Sword Art Online: The Pace Continues

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

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*The following is a brief discussion on episodes 2 and 3 from the Sword Art Online anime series. Spoilers follow*

If one complaint is prominent with the Sword Art Online anime series, it’s the pacing. Many viewers are criticizing the pacing of the series to that of the novels, saying the anime is going too fast and not developing characters, etc. There are multiple novels in the series and the first novel covers a main set of events while the others tell side stories. The anime is taking the route of condensing these stories into some sort of chronological order with a few alterations added to the mix. This is a challenging issue for those who are devoted to the light novels. Yet the anime adaptation has the right to change things because it’s simply that, an adaptation. I am sure the creators are trying to satisfy fans of the original series, but there’s only so much time they have to fit in everything. Thus we are restricted to a character’s motivations for their actions at times, or some plot points are altered to better fit the flow of an episode.

Sword Art Online’s first episode introduces the situation and its main character Kirito, while episode 2 jumps ahead slightly to a group of warriors who’ve discovered the boss guarding the next floor. This alone is an awkward jump in time, as the last time we see Kirito in the first episode he is running out towards the next village to gather resources and gain experience. He’s already given us the notion that he wants to be alone after leaving the red-haired Klein behind. I would expect the following episode to show us Kirito’s struggle to survive in that next location, but instead we meet a new and mysterious girl named Asuna and a completely different situation.

Kirito is a beta tester and has more experience than his fellow comrades. When the group of warriors in episode 2 realize this he is called a cheater, and then a “beater”. The word play solidifies his reputation as someone to not be trusted, that he’s only in the game for himself. Given the situation that if you die in the game you die in real life, maybe Kirito is playing a survival-of-the-fittest game. Thus, the purpose of the second episode is for our main character to be a true outcast.

So why does SAO’s third episode disregard earlier events, I do not know. The series’ creators have the right to tell the story however they like, but even I was left a bit off about the pacing. We start with Kirito joining the Moonlit Black Cats guild, befriending a particular female character named Sacchi, and then witness their destruction. Suddenly we are thrown to a later time where Kirito is searching for a monster on Christmas Eve that supposedly drops an item that can resurrect a character. Finally the episode ends with Kirito receiving a message from Sacchi that she recorded before her death and set to deliver on Christmas Eve.

The drama is fast and the gaps in time are almost too jarring, almost to the point where feeling sad for Kirito is almost impossible. But then I remember that each episode provides a glimpse into his life in the world of Sword Art Online. We don’t control this, so we are limited in filling in the gaps between each event. A comic book or graphic novel does the same thing, with black borders signifying a break in time and thus our imagination. The only difference is the relationship of expectedness is vastly different for a comic, where one panel shows a character grabbing a soda and the next they are drinking it. In SAO, our black border is almost nonexistent and we are left with months of wondering what could have happened. To that respect I believe that we should respect the time we do see of Kirito, and accept the challenge in trying to piece together what he may have been through in our time away from the anime series’ plot.

Sword Art Online may want to slow down a bit in order to create a more structured plot. But if we continue to receive a cut and pasted portrait of chronological events, I don’t think I will mind because it’s the creator’s choice. I am interested to see more of certain characters like Klein and Asuna, as it seems Kirito would do well to form some sort of a relationship with both of them. As the series continues we may only receive pieces of their stories so it will be our job as viewers to take what we have and build our own stories and reactions for the anime.

Sword Art Online premieres on Crunchyroll every Saturday.

About Jared Cyhowski

[Former Staff] Jared is a recent graduate from Fitchburg State University where he studied communications, video production, and English. He enjoys playing video games, watching anime, writing, and of course pizza. His favorite games are Shadow of the Colossus and Final Fantasy IX, but he can’t possibly choose a favorite anime. Jared enjoys following the games industry and observing what will happen next, and he puts out an invitation for discussion on these topics. He loves a great story in these mediums and prefers a stronger narrative design over most features. Jared is personally responsible for creating and managing the Anime section of the website, and hopes to inspired and entertain with everything he writes.