Character Spotlight: Klein, Sword Art Online.
“For someone who professes to not like Sword Art Online that much, you make a lot of posts about it,” some of you may be noting. Which is true. To be fair, I do like SAO, I just don't like how its writing sometimes steers into the Moffatoid at times.
But I've been thinking about doing character spotlights, where I highlight a particular character from something that I really like (or really hate) and talk about them, for a while – and specifically, I've been thinking of this one.
So, Klein. One of ten-thousand people who gets trapped in the cursed death badness horrible evil death dying game of Sword Art Online, Klein – whose real name is actually Tsuboi Ryotaro, with his username being a pun on 'klein bottle' as Tsuboi means 'bottle' – is affable, relentlessly cheerful, and a bit of a gigantic dork.
Which I like, because I've always liked affable, friendly, upbeat characters over grim, dark antiheroic types – helpfully, Sword Art Online doesn't have any grim antiheroes at all, which was definitely a plus, but Klein is the most ungrim and anti-anti-heroic of them all, being essentially a concentrated ball of joy, light, and concern for his fellow man.
What really interests me about Klein, though – apart from the fact that, unlike main character Kirito, he's actually equipped with a personality – is that out of all the main characters of Sword Art Online, he's the only one who really thrives in the game world, to an extent not seen in his real life, and who has something to lose by the game ending.
In the real world, he's – something unremarkable, I think it might be mentioned that he works in an office – and while he has a bunch of friends, he's fairly firmly on the lower rungs of society.
In SAO, he's the leader of a guild, one of the three major 'clearer' guilds that fight bosses to get towards the end of the game. All of his friends are with him (and miraculously, all of them survive, in no small part because of his leadership), and he has a position of prestige and power – both institutional and personal, as he's also one of the more powerful players in the game – that doesn't exist outside.
|Fuurinkazan. Who knew Klein was a Shingen fan?|
That doesn't mean to say he wouldn't want to get out of the game – he presumably has a family, and he's illustrated multiple times as being concerned for other people's welfare, and he obviously doesn't want to die – but imagine the adjustment once he's outside of it.
Kirito, we see, has trouble adjusting to the outside world after being in SAO, and for good reason, since he's suffering from PTSD and he has a wealth of life experiences his peers don't, but he doesn't really lose anything by leaving – outside the game, he still has Asuna, and Klein, and all of his friends, really. But Klein has spent two years as, functionally, a military leader taking down gigantic monsters. He's not only been responsible for his guild's lives, and partly responsible for seeing the game through to the end and saving the lives of everyone in it: He's also been a fighter as skilled as Kirito. Now that he's out of the game, is anybody going to recognise that? Not likely. While Kirito ends up working for the government on VR MMO related missions, everything we see suggests that Klein kind of drifts back into his day-to-day office job and stays there, in exactly the same position in life that he was when he started.
Not to mention that Klein almost certainly has PTSD as well. He might have kept all of his friends alive, but he still saw people die. Given that he was involved in things like the Laughing Coffin Raid, he probably killed people himself. The implication made several times during the anime is that the public's understanding of what happened in Sword Art Online is extremely poor, and quite possibly being actively suppressed with the use of gag orders on the players and manipulation of the media and courts, and certainly Kirito doesn't seem to have gotten any psychological care for his rollicking death-game-inflicted mental health issues. I can't imagine getting help for any of the SAO survivors would be remotely easy, and can you imagine if something like this happened in real life? I can see the Daily Mail's headlines decrying people who claim they were traumatised by a video game now.
I've remarked this before on tumblr and elsewhere, and received in turns agreement and some extremely long-winded rants in response, but I do think that Klein would make a better protagonist than Kirito. A large part of that is because, very often, Kirito's perfect-ness at everything is stretched to the point of being frustrating, and he is often written as being bizarrely and creepily irresistible to all women in a two kilometre radius. But a lot of that is because I simply believe that Klein is a more charismatic and interesting character than Kirito: He's friendly, and cheerful, and affable, and that's always great, but he also has good reason to feel conflicted about what he's doing, and to struggle with what he knows is the right thing, and that gnawing part of every person's mind that tries to justify the wrong thing to them. There's potential for internal conflict there that Kirito – and Asuna, for that matter - just doesn't have.
Which, you know. Is nice.
As a side note, it appears that headband is one he owns outside the game, and being slightly different from the headband the avatar he made is wearing, was probably what he was wearing when the game replaced all of their avatars with copies of their real bodies.
It's a part of his head, and he can never take it off.