Personal Justice and Law in Sword Art Online: Alicization

Today’s guest post is from a longtime friend of the blog, Micah. A former anime blogger for Otaku Collision, Micah is an aspiring writer from Tennessee who has a passion for fiction and storytelling. He also enjoys listening to Kendrick Lamar, playing Pokemon, and doing both at the same time.

Sword Art Online fans were stunned when the third season of the anime, Alicization, depicted an intense, graphic rape scene in episode ten. The series has previously introduced the ongoing abuse of lead protagonist Asuna in the Fairy Dance arc, but nobody was prepared for what was to come. Limbs were dismembered, blood was everywhere, and two young girls were left clutching Kirito and Eugeo for safety. My jaw dropped to the floor, my body convulsed violently, and my heart pounded a million miles an hour. Although the scene itself was the focus of the episode, I could not help but also notice the philosophical, intellectual discussion held in the background. Sword Art Online Alicization, through the sexual abuse of Frenica, Tiese, and Ronie, dives into questions of morality and law, which closely mirror what the Bible says regarding these subjects. God’s law, written on the tablet of our hearts, is the source of true justice and is found ultimately in the sacrifice and love of Jesus on the cross.

Rewinding back to episode nine, Kirito, Eugeo, Tiese, and Ronie are meeting together on their day of rest from swordsmanship and academy life to enjoy a picnic outdoors. Of course, Eugeo has to drag his absent-minded partner to the outing, seeing that he tends to forget about his page. As they relax and unwind together, Tiese nervously introduces a conversation she knows she needs to have but hesitates at first: Second-Seat Elite Disciple Humbert Zizek ordered his page, Frenica, to massage his naked body while taking a bath and to do it stripped down in her underwear.

Because of his authority as her personal mentor, Humbert can demand these demeaning acts and continue to sexually abuse her without breaking any school rules. Tiese is horrified that a man of nobility would take advantage of his power and use it to gratify his own lusts; Ronie wipes the tears from her friend’s eyes. After unsettled silence, Kirito expresses his personal beliefs about law and justice:

”After all, there are things you shouldn’t do, even if it’s not forbidden by law, and on the other hand there might be things you should do, even if they are forbidden by law.”

Kirito understands that the actions done by Humbert were permissible according to school rules and the Taboo Index, but something still made those actions wrong, even if they never broke any written code. Similarly, he expresses that morally upright actions can contradict the law. In both scenarios, Kirito is appealing to a “deeper sense of justice”, morality which transcends a written code. When Humbert gets away with sexually harassing his page, something inside of Kirito is flared up, something that tells him that wrongdoing is being done, something that tells him he must do something. Ronie dialogues with Kirito regarding the Taboo Index, the governing law of Sword Art Online Alicization, and probes the audience closer to the idea of “a deeper sense of justice”.

”There are important morals that aren’t described in the Taboo Index. In other words, your own personal justice, right? Rather than simply obeying laws, you need to consider why those laws exist. Compare it with justice and reflect. Perhaps it’s more important to critically think about it rather than simply obey.”

Unlike popular culture, personal justice, in this context, does not refer to one’s subjective morals. Personal justice is one’s conscience impressing objective moral principles; it is the feeling one receives when one knows something is morally right or morally wrong. As Ronie alludes to, there is a “personal justice” which all people share, and guides all people in decision-making. Although specific moral instances can vary, general moral principles are shared. Finally, this kind of morality is not far out of reach: one needs only to reflect and meditate. It only took Kirito a few seconds of consideration and deliberation to understand that actions committed by Humbert were wrong and that the laws of the soul translator were skewed.

The fundamentally human trait of “a deeper sense of justice” is also expressed in episode ten. Eugeo hears a knock on his door after academy hours; it is Frenica. She apologizes for visiting at an inappropriate hour, but could not help herself because her two dorm mates, Tiese and Ronie, had not returned home yet. They had confronted Lord Humbert and his academic peer, Lord Raios, directly on her behalf to tell him to leave their friend alone. Sensing immediate danger of the girls, Eugeo rushes out of his dorm, sword at his side, and arrives at the nobles’ room. Demanding the whereabouts of his and Kirito’s pages, Lord Raios and Humbert usher him into their bedroom, revealing the girls tied down by ropes onto a large bed. According to Lord Raios, they had “falsely accused” Humbert of sexually abusing Frenica and, as punishment, they were to be raped, again, passing the standard of school and government laws. When a member of a noble family is rank higher to another, they are able to bypass regular laws and create their own, which allows the rape of the girls to be permissible.

“Regarding all punishment, higher law takes precedence.” (Academy rules)

Again, Sword Art Online Alicization introduces another scenario where actions committed are not technically wrong, but a law within ourselves is violated. When Eugeo was forced to watch the rape of his dear page, the girl who he had spent personal time training and who asked him to be her husband, and had no legal way to stop it, his entire being was disturbed. Personal justice led Eugeo to do what the creators of the soul translator never thought possible: he violated the Taboo Index and swung his sword at Lord Raios and Lord Humbert, killing the first and dismembering the latter. Something inside of his being led a native Fluctlight to do what only humans could do.

The Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Roman church in 58 AD, shares many of the same views of personal justice and law as the anime characters of Sword Art Online Alicization. The book of Romans, in the second chapter, digs into the relationship between God’s law and Gentiles (non-Jews). Originally, only the Jewish people were given God’s moral standards through the Law and Ten Commandments, but Paul argues that even those who have never known God attest to His instructions. He explains to his audience that the Holy Spirit impresses upon the hearts of people when they do something right and when they do something wrong. In the words of Ronie, God’s law and personal justice are one in the same. The gut-wrenching conviction Eugeo had that the rape of the two young girls by Lord Humbert and Raios was actually tangible proof of God’s moral law.

“Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.” (Romans 2:14-15, NLT)

This means that for regular otaku and people alike, they too have God’s law written in their hearts just like Kirito and Eugeo. They witness good and evil on a daily basis, whether as dramatic as rape or as small as telling a white lie, and become aware of its moral direction. They too are forced to make a choice: whether to stand up for what is right or fall prey to what is wrong. Kirito and Eugeo refused to allow Frenica to spend her days at the academy being the slave of Humbert, massaging his naked body and stripping her clothes off at his command. Despite what the Taboo Index or the school rules deemed permissible, they knew what justice was and they were willing to sacrifice everything to protect her. As otaku look to anime characters to find traits to adopt and model themselves after, they should especially look to Kirito and Eugeo’s example in every circumstance of life, doing what is right and abhorring what is evil.

As it is apparent in episode nine and ten, written codes of right and wrong can easily be manipulated when they become sterile codes of what to do and what not to do. Humbert and Raios had no desire for justice, but rather to exploit it. They used loopholes of politics and maneuverings of social class to commit heinous evil, although seen as permissible according to the Taboo Index and the school rules. Laws are no respecter of persons and can be cruel to the innocent simply by technicalities if taken advantage of.

However, God had something much greater in mind when He died on a wooden cross more than 2000 years ago. He envisioned a world where justice was more than standards and regulations. Rather, He desired that people would see His gruesome sacrifice and be led in their hearts to follow personal justice. They would see His nail-pierced hands reaching out to save them from their sin and they would want to reach out to others with the same care. Ultimately, all of God’s laws and personal justice can be summed up in one single word: love. Protecting the innocent, upholding justice, telling the truth, speaking encouragement, giving generously, caring for one another, and many other morals all seek to love. One experiences the supernatural love of God through His son and they would be compelled to love Him and others. This is the message Christ came to give otaku and this is the message He wants otaku to find identity and life in. This is what true personal justice and law are.

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.’ These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. (Romans 13:8-10, NLT)

Overall, the rape scene in Sword Art Online Alicization and the events leading up to it speak volumes toward the perspective of the Bible in regards to morality and law. The sexual abuse of Frenica, Tiese, and Ronie prove the moral and political corruption of the written codes in the academy, but these only make way for men like Kirito and Eugeo to stand up for personal justice and what they know in their hearts to be right. Let otaku be a people who stand up for what is right and follow the convictions of their hearts, those who love their neighbors well because they have been loved fully by Jesus.

Sword Art Online: Alicization can be streamed on Crunchyroll.

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