Before we get into the final arc of SAO, there’s a couple thing I wanted to touch on, with one of them being the Excalibur arc. Which isn’t really much of an arc, but for the sake of being complete, I’m gonna give it a quick look.
First off, Weekend Otaku once again gave me food for thought. Cause that’s what he do.
At the end of Fairy Dance, Kirito and Leafa have a conversation that I had always taken to be about why he doesn’t look like he his real world self, the way he did in SAO. The reason I’ve always thought that was because right after they talk about it, the rest of the cast shows up, looking exactly as they did in SAO. Asuna has blue hair, but aside from having the pointy ears of ALO, that’s about the only difference.
Weekend Otaku brought up that Kirito had actually created a new character, at level 1, without all his improved stats from SAO. I had never considered that as what they were talking about, though it does make sense, since it’s unlikely everyone else was using their old Nerve Gear helmets, and was starting at Level 1 as well.
Since most of my points about Kirito’s abilities in GGO were built on him still playing the same character build from SAO, that creates a problem.
Granted, he could still have superior mental reaction time, but that doesn’t explain everything.
So, did he make a new character? I have no idea. The show doesn’t make that terribly clear. Even if he didn’t, another question immediately came to mind. Does GGO use skills at all, much less comparable skills to SAO and ALO?
Odds are, it doesn’t. GGO features a lot of new things we’ve not seen before, such as the heart rate affecting targeting and log out for the heart rate being too high. It’s certainly feasible that they don’t even have a Listen skill in GGO.
So, what gives?
Beats me. Kirito is Kirito is all the answer I got. Per the usual, he’s often the best and worst thing about SAO in general.
It has given me reason to think about it all more, and that’s always a good thing, though, so that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna spend a lot of time pondering on it. I can’t do much else, cause the show itself doesn’t make any of this clear.
Which is another aspect of SAO that is sometimes frustrating.
I also looked at a lot of reviews for Mother’s Rosario, planning to address common complaints about it. However, all the places I am familiar with that usually bash the crap out of SAO had nothing but praise for Mother’s Rosario. The only real complaint I found was that the emotional nature of the arc was forced, and that was only one review.
Granted, I don’t know a whole lot of places, but when even rabid haters praise something, well, there ya go. I’ll get into my own feelings and thoughts on that a bit later.
For now, let’s move on.
The Excalibur arc takes up three episodes in the middle of the second season, so there’s not a lot there to talk about. It revolves around an event in ALO that could drastically alter the world setting, and sees Kirito and the gang off on a quest to save the day.
It’s noteworthy in that it unites the entire cast from across all three previous story arcs, with the exception of Egil, who continues to avoid getting involved in shenanigans. Probably makes him the smartest character in the show, too, though I do miss his presence, as he was a character I really enjoyed.
Most of the three episodes is dominated by fight sequences that are pretty reminiscent of the boss battles in Aincrad, so that’s fun. It has everyone using excellent team work, rather than just being Kirito kicking ass, so that’s also a good change of pace.
Less interesting are the actual stakes of the arc, as there really aren’t any. Sure, ALO might change forever, but that’s about it, and that only really matters if you care about the world setting of ALO.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an SAO arc is there wasn’t something to make the eyes roll. This one sees a lot of bad jokes, with the worst offenders being Kirito getting some tail from Sinon and Klein continuing to think with his dick. Granted, Sinon is playing one of the cat like fey in ALO, so Kirito getting tail is just him grabbing her tail, but the whole thing is played up in a sexual way that’s kinda stupid and pointless.
Klein falls in love with an NPC, at first sight no less, who turns into a giant guy, continuing the dumb story of his bad luck at love. Which really is a dumb story. Klein’s a good guy, if a bit too forward, and having him constantly panting after anything female just makes him look like an idiot. Considering he not only survived Aincrad, but was always in the boss battles, I don’t think he actually is an idiot.
Other that that, the Excalibur arc offers very little that forwards the story of SAO.
Mother’s Rosario, on the other hand, is a story that could only exist in the world of SAO, and makes every bad thing about the series as a whole worth enduring just to see.
It starts simply enough with Asuna learning that there’s a new, insanely skilled player in the SAO/Aincred combined world Kirito created with the Seed program. This player has apparently developed an intense seven strike combo sword skill, and is taking on all challengers to see who is fit to learn it. Apparently, even Kirito lost to them.
Two things. First, they do point out that Kirito didn’t really fight with all he had. He hasn’t in a long time, and probably never will again. That’s actually a point of conversation.
Second, the issue of strength is kind of core to what Mother’s Rosario is about, so we’ll revisit this in a bit.
Always ready to take on a challenge, Asuna goes to check them out, and discovers it’s a feisty girl named Yuuki. They fight, and Asuna loses, but puts one hell of a good showing. After that, Yuuki reveals she is looking for someone to aid her small guild in defeating a floor boss, so all their names will show up on the memorial in the starter city at Aincrad’s first floor.
From that point, Asuna finds herself swept up in a life changing story of love, loss, and life that is just so damn beautiful.
What Mother’s Rosario does right is vast and numerous, and I’d probably be here all day trying to capture it all, so if I overlook something, my apologies. There’s a lot here, and it flows so naturally, it’s easy to overlook some of the incredible detail that went into the writing. There will be things I’ll fail to mention, or leave out. It can’t be helped, as this one arc packs more story into it than any of the previous ones, and does it better than all of them combined.
First off, changing the central character to Asuna is a smart move. Kirito barely even shows up in this arc, and when he does, it’s as a supporting character to Asuna. This lets it be Asuna’s story, start to finish, and lets her be the star in every way. We’ve had three arcs of Kirito being the hero, and it’s nice to see the world setting getting to explore another character for a while.
It also lets Asuna be the BAMF that she is, all without reservation, or any excuse for her to hold back. And boy, does she BAMF all over this mother fucker. Like Nightcrawler on too much caffeine.
After agreeing to help Yuuki’s guild, The Sleeping Knights, Asuna becomes their main strategist, organizing the members for maximum efficiency to take on a floor boss with just the six of them, something that is way easier said than done. She also doubles as both a healer and a combatant during the fight, showing her full range of skill and ability.
More meaningful, however, is the way the story explores her personal life. After her father was disgraced due to the events of the Fairy Dance arc, her mother has had to step up and really take charge of the family. One of the ways she does this is by becoming incredibly domineering over Asuna’s life. She wants her in the best schools, with the best prospects for marriage, and the best career options, and doesn’t seem overly interested in what Asuna wants for herself. At every turn, the brave, fierce warrior we know from Aincrad and onward is nowhere to be seen, as Asuna feels cowed by her mother and tries her best to be a good daughter.
To Asuna’s mother, Kirito isn’t a good match for her daughter, who is going places, and should be married to someone who is going places. She also considers all the time Asuna spend in the virtual world to be a waste of time that would be better spent studying and making up for the years she lost to the first SAO incident.
To be clear, Asuna’s mother isn’t a heartless bitch, and is never show as such. She just knows how cruel the world can be, and wants her child to have the best. She pushes too much, but they are a family of standing and status, so it isn’t that abnormal in Japanese society. To her view, Asuna is wasting her time, and isn’t going to get into a good university, much less marry someone who can improve her social standing by hanging around with Kirito and the other SAO survivors.
The central conflict between the two is what a parent wants for their child, versus what a child wants for themselves. Those two things are never really the same. Both characters are doing what they think is right, even if it causes pain for the other. It’s an interesting thing to show, because we also get to see where a lot of Asuna’s strength comes from. She’s endured a lot, and seeing her home life, it gives us a lot of insight into her as a person.
Mother’s Rosario doesn’t stop there, however. The other half of this story fully belongs to Yuuki, the brash, wild natured warrior Asuna teams up with to do something crazy and reckless, taking on a floor boss with just six people.
At first, Yuuki seems like the standard over powered, thoughtless character we’ve all seen a hundred times. It’s only after they beat the floor boss and get their names on the Memorial that we begin to see more of Yuuki, and what drives her, and the other Sleeping Knights to do something so insane.
As I said, Kirito doesn’t really show up much in this one. He makes an appearance as another guild tries to steal the floor boss from the Sleeping Knights, he and Klein holding them off until Asuna and the others can get inside. He shows up again to help Asuna locate Yuuki in the real world after she suddenly stops logging in, and this is where the real story of Mother’s Rosario begins.
Yuuki is hospitalized, dying from AIDS, and using a special medical VR set up to help with the pain. She’s wild and reckless, because this is as close to living as she will ever get. The rest of the Sleeping Knights are the same. All of them are suffering terminal illness, and just wanted to leave their mark on the world. Any world. Something that proved they lived. That they were here.
With their names on the Memorial, they know, until the end of that world, everyone who sees it will know they existed, and that’s enough. Something of them will remain.
Such a small thing to want. To be remembered.
After learning of Yuuki’s illness, she and Asuna continue to bond. They hold each other up, and because of Yuuki, Asuna is able to face her mother and make it clear what she wants out of life. She wants to be with Kirito, to chase her own path, and deal with the consequences of that with her own resolve. Thanks to Yuuki, Asuna is able to get her mother to step into the virtual world, where she is strong, and the two come to understanding of what they both want and need.
For Yuuki, Asuna is so much more. Having already lost her parents and sister to the illness she is dying from, Asuna become her family. Through Asuna, Yuuki is able to see a normal day at school, and the house she grew up in once more. She is able to step out of the virtual world, at least half way, and be a part of the real one for a moment. She gets back a piece of her real life.
Beyond that, she is loved. More than a name on a wall, she will be remembered, because she was loved.
We carry those we love with us after they are gone. They become a piece of our heart. We may not see them anymore. We may not be able to talk with them. But they are there, always. For Yuuki, that is what Asuna gave her.
This is where we really come back to the idea of strength.
Due to her circumstances, Yuuki has spent a lot of time in the virtual environment. Odds are, she has a similar reaction time to Kirito. I can’t say anything about their skill levels, since I can’t see either of their character sheets, so who knows where that stands.
What Yuuki really has on her side is her seven strike combo. A lot is made out of how wicked that thing is, and even Kirito would have hard time against it if Yuuki was anywhere near as quick to think and react as he was.
A good example of all this is that Kirito said had she been in SAO, she would have gotten the duel wielding skill, not him. So, that kinda tells us how quick she is in terms of reaction time.
That is not what makes her strong, however.
When it comes to talking about strength, there’s a lot of different ways people can be strong. I feel like this was the point being made here. Kirito is strong because he knows how to use the game environment to create the maximum advantage for himself. And because he’s Kirito. The protagonist always gets to be the best, just because.
Yuuki is strong because she lives without hesitation. In SAO, Kirito learned how to live within a safety margin, and probably still does that to some extent. Yuuki doesn’t, and never has. She goes at everything full throttle, because she doesn’t have time not to. She is strong, because she is engaging life without restraint.
These are different kinds of strength. Kirito is intellectually strong. Yuuki is emotionally strong. There’s really no comparing them, and they offer different benefits and drawbacks.
Just in terms of combat ability, however, the show does debate if Yuuki is really as strong as Kirito, and honestly, I can’t find that it even matters. Much of that conversation happens early on, before the rest of the story kicks in, and is people talking about the game environment, rather than what the plot is acutally about. Once we get into the part about Yuuki’s health issues, we pretty much stop talking about who is stronger.
Instead, the show focuses on a different kind of strength. Yuuki, despite everything, has kept embracing life as fully as she can. In doing so, she gives Asuna that strength to talk to her mother the way she needs to. Asuna gives that back by being strong enough to carry Yuuki over the finish line at the end, and give her what she really needed.
Strength comes in different forms. This is all just my thoughts on how it was played out, and what it all meant, so other opinions may differ.
Like how people call the drama forced and cringe inducing.
These people have obviously never lost someone. They’ve never had to sit there, helpless, as someone they cherished died in front of them. I have. Too many times.
I’m doing it right now. I’m watching my girlfriend of over twenty years lose her battle with cancer.
So, tell me, Oh Mighty Keepers Of Anime Purity, is the drama of our life forced? Does it make you cringe to see, put on screen, how I feel watching her slip away from me? How she feels knowing she is dying? If it does, then I suggest you trade whatever it was you got in exchange for your soul back, cause it wasn’t fucking worth it.
That is what it looks like. That is what it feels like. For her, and for me. That’s is what we are living right now.
If you’ve been through something like this, then you know. If you haven’t, then you don’t. You don’t get to tell those of us who have, and are, what to feel, much less if it’s authentic enough.
You just don’t.
Naturally, I can’t not talk about that beautiful ending.
Yes, it is sad, one of the saddest moments in all of anime, as Yuuki finally succumbs to her illness. Yet, it is so beautiful and profound.
All she wanted, all any of them wanted, was to be remembered, to know that in some small way, that they wouldn’t just vanish from the world and be forgotten. Isn’t that what we all want?
The finale moment of Yuuki’s life, spent surrounded by the players of ALO, is beyond heart touching. It is a testament to how much of an impact her life had. Both as the wild fighter who challenged all comers, and the party leader who took down a floor boss. It is in that moment that she knows, she will be remembered. Not because of some name on a wall, but because she touched the lives of others.
The visuals of that scene, with thousands of players coming to pay their respects, to say goodbye to her, is immensely powerful, because it shows how much our lives do matter. We touch other lives, and our actions ripple through the world, across time, to touch even more lives. We may never see or know the people we affect in the grand scheme of things, and they may not know us, but we do leave something behind that touches others, and changes them as well. Just in the act of living, we leave our mark.
As a writer, I can say this with certainty. If I touch one life with my work, then that is enough. If only one person, fifty years from now, reads something wrote and is moved by it, then that is more than enough. They wouldn’t know me, my life, my pains, sorrows, joys or triumphs. All the would know was the story I left behind in this world. I’m okay with that.
Everything I know about writing, my girlfriend taught me. So, if my work touches a life, it’s the same as her life touching that one as well. It ripples on from there, to touch more.
In some respects, I can’t help feel that part of why Mother’s Rosario works as well as it does is because Kawahara himself is a writer. Like me, he knows that desire to leave something, no matter how small, to prove he lived, dreamed, and existed. Be it loved or hated, SAO is his legacy. It is the mark he has made on this world, and proof that he lived.
In Yuuki, he got to say that, making her final moments about more than just honoring a dying a girl. It was a statement, that we all matter. Every one of us matters. We leave our mark, be it big or small, and leave a legacy, regardless of if it touches one life, or a billion.
Each of us lives in Yuuki, and Yuuki lives in each of us.
I’d talk about what Mother’s Rosario did wrong, but honestly, there really isn’t anything. It’s a well crafted story, from start to finish. It leaves the end of the world or life and death scenarios behind, building a tale with emotional stakes, heart, and meaning. The characters are all well executed, and used, and the entire thing comes to a perfect ending.
Mother’s Rosario is the best of SAO, the best of Kawahara, and a sure sign that the franchise is heading in the right direction, able to tell meaningful stories with engaging characters, and well executed plots. It’s a point that could not have been reached had SAO lingered in obscurity, or not stumbled its way into fame. Every misstep was a learning experience for Kawahara, allowing him deliver this story with such skill.
The world is a better place for having this story in it, and as such, a better place for having SAO in it, and a better place for having Reki Kawahara in it.
SAO may be finished as an anime series for the time being, but I’ve no doubt it will return at some point in the future. When it does, I’ll be waiting, to see how much Kawahara has grown as a writer, and how much the characters have grown as people.
Because in the end, SAO was always about the characters. It wasn’t about creating a believable gaming experience, or even the believably of the plots. It was about these people, Kirito and Asuna, and the impact they have had on the lives around them. At it’s heart, SAO has always been about one life touching another, creating a ripple effect, that can reach across time and worlds, to give a dying girl hope, and love.
Does that make all of SAO’s failing worth it?
Yeah. It really does.