I swore off blogging Sword Art Online after episode 15, the point when I realized that even trying to talk about it would be little more than an exercise in frustration, pain, and many wasted hours. The show’s skillful and deliberate evasion of any semblance of the quality it set itself up to achieve has always been a fascinating subject to me, but my disdain for it runs so deep that to attempt to even scratch the surface would be an endeavor whose required investment of time and sanity far outweighs any reward gleaned from doing so. In my swiftly-abandoned “SAO Bug Tracker” post series, I did attempt to take the opposite approach and search for the ways the show could have been good, but the scope of the project exceeded the span of my goodwill for the show. Now that a DVD/BD release for the show, as well as a slot on Toonami, have been announced for SAO, it is once again a relevant topic to discuss, and I think enough time has passed that my sanity regarding the show has returned to safer levels, so I figure now is as good a time as any to post this.
An Introduction to the Fanfiction:
You read that right. A fanfiction. Digging through some old files of mine, I have managed to scrounge up an outline I wrote back when SAO had just finished airing, detailing an alternate plot for the show that was more in line with what I had hoped it would be. A couple of fellow bloggers were interested in what I had had to say and requested I post it, so I decided “why not?” And what better way to introduce it than with a typical fanfiction-author-esque apologetic “I KNOW IT SUCKS OKAY” paragraph?
This outline was all conceived of and written in an afternoon back in December. It’s incomplete, and I have long since forgotten where I was going with it, so I haven’t really bothered to touch up or finish it. Some of it isn’t as well thought-out as it could be and potentially pretty cliche, but I think it gets across my main point well enough. Basically, it was meant to be a replacement for my Bug Tracker posts by providing a specific example of how the show could have been done better, rather than just talking about it. In that afternoon, I managed a pretty detailed summary of a revised first three episodes, and described a number of plot points, setpieces, characters, and character interactions that I felt could’ve been utilized by the show to explore more interesting ground than it did. I hope you’ll enjoy it and get something out of it, despite its flaws. Now, without further ado… (*copies* *pastes*)
For starters, the second arc is basically irredeemable, and the first arc felt like it was cut too short to explore everything it set out to, so all 24-25 episodes are to be dedicated to the first arc.
I think it’d be nice to establish the real world to start, with a short half-episode intro that isn’t in the actual show. Kirito is playing some VR game, in the middle of a solo battle, when suddenly he’s jolted back into reality by his mom removing the Nervegear and telling him to stop playing – it’s time to go see his sister’s kendo tournament. She tells him that he needs to go out and get some real friends and stop spending so much time playing games because he’s missing out on the real life that he already has. It’s like he lives in a whole different world, she says. Kirito complains about getting pulled out of the game and how she and his sister don’t understand that online gaming is about playing /with/ people who are depending on you (despite the fact that he was soloing the game). He’s a high schooler now, he can do what he wants, and why does he have to go to his sister’s kendo tournament anyway? It had better not make him late for the big launch of Sword Art Online. He sits through it bored, watching the kendo matches and envisioning the combatants as MMO characters. His sister makes it pretty far into the tournament, and the launch time is getting close, so Kirito gets up to leave for the game store. His sister notices that he’s not there during her next match, and she gets distracted and loses. Kirito walks to the store himself and waits in line to buy the game. When he gets back home to play it, he gets chewed out for being inconsiderate of his sister and for putting his games before even his own family. Games are all he thinks about! His sister is slumped on the couch watching TV, upset over what happened. Kirito ignores both of them and goes up to his room to try out the game. Then we get a commercial break. The second half of the episode plays out much like the first half of the actual first episode, with the exception that, on the way to practice with Klein, they see another newbie player get killed by a low-level monster and they chuckle at how bad he is. The episode ends with the bell ringing to announce the intro sequence, just as they’ve discovered that there’s no logout.
The second episode plays out much like the second half of the first episode, with again a few exceptions. Of course, the purpose of the previous added scene was to help demonstrate the reality of in-game death, as Kirito and Klein look at each other in a crap-their-pants moment of “that guy actually died” when they find out about the Nervegear brain-frying. We also cut to the real world at the point where Kayaba had shown the news reports in the real episode 1. We see flashes of the news reports as if we were watching them, showing distraught families in the hospital with their sons who have been fried from pulling off the Nervegear (and maybe the family of the guy that Klein and Kirito saw), a confirmation that officials and experts are working on apprehending Kayaba and finding a way to reverse-engineer the Nervegear, respectively. The Nervegear has also been recalled, for anyone not playing SAO or who bought the game but didn’t start playing yet (these people are advised not to play, of course). Enough to showcase how serious of a situation this is, and that steps are being taken to rectify it. From there, we show that Kirito’s sister is watching the news and recognizes the game. She sees the warning to not-remove the Nervegear, and races upstairs upon hearing that their mom is heading up to call Kirito to dinner. The commercial break happens as we see Kirito’s mom getting ready to take off the Nervegear, like she did in episode 1, with his sister racing to stop her. After the break, she succeeds in saving Kirito and shows their mom the news. The news gives them instructions not to disturb the players, and to call their local hospital if someone in their household is stuck in the game. Kirito’s mom can maybe comment on the connection between this and how Kirito always used to spend so much time in his games, but now he /really/ can’t stop playing. I could probably think of some more stuff for them to do, too, but I won’t dwell on it too much – the point is that we can see Kirito’s family reacting to his being stuck in the game. We then cut back to the game world, and Kayaba finishes his speech. The rest of the episode is like the end of episode 1.
This is pretty much just episode two of the real series, where they establish the concept of a “beater” (beta-testing cheater) except for the ending. Here, when the party jeers Kirito for being a beater, he starts to storm off, as he did, but now Klein runs up to catch him and convince him to make a party. This inspires Kirito to turn around and announce that yes, he is a beater. He is going to beat this game and get out of here. And if anyone else wants to beat the game, they know where to find him. (Because really, Kirito’s lone-wolf attitude kinda killed a lot of the show)
Now the rest of it I don’t have as well planned-out, since I kinda feel like the entire story from episode 3 onward should probably be tossed so I don’t have the actual episodes to use as a crutch.
Klein joins him right away, as I mentioned above. He is basically the same as he is in the original story, because he was easily the best character already.
Asuna is seen looking around for a guild, but because she’s a “girl gamer” everyone either creepily hits on her because she’s hott or dismisses her because she’s a girl and must suck. She joins Kirito’s party (and gains respect for Kirito) because he sees her getting hit-on/shunned and decides to let her into his party after seeing her in action during episode 3 (episode 2 of the real series). Throughout the series, things like that continue to happen, and she fights against the “girl gamer” stereotype by being the competent version of herself that we saw earlier on in the original series.
Sachi can be there, I suppose, but she’s a part of Kirito’s party. And perhaps not a loli, but that’s not all that important. What is important is that she actually gets screentime before she gets killed, so she’s a persistent character who gets developed somewhat thoughout the world-building/character-building episodes following the formation of the party (which take the place of the side story episodes). For added impact, we can see her family in the real world – she could be in the room next to Kirito’s at the hospital, and her and Kirito’s families meet and talk about the predicament they’re in, and if there are any developments on the situation, and talk to each other about the loved ones they have lost to the game and wonder how they’re doing.
A new character, an adult, also joins their party. He’s actually a member of the government, and during his introductory episode, there is some real-world media hubbub about his being trapped in a game. He had been a pro-VR member of the government – one of its biggest proponents, and his opponents are trying to use this incident to ban VR games like the Nervegear and SAO. Being trapped in the game like this, he begins to wonder if maybe his opponents are right, but for now, all he wants is to beat the game so he can see how his colleagues are responding to this without his leading pro-VR voice. So he teams up with Kirito, who, despite being just a kid, was a beta tester and seems to have the best chance of beating the game. Here we have not only a new plot thread about the ethics of banning media, but also a look at the reversal of authority that a video game world can introduce.
I’m not sure if these characters should be members of Kirito’s party or if they should be off on their own, but I love the guys from episode one who turned out to not, in fact, be a girl and a seventeen-year-old. They can be the comic relief lovable goofballs of the story, and they’re pretty incompetent but manage to bring about important plot changes and get themselves (and Kirito’s party) into and out of dangerous situations completely by accident. I don’t want the story to be too dark and gloomy! And they provide an alternate, more believable vehicle for events the original would have resolved with deus ex machinas.
In the real world:
We of course have Kirito’s family. Of them, Kirito’s mom will probably be the one to interact with Sachi’s family, and we’ll see his sister working on her kendo to prove to herself that she doesn’t need Kirito’s support and she can move on with her life without him. Kendo is at the same time her way of coping with his loss and relating to his being trapped in a video game about swordfighting. There needs to be at least one (maybe two) episode(s) of Kirito’s party grinding to level up, and this would be a good place to interweave the start of this kendo subplot, which would progress along with the SAO story culminating with Suguha winning a big match as Kirito and his party defeat the final boss.
There are also government-guy’s fellow governing members, and they’ll be key in the aforementioned subplot about the ban on gaming. Ultimately, government-guy is freed from the game by way of having a malfunctioning Nervegear which fails to zap him when he dies (obviously this will have been foreshadowed earlier, it can’t just come out of nowhere). And he and his opponents go back and forth about what would be a suitable legislative reaction to the incident. In the end, this plot thread is resolved by government-guy convincing enough fellow policymakers that recall and regulation of the hardware is enough, and that the banning of video games as a whole is not the solution. But along the way, we can have a good deal of political back-and-forth, intrigue, etc. about the seperation of games and reality, and some soul-searching on the part of government-guy with regards to what he really believes is the best course of action after having been trapped in a game himself (which makes his coming out against the ban that much more meaningful). Perhaps this story can be foreshadowed during the newsflashes in episode 2. Government-guy can also meet with Kirito’s family and tell them that he’s all right and tell them about his heroic exploits/leadership/taking charge in the game.
Then we have the police/UN/etc. trying to catch Kayaba, and the hackers/devolopers working to reverse-engineer the Nervegear to disable the brain-frying feature. They are mostly there to show that something is being done about this in the real world. There is one pivotal moment where the police find Kayaba’s offices by way of one of fishing-guy’s friends in the game security department, but Kayaba’s computer is on and Kayaba himself is found dead at the desk, Nervegear on his head (he has, of course, transferred his consciousness into the game by this point). Government guy can also work with the police and give them an update on what has happened so far in the game.
An Outro From the Fanfiction:
And that’s as far as I got. Now of course, all this still has the potential to be a massive trainwreck if it’s not done properly. The entire premise of SAO lends itself very much to cheesiness and making things too over-the-top. I am by no means a great storyteller, and having thought of all this in an afternoon, I admit that a lot of it is pretty hamfisted. Even so, I like to think it’d still be better than what we ultimately got. My point with this is less to come up with an actual plot alternative to SAO, and more to demonstrate that it COULD HAVE covered a lot of interesting ground and examined some relevant, relatively unique themes if it hadn’t tossed its entire setting out the window in favor of Kirito deus-ex-machina-ing his way to being the most stupidly broken character, and the laughably handled relationship between him and Asuna and every other female character in the series.
You can see why I call SAO such a fatal timesink for my writing; I can’t shut myself up about it, and only get less and less coherent as I talk more and more about it and get angrier and angrier about it in the process.
Take a Deep Breath, Satchii. It’s Over Now:
Phew. Okay. Now that that’s done, I think it’s time to once more swear off writing about SAO before I get too angry at it again. This whole post has felt really out of character for me.