Another week, another episode of Sword Art Online—and it looks like this time, the pace has really picked up quite a bit. We’ve jumped a full four months ahead in time, and the rate at which the players are clearing floors has increased exponentially; while it isn’t directly stated during the episode what floor Kirito himself is up to, we see him (and others) up as high as the forty-ninth. Considering that a full three-fourths of the season is still ahead of us, it’s somewhat bothersome that the players have already extended this far into the game. It’s never been questioned that the higher floors would likely see more heavy a focus—but this appears to be stretching things a bit.
Regardless, things are what they will be on that front, and episode three finds Kirito sandbagging his way along with a lower-level guild in the hopes of protecting them. For the most part, they’re successful and rather happy with their lot in virtual-life; one member, however, breaks the mold in that regard. Sachi, the only female member of the group and the one currently training to be their front-line fighter—a position which requires a good deal of confidence and trust, and she’s rather lacking in both areas. Throughout the first half of the episode, she expresses her fears of death and of living with the fear of death every single day to Kirito, who always tries his hardest to assure her that she’s protected, that it’s okay, that they’ll make it out alive. But as we find out in the closing moments of the episode, he never succeeded—she never tamed her fear.
The question that needs answering here is a simple why—why, when she was so constantly surrounded by happiness, success, and strength (from both sides of the fence) was she so crippled by her fear? Why was she so unable to shake her fear of death and an inescapable fate, with so many friends—most of whom she knew from the real world—to lean on?
The answer comes in two parts, and I really couldn’t tell you which one is sadder.
The first half of the answer is a quality of hers that I would actually qualify as a strength—more specifically, one which nearly no one else in the world of Aincrad possesses. Amidst this virtual world of artificial strength and fabricated glory—more directly, amidst the Midnight Black Cat guild itself—Sachi was the only one who understood that it was fake. She could actually see the futility in its obtainment when no one else could; the terrible thing about it is the fact that, despite being one of a handful of players smart enough to understand this, it in no way helped her get ahead or even stay alive in Sword Art Online.
There are a number of direct examples we can look to for evidence of her capacity to see what others could not; the first comes rather early in the episode, during the guild’s discussion of what to do with their hard-earned cash. One of the most popular suggestions is to deck Sachi out in some fancy new equipment—an offer which she immediately turns down, wearing a nervous but grateful smile as she does so. To counter the potential for her just not wanting to be greedy, after another guild member points out that she doesn’t have to feel selfish for accepting, she offers up only a quick “Gomen ne…” as a further deflection. For our second piece of evidence, we can look at the treasure room-booby trap scene (though the fewer times I have to watch it, the better; I consider at least parts of it well-animated and morbidly dramatic)—more specifically, the fact that, aside from Kirito, Sachi is the only one who doesn’t rush the treasure room.
The last bit of evidence for Sachi’s understanding of the futility of in-game power is something only revealed to us at the end of the episode. From rather early on, she knew Kirito was a Beater, and she knew how strong he really was—and she’s the only character thus far we haven’t seen react maliciously to this realization. Why? Because she doesn’t think it matters much at all. After all, why get mad at someone for not using their strength to help you if you don’t think it really makes them stronger at all?
While it’s already been mentioned that that first aspect of Sachi’s character obviously didn’t up her chances of surviving Aincrad much at all, it only really becomes clear how it added to her crippling fear when combined with the second half of the answer:
In addition to recognizing the futility of the artificial strength the world so readily offers, Sachi was also unable to see the edge offered to the human players through their human identities and their connections to one another. In short, to Sachi, there was literally no hope of the players of Sword Art Online ever escaping their death sentence.
Going back once more to the very last scene of the episode scores us evidence numero uno: on top of not caring about Kirito’s status as a Beater, Sachi is incapable of comprehending why he stayed to protect them. Out of the entire guild, she was the only one who was never happy with their success; they would work together to accomplish something, and she would never really celebrate. While she was, at times, happy to be with her friends, she could never feel safe among them. She could never be their front-line fighter, because she didn’t have confidence that the people behind her would watch her back—perhaps more importantly, she didn’t have confidence that she herself could accomplish something.
It’s mentioned at one point during the episode that the entire guild is comprised of members of their school club—but Sachi herself never mentions it. In fact, she never mentions anything about her identity back in the real world, despite her character having a heavy focus in the episode. She questions why ‘a girl like her’ was thrown into the world several times—and always with adjectives like ‘small’ or ‘weak’ affixed to the front. Instead of feeling larger, more substantial, than the artificial world in which she’s trapped, she feels piteously small and helpless. Even amidst reminders of the world outside her cage, Sachi tried so hard to run from her fear that she cast off the weight of her own identity—and ended up dooming herself to that very same fear by doing so.
While he very obviously hasn’t kicked the bucket yet, Kirito’s still had to endure a great deal in his time in Sword Art Online thus far. In episode three, we can see the beginnings of his coming-to-terms with the necessity for working together with other players; they all ended up dying, which is a bit of a set-back on that front, but at least he’s learning to care. And their deaths weren’t directly his fault, either; most of them fell to the lust for power that we’ve already covered as being a death sentence, and the last for reasons explained above. It’s a pretty rough gauntlet of suffering and loss he has to run, but I’m looking forward to the protective-and-caring-yet-utterly-badass killer that I predict will emerge as a result.