Warning Labels and Defeating Taboos In SAO

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode Review Title Image

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Review

With the bullies having escalated their antics in the previous episode, I kind of expected the path this story arc was taking, and the warning label at the start of this episode more or less confirmed it, so there was no real surprise that Sword Art Online Alicization decided to walk down this road. It isn’t even a first for SAO in general though I think most people will agree that Sword Art Online is at its worst when it attempts to deal with issues like sexual assault and rape in general because it just doesn’t manage to get the tone or depth right. Look at Fairy Dance’s Asuna and we can all clearly see that she as a character was stripped of what made her an interesting character in order to deliver a substandard plot that turned sexual assault into a mere plot device at best and was mostly just a strange spectacle of over the top cackling villainy.

Now, given I’m watching both Goblin Slayer and Dakaichi this season, it should be well noted I have no particular issue with rape and sexual assault within narratives. I prefer it when it is dealt with appropriately, can deal with it though don’t much like it when it happens and it at least feels like the narrative wasn’t endorsing it, will put up with it when the story chooses to just kind of have it happen and move on from it (not a great choice for the story), but then there are stories that either play it as a joke (and they are generally dropped) and stories like SAO that include it, but don’t quite manage to deliver it in a way that gives it actual weight.

Sword Art Online Episode 10

So Alicization, episode 10, sees Eugeo’s and Kirito’s female pages (and why do all of these characters have female pages, are there no male wannabe knights left now that Kirito and crew moved up the ladder), being bound and assaulted by the two ‘think they are better than everyone else because every single law in this world supports that theory’ noble brats. The actual terror the girls are feeling in this situation is fairly solidly conveyed, though again you have to question why Sword Art Online insists on building up reasonably decent female characters just to turn them into the victim of the week.

Sword Art Online Alicization Laws

What is also dealt with really well, is Eugeo having to overcome all of the programming essentially that keeps him following the world’s laws and the taboo index. For whatever reason, fighting to overcome that causes his eye to more or less explode and bleed, odd given nothing of the sort happened to Alice when she broke the taboo index, but then he is freed to swing his sword around and cleanly take off the lesser of the two bullies arms.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Eugeo

And this brings us to a number of problems. Firstly, despite Eugeo’s fantastic growth in the last two episodes, clearly Kirito still gets to be hero number one (not that I mind, I like Kirito and all, but it just limits Eugeo’s growth to never being better than Kirito). Eugeo, despite being closer to the bully leader, only manages to disarm (bad joke, I know) the lesser one. It takes Kirito coming in to take on the leader (in a very cool light show style sword fight, just the way SAO is good at them).

However, the other problem, the greater one in fact, is that while bully number 2 is literally gushing blood from a severed arm, his reaction is almost comical in nature and the girls on the bed, bound, traumatised, and now covered in bully number 2’s blood, are more or less inert for the remainder of the scene until Kirito cuts them free. A moment ago they were struggling and crying out for help and now they are just kind of lumps on the bed and genuinely get no further part in the story. Why deal with the victims and their trauma when you can focus on the cool sword fight I guess, but it isn’t exactly a satisfying way of dealing with the situation.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Kirito

Likewise, when the bully leader gets his arms hacked off by Kirito, the scene of him sitting on the ground, arms forward, blood spraying out, just killed any tension in the scene. It was too much, too silly, and just didn’t fit with how seriously the rest of the sequence had more or less been played. I mean, this is the closest SAO has ever gotten to dealing with this kind of issue with proper weight behind it, and they still managed to have these reality breaking moments in it.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Glitch

On the other-hand, the bully leader glitching out before dying, was kind of awesome. Not so much with how they presented the scene or because he is dead (though I won’t be shedding any tears about that), but because of several questions it raises about the game world and the program. 

At the end of the day, this was a fairly decent episode, provided the subject matter doesn’t have you wanting to skip it in the first place. It advances the story, it pushes the characters forward, it raises some interesting questions about the mechanics of the world. Was it a particularly deft handling of the subject matter, not so much, but I think that past experience should have prepared fans of Sword Art Online for that and for the most part this was reasonably executed.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10

Still, I’d love to know your thoughts on the episode so be sure to leave me a comment below. Did they go too far? Did you like how they dealt with the subject matter?