Ah, Sword Art Online. Still thinking you know what you’re talking about.
Ignoring how overblown Yuuki’s death was (and trust me, it was overblown to the point that Patch Adams is starting to look at it funny, although it probably isn’t as bad as that), all I had was one question on my mind after the episode ended: what exactly was the point of ending this season on her tragedy, especially when Asuna’s problems – the stuff that was actually setup properly and actually interesting – are all but “solved” at this point?
The second half of the episode tried to tie it in to SAO’s larger themes regarding the blending of the real world and the virtual, and I guess carrying it through a dying girl who can only communicate with people online isn’t an inherently bad thing. It’s just too bad that the show doesn’t understand how to insert any inspiration into the concept. For starters, attaching it to Asuna’s own story was a bad move, because the two barely have much to do with each other even when you take the story into abstract (Asuna’s story was about trying to compromise between the two worlds, which is not the same thing as blending them together). This resulted in a combination of plot lines that weakened the development and impact of both without any “give” in the exchange. Yuuki’s character just wasn’t fleshed out enough to carry the story on her own, and Asuna’s outsider status just felt arbitrary in turn. Despite the show trying hard to convince me otherwise, it couldn’t sell the two as a pair that complemented each other.
But the problems go beyond just that. Let’s take a closer look at the outline of Yuuki’s plot for a minute:
Yuuki is infected with AIDS -> she plays games with a bunch of other diseased people because that’s the only way she can live -> she wants to have one last hoorah before she dies -> she makes friends with Asuna due to her strength -> Asuna helps in said hoorah -> Asuna discovers the truth -> She shows Yuuki around the school -> Yuuki is satisfied and dies in the online world -> Funeral.
Is there anything about this outline that screams more than “generic tragedy story” or “potentially intriguing as a jumping off-point, but terrible on its own?” If you say yes, please comment why. If you say no, then thank you for agreeing with me and realizing why Yuuki’s drama ultimately fails when it enters your head that A-1 Pictures aired this skeleton of a story for its final climax with no spice to it whatsoever, even production-wise. There is literally nothing to Yuuki other than that outline, and it’s not even handled in a manner that was laughable. It was just boring to sit through.
These flaws stand out to me all the more because I just recently finished a rewatch of Dog Day Afternoon not even two hours before I got to watching this episode. If you never heard of the movie, it’s an early Al Pacino flick where a planned ten-minute robbery ended up turning into a full-blown, famous, twelve-hour sensation. That doesn’t exactly sound like a premise that can carry a two-hour movie, let alone a must-see movie, at first glance does it? But then you get into what Dog Day Afternoon is really about: Stockholm’s Syndrome, peer pressure, transsexualism, welfare, how news coverage can influence events, and all sorts of social issues related to criminal activity and humanity in general. All of them explored in decent detail, and all of them through a simple bank robbery gone wrong. Suddenly, your “simple” crime movie just got a hell of a lot more compelling.
Yuuki’s personal story is basically Sonny’s except it focused entirely on the bank robbery and not enough on what made this bank robbery stand out from any other. Without the unique motivation regarding why he did the robbery in the first place. Without the crowd cheering him and turning on him regarding the smallest detail because of prejudice against gays and New York. Without the multiple layers, not just in the characters, but in the character “types” themselves. And if you don’t have any of that, why should I care about your fictional tragedy (yes, I know Dog Day Afternoon is based on a real event, but that doesn’t give it an automatic pass)? People die in real life all the time in tragic ways, but we care about them because they’re real. Fictional tragedy only works if you care, not only for the characters, but for the trappings used to convey said tragedy itself.
And the most tragic part of all is that it could have had these layers if it tried harder. Online friends meeting someone for the first time in RL after one of them is dead? The troubles that visiting school when you’re on your death bed brings up, even when you’re hooked onto Kirito’s machine? The pros and cons of said machine itself? The complexities of AIDS and its victims in general? Suddenly, your fictional tragedy actually has some trappings that not only me, but most people would care about. And what did we get for layers instead?
A few simple textbook phrases without any meaning whatsoever and an altogether flavorless conclusion to the Mother Rosario arc and this show in general.