Sword Art Online Episode 15-25: The Fairy Dance Arc

Last time I said that Sword Art Online was the most divisive anime series I’ve ever seen. This time we are discussing part of the reason why.

Ever since I decided that I would delve into this franchise, people had told me to adjust my expectations for the second half of the story. Even the most vocal fans have admitted that the second story arc, Fairy Dance is not as good as the first. Armed with that knowledge and with no bias or expectations, how did the series most divisive and controversial arc end up? Join me after the cut as I dive into the second art of Sword Art Online: The Fairy Dance Arc!

SAO Season 2 Arc 2
Hey! Hey! Listen!

I consider myself extremely fortunate that I have decided to watch SAO as late as I have. With two extra seasons and a movie still left on my list, along with several mini episodes and OVAs, I know that there is much more story left in SAO to tell. Fairy Dance will never be the potential ‘last word’ that this series will ever get. Instead of possible finales, I get stepping stones. Instead of conclusions I get continuations.

Which is great, because on the whole I absolutely loved the Fairy Dance arc.

Unlike with Aincrad’s macro view of the world and its story, Fairy Dance takes a micro view. The stakes are smaller, more personal and relatively low key, and this helps SAO with where it has always been strongest: its characters. Every time Fairy Dance focuses on the relationships between the main cast, I found myself enthralled and invested. Kirito having discovered the joys of love and bonds through Asuna now has to brave a new game world and an impossible challenge to save her. Where he was once aloof, he now is direct. Where once he was purposeless, he now has purpose. The Kirito of this arc has become more of a human person, and his struggle to save Asuna helps him relate more to the viewer, helped greatly by the foundations laid in the Aincrad arc, which is built on and expanded here wonderfully. When all is said and done, Kirito has become a man, realizing that he has something real, true and good to protect and cherish, and that is more important than anything in a video game. It is only when Fairy Dance pulls away from its central cast that it begins to suffer, and there are a few points in the arc where I started to get bored, most notable in the middle when the two leads were just traveling from place to place.

Runemaster - Dev Diary 27 - World: Alfheim | Paradox Interactive ...
Now with a clear goal in mind, I found myself caring much more for Kirito as a character.

Now you could probably fill a small library, with the amount of discourse that has gone on about Asuna’s role in this arc. The once active equal to Kirito now regulated to the role of damsel to be saved. There has been MUCH said about whether or not this a bad decision by the writer. For me though, who has the benefit of the knowing that this wasn’t the final word on Asuna’s character, thought it was not only fine, but important and necessary to the story. Tacky as it may be for some, Asuna taking ‘the bench’ in this arc allows the story to focus on the development of its other characters. Asuna herself also doesn’t sit there helpless, actually almost freeing herself completely if not for a last minute interference by the slug monsters. Which of course brings us to the most controversial point of the story.

In Which I Watch: Sword Art Online | Page 118 | Sufficient Velocity
Sugou is the other extreme of villains, but he is the best at what he does, and it serves the story better than a metaphorical castle ever did.

Suguo, the villain of the piece is a far different type of baddie than Kayaba was before previous. In a sense, they represent two different types of bad guys, with Kayaba being the aloof, high concept philosophical villain (that isn’t done well), and Sugou being the thuggish stereotypical creep. His actions towards Asuna, from the unwanted touching, to the full on sexual assault in the finale are unsettling, creeping and disturbing, which is exactly what they are suppose to be. Suguo is not a good person, and the show makes it clear, perhaps a bit too bluntly, that he has no redeeming qualities at all. He is the superior villain in my mind, giving the viewer a real reason to hate his guts, and pump your fist in triumph when Kirito gives him the virtual (and real) beat-down he deserves. For some viewers (many of whom this was their first anime) might look at this scene as a betrayal of Asuna’s character, but I do not. It may be tacky, and a little eyebrow raising, but the Asuna I have watched isn’t made any lesser by the experience. If this very well was the final chapter in Asuna’s story, I might be singing a different tune, but knowing that it isn’t, not in the slightest, makes what happens easier to digest.

Additionally, putting Asuna on the bench allows to story to give full attention to the breakout hit of the story: Suguha.

Suguya sword art online | lifeanimes.com
Suguha wouldn’t be as good as she is in this arc if she had to share the spotlight with Asuna. Someone needed to take the bench for the other.

Fairy Dance’s B-story, which involves Kirito’s younger sister (in reality cousin) Suguha come to terms with her feelings towards him is when the arc is at its absolute best. Suguha is tough, spirited and very much a teenager, unable to properly convey her emotions, emotions that often change on a dime. SAO makes it very clear that she is a teenager and does not have the emotional strength to deal with her feelings. The speed at which she changes her affections from Kazuto to Kirito, unaware they are the same person shows this perfectly. It is only when the truth is revealed that Suguha has to confront the facts: she knows she can’t win, and that Asuna has a place in Kirito’s heart that is wholly her own. It is heartbreaking and emotional, because the relationship between both Kirito and Suguha is a good one, with both of them bringing out the best in each other. Despite that, the bond between Kirito and Suguha is strong, and Suguha is the catalyst that allows Kirito to save Asuna, providing both emotional and physical strength to bring the story to it’s conclusion. Kirito knows this, and despite the romance being put to bed (though not as concrete as I had hoped), his bond with Suguha is something that only they share, and is a powerful and important part of their lives. Had Asuna been an active part in the story, having to share the spotlight, it would have caused Suguha’s role to suffer, and risk the show becoming the harem anime that people falsely think it is.

This scene (had to use the LN pic) is the only, ONLY time in twenty-five episodes that SAO has anything close to a ‘harem moment’, and it ends as quick as it comes.

Like I said at the start of this post. I consider myself lucky to have watched the Fairy Dance arc knowing that there is so much story left to tell. If I hadn’t done that, if I had gone into the story knowing this might be the last word on Sword Art Online that so many did when it was airing, I might have felt differently.  I think time has been very good for this arc, and Fairy Dance builds on the foundations laid in Aincrad to create a satisfying and compelling conclusion that absolutely sticks the landing. Its story is a classic ‘boy saves girl from the tower’ one, but it reminded me why the classics have stuck around for so long, because when they are done well, they are excellent. When it is about its characters, whether it is Kirito’s drive, Suguha’s feelings or Asuna’s fate, Fairy Dance soars and is a worthy continuation of Aincrad. If you are even the slightest bit invested in the relationship between Kirito and Asuna, the scenes of their reunion are a triumph of the series and a capstone on what has been a exceptionally strong B+ anime series.

20 Hot Moments from Sword Art Online That Will Make You Swoon ...
The long awaited meeting between Kazuto and Asuna is a emotional triumph the series wholly earns.

With that, I have finished my look into the first season of Sword Art Online. Join me later this week as I give you my overall thoughts on the season as a whole, and my theory on why people so actively seem to hate this show.

Oh, and Yui’s character is whatever.

 

13 thoughts on “Sword Art Online Episode 15-25: The Fairy Dance Arc

    • I went in expecting to go. “Oh, I get why people don’t like this”, but that never happened. Yes some scenes were a little creepy, but that was the point they were trying to get across. It’s a solid second act to the series, a bit of the shine has worn off, but it pushes the story in new directions.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the kind words. I think I just benefited from waiting so long. Like I said, this isn’t the last word on the story, so I view it as a continuation instead of a possible conclusion.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just hated what they did with Asuna. She was so badass in the first arc, and in this one she’s basically Princess Peach. And the rape scene was so over the top and gratuitous, it felt like it was just there to give Kirito (and by proxy, the audience) another reason to hate the fairy king. It didn’t feel like Asuna’s perspective was considered at all, especially considering she seems completely fine afterward when she would realistically be horribly traumatized from everything she went through. At least they gave her an arc all to herself in Season 2.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I would be more in agreement if this was where SAO ended, but it isn’t. There is much more story to tell and Asuna gets more than her fair share (from what I’ve been told). Like I said in my post. Her ‘taking the bench’ allows the story to focus on Suguha and drive the plot forward. Putting aside the fact that having Asuna be there re-writes the entire plot, it would have taken time away from Suguha’s character arc, which again, is probably the best part of Fairy World.

    I had that luck, many people who have watched SAO beforehand didn’t, so I understand how this might have been a bitter pill to swallow, but it doesn’t ruin Asuna, everything that made her who she is still there. Was smash-cutting to her getting felt up by Sugou every time the best course of action? Probably not. Was the “rape” (more molestation, but I’m not interested in getting into that quagmire) something that needed to be done? Probably not, but it drives the point home, makes the stakes real and makes it all the better when Kirito kicks his scummy ass.

    I (like many people) could Monday-morning quarterback this series to death. But I don’t see the point. I need to see SAO for what it IS, not what I want it to BE. There is much that could have been “done better” but what is actually there is frankly far better than I ever believed it was.

    But that’s just my view. There will be others who can’t get past what was done in this arc, and that’s a valid view to have. People aren’t ‘wrong’ in their view that this was a backwards step. I can see it, I can clearly see why people would have been like (wait hold on here) yet. I would just suggest to try looking at the arc as a continuation, not a conclusion.

    Though of course I could very well change my mind after Season 2, cause I know absolutely nothing about what happens next, aside that there are guns.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My major beef with the arc is the fact that Asuna is just a shell of her character in Aincrad. You make a valid point that this allows Suguha to shine and I can’t argue the point there. I think the arc could of honestly had both. You could have Asuna fighting things on her end while Suguha and Kirito meet up with her at the end of the arc. The arc (and the series) are not as bad as people make it out to be nor is it perfect. When SAO shines as you will see in a later arc it can be amazing and its for those moments that I keep watching. This is with the knowledge that the series has plenty of highs and lows to experience.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Your right, and again, we could armchair author this arc to hell and back (as many people have done), but looking at what is there, knowing there is more to come, dulls the blow considerably.

    I was thinking about this today, about how Asuna could have had more to do, but each time I kept coming back to the thought. “No, then that means Suguha’s story suffers,” and I can’t find a way to reconcile that. But also part of me doesn’t really care that much. I like Asuna, and what happens here doesn’t degrade her character in anyway. Least in my eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you’re getting better at this. And you didn’t suck before…

    I still don’t like what they did to Asuna. I wonder if it’s because I like Asuna and hate seeing her in that role?

    That said, partly because your posts got me thinking about it, I rewatched parts of this arc. I’d forgotten how much I loved Kirito’s meeting Leafa for the first time. Their interaction was the high point, but seeing the PKing thugs, thinking they had the upper hand, go against someone who played solo on the front lines in Aincrad, was oh so satisfying.

    “Suguha wouldn’t be as good as she is in this arc if she had to share the spotlight with Asuna. Someone needed to take the bench for the other.”

    That’s an outstanding point. Suguha is really something. So much so that they had to sideline her for the movie… But I don’t want to spoil anything. The scene where Kirito (okay, Kazuto) can only stand there as he watches her melt down was powerful.

    Trying to look at Asuna another way… When she met Kirito, she was alone. On her own, she was weak. When Kirito left to defuse the who beater debacle (which is a moment I’d like to see more about — talk about being politically astute and selfless in a good way!), she had to find her own way. She grew in strength among the Knights of the Blood Oath. She even became second in command.

    But she had never successfully fought alone. At least not as far as I could tell.

    In this arc, she was isolated. She tried to get out, managing even to escape the cage for a little while. But it was new territory for her. She didn’t know how to navigate it. Eventually, her captor wore her down.

    Maybe it was more realistic than I thought. It’s still painful to think about, because she’s an awesome character.

    Seriously, this was a good review.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. even though it’s not mentioned, considering that Sugou is performing brain/emotion manipulation experiments on the 300 captives, who’s to say that he hadn’t tampered with Asuna already to make her less prone to attacking, or that he had given her a lvl 1 avatar with no means to increase her skill? we pretty much saw the manipulation he did when it were kirito vs oberon and he had manipulated the field in his favour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see where that is mentioned in the text, but I think trying to connect the dots there is foolhardy. Sugou is just a typical creepazoid villain. Nothing more, nothing less. It serves the plot well after the admirable mess Kayaba turned out to be.

      Like

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