TWELVE DAYS: SUGUHA AND LIFE-SAVING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

TWELVE DAYS: SUGUHA AND LIFE-SAVING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
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THIS SHOT

I hit rock bottom in March of 2016. I was forced to withdraw from my dream school because my depression had made it impossible for me to succeed academically. I can remember telling myself that I’d manage to fix everything, but those were delusions. I was “averting my eyes” from the truth. I was so lonely. As my life started spiraling downwards, I never once considered asking for help.

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it me

I kept telling myself that I had the power to fix my situation all on my own, but every time I tried to focus on fixing things, I ended up just going to bed. I was spending so much time escaping into anime, especially shows like Clannad in which I could live my ideal wholesome trad fantasy.

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I love how I can just randomly insert these Monogatari screencaps an y’all can tell how they relate to my experiences. You can tell, can’t you?

I had reached the point where I figured that I don’t deserve the company of other people, but I still strived for companionship, always sabotaging my efforts as a way of sparing the person to whom I was trying to reach out the burden of having to deal with someone as rotten as me. Nobody had to suffer besides me when I spent time with anime. When my entire world finally came crashing down on me, I blamed myself for being lazy, piling on even more self-hatred than I had already accumulated.

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We all have that Ougi voice in the back of our heads.

It was not too lit fam. Anyway, part of me is still ashamed of the fact that I had to take a medical withdrawal from Notre Dame. I know I shouldn’t be ashamed and that I had long lost control of my life by no fault of my own, but I still haven’t internalized that.

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f

When I returned home, I spent like three months almost entirely in my basement, curled up on the couch listening to music or watching anime (It was during that period of time that I first watched Monogatari 20 times in a row). A few days after I got home, I rolled over on the couch in the basement and heard some noise. It was my little sister playing with her barbies, which she hadn’t done in a long time. I chatted with her. I’d been crushed with shame whenever speaking to anybody since getting home, but for some reason, I felt totally comfortable chatting with my little sister then. She was in eighth grade at the time. This became a regular occurrence, and she’d always tell me she loved me when she was done and went back upstairs. My little sister became my best friend and helped save me when I hit absolute rock bottom. Screen Shot 2018-12-23 at 11.28.29 PMOne of the most compelling scenes in Sword Art Online is in the first episode of the Fairy Dance arc, after Kirito has met Sugou *gag* and learned that Asuna is going to be married off. Kirito is absolutely devastated. His wife is going to be married off without her consent to a creep that she hates and Kirito can’t do anything about. And yes fuck this conflict it fucking sucks. Maybe it’d be okay if he wasn’t so rapey and the objective wasn’t so blatantly for Kirito to protect Asuna’s “purity,” but oh well. Its a testament to how great a character Suguha is that this is my favorite SAO arc despite all of that. Anyway, with a creeper stealing his online wife, Kirito has totally sunken into a pit of despair. This is rock bottom for Kirito.

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You can’t see his eyes, so you know shit’s serious

That evening, Suguha enters Kirito’s room after he fails to respond to her when she tells him the bath is ready. She enters his room because she cares about her br- see, there I go, that’s way more specific than I need to be, I’m just stating the obvious. Anyways… Suguha’s perspective shapes this scene in Kirito’s room, which Sword Art Online utilizes as a representation of his now devastated internal world.

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Suguha opens the door to Kirito’s room, and with her brings light and warmth. The Nervegear, in the foreground, was responsible for stealing the already distant Kirito away from Suguha for two whole years.

She finds her brother sitting alone on his bed in his room. The room is illuminated only by the moonlight streaming through the huge window in the corner of the room behind the bed and is freezing because it’s the middle of January and he hasn’t turned on the heater. In the first three shots of Kirito after Suguha enters the room, his eyes are hidden by shadows. Suguha turns on the heater and asks what’s going on. Kirito tells her that he just wants to be left alone, which is, of course, the last thing you should say when you want to be left alone. Perhaps Kirito was subconsciously trying to reach out to Suguha in that moment.

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Love how she’s got a bit of that Virgin Mary look going on with that towel

The concern in Suguha’s voice grows stronger in response to that most obvious of red flags and we see a look in Kirito’s eyes more harrowing than anything we were privy to during his experiences in Sword Art Online. Our (new) heroine immediately swoops down on him, taking his hands in hers, and asks him what’s wrong and if he’s alright, to which Kirito initially responds that “its nothing.”

 

Suguha’s demonstration of her love for her brother brings warmth to the room (she turned on the heater) and to Kirito (grasping his hands). That warmth, that love, allows Kirito to open up to her. We get to see the extremely rare “vulnerable Kirito,” a side of him we’ve only seen him show Asuna. He apologizes to Suguha, expressing his despair, saying, “I’m so hopeless and weak,” then expressing his regret that Suguha has to see him in such a compromised state, something he had sworn not to allow happen. Kirito gives an extremely vague explanation of his situation, breaking down into tears in the process.

 

Suguha throws her arms around him, allowing him to cry into her, uh, bosom, and tells him to hang in there and not give up on being with the one he loves. She instills hope in Kirito.

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The next morning (after waking up in same bed as her), Kirito reflects on and affirms Suguha’s words of comfort and encouragement. And then he conveniently gets a message that leads him to the answer to all of his problems BUT THAT’S NOT IMPORTANT.

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*plot convenience inbound*

Just as Suguha brought love and warmth to Kirito when he needed it most and encouraged him to keep fighting, so too did my little sister comfort me when I needed it most. And since then, like Suguha, my little sister has always been my biggest cheerleader, encouraging me not to give up in my struggles to overcome myself. Oh, and now I’m finally going back to Notre Dame, I’ve finally finished clawing my way back up from rock bottom, and I was only able to do it because I had my little sister cheering for me all along the journey.

Screen Shot 2018-12-23 at 11.29.26 PMScreen Shot 2018-12-24 at 2.31.12 AM.pngI’m gonna be writing more about Suguha, since this isn’t as much about her character as it is about the projections of my own experiences onto this one scene in particular.

Socrates Meets Reki Kawahara (Part I)

Socrates: So, Kawahara-sama, I watched the anime adaptation of your legendary light novel series, Sword Art Online, and I must say, it was quite the fascinating experience.

Kawahara: Subbed or dubbed?

Socrates: Subbed, of course, Kawahara-sama. I might not be a master of high art like you, but I’m certainly no pleb. As I said, I was fascinated by the story you crafted, but, since I know nothing, especially with regards to literature and the art of crafting fiction, there are quite a few questions I have for you, regarding a variety of different aspects of this story which you crafted. Would you mind answering a few of them?

Kawahara: Of course not, buddy! And I’m glad you loved my story, I take a lot of pride in it.

Socrates: Really? I see… Well, before I get to those questions regarding Sword Art Online, Kawahara-sama, I have a question about you. I believe you’re familiar with the maxim, “give a woman a fish she eats for a day, teach a woman to fish, she eats for a lifetime.” Tell me, do you agree with that?

Kawahara: Absolutely, though I think I’ve heard it phrased, er, a bit differently. But yeah I totally believe that… Haha, I often like to say, “give a man a light novel, he eats for a day, teach a man to write a light novel (and it’s not very hard, trust me), he eats for a lifetime in his parents’ basement.” In fact, I made a point of making this idea a theme early on in Sword Art Online. In the first episode, our great hero, Kirito, teaches Klein (who is actually my favorite character, to be honest) how to play the game. Initially I was using it as an excuse to take care of some exhibition, but then I was like, let’s be all literary and shit and make this a theme! I’m sure you remember the scene, which was adapted in the second episode of the anime, where that one asshole interrupts the council held before they took on the first boss. He says that the Beta testers have to pay for allowing 2000 players to die because they went on ahead and left the noobs to fend for themselves. Then Egil comes in and reminds him about the strategy guide compiled by the Beta testers using all the information they had learned in the trial period. Everybody in SAO was given an opportunity to learn how to fish. There are other examples too, y’know, I actually really put my heart into this bit

Socrates: Truly brilliant, Kawahara-sama. I suppose that’s what you consider a theme, but I’ll have more questions about those later.

Kawahara: Woah woah woah, now that was definitely a bit sarcastic

Socrates: My whole point with bringing up the teaching-to-fish analogy is that it seemed to me, surely the lowest common denominator of your audience, that Kirito often distributed free fish. He has to fight Heathcliff to get Asuna vacation time. Isn’t she the vice commander? Wouldn’t it have better for her to learn to assert the authority that should accompany her position? Or does this guild take vacation time that seriously? It seemed out of character that she wouldn’t just be assertive on the basis of her position. Maybe my mind was just too feeble to accurately gauge your characterization of her up until that point.

Kawahara: Yeah yeah yeah, I’ve heard that a million times before, it was a way to get Kirito and Heathcliff to duel.

Socrates: Of course, what a fascinating way to push your story forward. I mean, I have more questions for you regarding that later. What about the dear loli? Even though Kirito warned her about the dangers, that didn’t keep her from getting tentacle groped on two separate occasions, or is it just that these poor women find themselves in these dilemmas regardless of the decisions they make?

Kawahara: Yeah, no, the situations these women find themselves in aren’t brought about by themselves, but, like, let me argue my case a bit, will you? It’s not just relegated to technical skills, the way the teaching-to-fish theme is applied in Sword Art Online. Kirito and Asuna’s relationship (y’know, the greatest love story ever told), is built upon the ways, you could say, that they taught each other to fish, right? Okay, so in the murder mystery vignette, it starts out with Asuna nagging Kirito…

Socrates: (As women are accustomed to do)

Kawahara: … because Kirito is slacking off while the rest of the front liners are working hard, but Kirito points out that it’s Aincrad’s nicest weather setting, so it’d be a waste to stay inside playing video games. Kirito teaches her to make the most out of her time in Aincrad. Asuna’s berserk focus on escaping was stressing her out so much that she was reaching her breaking point

Socrates: Was it? I hadn’t noticed, of course, as I mentioned, I am but merely the lowest common denominator of your audience. Technically speaking, with regards to screen time, there was only one scene with her between the end of the second episode and the scene you’re describing.

Kawahara: …Anyway, Kirito teaches Asuna to stop and smell the roses, and Asuna teaches Kirito that investing yourself in a relationship is worth the risk, right? I mean, he was never one to be social, but when he first tried it, well, it didn’t go that well, did it?

Socrates: I kind of thought Kirito kind of figured that out on his own, since he decided not to push her away, right?

Kawahara: Well, yeah, but I figured Kirito was willing to take the risk with Asuna because he knew she was strong…

Socrates: …Not as strong as Kirito…

Kawahara: Ha, of course not, but strong enough for him not to push against the kind of momentum their relationship was gaining after the murder mystery.

Socrates: So it’s better to invest yourself in relationships with people that are strong?

Kawahara: Well, I mean, at least in a death game, right? Just look at The Hunger Games! That being said, as cold as it sounds, I can’t say it’s the kind of principle I disagree with. Doesn’t it make more sense to ally yourself with somebody strong, strategically or romantically? Survival of the fittest, right?

Socrates: I mean, Kirito looked pretty emaciated at the end of the Aincrad arc, but I’ll give that to you.

Kawahara: Leafa recognized Kirito’s power and was quick to ally with him, despite him being “one of them (a race that exists only in the game)”

Socrates: What about Shinon?

Kawahara: Ah, good point, Kirito was able to seduce her by playing innocent and pretending to be a woman, but I think she helped him out ‘cause she saw a bit of herself in him.

Socrates: Anyway, back to the fish thing, I’m glad to hear you value that maxim, and your comment about how you so skillfully incorporated it into Sword Art Online actually transitions perfectly into my next question. Would you rather read a story about a character who is given a fish or a story about a character who learns or has learned how to fish? Which premise do you think would make for a more compelling story, Kawahara-sama?

Kawahara: Hmm, well, of course, as I’m sure you’ve already assumed, I would much rather read a story about a character that knows how to fish. I guess you could say that, for me, the key to making a great character is to make them a great fisherman, like Kirito is!

Socrates: I see; a great character must be a great fisherman. So then would learning to fish be what you consider character development, Kawahara-sama?

Kawahara: Character development? Ummm… yeah, well, I guess that fits pretty well with the whole metaphor, especially considering the examples I gave before regarding Kirito and Asuna… Wait, but it’s not like I can limit it to that, I mean, anything is possible in a story, right? The teaching-to-fish method is just one that I used quite a bit.

Socrates: As expected of your literary brilliance, Kawahara-sama, but I have a strong aversion to such open-ended answers as that one, y’know, they cause me to hurt myself in my confusion. There’s another anime light novel adaptation that I’ve watched and enjoyed, called Bakemonogatari. I think it might be able to give us some direction as we explore the idea of character development. Are you familiar with it?

Kawahara: Oh yeah, the Monogatari series is like my favorite harem anime… Lol, just kidding. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite anime, and definitely my favorite light novel series. I remember reading the first Monogatari novels as soon as they came out. I don’t know how Nisio Isin manages to write stories like those, where the characters feel so special and real. He’s actually quite a bit younger than me.

Socrates: I agree! Let me try to apply that show, at least its first five story arcs, to the fishing metaphor. Would you agree that in Monogatari, characters dealing with personal problems is the fishing?

Kawahara: Uhh, yeah, actually, well, not really in the case of the snail but I don’t know… Well, of course, I mean, that’s what Monogatari is all about, ain’t it? I guess since all of the apparitions are really just representations of whatever emotional baggage each character is dealing with, yeah, being able to deal with them would be like knowing how to fish. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Oshino’s mantra, “only you can save yourself, but I’ll lend you a hand” isn’t too different from the teaching-to-fish analogy we’ve been discussing. In Monogatari’s case it takes quite a bit of mental fortitude and humility for each character to actually go fishing. Nisio Isin really is fantastic, especially at writing great characters. Go on.

Socrates: So you’d say that character development in the Monogatari series is, like it is in Sword Art Online, when the characters “learn how to fish?”

Kawahara: Yeah, I’d say so, I think. Wait, no, but that… That’s way too specific, I mean, I’m not even sure that applies to Sword Art Online, to be honest, but we can run with that for the time being.

Socrates: Now, it may have very well gone right over my head, but how does that fit with Shinon’s character arc?

Kawahara: Lol, actually, now that you mention it, I’m reminded of the ending credits sequence from the Gun Gale Online arc.

Socrates: Oh yeah, I loved that, it was always my favorite part of the episode, and not just because it meant it was over.

Kawahara: Ouch. Anyway, that ED basically illustrates how Shinon taught herself to fish in that arc, right? Still, I don’t feel comfortable settling with that specific definition. I mean, this whole dialogue has gotten much messier than it was ever supposed to be.

Socrates: I agree, I was surprised with how poorly thought through my inquiries have been, it’s turned into more of an interview than a dialogue, really. Maybe we’ll do better in part two.

Kawahara: If there ever is a part two, I mean, does this writer ever not leave things half finished?

Socrates: Lol, good point. Anyway, back to the central question: what constitutes good character development? It may seem like a dumb question, but somebody asked the author to explain it the other day. What definition would apply to all the examples we’ve discussed from Monogatari and Sword Art Online?

Kawahara: I mean, character development, in my experience primarily as a consumer of stories, can be defined as a character changing over the course of a story or portion of a story while still being recognizable as the character they were established as in the beginning, but, I don’t know man, I’m just a light novel author. In my opinion, the characters and their development are the most fundamental substance of a story, especially in this genre, which is dominated by coming of age stories. Character development in light novels and in much of anime can really be understood as just growing up, y’know? Light Novels are written for angsty teens to read and escape reality while also affirming their way of viewing the world from which they seek to escape, so it’s not like there are many light novels that illustrate what it means to grow up… But what do I know, I was just minding my own business having fun writing light novels and shit, *sigh*. To the reader, I suppose I’ll see you in part 2, if it ever comes, I hope you were at least mildly entertained by this clusterfuck.