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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Yui's Heart: Sword Art Online 12

Yulier, second in command of the Liberation army, has approached Kirito and Asuna for help saving her friend and the guild. (Source: Crunchyroll)
Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the twelth episode of Sword Art Online.
We are now halfway through Sword Art Online, and spoiler alert: no one has cleared the game or reached the top level yet. Naturally, on the road to the final boss, many obstacles got in the way of our main protagonists, Kirito and Asuna. These obstacles have included a murder mystery, romance, betrayal, marriage and now a child in the form of Yui. But Yui so far has been more of a question mark than a character, a surrogate child for the newlywed warriors as well as another riddle to be solved in the world of Aincrad.

The Aincrad Liberation Army returns this episode, although thankfully not the cowards from episode eleven. Yulier, the army's second in command, is actually glad that Asuna handed all of those men their asses. Also, we learn the story of this glorified guild and how it became so splintered and troubled. I really feel for Yulier, who has had to deal with her less than savory compatriots in arms as well as having her ALA leader and friend Thinker be stranded in a dangerous dungeon and having to ask for assistance to save him.
We are also seeing the fallout over the Gleam Eyes incident that killed a major ALA leader and nearly killed all the soldiers under his stead, which leads to abandoning Thinker in a dungeon with crazy high-level creatures. I wonder how many people are actually left inside the ranks of the Army, considering the high levels of dissent and treachery within. And I thought the Knights of Blood were bad...
This is the episode that draws Asuna and Kirito back into the battle. When one of the top brass of the Aincrad Liberation Army comes calling on you, you don't say no. It's also a reminder that there are players still fighting out there to clear the game, putting the purpose of their fight into a greater focus. As much as they may want to stay out of the chaos and stay secluded in their cozy little house by the water, there are too many things and people to fight for to ignore what's going on.
And that's when we come back to Yui. I described her in my previous post as a plot device to bring Asuna and Kirito together, someone who was boring and flat and clearly not who she appeared to be. After watching "Yui's Heart", I feel like I need to apologize to her character, because I pegged her so, so wrong. Which is not to say she isn't a plot device, because she is, but she's one that works and is successful at pulling at the heart strings of viewers across the board.
I feel like the twist regarding Yui's identity is so well-crafted, so emotionally charged that I'd feel bad if I spoiled it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. I will say that yes, we do see Yui's memories return and yes, it is important for the overall SAO series, not just this singular story arc. It makes sense in the context of the series that Yui would cross paths with Asuna and Kirito. One could even call it fate (or even hitsuzen).
I hereby formally issue an apology to Sword Art Online's Yui. I'm sorry I implied you were a middle-aged homely fat man in a virtual reality headset pretending to be a lacy-dressed lolita girl. You are so very, wonderfully real or as real as your character can be, and I'm sorry life sucks for you so much. If something goes wrong and you don't get the life you actually wanted, Yui, I hope years down the road you get discovered by Kuroyukihime and Haruyuki of Accel World and they adopt you instead.
The character affected most by Yui and her revelation is easily Asuna. She was the one to first connect with Yui on a deeper level, crawling into bed with her and keeping her safe the first night they were together, keeping her safe in all sorts of danger, et cetera. With Yui, Asuna's inner fierce mom side comes out and it comes out swinging, epee and all. The revelation of Yui's true self takes its hardest toll on Asuna, who had just gotten used to being someone's mother, and it's painfully evident from her reaction to everything.
I will also say, without spoiling the how, that we are shown how the Sword Art Online MMORPG system is regulated and performs without a hundred IT folks running around with the other players, rather like how The World is regulated and worked upon in the Dot Hack franchise. In short, it is a self-regulated behemoth with a mind of its own and the ability to control what happens in the game without outright interfering. In short, it's like Aincard is being run by classic-era Time Lords stuck in a metal computer shell.
Thank God there are some genuinely funny moments in this episode of Sword Art Online. I adored the scene with Kirito and the frog leg meat, and Asuna's explicit disgust at the frog legs. It started out pretty funny and then Kirito pulled out that armful of legs from his inventory - and it went from pretty funny to hilarious. Moments like those tempered a drama-heavy episode with some much needed lightness.

Everything came together in this episode - the Aincrad Liberation Army, Asuna and Kirito's marriage, the mystery of Yui's memories, the SAO system itself - and it worked so well, I'm afraid the next episode won't be able to live up to the expectations this one has built. There are things that happened in "Yui's Heart" that are with great consequence and cannot be ignored in later events, if Sword Art Online cares at all about emotional and event-based continuity. I'll definitely be keeping my eye on Asuna to see how she deals with everything so far.