Sword Art Online – 15

Kazuto has been back in the world for two months, during which he’s been regaining his strength and visiting Asuna, who is still in a coma at the hospital. One day he meets Sugou Nobuyuki, a research chief of the company that now maintains the SAO servers, of which Asuna’s father is the president. Sugou wants to marry Yuuki Asuna, and warns Kazuto to stop visiting. Kazuto’s little sister Suguha, who is keeping from him the secret that they’re actually first cousins, walks in on him crying and tells him not to give up. Kazuto receives and e-mail from Egil of a photo of Asuna.

This episode had some considerable shoes to fill – after the series totally blew itself up, the question “What’s the heck is next?” hung like a blue moon in the night sky. And we want to be categorical about our thoughts: the episode pulled it off. We had no idea what to expect, but it filled in the blanks nicely, as the teenage gamer formerly known as Kirito – now Kazuto – tries to get on with his life after two years stuck in a virtual MMORPG.

First of all, all those hundreds of hours have made him pretty dang good at fighting, although is style isn’t anything like the Kendo he used to practice. Even in a weakened state, he can use his SAO fighting style to keep up with his quarterfinalist sister in an impromptu sparring session. One really awesome detail is when he makes the motion to sheathe his sword on his back – something that had become a reflex in SAO is still with him in the real world. He also has nightmares, but they’re not about the horrors of the game, they’re about his lost love – who isn’t dead, but trapped between worlds…which is worse, in our opinion.

Then there’s his sister, who looks to play a prominent role in the episodes to come. Yes, another girl in love with him. And because she’s not really his sister, part of her thinks she has a chance (Sugu is appropriately voiced by Lil’ Sis Expert Ayana Taketatsu). But Kiri–er…Kazuto’s heart is still firmly in the hands of Asuna. And seriously, that Sugou guy is a grimy, NASTY little shit, taking advantage of his clout with her father’s company to wrangle a marriage out of it, even though Asuna is in a coma and hates him. Something tells us Kazuto isn’t just going to settle for his little sister…he’s not going to let Sugou have his way.

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. New OP and ED! The OP previews another game in which everyone has fairy ears and Kirito has a new girl with green eyes, while the ED focuses on Sugu with her unrequited cousin-love. Both are okay.

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 03

Saki & Co. strike out on a nature trip, plying the rivers and making camp here and there. Satoru tells a campfire story of “blowdogs” and evil “minoshiros”, and the group gets the idea to investigate and prove they exist. When they come across a minoshiro, its light has a hypnotic effect that only Saki is immune to due to her shades. They manage to catch one, and it tells them it is some kind of mobile digital library of history.

The cold open takes place seventy years after last week’s, and the Emporer of Great Delight has been replaced by the Emporer of Merciful Light, and gets assassinated, an act its perpetrators believe will change history. Like the other two opens, we can only shrug and say “that’s nice”, because there still isn’t much of a connection between these little snippets and the “present day” of the series, 1000 years from now, in which Saki, Shun, & Co. have what looks like a rippin’ good camping trip. The weather cooperates, they do a bit of night rowing, Shun touches Saki’s hand in a gesture of affection (and keeps taking her side), and the group has an exciting adventure.

However, on this adventure they go somewhere they were told not to go and find something they probably weren’t supposed to find. The narrator points out that hundreds of weird new species of fauna have cropped up in the centuries since civilization as we know it was destroyed. They find one such creature, which is actually some kind of cybernetic, mobile, autonomous database with a built-in “light hypnosis” defense system to ward off humans. These kids have been spoon-fed all manner of information up to this point, and they’re poised to receive a fresh perspective from an independent voice. We’re nervous for them, as other kids who haven’t conformed to their roles have vanished. But we’re also excited for some potential answers.

Rating: 8 (Great)