss fight to the wish keeping oneself in the top 10 of one’s grade in school. (I really found that funny, for whatever reason.) Kirito also had some development cut short, but not nearly as much nor nearly as relevant, especially when the last part of the episode was actually well adapted.
Kirito and Asuna aside, they completely cut one other character out of this side story – Argo the Rat, the person who compiled the strategy guide and distributed it for free. She wasn’t all that important, but she was an information broker and the fact that someone who asked money for every insignificance one can image to give out something so useful for free was a really big deed that served to emphasize how beta-testers actually cared. Not to mention that the lack of her involvement means the subplot of the mysterious buyer for Kirito’s sword is left out, which in turn ends up as a lack of characterization where Diabel is concerned, as the anime portrays him in an excessively white light, which the novel doesn’t do.
I won’t synthetize the entire volume in here, but I’d advise anyone who is enjoying this anime to read the light novels, as they have more complex and believable character characterization.
In the end, the fact is that this episode needed at least 2 (though the ideal would be 3) episodes to properly capitalize this side story’s entire potential. Judging by the title and pre-release images, next episode will be yet another side story, and the first big emotional moment in Sword Art Online. Let’s hope A1-Pictures does it right this time.