SAO Bug Tracker, Issue 0: Sword Farts Online

While the rest of the show has done nothing but stumble over itself in a manner reminiscent of only the finest of terrible fanfiction, Sword Art Online’s first episode had me legitimately interested. Sure there were some aspects of it that pushed the limits of my suspension of disbelief, but there was a lot of potential there, in particular with the ways it could potentially exploit the fact that it takes place inside an MMO. Thus far, the most we’ve seen of this have been a few token nods to the video game elements of the world, such as obtrusive menus and a find-and-replace of more typical fantasy terms with their video-game equivalents. Now that these past three-or-so episodes seem to finally be setting the plot into motion, they’ve been slowly reminding me of all the things I wanted to see the series explore.

It’s too bad this reminder came in the form of a systematic avoidance of each of them.

So to make myself feel better, I’m going to write a few posts about the things I wanted to see from the show, and complain about how it’s doing the complete opposite. The first thing I noticed this episode was the prominence of old people in the world of SAO.

Issue 0: Sword Farts Online

One thing that really stood out was old-fart characters like this, who took on a more important role in these past episodes. This Sword Fart issue affects two of the things I liked: 1) Your avatar is what you look like in real life, and 2) An MMO setting would typically be full of teenagers/early 20-somethings.

Bug #1 is pretty obvious – does anybody really look like that in real life? I get that the armor and stuff is customizable, but these people look like they were pulled straight out of your everyday fantasy novel, rather than from their room in the real world. I think it’s the hair that gets me the most. The designs of the Farts like those above have pretty much forced me to conclude that there was some kind of launch day demo session for SAO being held at a local Renaissance Faire somewhere.

What I liked about the you-are-your-avatar bit was that it affords the opportunity to present the visual clash of modern-looking (i.e. not ye-olde-fantasy-looking) people in the fantasy setting of SAO. On a shallow level I think it would’ve been a neat aesthetic way to set the show apart and subtly reemphasize the video-game factor beyond the tacked-on menu system. Looking a little deeper, such a design choice could have been a springboard from which to explore issues such as discrimination towards certain demographics in video games – for example, the stigma towards female players – and the difference between the way people represent themselves online and in real life. In the end, though, it hasn’t really amounted to much, and has quite conversely resulted in continuity errors instead, such as the above Sword Farts and the occasional guild of identical grunts. It’s almost as if the creators just kinda forgot about that aspect of SAO altogether and only ever put it there in the first place as a one-off joke.

Clearly all of these players look identical in real life, too.

The second problem with the Sword Farts is that an MMO is one of the few settings in which I would have liked to see a primarily-teenaged cast. Not only would it have been more realistic, but it would have been a perfect chance to give teenagers a different role in anime – instead of making all the girls moe-moe love dolls and the guys personality-free nobodies, these teens could have been gamers. Make them empowered! Make them smug! Make them mean! If there’s anyone who would shrug off the danger of SAO and push the limits of the game, it’s hotheaded teens who think they’re invincible. If there’s one thing that online games do for teenagers, it’s level the playing field. Online games are a relatively new medium – enough so that adults are often no more experienced at them than kids. It’s not uncommon to have your rear end handed to you by an annoying foul-mouthed 12-year-old in Call of Duty – in the world of SAO, the reckless teens who think they know better than those washed-up old Sword Farts might actually have a point. We could have seen adults and teens acting as equals, instead of the usual formula of the single plot-armored Chosen One teenager defying and miraculously overpowering the adults who don’t believe in his potential. It could have also explored what happens when gaming allows these teens to gain a position of power – how would that hormonal, incomplete sense of judgment affect the world when they are the basis for the decisions of a person with real power and influence?

If, for example, when Kirito had gone to see the leader of the Blood Oath Guild, it had been some cocky teenager instead of a condescending adult, the show could have gone some interesting places regarding the differences in the meaning of age between video games and the real world. Instead, every antagonist so far, as well as anyone with any kind of power (at least that I can remember), has been a Sword Fart. The only exception to the power rule is our main characters, but all this does is reiterate the idea that Kirito is some kind of unique Chosen One and assign Asuna some arbitrary title whose role we never see her fulfill. I’m having trouble putting into words exactly why I’m as unhappy as I am with the Sword Farts dominating antagonism and leadership, but I think one thing it does is make SAO feel less like a game and more like an anime. The Sword Farts aren’t there because they’re meant to represent any sort of adult gamer – they’re there because in any other anime these types of characters would be adults. Rather than taking advantage of its video-game premise and using it to set itself apart from other anime, SAO is ignoring the strengths of its premise in order to prevent itself from standing out from the crowd.

And really, that’s the biggest problem this series has as a whole.

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About BokuSatchii

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7 Responses to SAO Bug Tracker, Issue 0: Sword Farts Online

  1. amberrei says:

    I have just finished watching SAO; and I know it DOES have a lot of problems: it’s not the best thing ever, but it’s been hated too much for its own good. I’m going to point out, in this case, you said a lot of unexact things in your article.

    1)does anybody really look like that in real life? I get that the armor and stuff is customizable, but these people look like they were pulled straight out of your everyday fantasy novel, rather than from their room in the real world. I think it’s the hair that gets me the most.

    Well, in a MMO no player would be ugly; and god, there’s a lot of ugly people. Also, the hair REMAINS CUSTOMIZABLE in the game. Only the face and size of people are the “real” ones.

    About females, the novel states most of the female character truly were boys, and there were VERY FEW female players, of which… very few were cute-that’s why Silica and Asuna eventually stand out as your “tipically extremely beautiful women of fiction”. XD

    >>If there’s anyone who would shrug off the danger of SAO and push the limits of the game, it’s hotheaded teens who think they’re invincible.

    Kirito is this. It’s stressed a bit more in the second half of the story.

    >>Online games are a relatively new medium – enough so that adults are often no more experienced at them than kids. It’s not uncommon to have your rear end handed to you by an annoying foul-mouthed 12-year-old in Call of Duty – in the world of SAO, the reckless teens who think they know better than those washed-up old Sword Farts might actually have a point.

    Exactly. Infact many adults remained in the “Town of Beginnings”, like the Police Chief (or whoever was he) who became a fisherman…

    >>It could have also explored what happens when gaming allows these teens to gain a position of power – how would that hormonal, incomplete sense of judgment affect the world when they are the basis for the decisions of a person with real power and influence?

    Asuna was the second-in-command of the Blood Oath Knights, and when she fell in love with Kirito she sent all this to hell. They both were front-line players, but they focused on their own love story, despite their ‘duties’…

    • BokuSatchii says:

      I do agree that SAO has perhaps become more of a punching bag than it really deserves at times. For the most part, it’s a pretty mediocre fantasy series that had the misfortune of having a really good first episode that made a lot of promises the show could never keep. That’s part of why I decided to stop writing about it – by the time the first arc ended, I had essentially given up on my initial goal of searching for the good things the series could expand on. As soon as my dislike of the show became strong enough that I could no longer write about it reasonably, I stopped. If you don’t have anything nice to say…

      I don’t think the large amount of criticism is entirely undeserved, though, especially when it comes to the ALO arc, but that’s a whole separate ballgame.

      >in a MMO, no one is ugly
      Is that a typo?

      >hair is customizable
      Was that the case? I don’t remember them saying that. “It was in the LN” isn’t enough for me – I’m writing about the anime, not the LN. In any case, that was less of an “OMG HUEG PORBLM SAO IS TEH SUX” and more of a minor aesthetic detail that kinda bugged me a big and I would’ve liked to see them use better. Actually, the idea behind the “Bug Tracker” posts as a whole was supposed to center on this ideal – my goal was to find things in the world of SAO that were pretty cool concepts to introduce but that the show never went forward with, and suggest ways the show could have improved by expanding upon those concepts, much like the purpose of a “Bug Tracker” in computer programming is to suggest fixes and improvements to a computer program. I just never really got around to realizing that goal because the SAO arc unfortunately ended before I could make any more of these posts.

      >female characters
      In that vein, my problem here was not one of consistency – there is nothing wrong with having not-very-many female characters in the game. It was more that I wanted the show to take a closer look at the issues faced by female players in an online gaming environment. (Sadly, it would later go on to reinforce some of them by reducing each female character one-by-one to little more than another member of Kirito’s e-harem, which again is a separate issue entirely)

      >teenagers pushing the limits of the game
      Yes, Kirito does “push the limits of the game” in his own special way, but I would have liked for our main characters to not be the only ones. Why not have some teenage antagonists as well, who are willing to threaten Kirito’s image of the game as being just like real life? Why do all the bad guys have to be grown-ups? Also, the idea of “thinking they’re invincible” was kind of defeated by Kirito actually BEING virtually invincible. That moment near the end of ALO when he failed the Grand Quest the first time was the only time we ever really got to see Kirito as a mere mortal.

      >many adults remained in the town of beginnings
      And yet there were still adults everywhere, running everything. The problem with there being so many adults is “where are the teenagers?”

      >Asuna quitting messed up the Blood Oath guild
      Sure, that might have happened. But did we see it? Did we see it happen? We never got to see the effect that Asuna’s decision had on the guild. We only saw Asuna and Kirito lollygagging around playing house, and while we were told in a flashback (kind of a cheap way to do it) that the rest of the world was falling apart, it was never brought up that this could be the result of Asuna’s decision, and it didn’t even really feel REAL, because it was never mentioned outside the flashback.

      For much of the first half of the story (i.e. when I wrote this post), my beef with SAO was not that it was outright bad (that didn’t come until later), but rather that I was disappointed. There were so many things it could have done that it didn’t do, and it seemed like the story was going out of its way to worm around the potential discussion of any of the interesting topics that I wanted to see it tackle, in favor of being a more straightforward, standard fantasy love story. It’s not really what I signed up for when I enjoyed the first episode, and I had hoped the show could be so much more.

      Perhaps it was an unrealistic expectation on my part, but when the first episode so impressed me with all its little nuances left open to explore, I thought that was reason for the massive hype the series was getting. I fell in front of the hype train. And when it avoided each of those tasty little tidbits of uniqueness with the agility of… well… Kirito, I got hit by that train HARD.

      • amberrei says:

        Thanks for answering! Well, then…

        >Is that a typo?
        I meant that in a normal MMORPG you create your character with a character generator that’s built in the game, and most of the time you can only be 100% attractive(except for games with Orc/Gnome/etc classes). The only ugly characters are usually npcs. In SAO, after the “aspect-revert-to-real” thingie, female become male, and pretty become ugly; anyways, I must agree with you: almost only good-looking characters are among the main characters anyways(well, except Asuna’s bodyguard and some other blokes), so I think you’re quite right in a way.

        >Why not have some teenage antagonists as well, who are willing to threaten Kirito’s image of the game as being just like real life?

        Well, I can’t see the point in teenage antagonists existing at all. I think even if they hated Kirito, they’d just use him, watch him clear the game and getting back to their lives without any problem.

        >And yet there were still adults everywhere, running everything. The problem with there being so many adults is “where are the teenagers?”

        You know, I had not thought of this yet. Actually you’re right: when I log in Ragnarok Online I’m one of the OLDEST, being 26. Why the hell there would be adults AT ALL (or small children, really). Maybe the japanese gaming demographic’s different? I’m not informed.

        >Sure, that might have happened. But did we see it? […]

        Point taken. The author should have dealt with it… Again, I’ll try and check if the novels are any better on this… xD

        Well, you’re quite right anyways. I’ll be honest: I didn’t expect SAO to be awesome, and the first episode wasn’t as shocking/awesome to me, because I had watched .hack/sign already which has similar premises(the main character falls in a coma while gaming and can’t log out anymore); also, as I said, in Digimon Tamers the main characters remain trapped into Digiworld, while the adults (mainly Hypnos) try to free them. It’s the most interesting Digimon series. So, I just watched SAO as a normal fantasy anime, I must admit. Whatever came as a bonus made me happy, but I never had high expectations: I was swept away by the FEELS the anime doesn’t fail to deliver through Asuna and Kirito’s love story, the characters’ stories and so on. The anime makes a good job of transmitting feelings and emotions, and I liked it. That’s only true for Aincrad Arc though. Alfheim Online Arc was awful on all sides, and it AWFULLY told its story, without any meaning. The cousin thing was so useless I wanted to break my pc while watching. Why was she even introduced, for god’s sake?

        Also, an issue I have with SAO(anime) is: what target is it intended for? 99% of it can be shown to children 12-13 years old; but some darker and edgier episodes make me cringe. What’s the point of “adult issues” in a story that’s mostly light despite its clever/darker premises? It has schizophrenia. I need to read all of the novels before I can really give my opinion on this story… for the very little I’ve read of the novels, it’s a tad fanfictiony. Especially in exhalting Asuna’s beauty…

        Sorry for the long-ass comment, it’s a bad habit…

      • BokuSatchii says:

        >ugly people
        Yeah, it was the “revert-to-real” thing that I was referring to in this post. I just thought that since they made such a big deal out of making people look like they do in real life in the first episode, that it’d be neat if that showed through somehow in the character designs and they looked more like “Regular Joes”.

        >they’d just watch him clear the game
        I agree that that’d be a possibility, and interesting to see. I would’ve liked to actually see that in the anime a bit more if it was the case.

        >maybe the Japanese gaming demographic’s different?
        Maybe it is. I don’t really know – I’m not too well-informed on that. But even if it’s not, what if it was just different in the world of SAO? What if there’s a reason for that? I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but wouldn’t it have been nice for the show to address that? There’s lots of little questions like this all over the world that could’ve been really neat touches to make the setting more believable and unique, and could have elevated SAO into being a good or even great series if it had followed through on them. It gave itself so many chances to be good, and it made a seemingly conscious effort to keep them all out of the story. And I think that’s the source of a lot of my disappointment.

        As you bring up, the first arc did do some things well, but I think for me that disappointment outweighed them a bit too much in the end. And then ALO happened and all I could do was let out a pained laugh at how pathetic everything had become, but I couldn’t stop watching because I wanted to see how bad this trainwreck could get. And sadly, it is in that regard that I was NOT disappointed in the slightest.

        That’s a really good point about the target audience. It seems pretty tame for the most part, but then occasionally there will be stuff like the tentacle scene or the entirety of episode 24 that are just… WHY.

        You’ve now given me the urge to go rewatch me some Digimon Tamers. I’d thank you for that if I didn’t have 13 episodes from this season’s series to catch up on as a result of not having seen any anime since Tuesday.

        No worries about the comment length. I do it, too.

      • amberrei says:

        HAH! I’m going to rewatch Tamers too, but it’s painful to find the episodes I’m missing in a 60 mb encode… I’m using an internet key and it’s painful to watch anime when your internet is limited!…

  2. amberrei says:

    Just dropping a note (hoping I’m not obnoxious): apparently Heathcliff (and so, Kayaba Akihiko) is described as being 25 (but in the anime he DOES look old), and also:

    “He was someone obsessed with sword duels. Furthermore, he
    had unshakable confidence in his own skills. He was a hopeless person
    who could not throw away his pride as a gamer despite being trapped
    in this inescapable game of death. In other words, he was the same as
    me.”

    This unexpectedly touches something you mentioned!

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