!!Some spoilers for Sword Art Online Season 1!!
Sword Art Online is a newer anime based on a series of light novels. In this world where video games continue to involve increasingly impressive technology and technology in general is reaching the heights of something out of sci-fi, story writers seem to have taken an interest in what could happen if people were able to more physically insert themselves into video games and experience the game as a virtual world. This is the concept in Sword Art Online. A fourteen year old boy who goes by the alias “Kirito” online is one of hundreds to play this new virtual game; by simply placing certain high-tech head gear on, the player is mentally transported into the game, takes on a form there, and feels as though he is physically in the game. Unfortunately for Kirito and the other players, this new game is hijacked by the original creator who makes it impossible to log out of the game. If one dies in the game, one dies in reality and removing the head gear leads to the same result. The only way to get out of the game is to beat it and Kirito is determined to do just that.
With a gripping first episode like that, Sword Art Online had me hooked. Why did the creator do this? How were the players going to get out? I wanted to find out. In addition, from the opening and ending sequences, it appeared that the story was not going to be about the lone male hero but also include an active female character. It didn’t disappoint and soon Asuna came into the picture. Like Kirito, Asuna isn’t going to give up and is fighting to get out of the game. As the story progresses, the two team up and I was happy to see a true partnership between a female and male character. She and Kirito had each other’s backs and, while Kirito is obviously the hero, Asuna is just about as powerful.
The show wasn’t perfect; the storytelling wasn’t always superb and Kirito plays the knight in shining armor for numerous other female characters. In addition, Asuna just so happens to be an excellent cook and makes things for Kirito, which is fine, but seemed to be there as a reminder of Asuna’s feminine virtue. However, none of this bothered me too much.
Enter the second season. After an exciting finale to the first season, I was excited to see what was in store for our heroes after they escaped the game. Eight episodes in and I’m disappointed. The series has fallen into a trend I like to call the “demotion” of a female character. In a nutshell, you take a fairly competent and strong female character and reduce her to a weaker position like damsel in distress. This is exactly what has happened to Asuna in the second season. She may have been one of the heroes, but after helping Kirito defeat the game, she has been taken captive. A shady young man who works in the gaming industry alongside her father has made sure Asuna doesn’t wake up from the game and placed her in a similar virtual game open to the public. Here, her mind is trapped. Of course, Kirito discovers this and joins this new game to save her. Asuna isn’t totally incapacitated and does try to escape on her own, which I appreciate, but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s been put in the damsel in distress role.
There is a new female lead to take over the active role that Asuna has left. Suguha, Kirito’s younger sister, is a skilled kendo student who helps her brother on his new mission. Unfortunately, I feel like she’s not getting a lot of time to shine as a strong female character. Kirito takes almost all the action scenes and Suguha’s main drama has centers around romance so far. To add insult to injury, the show throws focus on Suguha’s large chest numerous times throughout the season and viewers were “treated” to one scene in the 20th episode in which two powerful female players show off their cleavage, trying to seduce Kirito. Yeah, this show has taken a nose dive on my list. Admittedly, the season isn’t over yet so there is always a chance that the show will redeem itself, but I’m losing hope.