Kirito tries to break through the barrier, but can’t. Far above, Asuna can hear Yui calling for her. She responds by throwing down a SysAdmin access card. Kirito heads to the tree’s base, where he must start a grand quest to gain access to the interior. Once within, he meets heavy resistance from hundreds of high-level guardians, and he’s KO’ed before he reaches the top of the chamber. Leafa enters to retrieve his resurrection flame and revives him outside. Kirito starts to head back in, and when Leafa tries to stop him, he says Asuna’s name, and Leafa realizes he’s Kirito. They both log out, and Sugu confesses everything to Kazuto before shutting herself in her room.
Well, be careful what you wish for; you may get it: Leafa and Kirito now know each others’ true identities. When we think back on all the time Leafa’s been spending with Kirito, it’s pretty amazing he’s never spoken Asuna’s name. Instead, Yui’s referred to her as “Mommy”, while Kirito hasn’t refer to her by name at all. Combined with the fact Kirito and Leafa both sound exactly like Kazuto and Suguha, we’ve always had trouble suspending belief about their ignorance. But that’s all over now; the cat’s out of the bag, and in sudden and gloriously harsh fashion. Now Kazuto and Suguha are in a very, very bizarre situation.
Of course, Kazuto’s been in a strange situation ever since he was trapped in SAO for two years, and his virtual wife is now stuck in ALfeim, and direct assaults on the World Tree’s defenses come up well short. But once Suguha tells him the lot – and it’s a very emotionally-affecting scene brought home expertly by Taketatsu Ayana – Kazuto can only…apologize. He still has to rescue Asuna; her life, sanity, and even identity are all at real risk. We feel for Suguha, but it’s pretty clear Kazuto will never feel the same way for her he feels for Asuna, even if he thought it was okay. Whatever happens, few series shake up status quos as aptly as SAO.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
For Mei’s sake, Yamato quits modeling, and Mei notices Megumi isn’t happy about it. Yamato walks Mei to work and picks her up when her shift is over. She invites him to her house to dry his clothes. Just when Yamato is about to make a move, Mei’s mother comes home, but she’s impressed with him. The next day, Takemura Kai returns to school and says hello to Yamato. Kai is the bullied classmate Yamato couldn’t save. He’s back for revenge on the bullies, having visited Mei in the bakery a couple more times. Kai informs Yamato that he also likes Mei.
After all the awkwardness, missed opportunities, communications flubs and heartache threatened to explode in a frenzy of romantic incompetance, taking Mei and Yamato with it, but last week ended with a catharsis that was both satisfying and didn’t come off a cheap because of the hardships both parties went through to reach it. Much of this episode is a much-needed feel-good episode, where everything is peachy between Mei and Yamato. She’s still working up the courage to call him Yamato, but she’s getting there, inviting him upstairs and very nearly getting into something moste untowarde before her mom comes home, a mom who is both amazed and relieved her quiet, private daughter has such a fine young man by her side.
But clouds are rolling in from two sides: Mei’s rival Megumi doesn’t want to give up, and we wouldn’t put it past her to plan some kind of sabotage to split up the happy couple. That being said, considering Aiko’s very welcome transformation from Mei’s rival to her friend and confidant, Megu-tan isn’t totally irredeemable. A trickier situation rests in Kai, a kid Yamato was privately nice too but at school let him get bullied, is back, and he likes Mei. The easy thing to do would be to direct Kai to Megumi, so they can go have sex with a magazine camera happily ever after, but of course it’s not going to be so tidy.
Rating: 8 (Great)
Ryouta and Himiko return to Taira to find he’s been fixed up by Date, who agrees to side with them but plans to kill them all when the time comes. A plane makes a food drop, and players race to it. Ryouta hopes to scare the others off with his intent, but one player, Oda, matches him step for step. Meanwhile Himiko is attacked by Kinoshita, Oda’s ally. Himeko gets trapped in her hold but manages to escape, and Date throws a bomb to break up the fight. After jumping from a cliff into the sea, Ryouta watches Oda take out another player with a booby trap. Ryouta falls for another trap, but manages to survive.
Everyone has their own way of playing the game. Date smiles and pretends to be everyone’s friend, but then uses them before destroying them. Himiko knows he’s not to be trusted, and for once she’s not being overly cautious. Oda seems to utilize direct confrontation and attacks, but everyone he’s killed so far has fallen for his booby traps. Kinoshita pretends to be vulnerable and womanly, but is a skilled, vicious fighter who’s sided with Oda, perhaps the strongest player still alive – and when she can’t safely use BIMs against Himiko, she relies not just on martial arts, but devastating verbal attacks. Lil’ Kira is standing back and waiting for the adults to kill each other.
But while everyone else is busy trying to kill them, the core of Ryouta, Himiko and Taira remain committed to escape by spilling a minimum of blood. Their adversaries aren’t making it easy, however. The “crimes” that got them voted on the island aren’t as severe as other players’, what with Ryouta’s mom simply snapping, Himiko’s friend blaming her for not getting raped, and Taira just being a jackass at work. As for Date? The son of a bitch is on the island for the second time; he’s clearly scum. Kira can’t help what he is, but he can’t function in society. Oda and Kinoshita are the main threat to Ryouta & Co, but learning about them will have to wait until at least next week.
Rating: 6 (Good)
Saki survives her encounter with the tainted cat by the skin of her teeth, but the talisman Shun gave her is destroyed. She finally finds a masked Shun by the lake, who allows her to stay for ten minutes. He explains how he’s become a karma demon (AKA Hashimoto-Applebaum Syndrome), and his Cantus is leaking out rapidly, allowing his uncchecked subconscious to warp the world. The other cat appears to kill him, but his dog Subaru sacrifices himself to distract it, and Shun finishes it off. As his control starts to slip, Shun decides to end his life, but not before confessing he always loved Saki.
Last week’s excellent buildup and preparation was not let down in this, the payoff episode. The tainted cat cliffhanger picks up with a lightning-quick and brutal battle between Saki and the beast, and she is quite clearly outmatched. Were it not for her choker, she’d have ended up dead before she even knew what hit her. But Saki is no slouch, taking advantage of the cat’s failed jugular shot to literally wring it out with her Cantus. It’s satisfying to see how much skill and discipline she’s amassed in the two years since the last arc. All her efforts are simply to reach Shun, the guy she always loved but never said or did anything about it.
Their trippy encounter only lasts long enough for him to tell her the volatile nature of Canti, the true purpose of the Holy Barrier (directing “leaking” Canti to the outside world) and his “illness”, which has already cost the lives of his parents, his neighborhood, and likely others. Shun, in the end, had too much potential, his Cantus too powerful to exist in the world, and he ceases being able to hold it back. Taking his life was the only course of action to prevent the further suffering of others (we’ll assume, for now, he succeeded) Saki finally gets the answer she always silently sought (that he loved her too), but her challenge now is to stay alive, not let grief or guilt consume her, and keep trying to make sense of this crazy world she was born to.
Rating: 9 (Superior)