12 Days of Christmas Anime, Day 3: Sword Art Online, Death and Birth

Yo ho ho, piratical Christmas?! I’ve kind of made it a personal challenge as to how many posts I can write out of “Red Nosed Reindeer,” the third episode of Sword Art Online. (I believe this is my third.) This time, I want to explore the contrasting attitudes toward death displayed in the episode. Death and dying are, after all, pretty central this rather dark story.

You probably know this already, but if you aren’t familiar with the episode, I’ll summarize it for you. Trapped in a deadly virtual reality game, protagonist and self-proclaimed loner Kirito makes the uncharacteristic choice to join a party, the Black Cats. In the process, he builds a friendship with a girl named Sachi, and tries to help alleviate her fears of dying. I’m sure you can see where this is going. The group stumbles into a trap, and Kirito is the sole survivor (due to the fact that he was secretly at a much higher level than the rest of the party).

Sometime later, a guilt-ridden and traumatized Kirito learns of a special event boss set to appear on Christmas Eve. Defeating it will supposedly grant an item that can revive the dead. Kirito manages to solo the boss and obtain the special drop. Alas, the item has a restriction: it must be used within moments of a person’s in-game death. It’s far, far too late to save Sachi. But surprise, Kirito receives a voicemail from her, recorded in anticipation of her own death. Sachi predicts that she’ll die and that Kirito will blame himself, and encourages him not to do so and to keep on living.

I count at least five different perspectives on death in “Red Nosed Reindeer.” First, Sachi quite reasonably fears death and feels hopeless about it. Then there’s Kirito, who agrees that death as a bad thing, but one that he can prevent; he thinks he has that power to resist death, yet is proven horribly wrong. Keita, the erstwhile leader of the Black Cats, was absent when his friends were wiped out, but upon learning what happened from Kirito, he commits suicide; he seeks out death and brings it upon himself. Later, having failed to prevent death, we see Kirito try to reverse it; once again his efforts prove unsuccessful. Finally, we learn through her Christmas message that Sachi overcame her fear, at least to some degree, learning to accept that she was going to die, and instead showed concern for Kirito’s life.

Fearing death, striving to prevent death, seeking death, trying to undo death, and accepting death: These are all ways that we humans respond to the reality of death. While it’s more obvious to associate Christmas with birth, the manger can’t really be separated from the cross and the empty tomb. The Lord came in order to die. But not just to die. He came to defeat death.

“The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”

Matthew 4:16

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Hebrews 2:14-15

“For all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10:27

As the great Jedi master Yoda once said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” When it comes to avoiding or undoing death, we humans may have “tried,” but in terms of results, we “did not.” On our own, all we can really do is fear death, or seek it, or accept it. But because the Lord came in the flesh millennia ago and conquered death, we have another option. We can hope in the promised resurrection and join the chorus of triumphant mockery that cries out:

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

1 Cor. 15:55

This Christmas, by all means, give thought to the miracle of Jesus’ birth. But maybe, as well, give thought to death—and to the life that overcomes it.

Sword Art Online can be streamed on Crunchyroll.


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