It’s hard to pick a favorite character from Sword Art Online. That’s because it has such a fantastic cast of characters. Some of its characters rank among my favorites, but if I had to narrow it down to just one, it would be Sinon, or Shino Asada. Obviously, total badass girls like her are appealing to me in a superficial sense, but I’m also a huge fan of characters that have major character arcs involving them overcoming major obstacles and working to improve an aspect of themselves. Shino is one of the best examples of this I can think of. So let’s get into why she is such a fantastic character.
WARNING! There will be spoilers of Sword Art Online II up until the end of the Phantom Bullet arc!
HOW JAPAN’S VIEWS ON GUNS IMPACTED SHINO
Japan’s views on guns are not positive. Japan has very strict gun control that makes it very hard to obtain a gun. The process to obtain one is long and tedious and it must be concealed in a convoluted way. Guns are believed to only be used for specific purposes, and nobody even thinks about using a gun for self-defense.
It is these negative views on guns that cause the major issues Shino has with getting help for her PTSD. Even if it was to save her mother and everyone else in the post-office, the Japanese would not be too fond of Shino killing the robber, even in self-defense. This would explain why her mother seemed to fear her. It would also explain why she got bullied. It would make it very hard for her to get therapy as even therapists wouldn’t be able to sympathize with her. To Japan, she is simply a murderer. This feeling that she is all alone in the world when it comes to her trauma is what made it very hard for her to get over it, and her PTSD became very severe.
PORTRAYING PTSD/CREATING SINON
The portrayal of Shino’s PTSD is what made her character arc feel so real. Her reputation made it hard for her to make friends, so there wasn’t anyone to help. She also got bullied because of her reputation. Her fear of guns is the reason she wears glasses, which aren’t prescription, but have lenses that can resists a bullet, which helps her feel secure. Her trauma is so bad the sight of guns causes a severe panic attack. Even making a gun shape with your hand is enough to set off a panic attack. At home, she stores a model gun away to try and see if she can handle holding it without triggering a panic attack. But it always leads to a panic attack anyways and causes her to throw up.
But this shows one very important aspect about her character. She isn’t just defined by her PTSD, but also by the fact she is making an active attempt to get over her past trauma. This is why she made the online persona, Sinon. In Gun Gale Online, as Sinon, she doesn’t fear guns. This leads to her becoming one of the best snipers in the game. She hopes if she becomes much stronger in the game, then her real life persona will be able to become more like Sinon, strong and fearless. In a way, her real life persona idolizes Sinon as her ideal self.
CONVERGENCE OF THE REAL AND VIRTUAL WORLDS
Gun Gale Online was like a safe space for Shino. In the virtual world, she could freely express herself without having to worry about her fear of guns and her PTSD. But unfortunately, during the Bullet of Bullets, the real world began to converge with the virtual one. Not in the literal sense, but once she noticed the gun Death Gun used was the same one she used to kill the robber, her real world PTSD began to come back. At this point, she was losing her identity as Sinon, and reverting back to Shino. The thought that Death Gun could actually kill her began to sink in. From there, she lost her ability to remain the calm and capable sniper she was in GGO. While being chased by Death Gun, she was unable to successfully shoot him with her gun.
To Shino, Kirito is someone she admired due to his strength and conviction. During the dual with Kirito, she becomes visibly frustrated since his run-in with Death Gun had completely wiped away the image Shino had of Kirito in her head. She eventually snaps him out of it, but after her run-in with Death Gun, Kirito ends up doing the same for her. This is because of empathy, the ability to understand or feel what someone else is experiencing. Kirito also has PTSD from the time he killed players in SAO. Their similar experiences allowed them to understand how they were feeling and empathize with each other. Seeing how someone who went through something similar was able to display the strength to fight his own demons, and to fight Death Gun, gave her the courage to face her own fears, as well as join in the fight against Death Gun.
TAKING LITTLE STEPS
After the incident with Death Gun, Shino works up the courage to face her problems head-on, a little bit at a time. The first step was dealing with the bullies. The bullies brought a BB gun with the intent to trigger a panic attack, and even shoot her. Shino was about to start a panic attack, but she notices the safety of the gun hadn’t been switched. She takes the gun from them, then takes off her glasses, representing her putting on her Sinon persona for the moment. She shoots a can at a distance, scaring away the girls.
One thing I really appreciated about the scene was the part afterwards in which she is breathing heavily, showing she isn’t completely over her fear of guns. You don’t just make a realization and get over PTSD. It’s a long and slow process. But she took the first step, which took lots of courage, and contributes to her goal.
The next step was the scene at the restaurant. Kirito invited someone to meet Shino, the woman at the front desk who was nearly shot by the robber. Due to Japan’s views on guns, Shino was made to think she was a murderer and hated herself for it. To her, nothing positive came out of the situation. But meeting the woman and finding out that she saved not only the woman, but also her unborn baby, allowed Shino to comes to terms with herself and get over the guilt of shooting someone.
It may not erase her fear of guns entirely, but learning to love and accept herself, and accept her past, is the next step towards her goal. This may have been how the arc ends, but the journey isn’t over. PTSD is a terrifying mental issue to deal with, but the Phantom Bullet arc tells the powerful story of Shino trying to overcome it. It’s only fitting a new beginning is the perfect way to end her arc.
Something I feel SAO really excels at is creating emotional climaxes and conclusions and Shino’s arc is a great examples of that. Through careful attention to detail and nuanced character development, SAO was able to make her feel real, allowing for her character arc to fully pack and emotional punch. She goes through some awful stuff, but her strength and resolve to improve herself is what truly makes her such a badass, and she is my favorite SAO character because of it.
Thanks for reading my analysis of Sinon. It’s fun to share why I love my favorite anime characters so I hope you enjoyed it.