This week’s episode forms the conclusion of the mysterious murder case arc. To be perfectly honest, it felt a little out of character for the series, not just in the anime but also in the light novels. I would consider this dissonance far more emphasised in the anime though – the attempts to create an atmosphere of horror and mystery felt a little forced. Creating suspense and tension at the thought of death is one thing, trying to bring elements of horror and mystery to a story which isn’t really about either can be a risky move. Branching out can be good, but it’s always possible to overextend and stretch yourself too thin. Perhaps the incident would be terrifying to the participants involved (which we see it obviously is), but when logic is applied (or helpfully supplied by Kirito in this case), it’s pretty obvious that ghosts of dead players would not exist in SAO. If they did, why would Griselda be the only one? Why not the masses of other deceased so far? For that reason, it’s much harder for us – the viewers – to empathise with this fear and the sense of danger is lessened.
The observant viewer may have noticed the difference between the death particles in previous episodes and those shown during the ‘murder’ arc. Rather than actually dying, the ‘victims’ merely teleported out as their armour broke, creating a similar but not identical effect. It’s no surprise that Kirito would eventually notice this given how many people have died in front of him to date and his supposedly vast intellect. Under normal circumstances I would not have expected it to take him anywhere near so long. However, there is a law in Japan which states that no protagonist may notice anything, no matter how blatantly obvious, until they’re slapped repeatedly in the face with it (in this case, the sandwich). You could grow horns, print the word ‘EVIL’ on your forehead and break off into bursts of maniacal laughter at the end of each sentence and they would probably remain clueless.
Joking aside, this episode introduces one of the most absurd reasons for committing murder. The gist of it boils down to murdering your wife for leaving the kitchen. I do feel a little bad for Grimlock (Narita Ken) – it would be hard to see someone you love change so drastically. On the other hand, I know I wouldn’t complain to find my (hypothetical) wife becoming stronger, making her own way in the world and even surpassing me! At those times you should feel joy for them, perhaps tinged with a small amount of jealousy, but mostly joy! But no, Grimlock could only see her growth as a person in a negative light and decided to kill her to preserve his memories of how she once was and to remove any potential of a divorce. His breaking under Asuna’s… I hesitate to call it ‘questioning’ since it was only one question… words felt a little sudden to me. Asuna literally spoke a single line, suggesting that Grimlock felt only possessiveness, and apparently this was enough to completely shatter him. I feel like he would’ve built up more resilience than this over time – even if the guilt had also been piling up.
One of the things I really like about SAO is the systems. As a story built around an MMORPG, this is arguably one of the most important aspects – how various systems are introduced and explained (I also still love seeing the menus – notice that quick tease of Lisbeth in Asuna’s friend list!). In this episode, we have our first experience of the Immortal Object system, casually thrown in to catch our attention and hopefully to be built upon later. As the name suggests, immortal objects (a wall in this case) are uh… immortal, i.e. they cannot be destroyed by anything. Ever. In addition to this, we have some exposition centred on the item drop system. Item drops form the cornerstone of any good MMO – loot and gear is exceptionally important to character performance (in most cases at any rate). The majority of MMOs have a combat log, something severely lacking in SAO’s more realistic world – a log which shows damage dealt to opponents, special attacks initiated, and item drops (amongst other things). Usually, an item would go into a loot pool after which players can decide what to do with it or draw lots to randomly allocate treasure. SAO does things a little differently. Items drop to individual players without any notification to others. For the party to know that an item has dropped, the player who received the item must speak up and declare it. This is why I agree with Asuna entirely on her standpoint on who should receive rare item drops – if the system was designed to give loot to an individual player, it should be their right to keep it. There will still be drama of course, but at least you have system workings to back up your right to keep it. Alternatively, you could avoid drama entirely and follow Kirito’s path as a solo player!