“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvellously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
With the Gun Gale Online (GGO) arc now over in Sword Art Online II, it seems appropriate to take a step back and look back on how the first half has fared thus far. The impressions for the GGO arc are positive; this arc manages to keep things exciting throughout its run through a fine balance between combat and exposition. After the setup we’ve seen in Sword Art Online II‘s first half, the second half concerns the Battle of Bullets tournament. Sinon and Kirito form a tentative alliance to stop Death Gun, and as the tournament progresses, Kirito deduces how Death Gun is committing the murders, as well as recalling which Laughing Coffin members might have been the perpetrators. Kirito and Sinon open up to one another, and after formulating a meticulous plan, move to engage Death Gun. The confrontation between Death Gun and Kirito is a thrilling one; despite initially having an edge, Kirito manages to overcome him, although Death Gun, or “Sterben” (derived from Old High German “sterban”, “to lose force; lose sensibility, become numb; be dead, be motionless”), claims that their fight is far from over. Even so, with Death Gun temprorarily defeated, Kirito helps Sinon come to terms with her past, learning that she saved the postal worker, who happened to be pregnant with her daughter at the time.
- In keeping with tradition, I will have twenty images here and a figure caption that deals with the themes in the first arc. Besides exploration of the difference between a virtual and the real world, Sword Art Online also aims to depict individuals as drawing strength from knowing what they need to do, and that different individuals will choose different ways to face fears from their past.
- Kirito finds himself getting hit on by the other players prior to the Battle of Bullets tournament, much to Sinon’s irritation. What do I make of virtual reality and reality? This has been an ancient discussion I’ve been interested in since The Matrix, and my beliefs are quite simple. Because reality might be considered to be what our brains interpret to be real, our only obligations is to make the most of our main reality and do better for this main reality.
- In this context, I define main reality to be the perceived root level where we can no longer positively identify whether or not our perceptions are imagined or not. In other words, Gun Gale Online, Alfheim Online and Sword Art Online are at the children level, since the inhabitants know that their world is a simulation. In The Matrix, perception makes it difficult for the Matrix’s inhabitants to know whether their world is real or not, and as such, the Matrix is seen to be at the root level. The Red Pills realise that the Matrix is not real, and as a result, are able to perform suprehuman feats within that world.
- In our current context, it is impossible to determine whether our entire existence is not some simulation fabricated by some higher power, or if our world is genuinely real. Even if humanity could attain the power to ascertain our existence’s “realness”, it is quite possible that we existed in an infinitely nested simulation. A part of my interest in computer modelling and simulations lie in building rules for virtual worlds, as well as seeing whether or not artificial worlds (specifically, biological systems) can mimic real-world systems even if they are simply defined by interaction rules, rather than differential equations.
- Death Gun’s sidearm is the Type 54 “Black Star” pistol, the Chinese copy of the Soviet Tokarev TT-33. Produced after the Korean War, the weapons is chambered for the 7.62x25mm caliber and is no longer common amongst the PLA, but in Japan, it’s a popular weapon criminals use. The selection of a Chinese weapon for the antagonist may have subtle implications, but that requires reading between the lines, and the fact that the weapon is widely used by the Yakuza is probably why it was chosen to be Death Gun’s signature sidearm.
- Kirito’s skill with a lightsabre is not dissimilar to those of Jedi Swordmasters. Kirito’s skill at cutting down bullets as a self-defense technique is similar to Form III, or Soresu. For combat with another swordsman, Kirito generally makes use of Shii-Cho, or Form I; this form is characterised by broad, sweeping motions. Jedi prefer to use this as a fallback technique and to disarm their opponents, but Kirito capitalises on the form’s unpredictability to overcome his opponents.
- While trying to narrow down the number of active players that could be Death Gun, Kirito encounters an attractive sniper (inspect the image closely and wonder if GGO simulates air temperature) and promptly defeats her. While some viewers wonder why such a character would only have a few seconds of screentime, the logical answer is to give someone who Kirito will immediately identify as not being Death Gun.
- After eleven episodes’ worth of progress, Sinon finally begins to trust Kirito and promises to help him end Death Gun’s serial murders. Their specialties occupy opposite niches, with Kirito excelling at close quarters combat and Sinon having unmatched skill at extremely long ranges. This diversity allows the two to do what no other GGO player has done.
- Sinon’s Hecate II is equipped with a 40x ballistic scope and bipod, allowing her to place headshots on targets as far away as a kilometer. The gun customisation options are not explored fully in GGO, but one images that for balance, players only have modification options for their optics, barrel and auxillary, meaning that Sinon won’t be able to equip both a bipod and straight-pull bolt simultaneously.
- During the confrontation with Death Gun, Sinon’s optics are destroyed, leaving her with just her rifle’s iron sights. Despite having augmentations for long-range engagements, Sinon finds that she cannot do much more without her rifle in top condition, and must watch as Kirito does battle with Death Gun.
If Sword Art Online excelled with its first arc and was overall stymied by its weak second half, Sword Art Online II has, like its predecessor, impressed with the GGO Arc. The pacing of the episodes stand out, building anticipation and leaving the audience with a strong inclination to watch the next episode. In particular, what stood out was how Kirito was able to deduce Death Gun’s modus operandi just from watching his actions in-game. The cloak Death Gun carries is used to obtain players’ real world information (recall an earlier episode when Sinon informs Kirito that players must use their information if they wish to earn money in-game), and Death Gun’s signals can be captured by cameras, which would signal to an accomplice in the real world to inject the victim with a drug. Careful timing subsequently gives the illusion that Death Gun can kill players from in-game. While the anime does not explicitly mention the name of the compound used, the light novels identify the drug as succinylcholine. Typically used as a muscle relaxant to induce paralysis, a sufficient dose succinylcholine stops the heart. Succinylcholine is better known for its usage as an untraceable agent The Campus used to assassinate high value targets in Tom Clancy’s Teeth of the Tiger, the Sword Art Online variant probably was also intended to be broken down by esterases into acetylcholine, making it difficult to prove the drug was used as a murder weapon. In reality, succinylcholine decomposition would produce distinct, detectable products (and the fact that the drug is difficult to obtain); this is of little object for The Campus, and in Sword Art Online, it appears to be of little consequence and is the likely agent the murderers used. This sort of detail, though subtle, does add to the sense of urgency in Kirito’s mission.
- The stress of engaging Death Gun causes Kirito’s heartrate to jump. Fearful of what could happen to Kirito, Asuna decides to visit the hospital where Kirito is held. Given that Kirito’s theory is true, he is in no danger of dying both in game and real life, as there are staff on hand to keep an eye on him. Players who were “killed” by Death Gun were those who lived alone, with poorly-secured apartment rooms: if virtual reality technology ever becomes a reality in the near future, I imagine there will be tight regulations to ensure that players cannot be trapped in-game or killed by their devices’ emissions.
- Channeling the sort of willpower we’ve seen in Kirito in the original Sword Art Online, Kirito manages to bisect Death Gun’s avatar to defeat him. Obi-Wan defeats Darth Maul in a similar manner in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, being the first Jedi to fight against and best a Sith lord for over a thousand years. However, the expanded universe takes things a little too far, resurrecting Darth Maul.
- As the last two surviving Battle of Bullets participants, Sinon decides to end the game by a draw. She’s clearly warmed up to Kirito at this point, and embraces him happily before her grenade goes off to end the match.
- Back in the real world, relief at having finished the Battle of Bullets tournament soon gives way to horror when Kyōji reveals himself to be a part of the Death Gun murders and attempts to force himself upon Sinon. These moments were unsettling, and one must wonder what’s going through Kyōji’s mind as all of this is happening. Despite Kirito arriving to try and help her, he is temporarily dispatched, but Sinon manages to overcome her fear and winds up saving Kirito.
- Sinon expertly handles her bullies without resorting to force. Although she’s visibly shaken afterwards, she manages to contain her fear and calmly defuses the situation without escalating it.
- In a meeting with Kikuoka Seijirō, Kirito and Sinon learn more about Death Gun. Sinon’s comments here are sympathetic to Kyōji’s situation, and unlike another, more high-profile talk out there, I’m of the same mind. While there is no doubting that Kyōji’s actions are horrifying, it appears that stress has induced mental problems in him, leaving him unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy. These situations do occur in reality, and by the time things like murders happen, intervention is already too late. Such individuals in reality should be tried fairly, with their mental conditions assessed to determine if they could stand trial. As a preventative measure, perhaps people in general ought to look out for their friends and family to help them out when all the lights go out.
- One thing I’ve not mentioned yet was how expertly character dynamics were handled here: it’s clear that Sinon holds a small crush on Kirito, but the matter is not pressed any further, as her other challenges are explored with the most detail. Without any additional romances to bog things down, the GGO arc is able to make the most of its time to build solid background for everything that happens.
- It turns out that, in accidentally taking a life, Sinon manages to save two: that of an employee’s and her unborn daughter. Earlier in the series, viewers only get a glimpse of what happens at the post office, and the woman only makes an appearance for a split second; we consider that people we are not familiar with “are someone else”, but, as per Calvin and Hobbes, “we’re all someone else to someone else”.
- Sinon finds herself overwhelmed with emotion after learning of the impacts her actions had, and again, I find myself disagreeing with the sentiments expressed at the aforementioned blog, which state that this scene was merely an afterthought: this moment was well-placed as the ending to the GGO arc, illustrating that Sinon’s actions wound up saving someone and that no one really supported her until now, helping her become aware of saving someone. Coupled with her handling of the bullies from earlier, Sinon has made considerable progress since the GGO Arc began.
- Thus ends another post, written with a Thanksgiving dinner in me, which included turkey, ham, large prawns, steamed vegetables and a fully-loaded baked potato. I’ve still a day off tomorrow on account of it being the Thanksgiving long weekend, and will spend the time doing some review of data mining concepts (clustering and distances). This weekend has been quite productive thus far: I’ve mostly finished the data mining assignment, grading my TA section’s assignments, prepared a bit of the poster for my research methodologies course, prepared my lesson plan for this week’s only tutorial and have a working, rudimentary algorithm for random motion of molecules in a cellular environment.
Shōichi and Kyōji, the two known participants in Death Gun, are institutionalised, after Kirito defeats them in GGO. The story behind their motives is tragic, reflecting on the sort of outcome that may arise from a family with high expectations. Shōichi was physically weak and was a member of Laughing Coffin, while Kyōji, already burdened with entering medical school, saw Shōichi as a hero and no longer wished to be a part of the real world. These sorts of backstories add a bit of realism to the antagonists; while their actions are despicable, it’s not difficult to imagine individuals succumbing to academic and career expectations, especially in a culture as driven as Japan’s. Thus, when all of the parts come together, Sword Art Online II‘s GGO arc winds up being an excellent watch that brings back memories of everything that was well-executed in Sword Art Online. The second half is set to begin in less than a week (this week was a recap episode), and it is with anticipation that I look forwards to seeing what will happen next in what is expected to be the UnderWorld Arc, the latest instalment in Sword Art Online.