SAO: Alicization Episode 10

SAO: Alicization Episode 10

Taboo Index

This week we actually got a good episode of Sword Art Online: Alicization, which is surprising, I know. However, there still some issues I had with the episode, and there’s a lot I want to discuss about it. So, this week there won’t be a summary of the episode, but instead a full-length discussion.

The main two topics of discussion for today are dark themes such as sexual assault and violence, and the artificial intelligence found within the Underworld program.

Goblin Slayer, Is That You?

Remember that time Goblin Slayer got thrown under the bus by the vocal minority after it was revealed to include scenes of rape? Well guess what series is able to do the same thing without any similar repercussions? If you guessed SAO, then you get a point.

This isn’t the first time SAO has included sexual violence such as rape, and it’s unlikely to be the last. The key difference here is that SAO fans don’t seem to see it as rape when it’s in this series, but when it’s in another, such as Goblin Slayer, suddenly it’s abhorrent.

But do you know what the real difference between rape in Goblin Slayer and SAO is? In Goblin Slayer it’s a major part of the world building and background for many of the characters while in SAO it serves to make the protagonist of the story seem like a hero.

These are two very different ways to use explicit content such as sexual violence, and it’s a shame to see that people think Goblin Slayer adds this content in for shock value while SAO doesn’t. In fact, neither series includes rape for shock value, although Goblin Slayer uses it in a way which could be misinterpreted as such.

So, let’s take a look at how these two series use this same taboo content in different ways.

As I mentioned, Goblin Slayer uses sexual violence as a part of its world building and character backgrounds. This means that it’s not merely there for shock value, but actually serves an important role for both the plot and characters. The series isn’t about sexual violence, it’s about the lasting damage done by it and the long road to recovery for survivors.

On the other hand, SAO uses sexual violence in a much simpler way, which is easily understood and therefore digestible for the casual viewer. The sexual assault in SAO doesn’t have to do with the plot, or even the motivations for certain characters, instead the only reason it’s there is to distinguish the “good guys” from the “bad guys.”

Goblin Slayer does this as well to an extent, but that’s more of a lesser way it uses these themes.

In this episode of SAO: Alicization specifically, we see that Raios and Humbert are the bad guys because they’re engaging in sexual assault (as if we didn’t already know they were the bad guys), and our heroes, Eugeo and Kirito, are the good guys because they see that rape is wrong.

The problem here is that we already know who the good and bad guys are, so since that’s really all this rape scene tells us, it’s simply not necessary. However, what I believe to be a bigger issue is that this sends mixed messages about views on rape.

On one hand, if the heroes are against rape, then rape must be bad. But, on the other hand, if the majority of people don’t see rape as a crime, then rape must be okay. I’m sure Reki Kawahara meant for the former interpretation to be used, but the way he writes these kinds of scenes is a bit messy.

Again, if we compare this to Goblin Slayer, we see that Goblin Slayer isn’t trying to make a point about whether or not rape is bad. Goblin Slayer already assumes we know rape is bad. Instead, it shows us the damage sexual violence causes to victims, and that’s a much better way to handle these sorts of topics.

Viewer Discretion Is Advised

Now, some of you may be thinking, “the reason there was such an outcry over Goblin Slayer is because it didn’t have an explicit content warning at the beginning, while SAO did.” And you know what? You’re right, it didn’t, although it does now.

But, the fact that this episode of SAO did have an explicit content warning is likely only due to the outcry Goblin Slayer received for not having one. If Goblin Slayer had aired next season instead of this season, it’s unlikely that this episode of SAO would have had that warning.

But, there are a few other things to take into consideration regarding explicit content and this episode of SAO. The first is that the warning at the beginning of the episode was only in regards to the sexual violence, not the physical violence, despite how graphic it was.

I’ve also seen complaints about the physical violence in the episode being censored, but I don’t believe this is the doing of any Western streaming service such as Crunchyroll. From what I saw, the only parts that were really censored were the bleeding stubs left after arms were cut off, and even these were barely censored.

As far as I can tell, this censoring was present in the original Japanese broadcast as well, and was likely because it would otherwise have been too graphic to show on TV. That said, if you’re looking for a completely uncensored version, you’ll have to wait until the Blu-ray release, and even that may be censored in the same way.

Finally, should series like SAO and Goblin Slayer even need explicit content warnings in the first place? The series air at 12am and 12:30am respectively in Japan, which are timeslots generally reserved for more adult content, so isn’t that enough of a warning for potential viewers?

Goblin Slayer is rated R-17+, so that should be enough of a warning on its own (although when the series premiered it was mistakenly labeled as PG-13). As for SAO, it’s actually rated PG-13, and so I do believe a warning like this should be included when necessary.

Artificial Intelligence

And, now, onto a different topic: artificial intelligence in SAO: Alicization. Specifically, what we learn about artificial intelligence in this week’s episode. The three main subtopics in this section will be Eugeo, the Taboo Index, and death.

Last week I discussed the social hierarchy found within the Underworld civilization and suggested that if a higher-ranked person were to tell a lower-ranked person something, they would have no choice but to take it as truth. In this episode we see this play out to one extreme with Raios and Eugeo.

Raios is a third-rank noble, and Eugeo is a commoner, so when Raios ordered Eugeo not to take another step and interfere with his “dealing out punishment” to the two girls, Eugeo had no choice but to obey, literally. Due to being commanded not to take another step, Eugeo found himself unable to move his legs.

However, we then see the effects of Kirito’s influence on Eugeo when he’s able to overcome and break free from this absolute order. When this happens, we see that Eugeo’s eye begins to act up just as it did at the beginning of the series. This seems to be some kind of seal which is what’s stopping the AI from breaking the taboo index willingly.

But, break the Taboo Index he does, and this seal along with it. Eugeo’s eye bursts and he’s suddenly free from the invisible shackles holding his body in place. Later on in the episode, Kirito and Eugeo’s teacher also mentions that Eugeo was able to shake off a bond she was unable to.

So is this seal inside an eye of all the AI? And if so, is this seal what forces them to follow the teachings of the Taboo Index absolutely?

The Taboo Index from the anime Sword Art Online: Alicization
The Taboo Index

Speaking of the Taboo Index, when it appears we learn something interesting about how it works, or at least potentially works. Before the being which appears in front of Kirito, Eugeo, and their disciples begins to speak, Kirito and Eugeo cover the ears of Ronie and Tiese so they won’t hear it.

I’m not sure exactly why whether someone hears the voice of the Taboo index or not would matter, but Kirito and Eugeo clearly seem to believe it does. Does this mean it works in the same way that verbal commands from nobles to commoners do? If you don’t hear the command or the Taboo Index, does that mean it doesn’t exist?

Finally, what summoned the Taboo Index this time around? It didn’t appear when Eugeo cut off Humbert’s arm, and it didn’t appear when Kirito cut off both of Raios’ arms. Instead, it only appeared after Raios died from blood loss. So does that mean it saw everything prior to that as legal?

Or, was it simply “called” to that location upon the death of Raios? We saw that when he died, it appeared as if he was glitching out. Could this be the reason the Taboo Index was summoned? Perhaps there was something else wrong with Raios’ death other than the fact that he was murdered.

Also, I’d just like to point out that for someone who has dedicated his life to preventing another tragedy in which people get stuck in a game and then die in real life when they’re killed, Kirito is surprisingly okay with killing other people within such a game. He doesn’t even seem to consider that Raios was actually another person.

Conclusion

So what are your thoughts on this week’s episode of Sword Art Online: Alicization? Do you think it deserves the same outrage Goblin Slayer got for depicting sexual violence? Do you think series like this need an explicit content warning? And, what are your thoughts on the Taboo Index? Let me know in the comments.

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My review of the next episode is available here.

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3 Replies to “SAO: Alicization Episode 10”

  1. Okay, I need to point this out because you are creating a falsehood here – that the attempt at rape was only there to determine the good guys from the bad guys, but that’s not true. What it actually is demonstrating is the problems within the seemingly utopian society and the way they follow the law.

    Raios and Humbert show that by law, their actions were completely legal no matter how amoral. It’s a major part of world building.

    It also serves a second importance – a catalyst to force Eugeo to break the seal and overcome the Taboo Index. As we saw from the first time it appeared, it takes a lot of mental strength to break that seal; it needed something extreme.

    Even further, the audience needs to recognize that feeling, and let’s face it, we’re desensitized to most violence. Plus – as a ln reader – that actually would not make sense in context to the story.

    The problem with Goblin Slayer in comparison is that…it’s really not about overcoming sexual assault. It’s overcoming being a witness to it. It was Fighter who was raped and she was dumped out of the story as “ruined” right after. We are dealing with the witness. The other problem is that the episode (and the manga really), make it titillating to the reader.

    SAO doesn’t question if rape is good or bad, it says its bad and shows why it’s bad. There’s never an instance of pleasure or giving in to it. It’s shown as this horrifying thing and those who do it are treated as worse than monsters.

    Which is also a big difference; the goblins in Goblin Slayer aren’t human. They aren’t treated as humans and can’t pretend to be human. They are, to put it simple, inhuman so their actions are also seen that way. Something comparable to more of a beast then anything else. The ones in SAO are humans or human like (the AI) so we view them as humans. With Alicization, the two are shown to even be worse then the goblins from episode 4, but in essence, Goblin Slayer shifts the blame off humanity by making it monsters that do it while SAO never pretends otherwise.

    So, why is SAO less controversial? The girls are saved, the two responsible don’t get off it, and it’s not shown to be something stimulating but horrifying from start to finish.

    1. There are two main points you bring up which I want to touch on. The first is the idea that sexual violence in SAO is world building, and the second is that Goblin Slayer is about overcoming the act of witnessing sexual violence.

      I completely understand that the attempted rape of the two girls in SAO is depicting the difference between how the society is supposed to work and how it actually works, but my point is that the attempted rape itself adds nothing to this. For example, the crime Humbert and Raios were committing could have easily been anything else, including standard, physical torture.

      The fact that sexual assault was used isn’t in and of itself meaningful for the plot, which is why I bring up the question of whether or not SAO should garner the same response as Goblin Slayer.

      As for Goblin Slayer, it’s true that some characters, such as Goblin Slayer himself, are not sexual assault survivors, but rather witnesses. However, since I’ve already covered this in detail in posts for that series, I wasn’t planning to go too in depth with exactly how it serves to depict the post-assault struggle in this post.

      There are a couple different ways in which Goblin Slayer tackles the theme of sexual assault. The first, and most tragic, are those who never recover from their ordeal such as Fighter who you brought up. She, and those like her, are the survivors whose stories are never told because they don’t have the happy ending we as a society like to think all survivors get. To this end, the small part she plays may be the most important.

      Next up we have the assault survivors who are continuously struggling to reclaim their lives, such as Sword Maiden. Sword Maiden hasn’t let her assault completely destroy her life, but at the same time her life will never be the same. Although she was attacked at 16, she’s still terrified of goblins to this day even though she’s now strong enough to defeat them physically. Her story, and those like hers, show the mental (and physical in the case of her blindness) effects of assault.

      Finally, we have the kind of survivor you were likely talking about as “the witness” survivor, although this isn’t quite right. While characters such as Goblin Slayer certainly witnessed the horrors of sexual assault, what they’re really there to depict is how the damage of these assaults spreads throughout a community. No, he wasn’t assaulted, but the assault of his sister left a lasting impression on him, and through him it leaves lasting impressions on all those he meets.

      This final type of survivor demonstrates how the damage from sexual assault doesn’t stop at the victim.

      So, hopefully I’ve cleared a few things up for you. And, to be fair, I don’t believe I said that SAO should have gotten the same outrage as Goblin Slayer, I just point out that it didn’t. Instead, I believe Goblin Slayer should have gotten less outrage, and I used SAO as an example.

  2. Physical torture cannot be done. There’s a very good reason for this – it is illegal in the taboo index to decrease another person’s life. It is why Humbert could not give up his band to heal Raios and why it broke Raios fluctlight wanting it so. The taboo index is designed a certain way on purpose that has been shown yet, which is why I think you are jumping the gun here because you don’t have full context of the story yet.

    As for Goblin Slayer, it does not show recovery. It shows post-assault but the Shield Maiden is already “recovered” as much as could be expected. She’s mentally and physically scarred, and she knows the consequences of goblins but she’s able to live her life as she chooses. She’s past the initial horror and already moving on. We skipped the recovery bits.

    The one that could we see go through the trauma and recovery is Fighter and she’s thrown to the wayside like all of the other girls raped in this story. Shield Maiden is an outlier to the story. Well, her and one other character but both are moved past it status.

    And, you shouldn’t knock it being world building in SAO when you said it was used as such in Goblin Slayer in your post. Especially when the world building is…goblins bad and needs to die in Goblin Slayer. It takes several episodes for most of the problems – goblins being low priority in Adventurer Guilds for instance – to come fully to light. It took several episode before the Shield Maiden appeared while the rape happened episode 1.

    But, seriously, Goblin Slayer so far is “humans good, monsters bad” type story. It creates a very them vs us scenario. SAO on the other hand doesn’t shy away from the human vermin – Raios and Humbert are even shown to be worse then the goblins from episode 4. So, I like SAO much more because of this; ultimately the final foe to deal with in SAO has so far always been other humans, not some sort of monster we can disassociate ourselves from.

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