[June 2019 OWLS] Sword Art Online/Alternative – Digital faces for the vulnerable


In the month of June, we will be discussing what it means to be vulnerable. To some individuals, being vulnerable could be seen as a sign of weakness, but in fact, vulnerability is actually a sign of strength. In this month’s posts, we will explore what it means to be vulnerable and how certain characters in pop culture glamorize vulnerability. When do we show our vulnerability? How do we express vulnerability? Why should we show vulnerability? These are questions that we will be discussing in our posts featuring characters that show vulnerability and/or sensitivity and what we can learn from them or even our own personal stories

*May contain spoilers to the anime Sword Art Online

Also please check out Ange’s post on vulnerable in the anime The Rose of Versailles.

We all wear masks


You probably seen this before in social media; Facebook, MySpace, Twitter you name it, there’s always that one person who shared this picture. I am not sure who came up with this quote, but this is quote image we can all learn and mediate. In a funny way, we do have a mask/face whenever we interact with people. The one face I want to talk about is the third mask, our truest reflection. This is a face we don’t share to anyone, but it is what makes us ourselves. It can be hard to see this mask in public unless you really know someone personally and know of them. These people don’t usually share this face in public because they might carry a secret that they don’t want anyone to know, but ironically, they secretly want to so they embrace themselves. Reason why people hide and wear the first two faces is because they don’t want to get heavily judged by society and peers. However, in the internet or any other electrical outlet like video games, people are free to be them. Mostly common, social media is a place where people express themselves without restraint; however, depending on the audience, some may not like politics. You probably seen this before such as people coming out of the closet, showing support for someone or a brand, or even in the deepest part of the rabbit hole and you will see people struggling with internal feelings like depression and anxiety. To add on to the comment where I mentioned people hide their secrets, people doesn’t want to reveal everything to others because it also means they are exposing themselves to the world their true selves. Secrets that are mishandled can lead to people harassing others or departing them away from their life. In a way, we want to show that third face, but we are afraid to get hurt by people after they learn about us. This is why people would rather wear the first two masks for comfort and avoid to getting hurt.

In this post, I want to talk about an anime that deals with vulnerability. I will be using both Sword Art Online anime: Sword Art Online (I, II, possibly Alicization?) and the spinoff series Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online.

Sword Art Online


  • author: Reki Kawahara
  • Ilustrator: abec
  • light novel publication: April 2009 (Webnovel began in 2002-2008)
  • anime adaption: July 2012

The anime Sword Art Online is a series that is currently split into three acts in which it focuses on Kirito and his friends in VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). In the first season, the story begins with Kirito as he joins the first day of a new video game Sword Art Online. However, the first day of the new game becomes a day of dread when the creator of game removes the log off button in the game which prevents gamers of leaving SAO To make matters worse, unless the game gets completed, everyone is trapped and if they are killed in the game, they are dead for real. As the story progresses in the series, Kirito makes new friends and even finds love and gets married in the game to a girl named Asuna Yuuki. Kirito has had many adventures in the virtual reality world whether he is in a fairy world game, shooting game or even a fantasy simulation world.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online


  • author: Keiichi Sigsawa
  • Illustrator:  Kouhaku Kurobosh
  • light novel publication: December 2014
  • anime: April 2018

Based on the second season of Sword Art Online, there is widely popular VR game where players can play and shoot in a battle royale style gaming experience. This game is called Gun Gale Online. The story begins with a university student named Karen Kohiruimaki who is a shy girl who is also insecure of her incredible height. To help sooth her insecurity, Karen jumps into the game Gun Gale Online where she can play with her avatar named Llenn who is described as very small and cute girl. In a way similar to Sinon (a girl who plays GGO to help cope with the fear of guns from SAOII), Llenn plays GGO in order to feel happy about being small and not be judged by her real life height. Her story begins when she meets a female gamer Pitohui who takes an interest on her. While the two have fun playing online, the two make a deal that if Llenn can defeat Pitohui in Squad Jam (a battle royale tournament), they will agree to meet each other in person.

Now that I covered both series’ synopsis, we can now get to the main point of the post.

Underneath the digital armor lies a human

Kirito – The Black Swordsman/The lonely gamer

See the source image

See the source image

If you watched Sword Art Online or at least heard of it, you might already know who is Kirito. Kirito is the main protagonist of the series and he is occasionally, the hero in the story arcs. He saved the survivors of Sword Art Online after being trapped for nearly two years. He saved Asuna from being forced to marry a creepy video game entrepreneur. He helped stop a serial killer in a video game and saved Sinon from an obsessed stalker. He even literally fought to and retrieve everyone’s memories from a game that was siphoning their memories of Sword Art Online. In the world of gaming, Kirito is the strongest gamer who’s always ready to fight and take challenges. When a game becomes deadlier than a Russian Roulette game, Kirito will risk his life to save lives.

However, this is only the surface of Kirito’s character and underneath his heroic avatar, is regular gamer Kazuto Kirigaya. In the real world, Kazuto is not very social and spends his free time on the computer and playing games. Even before the series began, it’s not mentioned he had any friends to begin with. He lives with his cousin who acts like a sister, but he distant himself away from her. Even in the games he is in, he pretty collective. During the events of the Sword Art Online incident, he did try to part in guild and even parties; unfortunately, things haven’t been easy for Kirito. One of the most infamous moments is when he joined the Moonlit Black Cats guild and his mistake of being collective led to the deaths of his guild. Ever since he witnessed the deaths, he blamed himself and promised to never be part of a guild; it wasn’t until he changed that when he met Asuna. After spending two years in Sword Art Online, Kazuto changed and all the friends he met online, he became a better person. He got to hang out and be social and find love in Asuna.

Asuna – The Flash/The oppressed beauty

See the source image

Just like Kirito, Asuna is another strong gamer who helped everyone escape from Sword Art Online. In the anime, she made an appearance in the second episode where teams up with Kirito and joins in the first dungeon boss fight. However, the episode, Kirito left Asuna for his own quest leaving Asuna alone. It wasn’t until later in the series that Asuna broke through Kirito’s stubbornness and convinced him that she wants to join him in his adventures. As these two got close together, Asuna felt in peace during the years being trapped in SAO and fell in love with Kirito and these two raised a child named Yui. Underneath that elite title, she is caring girlfriend/wife and a loving mother.

In the real world, she doesn’t appear like her avatar. Asuna was raised in a rich family. Her dad owns the company RECT Inc. where they developed the AmuSphere and took control over the Sword Art Online servers after the original company went bankrupt. Asuna’s mother, unlike the father, is pretty stern and cold based on her behavior. It’s revealed in the Mother’s Rosario Arc (the third/last arc in SAOII) that she wants to be in control over Asuna’s life. For example, she wants Asuna to leave public school and go to a private all girl school to advance in her education and she wants her to marry a rich and educated boy instead of Kirito. She wants Asuna to live a rich and successful life in her own eyes. As viewers can see, even though Asuna had freedom in the game and she was very strong, in real-life, she felt oppressed and unhappy.

Llenn – The Pink Devil/The shy giant

See the source image

See the source image

In a different game with different gamers, we have Karen Kohiruimaki. In Gun Gale Online, gamers in all shape and size and boy and girl compete to see who is the best sharpshooter. Out of these gamers, we have the adorable and dangerous gamer named Llenn. Despite her short stature, she is very dangerous with her submachine gun P90. In the battlefield, she is very fast and thanks to her size, she can take cover anywhere such as a small boulder or even a dead body. She is pretty much like Shadow the Hedgehog excluding the edgy personality and plus the cuteness. She may sound cute, but she means business and she is a fighter with her knives. She is so dangerous that gamers online call her the Pink Devil because of her size and the kills she did when defeating squads.

Despite being the tiny killer, she is actually shy, insecure tall girl. Karen is a typical university student who goes through life feeling uncomfortable due to her height. According to the wiki, she’s approximately 6 ft tall. In her eyes, she stands out in public and this makes her not want the attention. In the VR games she tried, her avatar refe;ected her height and this caused her grief knowing that even in a virtual world, she can’t escape from her realistic body. However, in Gun Gale Online, her avatar did the opposite and a tiny body in which players purposely ignored her. In result to the avatar size, she happy and content for less attention.

Vulnerable – Hiding in Technology

See the source image

See the source image

See the source image

What does a lonely gamer, oppressed beauty and a shy giant have in common? Both these gamers are tough online, but in real life, they are just regular people. When thinking about vulnerability, we think how people are afraid to stand out without getting criticized or attacked by people. Some people hide away in the shadows and refuses to leave the comforts of their own domain. Before SAO, Kazuto was just a gamer who spent hours on the computer and locked up in his room. Asuna had a sheltered life where she didn’t get the chance to express her feelings and felt like there was nothing she can do stand up for herself. Before she learned about gaming, Karen was someone who didn’t like herself because her appearance and avoid talking to people in regards her size. With the power of technology, these people escaped to the virtual world and became what they wanted to be. Kazuto became a powerful gamer who also became a hero to trapped victims. Asuna was free to be whoever she wanted and people treated her the way she wanted to be, just a gamer and nothing more or less. Karen became Llenn and she got famous in Gun Gale Online not just because of her appearance but her impressive kill-death scores in gaming. However, just because they found their source of strength, it doesn’t mean they are still vulnerable in the real world; as a matter of fact, it makes them stronger. Not only technology has helped them cope with their flaws, but it also helps bring other vulnerable together to make a invulnerable bond. During the events of SAO, Kirito learned that being alone doesn’t guarantee victory in a life and death game and Asuna learned that there is more than just focusing on one goal and how it is okay to have feelings and meet people without following protocol. Kirito went out of his comfort zone and learned to trust others; his friends gave encouragement and gave him strength to save the thousands of trapped victims. Asuna learned to have an independent life without her parents watching over her and she chose her own destiny. After the events with SAO and ALO, she challenged her parents authority and fought her Independence in real life. Llenn learned that regardless of appearance, what matters most in video games is a person’s character and they interact with each other. Thanks to GGO, Llenn met new friends such as Pitohoui, M and the members of SHINC. Appearances doesn’t matter in video games, what matters most is how skilled you are.

Conclusion – We are not invincible, but we’re not weak!


What can we learn about Sword Art Online and Sword Art Online Alternative? Should we hide our true selves in the internet? There’s no straight answer but I want give you this piece of thought. It’s okay to feel vulnerable. We are not invincible, but we shouldn’t have to live in fear and deny ourselves. Admitting yourself that you are not perfect is one step to living a better life. Kazuto is the perfect protagonist and neither is Asuna or Llenn. Kazuto got strong and confident in gaming because he wanted to be there and save the ones he cares about. He stayed inclusive in his shell, everyone in Sword Art Online would have died. If Asuna went back to obeying to her parents, everything she spent time with Kazuto, Yui and everyone else would be meaningless; she might as well be trapped in SAO. If Llenn lived her life feeling bothered by her appearance, she would have a rough time talking to people in both GGO and real life. She stepped out of her shell and all she wanted was to face her rival Pitohoui face to face. Overall, what I am trying to say is this: admit that you are vulnerable, but you can always make yourself strong in your weakness. Everyone is different. That third face you have hidden, should be revealed. If your friends, family and the world accepts your third face, you won’t need the two faces. You just need one face, the true self.

I hope you liked this post. Tomorrow is Karandai’s post! GO show your support!

7 thoughts on “[June 2019 OWLS] Sword Art Online/Alternative – Digital faces for the vulnerable

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