SAO – For the Chuunibyou in You

Omo’s latest post on SAO captures the feelings I have about the show in its opening paragraph. “Sword Art Online is an enjoyable watch, but I don’t particularly enjoy many aspects of it. I think with a broad stroke I can write off most of the things I don’t like under “this is way too chuu2.”” (I’ll get to the rest of his post in a bit.)

After watching the first two episodes, my brother iconclasm and I agreed that, had either of us seen this show when we were thirteen, it would’ve been an instant favorite. At that age, I loved .hack//SIGN because it was about a video game, and I loved Rurouni Kenshin because it had an unstoppably badass protagonist. This show has both, and it retroactively blew my inner thirteen year-old’s mind.

My inner thirteen year-old, though, is a very quiet voice in my head. It’s a voice that propelled me to watch 43 episodes of Kenshin last year (but didn’t make me like it), and it probably contributes to my ability to read anime magazines today.

However, iconclasm has the voice screaming in his head. Thinking about it, he’s only 19. It’s been five years since Gurren Lagann, and that’s still his favorite anime of all time by a long-shot. He and my BFF have been really into Sword Art Online, to the point that iconclasm thinks it could be in his top ten, and my BFF (who’s 21 btw) went ahead and read the nine or so translated light novels.

When I stayed with ghostlightning for a month in the Philippines, I berated him a lot about being obsessed with, “fail.” He is almost guaranteed to like a show or character more, proportional to how much they fail, in proportion to how badass they are. He argued that failure makes characters and shows more interesting, and that no one likes Mary/Marty Sue characters who do everything right. I argued, “then why are those characters and shows so popular?” He said something to the effect, “because of lamefags.”

I mean, duh. Popular stuff always sucks, amiright? But we get it, nonetheless. I get why my brother and friend adore Kirito (whom, may I remind you, is *actually fourteen years old*), while they both tend to shy away from characters that they, “can’t respect.”  It’s because some people really like heroes, who are not human, and not relatable, and don’t fail, and kick lots of ass. Fantasy characters. Should be obvious, really.

Kirito is Mary Sue as all fuck, and as jpmeyer illustrates in omo’s comments, so is Asuna. Kirito is a perfect chuunibyou hero, and Asuna is a perfect complimentary heroine.

The idea behind the word, “chuunibyou” (“second year of middle school sickness”), is that it refers to the inflated sense of self that second-year middle schoolers (age 13 in Japan) have, and how they think they’re amazing and special because of the trivial bullshit they’re good at. Yet, I don’t think you have to be thirteen to suffer some degree of chuunibyou that would make you love Kirito.

Omo points out in his post that the most chuunibyou thing about Kirito is that he’s a solo player in an MMORPG. He claims that, “only idiots play solo.” I want to make an addendum to that, even if it’s just to save my own ass.

I play MMOs solo for the most part, because I don’t, “play MMOs,” the way an MMO player considers someone to be, “playing an MMO.” I got to the level cap in Tera Online playing solo, but I didn’t really do anything after that. An MMO player will probably say, “you’re exempt from the argument being made, because you don’t, ‘play,’ MMOs.” I guess that’s fair to say.

Tera Online is one of my alltime favorite video games, even though I have no real interest in doing endgame group stuff. If it means I don’t play MMOs, then I’m okay with that. But, while I’m not opposed to being called an idiot, I don’t think I get an idiot card just for what I did in Tera. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, so it’s not like I did something sucky. But if we’re saying that Kirito really does, “play MMOs,” and is a solo player, maybe he’s an idiot. Or he would be in real life, but because he’s a chuunibyou hero, he isn’t, and that’s the disconnect which Omo feels. I don’t feel it from his soloing because I don’t, “play,” MMOs, but I still feel it from how he always does everything right and gets all the girls.

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39 thoughts on “SAO – For the Chuunibyou in You

  1. Pingback: Digibro’s Media Journal (August 2012) | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

  2. Personally, even recognizing the obvious and over-the-top hero and heroine nature of the main characters, I still enjoy the show a great deal. I’m not sure whether it’s “channelling my inner thirteen-year-old” or not (though I think that’s something everyone should actively try to do, rather than the other way around), but I still find something fun about the standard fantasy/hero story. As you say, we “get it”. It’s a storytelling motif engrained in most children’s stories (and most Hollywood blockbusters), so there’s something about it that’s instantly familiar. Beyond that, I think a big thing that makes it work for me are all the fun in-game touches and nods to “realistic” game mechanics that seem familiar from games I’ve played. Not to mention, I’m a sucker for romance; even if it’s obvious as hell, it never gets old to me. Even recognizing that Kirito and Asuna are almost static and stereotypical images of “heroes”, it’s still fun to watch their story unfold. (It makes me wonder if, later in the story, the focus will start shifting a bit to other characters, since there’s only so far you can go with characters that basically already have their acts together.)

    As a side point, it’s perhaps a bit interesting to compare SAO to the author’s second work, Accel World, regarding the protagonists. Both are similarly “chuunibyou hero” type stories (I like how that word is a thing now ^^; ), but if Kirito is a near-perfect protagonist, Haruyuki is the polar opposite: full of complexes, issues, and struggles on his way to the top. If SAO is about struggling against the world (hence the characters are more-or-less static), Accel World is more about struggling with yourself. But I think it’s been interesting to track the reaction to the two shows; both are popular, but SAO easily comes out on top. Perhaps a lot of this is indeed about how easily the audience can relate to the protagonist; even if we recognize the rather overly-perfect nature of the two protagonists in SAO, it’s easier to enjoy the show regardless. “Fail” protagonists can be more frustrating, and harder to overlook if you’re not into it; to put it another way, whether you like Kirito or not, it’s harder to dislike him.

    And yeah, I’m a fellow idiot too. I like partying sometimes in MMOs, but I appreciate ones that let you play solo from time-to-time as well. There are lots of other people in real life, but I don’t always spend all my time interacting with them. I view MMO worlds in the same way; there’s an opportunity for interaction at every stage, but that doesn’t mean you always have to be interacting. It’s an open world that can be experienced in multiple different ways, and introverts don’t always want to be sociable, particularly in their down-time (like game-playing). I don’t think that makes them retards, though… but I suppose I’m both biased and doing it wrong.

    • I’m going to tell you what may be a major or may be a minor spoiler for Sword Art Online: only the first two books of the light novels actually concern themself with this particular game. The first one tells the story of the game, and the second one has a bunch of side-stories for the game, which is what we’re seeing in the anime right now.

      So, while I’ve not read the novels myself, and am wholly sure that if my BFF sees this post, then he’ll say something to me about them, I can at least speculate that once the characters move on to other games and stuff, there may be a chance for them to open up more. Or something.

      BTW I like how you mentioned Accel World, which I forgot to mention, because you know why iconclasm doesn’t watch it? “I can’t respect the main character. He just fails so hard.” That’s a real quote.

  3. I think omo had to have a really bad experience from playing MMOs and needed to project his frustration by hijacking SAO. If he’s your internet buddy, sorry to start this comment off like this, but I only see words for the sake of words when I read his blogs these days. This one took the cake though. I was fucking furious after reading that.

    But then I stopped for a moment and thought just how baseless his comment about solo players being idiots really is. This guy watches moe anime and follows the idol-seiyuu scene, and he has the audacity to write “this loner attitude is for losers!” Maybe the definitions have changed, but looking for people to interact with in an MMO or visiting an idol cafe to chat up your favorite idol isn’t all that different, both of which fall quite nicely into the traditional “loser” definition.

    I used to play FFXI solo and it was actually quite fun! Until I realized that soloing is fucking impossible with monks. When I started playing, the game was too young for me to know that you could max out with black mages. Loser attitude or not, what I was interested in was exactly the type of “large flow” (a metanarrative) that .hack incorporated. I was looking for that fantasy story feel! But I wanted to discover it in a non-linear game. This is of course after the fact, when I looked back on my 17-year-old self and discover what were the things I was really looking for in an MMORPG experience. I guess you could say that playing FFXI was like taking a pilgrimage for me, which is something you have to do alone (at least in buddhist culture), and If self-discovery is some sort of loser attitude, then I gladly yield the floor.

    • It’s best not to take the things omo says at face value. His statements are very, very loaded, and he doesn’t take the time to explain himself at length, because he just doesn’t care. I know that the burden of making sense falls on him, but it also doesn’t do any good to rebute with him when he’s being like that, because you don’t really know what he meant, and the reply will inevitably be “you don’t get what I mean” in however many convoluted words he uses.

      My point being, I don’t think omo’s really attacking solo players or saying they’re less of people or something. What omo probably means is that people who “play MMOs” in whatever sense he thinks of it, shouldn’t play solo. I don’t think people playing solo for two weeks and then stopping is quite what he means. He might also just be joking. I’m never sure.

      BTW, I don’t like your second paragraph. It’s not good to defend yourself by throwing something else under the bus like that. Instead of saying “you call this a loser attitude? If anything’s a loser attitude, it’s that!” just say “this is not a loser attitude, inasmuch as anything you do isn’t.”

      • I’m guilty of loving both moe anime and some semblance of idol culture, at least the spirit of it, so I’m not berating anything of that, but a fucking otaku shouldn’t even be talking about loser attitudes when it comes to preferences, for example how we play an MMO.

        So what you’re saying is, this guy makes no sense to anybody, only to himself, then says “you don’t get it”, inflicting people with a sense of inferiority? This guy, I tell you …

        • I don’t think he’d say that you don’t get it as though you were inferior. I think he’d say it in a way that means “I’m just writing for myself.”

          I might be projecting, though, lol

        • Let’s put this in another way. A lot of the stuff I say are just things people think of behind your back but have enough social graces or don’t care about it enough to verbalize for you. But like I said, we were all 8th graders at some point. There’s plenty of mercy and grace to go around in a MMORPG about a 17yo who is learning how to play FFXI. The problem is more complicated when this behavior is reinforced and not corrected and that 17yo is now 27yo.

          • If people really think “this loner attitude is for losers” about people playing games online, then I honestly don’t know what to say. Because it’s a bullshit–some might even say–chuunibyou assumption to make. Or should I, again, not take this comment at face value? Digibro, help me out, man.

          • If loser is a trigger word for you I apologize. How many non-losers do you know who are loners? I think they are an exceedingly rare breed. Because the cold hard fact is that in order to accomplish something notable in this world, it almost always takes at least 2 people. People who struggle with this fact, I admit, do not need the name calling. They need help.

            Now in an online game, it’s not a big deal. But why would someone who doesn’t want to play with other people play an online game? MMORPGs are by default social platforms. Granted you might not be aware of this when you decide to play some video game, but typically it is a bad decision to mix the two. You chalked it up to ignorance, and I think that’s fine, and maybe that is the more common case when people do this, not because they are losers.

          • Exactly as you say, in an online game, it’s not a big deal. Jesus, if I had known you were analyzing MMO play in order to extract some higer social truth, I wouldn’t even be messing with you. I’d just take you for another random idiot.

          • I don’t get what’s idiotic about using MMOs as a study of society. No aspect of society is an island, all of it is deeply woven together, and how we interact with things is all a symbol of our personalities. I do think that the way someone tackles a sandbox game with social context says a hell of a lot about the individual. If I analyzed my own performance in Tera, I could get a rich amount of analysis of my person.

      • You’re pretty good at decoding me now. Yea, if you play for two weeks solo and stop, that is not a Kirito. A Kirito apparently gets to the end game mostly solo and learns the precious lesson of friendship where as the rest of the server are like, wtf mate are you chuu2?

        The loser comment is more of a troll. It’s kind of like calling the guy who rolls a rogue just so he can sneak into PVP contested territory and gank people 15 levels lower than he is, a loser. I don’t know how being a seiyuu fan or enjoy moe anime makes you a loser, because that doesn’t make you anything besides, maybe, a kimoi otaku. Not any definition of loser means that, as far as I know.

        Judging by Kirito’s behavior in the anime, I am starting to think he is exhibiting some of these anti-social, loser-ish behavior. I’m not saying he is one, but that’s more because of his Protagonist Powers bail him out a bit. Plus he does do the Right Thing when it comes down to it (ie., Winners Don’t Use Drugs(tm)).

    • I have pretty good experiences playing MMORPGs, which is why I still play them when time permits.

      Truth is, everyone play those games by themselves sometimes. But the whole point behind them is to enable playing with other players. It’s the whole point behind MMORPGs.

      This is why I put a note about 2009. Pretty much games since then has now recognized that a lot of people want to have a near-purely single-player experience with those games, so enabling that will help them sell more copies. Some call this “catering to casuals” or whatever. Tons of people played SWTOR as a single player experience, only to group for bosses and some quests. It’s also another reason why nobody plays that game anymore, because they’re done with the game, like how many single-player games can be “beaten.”

      So don’t feel bad about grinding to level cap in Tera, because that game is hella fun even when you play by yourself. The multi-facetedness of MMORPGs as sandboxes is not lost on me, but it is still invariably a multiplayer platform and meant and designed for multiplayer experiences. To just play single player on it varies between “an idiot” (if you ask me if soloing in FFXI is a dumb thing to do I would say yes, and I hope you would agree) and “not utilizing the bulk of the game.”

      • > if you ask me if soloing in FFXI is a dumb thing to do I would say yes, and I hope you would agree
        From the game’s play design perspective it is dumb, since it took forever for people to come up with solo guides, and yes, it limits what you can do with the game. But for the 17-year-old me, even if it was a matter of ignorance, I wanted to play *that* game *that* way. Maybe you don’t value this, but that was at the time my idea of how I’d ultimately enjoy the game. To build up a character such as Haseo “The Terror of Death” that could stand ground to anybody, represented true freedom and independence. I know now of course that real life doesn’t work that way and that only few men get to earn that luxury, but so were those that maxed out soloing FFXI. If the MMO experience is supposed to be similar to real life, with real economies and building allegiances, then soloing (pre-2009) still seems like the harder thing to do from this perspective. With single player, it’s only a simulated experience, with MMO it’s a cheaper opportunity than a real life’s would be. Being alone is hard, this is not a path a loser goes on to.

        • It sounds almost like you had a chuunibyou experience yourself playing FFXI, especially in how you acknowledge that it may have been fueled partially by ignorance. it kind of is being an idiot, but not in a bad way. It’s a learning experience? Character building? Do any of us really look down on our chuunibyou 13 year-old selves, unless we’re trying to look cool, thereby being chuunibyou all over again?

          • Look, if you want to say it like that, then the line between acting like an idiot and self-discovery is fine indeed.

            It’s a stupid word anyway. The first time I read its meaning I was like “doesn’t everyone have flashes of this behavior occasionally?”

          • Everyone does have flashes of that behavior, which is probably why it’s easy to identify with. I don’t think we can deny, though, that there is laying it on thick. I’ve met fourteen year-olds who think that every little thing in their life is important, that they are an unsung noble hero who no one understands, and blame others for their problems. This is the essence of chuunibyou, and it’s why fourteen year-olds so easily identify with heroes who stand apart from the crowd and are better than them. Most of these heroes vocally put themselves above others. Kirito doesn’t, but it’s only because he’s so obviously better than everyone that he doesn’t have to. And this is the fantasy heroicness that makes him a chuunibyou hero.

        • I think GW2 will be better than Tera at that, but I just can’t bring myself playing that game. I’d rather fire up LOL…which, by the way, is the best way to encapsulate this. Because it is purely a versus sort of game, where you are forced to express that “chuu2byou” instincts as a way to compete with other, real flesh and blood people. You can’t be a Kirito in that game because there will always be someone better than you. And by the time you get to the top you’ve basically at the point where you realized there’s better things to do with your life.

          LOL is great because just like real chuunibyou, it pops when everyone eventually grows up, graduates, and enter the “real world” where there will always be a bigger fish in the pond and you will never be the best. On one hand I’m pretty harsh (well, maybe not in retrospect) about chuu2-ness, but that’s just the underbelly of boyhood dreams and ideals. It’s obviously okay to have those, to desire to be great or be the best at what you do. But how that is expressed is the rub. On the other hand, the cynicism of adult life tend to rain down on these parades. I think there’s room for both, but obviously it is going to take some thick skin to be chuunibyou in public, or in a massively populated online environment, game or otherwise.

          • Yup, I’m with you now. There’s room for both, but doing both means being Eureka Seven and putting the force of adulthood over the head of these young’uns. The fact that at 14 Kirito is *the* strongest player in this game is *exactly* what makes it feel more chuu2 in a negative way than anything.

  4. It’s because some people really like heroes, who are not human, and not relatable, and don’t fail, and kick lots of ass. Fantasy characters.

    And yet even Hollywood heroes have personal failings, and are actually written to be relatable even if they kick ass on a regular basis (think John McClane from Die Hard).
    I’d say anime tends to pander to it’s audience’s power fantasies by creating do-no-wrong blank slate characters one can easily project into. Not relate. Project. It’s not so much about “respect” as it is about masturbation of the ego. That’s indulgence right there. And you know it’s bad when even Hollywood doesn’t do it. I won’t stand for that. Never will.

    • That statement about Hollywood heroes is a generalization. I don’t think most of the characters in Transformers are relatable in the slightest, for instance.

      • Dude, I totally relate to Megatron, like, totally. Hehe.

        I play MMOs solo too. Whatever.

        I dig Ghost’s take on the fail business. I think it’s an acquired taste to some extent but yes, the exquisite failures are the best character-wise (even in real life too).

      • Michael Bay is hardly a disproof of my point. He certainly does delves into indulgence and contempt for his audience in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator (and succeeds at that). But it’s easy to point out those directors and writers when, quite frankly, they’re a minority compared to the anime industry where indulgence is the freaking business model.

        • I still completely disagree, if only because I’m deeply familiar with anime and a great number of flawed, relatable, and interesting characters, and I feel that connection with very few Hollywood heroes.

          • Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the majority of anime we get each season doesn’t suffer from terrible writing, dead horse character templates and an appeal to teenage fantasies. I can’t say for sure. I don’t watch everything anime trows at me.
            Yes, there has always been genuinely good anime in the medium (thank god for that). But how many successful tries for how many failures?

  5. “Tera Online is one of my alltime favorite video games”

    Pedo spotted!

    I keed, I keed. Anyway, I figure that the whole “soloing is for losers” thing basically boils down to how you could be playing something like say, Skyrim instead that’s both a huge world and is designed specifically for a single player rather than tearing your hair out trying to beat things that you aren’t actually supposed to be able to beat.

    Or possibly even better, like trying to solo the multiplayer component in Mass Effect 3 when if you wanted to play the game by yourself, the single player game will give you a far richer experience.

    • That argument would work, but Tera really is just that fun solo, because like omo said, they built it that way. I find Skyrim to be insufferable boring. Its visual design puts me to sleep, and combat is wholly unsatisfying. Meanwhile in Tera, the environments are gorgeously designed, and my sword has a heft to it and some of the best sound effects and attack animations in video games. These things mean a hell of a lot to me in this kind of game, more so than things like playing with other people and being good at the game.

      By this logic, I’d probably enjoy SAO playing solo as well.

      • Or to go a step further, while it’s definitely possible to make an MMO that’s fun for single player play, it’s easy to end up with something like The Old Republic where it costs a gazillion dollars to develop all that content.

  6. Pingback: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai’s Potential | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

  7. Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with? I’m going to start my own blog in
    the near future but I’m having a difficult time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S My apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

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