A little while back I made a blog about Kirito. It was pretty well received and got some great numbers. But if I’m being perfectly honest with myself, it was not a good blog. It was very long but I still feel I didn’t explain myself well. It went over a lot of stuff the reader should probably already know. It felt less of an analysis and more like a summary with my own little take attached to it.
I feel like when making an analysis post, I should making a point. Whatever information I use from the anime or game should be used to back up whatever my point is. And while you could say I did make a point about Kirito in that post, it was more of a general point about him being a good character. But there really wasn’t any key point made in that blog.
So the goal today is to basically rewrite that bad post and try to make a better one. I will be retreading things I said in the previous post but I’ll be trimming the fat and adding on what I feel is necessary to make my point. So if you are here for the first time, don’t go back and read the old post, it’s a waste of time.
Hopefully, if you don’t like Kirito, this post will help you understand him better as a character. And if you do like Kirito, I hope this gives you another avenue in which to appreciate his character.
Warning! There will be spoilers for Sword Art Online!
Who is Kazuto Kirigaya?
Unfortunately, there is a huge stigma against Kirito among anime fans. He is largely thought to be a bland Gary Stu with no character development. It’s weird to me that so many people have this impression since it’s something that can be easily proven false by simply watching the show. I don’t want to say that people who think this way about Kirito haven’t watched SAO, but maybe they just didn’t pay attention.
A reason given is that he is overpowered. While that is somewhat true to an extent, the show gives us a justifiable reason for him being overpowered. Even then, it’s not to sure a ridiculous extreme that it ruins the show. His overpowered nature does actually add to his character, and much of his character development would be lost if he wasn’t as strong as he was.
I think the reason he is considered to be bland is due to his mellow personality. He isn’t over the top and doesn’t make his personality overbearing on the audience. He also lacks a defining gimmick many well-known characters have, which is an unfair metric to determine if a character has personality. Kirito is a more grounded character, who’s struggles are more down to earth. This allows for more nuanced character writing, which unfortunately goes largely ignored.
So then, who is Kirito?
In terms of personality, he isn’t the bland guy he is made out to be. His personality is mellow and he doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve, but he’s really just a dork when you get down to it. He keeps to himself and isn’t social, which causes him to be socially awkward in many situations. His social awkwardness does lead to some playful moments such as pouring cold water on Suguha’s neck or grabbing Sinon’s tail.
His social awkwardness can make him come across like he is trying to be cool and edgy, even having the Black Swordsman persona in SAO. But under those layers, you come to realize that he really is just a dork.
But outside of his defined personality, what really makes Kirito who he is?
Essentially, Kirito is a loner who shoulders a lot of personal responsibility. Due to the fact that he is adopted and finding out he was Suguha’s cousin instead of his sister, he felt distant from his family, and became attached to online games. He also felt guilty for quitting kendo, putting all of the pressure on Suguha, who would become strong enough for the both of them.
All of this is why he got into SAO in the first place. While online games are an opportunity to connect with people around the world, Kirito himself is a loner. Over the course of the show, he learns to form connections with others, which helps him grow as a person and eases the burdens of his own sense of responsibility as well as the trauma he incurred during his time in SAO. This is something I will be going over in this post.
A Loner’s Responsibility
Why does Kirito have this sense of personal responsibility? Kirito was originally a beta tester, which gave him greater knowledge of the game. He felt guilt over his advantage, giving him the feeling that he is obligated to do what’s right and get himself into danger. While being alone is something he prefers, the overwhelming strength he gains over his journey increases his own feelings of personal responsibility.
This sense of personal responsibility is shown in full when he defeats the first floor boss. He takes on the title of “Beater” so take the heat off of the other beta testers. As someone who is as strong as he is, he felt it was responsibility to take on all the hate. As someone who has always been isolated, this isn’t anything new to him.
Learning to Form Connections With Others
Kirito manages to further isolate himself from others in his attempt to form connections. While he may be a loner, he does desire connections, even if he feels he is unable to attain it. This is why he joined the Moonlit Black Cats. They end up dying and Kirito takes on the blame himself. Despite Sachi sending a message to reassure Kirito to not take on the blame himself, he falls deeper into a depression and tries to further isolate himself from others.
So how did he break out of this? Simply, by forming connections. Silica reminded him of his little sister, who is actually his cousin. He wants to make up with her in the real world so he felt compelled to help Silica. He also spent some time with Asuna, which would eventually lead into their romantic relationship. And you can clearly see him start to open up more during his adventure with Lisbeth.
It’s through these relationships that Kirito really started to open up and become a more sociable person. He started to live for more than his responsibility to beat the game. He fought Heathcliff to get Asuna out of her guild and even took a vacation with Asuna in a log cabin where they formed a family with Yui. He begun to understand the importance of human relationships.
It’s because of this that he was eventually able to reconnect with and make up with Suguha in the real world after the SAO incident. Instead of running away from his family, he faced them. By facing Suguha, he realized that Suguha felt like Kirito hated him, but Kirito was really just running away. Because of the relationships he formed, he was able to clear up the misconceptions they each had about each other because of their lack of communication.
By the time he gets back to the real world, he has real friends that he knows he can count on. He heavily relies on them to save Asuna in Alfheim and in his future endeavors as he knows he had friends he can rely on. He realizes he isn’t some invincible demigod and he doesn’t have to take on the burden of everything himself.
He also realized the true value of the virtual world. While escapism is good, you can never truly escape from reality. The events of the virtual world were just as real as the events in the real world. His relationships were all real. His growth as a character was all real. The impact it had on him as a person, whether for good or for bad, were real. Because of how real the virtual world is, he was able to resolve his issues with Suguha in the virtual world. He may have put up a facade of the cool Black Swordsman, but the dorky Kazuto Kirigaya is still who he really is, and he was able to be himself by forming connections with others.
How Kirito Subverts Self-insert Characters
While nuanced character development is great, what truly sets Kirito apart from other protagonists? While one could argue the character development alone is enough to set him apart, there is another aspect of his character that I find fascinating when comparing him to other characters. While he clearly isn’t your typical self-insert character, he manages to subvert the idea of self-insert characters.
Self-insert characters are characters made to give the viewer a form of wish-fulfillment by inserting yourself (typically into a bland slate), and giving you the same feeling of accomplishment and heroism the character does. There are various forms of this and ways to do it, and SAO very well could have been that if the writer wanted to.
Suffering alone isn’t enough to write off a self-insert, and it would be foolish to use that as an argument. The idea that Kirito isn’t a wish-fulfillment solely because he suffers feels disingenuous and ignores what really makes him stand out. A self-insert can struggle as long as the pay-off is one that reeks of self-satisfaction and gratification out of receiving a type of reward, whether it be tangible rewards, or ones that inflate one’s ego or sense of self-importance.
Kirito subverts this idea entirely. With all of Kirito’s accomplishments, he very well could be a self-insert. Being SAO’s strongest player, beating the game, saving his girlfriend, and overcoming many other obstacles. On its own, all of these accomplishments very easily give the impression of a self-insert, but in context, they do they opposite.
There is no real sense of gratification with Kirito because he denies that feeling himself. Instead of a sense of heroism from saving thousands of lives, he feels guilt over the thousands he failed to save, which shows a lingering sense of that personal responsibility, which, while more subdued over time, never truly goes away. This idea is even brought up in the Phantom Bullet arc. He feels guilt over those he failed to save. He feels guilt for killing Laughing Coffin despite saving many other players.
Instead of taking credit for his accomplishments, he downplays them and even denies them outright. He doesn’t feel he has earned any tangible rewards, nor does he have any sense of heroism. While it could be seen as humble, it’s very self-depreciating, and personally he probably should take a bit more credit. When in the hospital for his Gun Gale Online investigation, the doctor Aki tells him to think about those he saved instead of the ones that he killed or failed to save.
It’s for this very reason that I titled this blog “A False Hero”. While from an audience’s perspective, it’s fair to consider Kirito a hero, he doesn’t see himself the same way. He is subverting the whole point of self-insert characters by downplaying the sense of accomplishment the audience typically feels when the hero accomplishes something.
Who is Kazuto Kirigaya Now?
While he was a dork who isolated himself in the beginning, he grew in a young man who understands the importance of forming connections with others, which has an immensely positive impact on his life. He has also become a more driven person. Instead of living his life aimlessly, he strives to become a creator. While he initially played VR to escape from the real world, he understands it’s merits as an extension of the real world and hopes to creative innovative technology that will have a positive impact on people’s lives. He becomes interested in mechatronics so Yui can experience the real world more freely and even helps Yuuki Konno interact with the real world she was away from for so long.
To say that Kirito is a completely different person would be disingenuous. He is still very much a dork. He can still be socially awkward. He still has a lingering sense of personal responsibility that rests with him throughout the series. But through his relationships with others, he’s better able to cope with the harsh reality he faces. He’s better able to face what comes at him with connection, instead of bearing all of the responsibility on himself. He hasn’t become a completely different person. He just became a better version of himself, a more mature and experienced Kazuto. It would be a fair statement to say he grew up.
While there are certainly other aspects of Kirito’s character I can touch on, such as in Alicization, I wanted to highlight his character growth, and most importantly explain what makes him stand out as a protagonist.
It’s always fun to write about SAO, because it always gives me more appreciation for a series I love so much, and I hope that it does the same for all of you.
Hopefully, I was able to highlight why Kirito isn’t the bland Gary Stu is he made out to be, but is actually a well-written, interesting protagonist. He truly is a unique character when you really try to understand him, and it’s a shame that these so called “Kirito clones” in anime didn’t understand what made Kirito stand out in the first place. He may not be the most “exciting” character in the world, but he certainly is an interesting one that deserves a lot more credit, from both the fans that only like him for how cool he is and the haters that don’t understand his character.
Be sure to tell me what you like about Kirito’s character. I would love to hear your thoughts. And remember…