This is a topic that I’ve dabbled in a few times throughout my look at Sword Art Online. It’s also something that is near and dear to my heart. One of the things I love most about anime is that amount freedom it tends to offer their female characters. There are archetypes sure, there are overdone tropes and clichés yes, but most of the time female characters in anime have a pretty good deal. They can be bossy, slutty, powerful, weak, warriors, healers, leaders, followers, sluts, pure. You name it, anime has pretty much got it. As always, such things are never perfect, but I’ve always felt that anime gives a far, far better range of choice than anything the west does.
One such character however has really pulled my interest over the last year, and today I want to talk about her a bit more. After the cut let’s take a character dive into the female lead of Sword Art Online: Asuna Yuuki.
“It seemed like everything had been funneled into one tiny path: the high school her parents chose, the college her parents chose, the marriage her parents chose. She grew terrified that she would be stuffed inside an incredibly small and tough shell, never to escape that prison. – Light Novel Volume 2
I’ve always maintained, and still do, that Asuna’s character arc is about choice. That she is a woman whose journey and character arc is about breaking free of both the constraints of her life, and the expectations of the audience. Like I explained in my review of Mother’s Rosario, there have been many people, right or wrong, that believed Asuna should be a #girlboss, that she should be right beside Kirito fighting the big fights, standing tall and proud, being that strong independent woman who don’t need no man.
Of course there is nothing wrong with that idea, but to believe that Asuna should be that way represents in my view, a fundamental misunderstanding of the character. Throughout the entire series, we clearly see that Asuna’s journey is not about being the best in the game, or tackling the biggest challenges. That is clearly there in the story. Asuna won’t back down from a challenge, can stand alongside the best of them, and when the rubber hits the road, you wouldn’t want to cross blades with her. Hell she almost frees herself from her capture in Fairy Dance, but that has never been the be-all, end-all of her character. Instead her journey is again, about choice.
When we first meet Asuna, we see she is no-nonsense, devoted to KoB, and her role as deputy guild leader. She is the lightning flash, skilled as they come, and has ton of admirers both male and female. Yet she is also lonely, and in a fit of irony, has devoted herself to something that wasn’t her choice. She has to become the best in SAO so she can survive, but what did she actually want to do? What does she want to be?
The answer comes, as it usually does in Sword Art Online, through Kirito. Aincrad’s establishment of their relationship, from the casual meetings, to the eventual passionate and deep romance, represents the first time that Asuna is confronted with something she can control, that is wholly her own. While she loves Kirito for his strength and kindness, she also loves him for the freedom he represents, his lone-wolf, go it alone attitude, not worrying about what other people think of him. And while getting together does provide Kirito with drive and focus, allowing him to establish bonds and fight for something that is real. For Asuna, it provides her with an outlet to be truly and honestly free. Their episodes just hanging out at the cottage, while a little filler to some, are incredible crucial to her character. For the first time she gets to do what she wants, with no responsibility, no expectation, no judgment from anyone. And what she wants is to hang out with the man she loves, to have fun, and just really be a girl. Not because it is expected of her, but because she chooses to do so.
Without a doubt, she was more alive now than she’d ever been before in the seventeen years of her life. -Light Novel Volume 2
As the story progresses to Mother’s Rosario, where Asuna takes center stage, we see that story arc come full circle. Her confrontation with her mother, the determination to give Yuuki a chance at a normal life, and the way she decides to go where Kirito goes, is at its heart, Asuna seizing her own destiny. Her friendship with Yuuki, probably the second most important relationship she has, shows Asuna a future where the ability to choose is ripped away, and she learns not to live her life fill with regrets and shame of what she is. That experience leads to Asuna throwing away those expectations of both her mother and the audience and decides that what she wants, what she needs and what she chooses is a life with Kirito, and her friends. To kick-ass in the virtual world, and follow the man she loves on their shared dreams. Maybe not the trailblazing path some would want, but it is path that she makes up on her own. And it comes to a head in the final moments of Alicization, where she decides to stay the Underworld with Kirito, despite the dangers and time she would lose. It’s what she wants.
I don’t believe my thoughts here to be the final word, even for me, on Asuna’s character. I still have plenty of light novels to read, and the Progressive retelling of Aincrad promises much more depth into Asuna as a character. I very much could change my mind, and (probably will) come back to this discussion. However I wanted to throw out my thoughts here and celebrate a girl who, in my personal view, is a brilliant representation of the freedom that anime gives their female characters. It is not perfect, nothing ever is, you might have a different opinion, that’s totally alright. But Asuna Yuuki to me, is a remarkable example of strength and independence, choice and free will that goes beyond a bumper sticker, or twitter hashtag. The ability to choose your fate is a wonderful thing, and watching Asuna go on that journey was a deeply satisfying and personally moving experience.
Of course, that’s just what I think.