I’m not really sure how to begin this article – it’s been a long ride and the finale is one that leaves me with some conflicted emotions. It felt both fitting and unfitting as a finale to Sword Art Online. The final few moments before the credits rolled felt like a good way to conclude the series, as did the return of every single character of import from the two arcs and the final showdown between Sugou and Kirito. These were all things worthy of being in what came across as a finale-epilogue combination. Yet at the same time it felt as though a lot of the episode dragged, that it could’ve been shortened dramatically. The ‘climax’ came too early, and while it was good to see how things wound up in the wake of Asuna’s awakening, it felt like it was petering out slowly rather than trying to end on a strong note. Admittedly, I did feel as though it ended on a relatively strong note, but much of what occurred between the climax and final moments felt a little on the dull side.
That said, there was a momentarily nice contrast between the video game world and the real world – a difference SAO hasn’t really deigned to show us until now. Even if Kirito faced death within the video game world, knowing that to die in SAO would cause death in the real world, is not the same as actually dying within the real world. There was no pain in SAO, no blood or injury of that kind. The fear in Kirito’s eyes as he’s faced with true death is wonderful – he’s not a Gary Stu here, his mad gaming skills won’t save him now! But it’s only a fleeting moment before his normal self kicks back in and Sugou ends up bleeding from the neck. I know I’m not the only one who thought he might actually slit Sugou’s throat at that moment – that Kawahara Reki might actually slide so low as to believe that the death would be justified after the brutality Kirito inflicted last week. Fortunately, that outcome was narrowly evaded or else this post might be entirely different.
There’s something I find rather curious about Sugou’s injuries. While I think it was handled relatively well, it seems a little strange to me. Kirito set the pain absorber to zero, which implies that you would be feeling the full amount of pain inflicted – the amount you’d feel if you received such wounds on your real body. Sugou lost an arm, was shorn in half and then had a giant sword ram through his eye and essentially smash his entire face and head. Now, I’m no expert on psychology here, but those are some pretty serious wounds. How is he even still sane? Sure, the wounds don’t actually directly transfer to his real body, but it was apparently enough to cause permanent damage to his eye. Shouldn’t he be a babbling wreck somewhere? This is a genuine question born of curiosity that perhaps someone with a greater understanding of severe pain and its effect on the psyche can answer.
With The Seed, new VRMMOs are born, allowing everyone to continue playing despite the financial failings of the major companies. It’s hardly surprising that things would go downhill – two serious crimes relating to VRMMOs within such a close span of each other? It’s a little surprising that no attempt was made to stop The Seed – I hope they at least got trained analysts to take a proper look at it before it was released worldwide. The damn thing was created by Kayaba Akihiko after all, a notorious indirect mass-murderer who trapped ten thousand people in a game by tampering with its core design.
In the end, I still feel bad for all the female characters, forced to continue enduring their love for Kirito despite being unable to win. It would’ve been nice if we could’ve seen them move on – it’s not really like other harems where it feels as though there might be a chance for someone else, leaving their continued adoration for him nothing more than a cruelty. Sugu seems to remain the worst off, unable even to fit in with the rest of the group having never faced the same things they did. There was a sort of nice parallel between watching Sugu attempt to fly to unreachable heights, denied by system itself, and her continued pursuit of Kirito, ever held beyond reach by the author of the construct. For a moment I thought Asuna had been callously cast aside for the final scenes, until I realised she was the blue-haired elf girl. I’m not even going to ask.