Sword Art Online Episode 3: Red-Nosed Reindeer
“Thank you…and goodbye.”
Note: Sorry it’s late. Here’s an extra-long post to make up for it (:
Time passes, and Kirito finds himself acquainted with a guild called the Black Cats, who are all friends in real life. The leader Keita invites Kirito into the guild, however Kirito hides his true front lines level from them, claiming that he’s at a much lower level. When the guild members decide to buy a house, the others decide to go to a dungeon on the front lines while Keita buys the deed, and trigger a monster house within a hidden door. With them outclassed, Kirito is forced to fight his way through and watches helplessly as the members die one by one, a girl named Sachi falling last – someone he had vowed to make sure survived.
That Christmas Eve, Kirito decides to go after a rumoured revival item said to be dropped by a Christmas boss, and plans to solo it in order to claim the last attack. Klein helps him fend off the other guilds interested in the boss, and is met by Kirito soon after, who tosses him the item, which turned out to be useless in saving Sachi. Going back to his house, he finds a goodbye message, and a song, from Sachi.
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As much as I’d like to praise the episode, I was already on guard towards dodgy pacing throughout the episode (having known what to expect) and ended up finding things a little too rushed. In general, more time should have been spent on Sachi and her thoughts and feelings, which would have made her death have a greater impact. What happened instead was a scene switch to Christmas Eve a few years later right after she died, leaving not much of a gap for us watchers to digest what just happened. It might have been a good idea to animate the fight as well, which would have showed Kirito’s desperation and determination to get the revival item despite the risk of dying to have a chance of saving Sachi and atoning for something he blames himself for. It felt like it was cut out, so it could turn up in the BD version of the ep.
Anyway, this week we focused much more on the concept of death, as well as the weaker-willed players like Sachi, who struggle to cope with the situation they’re in and fear death. It’s perfectly understandable, and it’s something that many people would empathize with. It’s very tragic really, that five friends who are all in the same club IRL get themselves stuck in a death game like SAO, and end up the way that they have. No-one can blame Keita for his reaction to Kirito revealing himself as a beater, nor for his decision to commit suicide, and you end up feeling that the entire thing is a chain of events that all went horribly, horribly wrong.
This is a significant side story to the Kirito we see later, as it forms part of his future personality and actions. All along he’s been a solo player, and one day decides to join a guild, not because of their level but because of their sense of friendship and the bonds between their members. And when he does so, they end up dying one by one in front of him – and he blames himself. It was almost as if the revival item was mocking Kirito for his failure to protect; that he was months, let alone 10 seconds too late to save them. The carol Sachi sang, Rudolph, symbolizes Kirito eerily similarly, with Rudolph being alone at first and eventually joining up with a group of Santa’s other reindeer. Except, those reindeer never died in the carol, and for Kirito it only serves to reinforce his belief of staying a lone wolf, not getting close to anyone in order to not bear the responsibility of their safety.
In the end, the show is best suited to the light novel readers, and could be slightly disjointed for people new to the series. All these side stories were written after the Vol 1 storyline, and weren’t really meant to be strung together, as can be seen by how there are various timeskips as the clearers progess through floors. A few game mechanics, like the concept of teleport and corridor crystals weren’t gone into much, and Argo the Rat, despite not being included in last week’s episode managed to make an appearance nevertheless. If given the choice to, I wouldn’t opt for skipping out the SAO side stories completely as they’re an important show for development, but now I have to question the decision of running them side by side and producing them the way they’re being produced now. Let’s see how they do with Scilica’s one next week.