Category Archives: Sword Art Online

Year in Review 2016: N-listing

I’m putting this out first because the other post can stand by itself, introspection or not. Hey, it’s not March yet.

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Sword Art Online TV Thing

Lizbeth & Silica

So today the news of a SAO TV adaption by a US media company was out, which I am sure is not coincidental to the fact that last week was SDCC. Or this/these kinds of things are happening out there. In search of media gold, Hollywood is asking people to ship them their mines. Japan happens to be actually pretty good at doing exactly this, so why not pick through their trash for some variety for a change?

And why not? I think it’s a good fit. Fire up that Ouroboros!


Power Fantasy? Overlord Is Overpowering

Battle Maids or w/e

The question is, as stated:

Considering how much people bitched about the JSDF exercising overwhelming force against armies of chumps with swords, and how many viewers argued Kirito was overpowered in Sword Art Online, I wouldn’t have expected Momonga to get a pass. He’s constantly overestimating the abilities of his enemies and dismantling them with embarrassing ease despite handicapping himself time and again, yet nobody seems to have any qualms about that. My theory is that it’s because he’s really tall and speaks (externally, anyway) with an authoritative voice. That and being a big skeleton guy. I’m pretty sure Tony Robbins had a chapter on that.

The answer? Overlord differs by spinning the narrative towards what I call “world building.” Momonga’s unmatched prowess is not rooted in a sense of vulnerability. SAO and others are criticized because their narratives leverage their powerful protagonists through lenses in which mere mortals like me can sympathize with. (The fact that there is a damsel in distress and not some equally badass level one billion demon to pair with Kirito is all you need to address the feminist critique, although on those grounds Overlord fares poorly as well.) Momon, on the other hand, is a thorough lich, complete with all the leanings and quirks we have come to expect a lich who plays as a guy trapped from another world. At any given time throughout these first 9-10 episodes, he has no real skin in the game. Pun aside, Overlord stresses this by actually ignoring the “he’s trapped in another world and can’t escape” part.

Instead, we are invited by Overlord to learn about this strange new world ala Log Horizon’s styles. (Which, by the way, should share the same scrutiny about power fantasies.) It becomes world building as we learn with Momo-Boney-Goals or whatever he calls himself. We go on adventures with as much attachment as I do with my FFXIV character (who has been sitting in neglect for over a year). In other words, not that much. In that sense, we don’t really feel both the vulnerabilities or share in the same kind of delight of Momonga, as he crushes the truly worthless things beneath his left pinky toe bone. I guess in a way we are invited to take delight when scrubs are put down by something legitimate, but I think the schtik of Overlord is to exaggerate that gap so it becomes disfigured from what we’re used to: it becomes world building, to explain how things work.

GATE, in contrast, invite us to enjoy, celebrate, and watch it for precisely that gap. I would raise my hands when asked if a modern army machine-gunning 12th century footmen and knights on horses is a major reason why I watch the show.

In the story of Overlord we are not asked to pity or sympathize with Momonga, but more his allies, like the people who were slain ruthlessly after trying to befriend him. Or his pet hamster. If Momonga is God, then Overlord reincarnates him as a Coke bottle in subcontinental Africa; we watch it for the cast of characters around him and await what happens at the end. Or maybe Momonga is like the Mars Rover Curiosity and his foes are like rocks in front of a vaporizing laser? I’m grasping here.

PS. Hara is great in this, but I see where he’s coming from.

PPS. So-bin is good stuff.


The Better Mary: SAO Versus OBC

This is basically the main reason I have a problem with Sword Art Online: It’s a power-tripping fantasy that betray the reality of a form of escapism: the MMORPG. When you escape the escape it isn’t just meta, it’s just sad. For reference, this season’s Log Horizon plays the game by the rules. That is proper escapism where the Accountant can play her real-life class in this fantasy environment to her advantage, or the Post-doc raid leader can do it like the best of them (disclosure: My long-time WoW raid leader was also a Phd student that turned into a post-doc and then got a real job so he can’t play much anymore). Log Horizon deals with the human elements in a MMORPG; Sword Art Online deals with the human elements in a loser and it works well because he is in a MMORPG. Well, I guess that can be pretty appealing too.

Speaking of which, Outbreak Company is along the lines of Yet Another Light Novel about the really hardcore otaku mindset. Instead being stuck in a MMORPG he is stuck in an actual fantasy world of sword, magic, half-elves and moe dwarf children. OBC’s form of escapism is a little more honest in that he simply wants to live his otaku world in this new world, and the magic of fiction gives him the ability to do so in the form of an excellent Soft Power dig. So instead of fighting monsters or whatever they do in SAO, the protagonists in OBC instead educate children on anime, manga, and video games, usually in the form of either playing/reading/watching them, or talking about these things. This is right up my tiny crack of an alley, but its general appeal has more to do with the way it addresses the physical and emotional needs of the otaku by the way of traditional interpersonal characterization, accessible humor, and, well, cute girls. In other words, put yourself in his shoes, I’m sure you can do a better job; it invites you to do as much.

So to me, both stories derive a lot of entertainment value as self-inserts, although they may not be pure Mary Sue archetypes. Let’s do this Baka-Raptor style.

NSFW

Myucel

Just to be fair, this contest is just based on the first 9 episodes of both series.

Round 1: Who is more badass?

Kirito > Shinichi always.

Advantage: SAO

Round 2: Who is clear-headed and acts less like an emotard?

Shinichi easily. At gunpoint, would you rather play a MMORPG or run a culture export company in a hostile environment? I think most people would prefer the former, Shin’s got a harder life.

Advantage: OBC

Round 3: Who has better taste in men/women/things?

Myucel ~= Asuna

Petralka’s ZR ~= most things in SAO

The tie breaker goes against the fact that More Deban is still a problem unsolved, because Lisbeth and Silica are great.

Advantage: OBC

Round 4: meta factor

SAO is an anime about people stuck in a game.

OBC is an anime about an allegory of expanding otaku culture beyond Japan

SAO has fantasy magic and swordplay.

OBC has a lizardman blowing on a NES cartridge.

Advantage: OBC

Round 5: Meme factor

Two years, folks, two years.

Advantage: SAO

Round 6: Gender Equality

Do I even need to go to this? I mean OBC is by no means a progressive feminist take on things, but really?

As a note, a girl in OBC actually said “would you stop talking to my breasts?”

Advantage: OBC

Round 7: Race Equality

Do fairies count? OTOH, racism is an actual issue in OBC. Granted it’s kind of a comedy copout between elves and dwarves. SAO stays clear of it (other than… beaters?) while OBC somewhat bungles it.

Advantage: SAO

Round 8: Who would you rather be?

Honestly? I would rather be neither of them, because in some capacity I am both already–I play MMORPGs and I write about anime/manga/etc in a meta way, for public consumption. Maybe I would rather be Myucel, and learn Japanese or something. Being a socially-shamed, racially-oppressed, half-slave girl is kind of not a desirable thing however.

Advantage: Tie

Score:  3-4

I guess this means someone should license OBC hard and fast.


Sword Art Online Mid-raid Ready Check

Sword Art Online is an enjoyable watch, but I don’t particularly enjoy many aspects of it. I think with a broad stroke I can write off most of the things I don’t like under “this is way too chuu2.”

Such things include, for example, the paternalistic nonsense in the latest episode when Asuna was being stalked, or how Kirito is just this projection of all things chuunibyou (a “beater” duel wielding double phalluses made of the hardest material you can find and is probably the highest level character soloing mobs (almost) nobody can!), someone who is able to do everything important himself except all the domestic stuff, so he has some excuse to interact with cute girls, or generally the design of the MMORPG is not only outdated, but has some glaring problems that borders on anacronism. The list can go on, but it tops out at “why is a solo freak playing a MMORPG?” Because we have a term for this, and it’s not Beater–it’s Retard. Only an idiot play a MMORPG by himself the whole time. I guess even bots play with each other in those games! Yea yea he does play with someone else and he will play with other people eventually, but this loner attitude is for losers.

I’m not really a big MMORPG player nowadays, although I paid my dues in EQ and WoW over the years, plus handful of other games that I just dabbled in. I enjoy being hooked on it, and in a perverse sense I see the setup for SAO as the ultimate vacation. “Hey boss, some evil cyberterrorist hijacked my body so I have to play this game until I beat it, or I die. Can I take a sabbatical? Oh my health insurance will cover the cost of living, niiiice.” Do you ever feel like that? My friend who already put in his PTO days for Pandaria probably would agree. What’s more, our SAO overlord enslaved an entire server full of people, so you will have people to do stuff with even at all times, day and night.

I read this post not too long ago and it reminds me the one thing SAO did right that, say, .Hack//sign did poorly. That is exactly how the video game interact with reality in a way that the viewer can associate with. Back in the late 90s, .Hack appealed to the type of people who actually played, say, RO Beta or EQ, and the nods in the game are a great way to build on that connection between viewer and material. Fast forward to today, I think that alone is definitely not enough. SAO does refer to game mechanics, too, but it adds the whole dimension that, coincidentally, I could really care less for but elevates the show: a solid standalone narrative. You could treat SAO like a fantasy novel and ignore that they’re trapped inside this VR thing, living lives like fictional characters in a fantasy story. I think by cutting out (admittedly very potent plot juice) the real life aspects, it makes SAO an enjoyable story about MMORPGs as narratives like a MMORPG. Think of SWTOR without all the traveling.

To that end, I’m taking the assumption that a game is only a game when it’s fun to play. When it gets too personal or too serious, it’s going to require some change in perspectives. Fundamentally, that is going to happen when you try to rope in a couple friends for a weekend night crawling dungeons online, or any other similar activity. It just gets less personal and more business-like when we’re talking about 25 or 40 people and their collective weekend or whatever time zone they happen to be in, in order to not stand in the fire and make the other 39 people’s lives miserable. In FFXI’s and EQ’s cases, this number can be up by even more. In other words, MMORPGs are often very serious business, at least up to say 2009 or so.

Perhaps another way to look at it is that a honest look at MMORPG culture and fandom necessarily cannot be encapsulated by a chuunibyou-driven narrative. Think of the Guild for example; it’s more about normal, everyday lives. It’s not about some guy who is super powerful and beats all his foes. He doesn’t suffer any real setbacks. But because now we don’t have this everyday life thing to get in the way, we can enjoy SAO for what it is: just yet another hero’s quest, the ones that typifies the single player experience. There is not much MMO-y about SAO besides that other characters can interact with you; once you strip the gamer-game-character-dichotomy, it’s all just a fantasy setting with people in it.

Because, indeed, you can’t save the world in FFXI all alone by yourself, that’s for the home versions of such games. Juggling this dichotomy and undercutting the fundamental fact about MMORPG life makes SAO ultimately a sad exercise in excessive chuu2-ness, but also one that can be enjoyable as a single-player media that typifies the TV-viewing and novel-reading experiences. Personally it makes SAO a very difficult pill to swallow because I enjoy MMORPGs for largely different reasons, but I know for sure there are all kind of people out there who probably gets that power trip out of it.

And I can probably go on and show you how sad it is when people enjoy their power tripping on MMORPGs, because all that has happened is a player demonstrating his or her own pathetic nature for the world to see. It’s fine if you power trip all you want in some single-player experience, but, again, this is why it’s Retarded to be a Kirito in real life. Friends don’t let friends play MMORPG by themselves.

He isn’t a guy I dislike, but Kirito (and to an extent, Asuna) should really take a back seat and enjoy their GLOOP GLOOP moment, out of our view. Meanwhile, MORE DEBAN plz.

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