There are a number of Sword Art Online haters online that spread FUD between more casual fans and make them feel bad for enjoying the show. I’ll be writing a series of blogs to explain some misconceptions viewers have because they’ve been told subjectively twisted arguments about SAO by prominent smart-asses. Needless to say there will be spoilers (anime only) ahead.
Being a novel reader I’ll say that many flaws often pointed out stem from a poor adaptation. When Kirito appears to cheat death at the end of Aincrad seems to be the biggest misconception anime only viewers have about the show. This can be explained, however, without the need to name any mythical creatures from your preferred religious fantasy.
Before continuing lets have a look at the established world rules:
- When your HP drops to 0, the NerveGear enters a “kill routine”
- The kill routine is not immediate but has a delay of at least 10 seconds
- The kill routine can be cancelled from inside the game which is hinted at by the existence of that resurrection item Kirito got for Sachi.
Considering Kirito and Asuna survived, we know for a fact that the kill routine didn’t execute. There was no resurrection item involved or at least we know that Klein, who was the last person in possession of it, didn’t use it at that time. That leaves Kayaba, the GM and primary system administrator. He let Kirito and Asuna live.
At the End of the World this happens
Asuna loses her HP and shatters. Kirito listlessly swings his sword at Kayaba, gets stabbed and loses his HP. Then the screen desaturates before he shatters and stays that way until the scene where he becomes transparent and goes into a rage to stab Kayaba. So his breaking apart and reappearing was made up — a phantom appearance that didn’t take place.
In actuality, Kirito didn’t shatter. After he lost his HP he should be in a state incapable of any action for a short while. Yet he broke that rule and swung the sword one last time. The same way Asuna broke paralysis before. Then he shatters for real together with Kayaba. This is how it’s described in the novel. The vision of Kirito shattering and resurrecting is totally unnecessary and is the reason people call bullshit. Because they don’t take the visual hints to try to understand what had happened.
After the three players shatter, the game was over and no further deaths occurred due to the NerveGear. Kayaba disabled the kill routine for the three of them, recreated their avatars and transferred them to a separate area in the game. While they were chatting on that platform overlooking Aincrad, all remaining players were logged out. At the end Kirito and Asuna were also logged out while Kayaba performed a digitization of his entire being.
Kayaba’s raison d’être and rule breakers
Kayaba saved Kirito and Asuna because he was impressed. They were the first players to break the rules of the system he designed. Asuna jumped in-front of Kirito when she should have been paralyzed and Kirito moved after his HP dropped to zero.
What Kayaba had developed is hardware that can interface with a person’s brain and software, a deep learning AI that runs Aincrad but was designed for something much more grandiose. Kayaba was a lunatic who only cared for his world of swords since childhood, successfully created it and died. But the technology he left behind made its way to hospitals (Mother’s Rosario) and something else that will come in Alicization. Basically, the AI he created was not entirely known even to himself which is why he was impressed to see players affecting it.
SAO is a futuristic game that is not bound by the rules of today’s programming. As such it’s wrong to view SAO in the confines of established rules. Computer science is going to change drastically in the following years, especially AI.
The less likely factor why Kayaba saved them is humanity. It’s hard to assume he had some left, but on the other hand, tragic as it was, I wasn’t feeling sad when 9/11 happened. No one I knew was at the scene at the time and even though thousands died it didn’t affect me emotionally.
Kayaba spent 1.5 years with Asuna in the same guild and he always had an eye out for the owner of Dual Blades — Kirito. Emotionless as he might have been, these relationships probably contributed to his mercy towards the protagonists.
Hopefully this clears up some misunderstandings regarding the end of Aincrad. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with loving this anime. If you care about your “anime image”, there are probably far greater blemishes on your watched list.