I’ve taken two main things away from this episode. The first is that Sugou is hilarious. I have no idea if this was intentional, but the guy is Class-A comedy villain material! By this point, he’s little more than a caricature of a man, with no substance beyond being a horrible creep who has his eyes set on Asuna and vast wealth. Koyasu Takehito has a great voice at his disposal and it almost felt as though some Dio came out in today’s episode. I laughed a lot this week. I’m not even joking.
Zephyr once told me that it was worth watching Zetsuen no Tempest for the reaction faces alone. The same could probably be said of this episode of SAO. Sugou had some brilliant ones, displayed while stepping on Kirito’s face, casually spinning a giant sword and resting it on his finger, and even while licking Asuna’s tears. I… want to hate this guy (he’s meant to be the antagonist after all) but he’s just written in a way that I can’t take seriously. He’s completely out of place in a story that tries to take itself as seriously as Sword Art Online does. On the other hand, he was the major contributing factor to this episode’s entertainment value.
The second is that I have no clue what kind of writer Kawahara Reki is trying to be. Many times throughout the series, he’s shown a complete disregard for rules he himself set down in order to try and achieve some sort of effect that would be perfectly viable without needing to circumvent any of those rules. Since ALO began, we have not once seen any evidence of clothing damage (we saw it once or twice in SAO but that didn’t exactly make all that much sense either). People slice each other apart with swords and blow each other up with magic, yet not once does a piece of clothing tear or rip or show any signs of having been cut. But apparently Sugou can rip off the front of Asuna’s top. Err… okay I guess? Sure, it’s supposed to emphasise how ‘incredibly evil’ he is or something, but that doesn’t really make it any less dumb. By this point, we’ve been beaten in the face with how much of a scumbag he is so frequently that it doesn’t really do anything – if you hate Sugou, you’re probably at max hatred levels already. Perhaps, like the tasteless tentacles, it’s another vessel for fanservice. That seems plausible.
But this isn’t the real issue at hand, only a minor annoyance. ‘There’s no god in this world other than myself!’ Sugou gleefully informs everyone. This was kind of clever – a nice little irony. I like that. The problem comes afterwards. Never before in any medium have I seen a more literal iteration of deus ex machina that wasn’t intended to be satire. Kayaba Akihiko, the creator and ‘god’ of this virtual world, conveniently awakens and appears from the machine itself as a leftover echo in order to give Kirito the power to get himself out of a situation he couldn’t have escaped otherwise. This would be brilliant… if it were not meant to be taken seriously and at face value. If this were the first deus ex machina to be used in SAO I would be far more willing to consider the idea that Kawahara Reki was trying to do something clever with it – that he was purposely interpreting the plot device in a literal manner and implementing it that way. I want to believe that. But it’s not the first time. Something very similar led to the conclusion of the Sword Art Online arc. Instead of seeming clever, it comes across as a simplistic solution in order to conclude the story while simultaneously going ‘Oh, by the way, the guy who trapped everyone in a death game for over two years was a good guy really.’ Especially when Kirito starts throwing out praises for Kayaba Akihiko and having a friendly chat with him.
I’m not even going to talk about the way Kirito went about finishing off Sugou in the most gruesome fashion imaginable. It felt like a childish realisation of the desire for revenge on an overplayed villain. I’m going to pretend it was artistic license on the behalf of the animators and not featured in the light novel along with incredibly detailed descriptions (it was).