“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” —Morpheus, The Matrix
Kirito is recruited to test the development of a new technology known as the Soul Translator (STR) system, an interface that directly interacts with the neurological impulses within the brain to create a dream-like sequence. In his time using the device, Kirito befriends Alice in a fantasy world, but after venturing out of bounds after their search for ice takes them into a deep cave, Alice is taken away for execution. Meanwhile, Sinon asks Kirito to help her with another Bullet of Bullets Tournament in Gun Gale Online, after they confront a team whose modus operandi is killing other players. While he listens to Sinon’s request, Kirito reveals to Asuna he’s been working on an experimental new full-dive system several orders of magnitude more sophisticated than any previous technology. He later expresses to Asuna a desire to go overseas to study North American technologies, and encounters Jonny Black, the remaining Death Gun member who was never apprehended. Despite his attempts to fend off Black, Kirito is stabbed with an injector containing succinylcholine. Thus, Sword Art Online‘s third season, Alicization for brevity, has begun: unusual in its opening, and unusual for having four cours’ worth of episodes, Alicization is the next great journey for the Sword Art Online franchise. Out of the gates, Alicization wastes no time in setting up the new environment and new stakes. I’ve long regarded Sword Art Online with a mixture of engagement and disappointment: on one hand, the character development is lacking and outrageous, but on the other hand, world-building and storytelling are solid. Having followed Sword Art Online since its first season, some interesting patterns are also beginning to emerge from this series, especially with respect to Kirito, a bit of a controversial character at the centre of virtually all discussions on Sword Art Online.
Originally a Sword Art Online beta participant, Kirito became known for his past experience after the SAO incident began, and sought constantly to prove himself. Kirito’s singular determination and persistence, in conjunction with a deep-seated desire to help those around him and prevent deaths where he could help it, eventually led him to defeat Sword Art Online’s lead developer and creator. With his involvement, the Japanese government begin involving him in solving a variety of crimes surrounding the VR technology. Through Kirito’s adventures, his uncanny ability to amass female companions and develop limit-breaking skills from raw emotions have made him somewhat of a dull character; many count Kirito to be a clueless young man who stumbled into incredible fortune, as Tom Clancy might put it. Infallible, firmly determined to do what is right and look out for those around him, Kirito does indeed resemble Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, the central character to Clancy’s early novels. Born in Baltimore, Ryan majored in economics and minored in history before joining the Marines, where he was injured in a helicopter crash. Leaving the Marines, Ryan becomes a stockbroker and makes several million on Wall Street before enrolling in a PhD. While in England, Ryan saves the Royal Family from a terrorist attack and is knighted. His abilities lead him to become a consultant for the CIA, and Admiral James Greer, noticing Ryan’s accomplishments, offer him a position at the CIA. Ryan is promoted and later, Ryan reluctantly accepts the post of Vice-President. When a plane crash caused by a Japanese airline pilot kills most of the administration, Ryan is made the President of the United States. Clancy originally created Ryan as an every-man, and from an external perspective, it is true that Ryan stumbles into incredible fortune. Like Reki Kawahara’s Kirito, Ryan is competent, but is otherwise an ordinary man dedicated to doing what’s right. Circumstances come, time and time again, that force both Kirito and Ryan to step their game up. Rising to the occasion each time, both become well-known in their own worlds, with Ryan taking on the presidency twice, and Kirito becoming regarded as an asset in the controversies surrounding VR technology. Clancy uses Ryan to voice his own opinions on the political landscape, creating a character whose position of power allows Clancy to, in effect, write out his thoughts on what a government should do. Kawahara likely wrote Kirito with a similar idea in mind, that as Kirito continued progressing, his experiences would similarly make him suitable for providing a means for Kawahara to express his thoughts on where VR technologies are moving, and their subsequent impact on society.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Sword Art Online was wreathed in controversy from the day it began, and was polarising the day it began. At the start of Alicization (IPA aˈliˈzāSH(ə)n rather than aˈliˈkāSH(ə)n as I originally imagined), however, Kirito’s traits are nowhere to be seen. Curious and and somewhat chivalrous, Kirito appears to behave as any child would, working on his assignments, messing around with Eugeo and enjoying Alice’s baking.
- While trying to seek out ice to keep their food from spoiling, the turn of events change their world forever. The great advantage of Sword Art Online is that there is opportunity to depict a variety of settings, and with A-1 Pictures driving the show, audiences are treated to visually pleasing environments and animation. Compared to 3Hz’s presentation of Alternative, A-1’s world is brighter, more crisply animated and more immersive.
- If and when I am asked about Sword Art Online, I’ll say that if Sword Art Online aside from Kirito’s unparalleled tendency to become involved in outrageous situations and implausible backstories for characters, then the series otherwise did a reasonable job of create a compelling environment to explore the prevalence of virtual technologies and the impact on social sub-systems in a society.
- Now that I understand why Kirito is written in this manner, and see his similarities to Jack Ryan, my antipathy for Kirito diminishes slightly. At the end of the day, I think maturity is the deciding factor here: Kirito was originally immature and prone to moping around, while Jack Ryan’s sense of duty means that he will enter situations that he may not agree with and still do what is right. Consequently, if I were to offer a suggestion into Sword Art Online, it would have been to make Kirito a ways older, as a university student, and then have him meet male and female gamers along the way. Similarly, I could come around if Kirito’s decisions in Alicization are consistently more rational and mature, more befitting those of a man than a boy.
- The world inside the STR is said to be many orders of magnitude more sophisticated than anything seen previously, and a bit of digging around finds that this system directly interfaces with the neurons of the brain to create dream-like experiences. Reading the summaries in writing makes it difficult to appreciate what is going on, and whatever other faults there might be in Sword Art Online, A-1’s execution means that these stories become much more approachable.
- Alicization has number of references to Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland”. Written in 1865, the story’s nonsensical premise and use of logic makes it a popular work to allude to in both software and science fiction. Originally intended to be a parody of Victorian culture, the story has since been used to represent flights of fancy. I’ve never read the story in full for myself, and so, will not likely fully appreciate all of the references made to it, but some are common enough so that it’s clear when something is being said in allusion to “Alice in Wonderland”.
- When Alice’s accidental contact with the
Dark World is discovered, she is arrested and set to be executed. Lacking any of his abilities elsewhere, Kirito is powerless to stop the knight from taking off. Like any nightmare, Kirito soon wakes up shortly after, only with tears in his eyes and very little memory of what’s happened. Sword Art Online is set in 2022, and by the events of Alicization, it is 2027; originally airing in 2012, I wondered if the resurgence in consumer-grade VR technologies would begin with the Oculus Rift.
- While we’ve made considerable strides in GPUs and power supplies, technical limitations still limit VR from being as robust as they are in Sword Art Online. Convenience is still the main issue, given that the need to set up motion sensors, connective cables and necessity of having a powerful desktop to render the images in 3D make VR setups one that require considerable expense and space. It is unlikely that real-world VR will reach the same prevalence as seen in Sword Art Online by 2022, but I hesitate to say “never reach that point” because technology is always marching ahead, and some things once thought to be impossible, such as virtual assistants, are now becoming increasingly commonplace.
- Folks complaining about customisation in things like Battlefield V should probably hold their tongues: the customisation seen in GGO is far beyond anything DICE is likely to implement into Battlefield games, and in such games, it is most fair to implement a system where armour and protection in gear be inversely proportional with movement speed and agility. Simply put, players wearing Sinon’s loadout would be quite fast, but at the expense of durability.
- Liz’s in-game appearance resembles that of Sakura Quest‘s Yoshino Koharu, but beyond their outward characteristics, are completely different. Liz is voiced by Ayahi Takagaki, whereas Yoshino is voiced by Ayaka Nanase. She uses a Mossberg shotgun here against their unknown assailants, and admittedly, her choice of customisations is rather more appropriate than that of Sinon’s.
- Silica mans the mounted machine gun here and lays down suppressive fire. It’s been a while since the likes of GGO has graced this blog, and unlike Alternative‘s Squad Jam, Bullet of Bullets (itself named after “King of Kings”) has a different rule set. Battle royale was the focus of Sword Art Online II‘s first half, and in reality, the basis for the battle royale shooter was inspired by the DayZ mod for Arma II. In 2013, Brendan Greene subsequently took this concept and further modified it in his own DayZ mod, drawing inspiration from Battle Royale, a Japanese film.
- Since then, the concept had widely taken off: proponents cite the excitement and unknown as the biggest thrill of this genre, while folks like me, lacking patience, would prefer more traditional shooters. With battle royale games becoming increasingly commonplace, giants like Activision and DICE have taken notice: Black Ops IV and Battlefield V have their own battle royale modes.
- To make it clear, I’m not in the camp that hates the mere concept of Sword Art Online, nor am I in the camp that believes Sword Art Online to be flawless and incomparable. Instead, I see the series as a reasonably entertaining one, with its strengths and weaknesses. Of late, word has reached my ear that folks are taking Alicization as a chance to drive up their own visibility: apparently, hating on this series is what’s trendy right now. Both aware of the flaws in this series and of what it does well, my assessment of Alicization will be determined by the enjoyability factor. I can enjoy and recommend this series even if there are things I did not like, for instance.
- Sinon attempts to recruit Kirito to help her in the next Bullet of Bullets, which he accepts. One aspect of Sword Art Online that I found completely unnecessary were the implausible stories some characters had. Sinon is an example of this: having picked up a pistol and killed a bank robber as a child, she developed a fear for handguns. When GGO was introduced, she played the game with the aim of overcoming her fear. Having Sinon play the hero was strictly unnecessary: had she witnessed a firearm go off in her childhood, the effects would have been similar to drive the story forwards without need for this additional drama.
- If Kirito is Jack Ryan, then it makes sense to see Asuna as Caroline “Cathy” Muller-Ryan, Ryan’s wife. Both Cathy and Asuna are sensible, smart and concerned whenever their respective partner puts himself in the path of danger while on duty. Asuna worries about Kirito’s health, and Cathy grows suspicious, before concerned, after Ryan reveals that he’s doing fieldwork for the CIA. I’m certain that had the technology existed in reality, Cathy would likely track Ryan’s health the same way Asuna does for Kirito.
- Kirito explains the concept behind the STR system to Asuna and Sinon here, stating that photons inside the microtubules of the body carry the soul. This is a reference to the orchestrated objective reduction theory, which supposes that the quantum vibrations in microtubules are somehow responsible for consciousness. While I appreciate that Alicization is science fiction, this is wrong: microtubules are part of the cytoskeleton, participating in maintaining cell shape and transportation by providing a pathway for motor proteins traverse. Thanks to dynamic instability, the tubulin monomers that make up microtubules can assemble and disassemble rapidly in response to conditions within the cell: dynamic instability and other cellular conditions would make microtubules ill-suited for storing information; by Kirito’s account, if we held this to be true, every time the microtubule disassembled, the photons would escape, causing information loss.
- We’re at the end of the Thanksgiving Long Weekend, a time to mostly relax and capitalise on the pleasant weather. After a month of non-stop cloud cover, things have finally cleared up, giving rise to the beautiful autumn skies I know the area for. The trees did not yellow quite as nicely this year on account of the unpleasant weather: most of the leaves are still green or else went straight to brown, but otherwise, it was very pleasant. Weather or no, however, Thanksgiving dinner was as pleasant as always: after an afternoon of cooking, things were ready to be enjoyed. Besides turkey, we also had ham, cheese prawns and mashed potatoes of a home-made recipe. As well, the turkey turned out well: by cooking the it with brine and adding carrots, onions and parsley to the interior, the cooking forces moisture into the turkey.
- Kirito expresses a desire to study VR over in the United States: the US is indeed the forefront of VR technology at present, and is also home to some of the world’s most advanced software and hardware groups. Asuna supports his decision and resolves to be by his side: at this point in Sword Art Online, I’m glad that it is established that Kirito and Asuna are meant to be together, and once the love tesseract plaguing Sword Art Online was solved, the series could finally explore more interesting ground. Of everyone, Asuna is the most similar to Cathy Ryan, so I figure that she’s the most suitable to be with Kirito.
- Kirito and Asuna run into Johnny Black, a member of Laughing Coffin who would later develop an addiction to murder and participated in the Death Gun incident. When Kirito confronts him, Black stabs Kirito with succinylcholine: in Tom Clancy’s The Teeth of the Tiger and Dead or Alive, the Campus employs it as an agent to dispose of enemies. Clancy and other fiction writers characterise it as the ideal murder weapon: it acts quickly, relaxing muscles to the point of shutting down the heart and starving the brain of oxygen. Furthermore, succinylcholine metabolises into succinic acid, amongst other things, which is not something routinely looked for unless one was suspecting a murder with this compound.
- In his fight with Black, Kirito is hit with a lethal dose: unless he is put on a respirator, the next few minutes for him will be living hell, as the Emir in Dead or Alive discovers. Eventually, the Campus uses other methods beyond what they colloquially refer to as poison pens: by the events of Locked On, the drug is not utilised, and Clark only uses it for a hit on a Libyan terrorist cell in Threat Vector. This is a potent way to begin Alicization, and from what little I know of this arc, Kirito will be sent back into the STR system, where he will continue to unravel the mystery of Alice and her fate. A year’s worth of Alicization is on the table, and with so many unknowns on the table, I think the best course of action will be to sit down and simply enjoy the ride.
With this in mind, Kirito’s portrayal, as a character who stumbles into incredible fortune, has a justification from a narrative perspective; Kirito’s role in the anime becomes more relevant, providing viewers an idea of what Kawahara thinks of VR. One episode into Alicization, and the traits that define Kirito of older episodes is absent: he is more weary, more reserved and contemplative, even if he does still allow his emotions to get the better of him. His characterisation in the anime has improved over time, signifying a gradual maturity. Of course, at this point, it is still early into Alicization, so it remains to be seen as to whether or not some of the weaker aspects of Kirito’s character make a return, or if his experiences continue to shape his decisions in a rational manner. Over the next year, I imagine there will be plenty to cover and discuss. Because of the scale Alicization, however, I will not be blogging about this series with my usual frequency: Sword Art Online‘s strength is exploring details, and the big-picture materials I tend to cover usually require several episodes before there is something significant to say. Further to this, blogging with a high frequency about any series is a bit of a challenge on my end, so I would prefer not to burn out writing about Sword Art Online. Having said this, I will be watching the series and will return to offer feedback after certain milestones in this series. It would make sense, for example, to write about Alicization once the halfway point is reached, and once the finale has aired. With a year ahead, this is looking to be an interesting series, and while I might not be writing about it half as much as half of my readers might like, folks looking to pick my mind about Alicization are always free to do so here, or on Twitter, should they so choose.