12 Days of Christmas Anime, Day 5: Sword Art Online

Because I’m a hopeless SAO fanboy, I’m writing about Sword Art Online‘s Christmas episode…again. I did so last year, and others have done the same three and five years ago. But I couldn’t let the chance to write more about SAO slip past me. To recap: In the third episode, “Red Nosed Reindeer,” Kirito joins a guild of lower-level players, only to witness them die in an ambush. The following Christmas Eve, chasing rumors of a unique revival item, Kirito tracks down and defeats an axe-wielding Santa boss, only to suffer bitter disappointment upon learning that the resurrection item only works within ten seconds of death. Finally, Kirito receives a message from his late friend Sachi (made before she died), urging him not to blame himself for her death.

In the first part of the episode (before the Black Cats guild gets its TPK), Kirito and Sachi have an important conversation. She asks “Why?” Why can’t they leave SAO? Why do they have to die? What’s the point of it all? These are common questions we all face. One doesn’t need to be stuck in a VR deathtrap to struggle with the problem of death, or to wonder “What’s the point of everything?” As a certain fantasy novel I read many years ago put it, no one gets out of life alive. Sooner or later, we must all wrestle with these big “Why?” questions about suffering, death, and meaning. Coming back to the episode, Kirito has no answers for Sachi, and responds “I don’t think there is a point.” But he’s wrong, as Sachi herself goes on to indicate.

Moving on the to the second part of the episode, after the heartbreak of obtaining the time-restricted resurrection item, Kirito gives it to his friend Klein. As Kirito walks away dejected, a tearful Klein begs him to go on living. “You have to survive! Survive until the end, please…” Later that night, Kirito wakes up to a prerecorded message from none other than the late Sachi. She foresaw that she’d probably die and that Kirito would probably feel responsible, and thus prepared this message to encourage him. Her plea is similar to Klein’s, though it adds something significant: “So even if I die, you keep living, okay? Live to see the end of this world, and to see why it was born… The reason why a weak girl like me ended up here… And the reason you and I met.” Sachi’s message serves as a tragic contrast to Keita, the one member of the Black Cats who wasn’t present for the massacre: Upon learning what happened, he blames Kirito for everything and then commits suicide.

There are two important points here. First, Sachi, like Klein, urges Kirito to not give up. Second, she affirms that there is meaning to their experiences. There is a reason these things happen, even if they don’t know what it is right now. This provides a motivation to keep enduring until the end, when they’ll get answers. Sachi shows that surviving has a goal bigger than just, “Don’t die for the sake of not dying.” She’s not urging Kirito to live on merely out of fear of death, or stubborn resistance to Kayaba’s scheme, or some other equally trivial reason.  Eventually there will be an “end of this world,” and much that for now is incomprehensible will make more sense. There is a point, and that knowledge should help Kirito, and us, persevere.

This brings us to Advent—which, technically, isn’t precisely the same thing as Christmas, but the two are inseparably intertwined. Advent, the weeks prior to Christmas, places a lot of focus on waiting. Advent encourages us to look back to ancient Jews, enduring one pagan empire after another, waiting hundreds years for the messiah God had promised. It was a time without answers, a time of divine silence, with a gap of around 400 years between the last of the Old Testament prophets and the coming of the messiah.

And Advent highlights the fact that we are waiting, too. While the ancient Jews awaited the first coming of Jesus, we await the Lord’s second coming. Moreover, we likewise wait with no answers to our “why” questions. It’s been around 1900 years since the last book of the New Testament was written, so from our point of view, God has been “silent” for nearly five times as long as what the ancient Jews endured. We’re still waiting, which is why we’re still observing Advent.

There are many ways to describe what we’re doing. Klein’s “Survive until the end,” and Sachi’s “Keep living,” are just lines from a great anime. But the Holy Spirit offers strikingly similar exhortations:

“Wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7)

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9)

“Endure suffering” (2 Timothy 4:5)

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7)

“Be faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10)

Amid trials and unanswered questions, we’re awaiting “the end of this world” that Sachi mentioned. Advent, and Sachi, encourage us to keep fighting. At our Lord’s return, we’ll learn the meaning of whatever might seem for now to be pointless suffering, and we’ll receive healing, comfort, and reward. That’s what we’re waiting for. That’s why we can do as Sachi says and “Keep living.”

Sword Art Online can be streamed through Crunchyroll.

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