For many, myself included, the death of a certain character is the most emotionally devastating moment in the entire franchise. Yet, in the games this death never comes to pass. But how is that possible? I had series producer Yosuke Futami explain it to me.
[This article contains major spoilers for both the Sword Art Online II anime and the Sword Art Online: Lost Song video game.]
Mother’s Rosario, the last mini-arc of 2015 anime Sword Art Online II follows the series’ main heroine Asuna as she befriends Yuuki, a mysterious young girl whose prowess with a blade is even greater than Kirito’s. As the relationship between the two grows, the younger girl panics and disappears, prompting Asuna to uncover the painful secret that prevents Yuuki from wanting to form meaningful friendships: Yuuki is hospitalized in a clean room, dying of AIDS.
Even in the future world of Sword Art Online, AIDS has no cure and, just as Yuuki’s finally starting to really live for the first time in years, she succumbs to her illness. It is easily the most heartbreaking moment of the entire anime.
The game series, on the other hand, exists in an alternate reality to the anime series–one where Kirito and his friends spend several extra months trapped inside the Sword Art Online death game. This one change creates a reality both wildly different and eerily similar.
As if by fate, many of the characters from the anime find themselves drawn together in the video games as well. This, of course, includes Yuuki and Asuna. The events of Sword Art Online: Lost Song mirror those of Mother’s Rosario when it comes to the pair’s relationship–with Yuuki running away from Asuna and Asuna eventually discovering Yuuki’s secret.
Yet, when Yuuki’s time comes, we are greeted with a surprise: the virus has apparently weakened and her condition has become more stable. In other words, while she still can’t leave her clean room, it’s looking like she’s not going to die anytime soon.
However, as the game does nothing to explain how this unexpected miracle came to pass, I decided to go straight to the source and asked the game’s producer Yosuke Futami.
“We’ve never said in the game why she lives,” Futami began. “People cry out, ‘If she’s dead in the novels, why is she alive [in the games]? Why?’ But it’s tough to give an answer because I don’t think there’s an in-universe explanation that would be well received,” he laughed. “So please ignore it and have fun!”
But while there is no set in-universe explanation for Yuuki’s continued survival, there are a few real-world ones. The first is simple fan service.
Futami talked with Sword Art Online‘s author, Reki Kawahara, and editor Miki Kazuma about averting Yuuki’s death in the games. “We wanted to make people as happy as possible. In the books and anime, [her death] was an emotionally painful experience.”
The nature of anime versus the nature of games is another reason Yuuki survives. “In the anime, she dies and everyone cries, I think.” Futami explained. “But in the game, you want to go on adventures with Yuuki […] When she dies [in the original work], it adds to her charm and wins over the audience. But in a game, if she dies and you can’t use her anymore, you would say ‘Why can’t I use her anymore!?'”
But don’t let Yuuki’s miracle recovery trick you into thinking more characters will be coming back from the dead–especially those from the original Sword Art Online death game. In Futami’s own words, “The characters that died in Aincrad definitely won’t appear in the story […] Some players would love to use characters like Sachi, but in the story they won’t show up.”
It seems with Futami, fan service only goes so far.
Look for our in-depth interview with Futami covering everything from AI, alternate universes, Sword Art Online on VR, and the future of the Sword Art Online game series early next week.