If you can recall, my first post on this blog was about Sword Art Online and its treatment of female characters. Spoilers: it’s not good. For as much as I hated the Fairy Dance arc, it was bad enough that I was compelled to watch it all, and then watched the next season, Sword Art Online II. To my surprise, Sword Art Online II was a huge improvement! Okay, it’s not actually GOOD because the characters still revolve around the cardboard male-power fantasy that is Kirito, but it was much more entertaining, it tried to give its female characters their own story arcs, and there was less sexual assault! Okay, it’s not that much better, but if you’re seeking bad soapy trash to hatewatch, Sword Art Online II is good for just that.
Sword Art Online II was split into three arcs: Gun Gale Online (the best arc of SAO in my opinion), Excalibur (a three-episode interlude that is mostly just screwing around with Kirito’s harem), and Mother’s Rosario, the only arc where Kirito is not the main character! I was really sick of Kirito, so to see Asuna, a character that’s been largely portrayed as a helpless waifu since Fairy Dance, have her own story was an exciting idea. So of course, her conflict ends up being kind of lame (her mom doesn’t approve of her playing video games oh noooooo). The main character ends up being Yuuki, probably the only girl to ever beat Kirito in a duel (though there’s a bullshit implication that Kirito went easy on her, because we can’t have our tough male badass lose to a girl fairly). Yuuki wants to beat a boss so she and her guild, the Sleeping Knights, can have their names carved into a rock. The stakes aren’t nearly as high as previous arcs until it’s revealed why the Sleeping Knights want their names immortalized in virtual reality so badly: they’re all terminal. Specifically, Yuuki has AIDS.
Oh, and not only does Yuuki have AIDS, her entire family is dead and she’s been confined to a hospital room for almost her entire life, and her only means of communication with the outside world are VRMMOs. The piling of “sad moe girl” tropes, all in one episode by the way, was so comical in its execution that I knew that I had to write about it for 12 Days of Anime. Sword Art Online has always been a soap opera for male nerds in the same vein that Clannad is. They create male leads that nerds can pretend to be like and give them baby fantasy girls for them to fix and protect. The difference is that Sword Art Online pretends to be an action show, and in its final arc swaps out its male lead for a female lead. Having a girl protagonist could have made for an interesting subversion, but Asuna is much more passive than Kirito, and Kirito is still used to solve a lot of the problems she faces. The conclusion of Sword Art Online II has her saying she’ll be with Kirito forever, proving that the entire point of Asuna’s existence is to be Kirito’s girlfriend and nothing more. Basically, the author of Sword Art Online cannot write women.