Kazuto arrives at the hospital and is attacked in the parking lot by Sugou, but Kazuto is able to fight him off, barely stopping himself from killing him. He then reunites with an awake Asuna, meeting her for the first time in the flesh. Sugou is arrested and the VRMMO industry takes a throrough beating. A month after waking up, Asuna is on the mend and visits Kazuto in school. Agil holds an SAO reunion party at his bar. The World Seed Kazuto gave him is spreading across the net rapidly, enabling people to create their own online worlds. ALO is now run by a new company, and the floating castle of Aincrad appears there, where Kazuto, Sugu, and all their fellow players plan to clear all 100 floors anew.
Long ago we’ve learned that if there’s no body, don’t trust a death, and Sugou only died in ALfeim. Sure enough, the real Sugou gets one last chance to remind us just how squidly evil he is, believing he can simply murder Kirito right there in the hospital parking lot and none will be the wiser. Luckily, his painful ordeal caused real-life damage, including to his depth perception, so Kirito is able to “defeat” him again. And then we get the much-anticipated first real-life meeting between Kazuto and Asuna, and it’s everything we could have hoped for. After going through all this rigmarole to save her, we weren’t going to be satisfied with her sudden death, or any other deviation from this happy ending.
We’re particularly glad SAO resolved pretty much everything with an episode to spare, because we got some welcome time with all the former SAO players Kazuto had befriended, including Agil, Klein, Lisbeth and Silica, and it seemed fitting to end their collective ordeal with a party. The only odd-man-out, besides a somewhat irritated Lisbeth, is Sugu, who is still clearly upset that she wasn’t the girl he chose, but we like how he makes it up to her by inviting her to help him replay SAO from start to finish and beat it properly (We wouldn’t be surprised if Asuna wanted an extended break from VRMMOs). Finally, “The Seed”, the Kayaba-penned open source MMO program Kazuto decides to release into the virtual wild gives the genre an optimistic future.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
In the first half, Yamato and Momo go to Megumi’s house, but she won’t come out. Yamato tries his best, but it’s ultimately heartfelt words from Momo that coax her out. Megumi goes back to work, weathers the storm of hate at school, and gets a hair cut to represent her new life without lies or shallow friends. In the second half, the summer festival arrives, and Yamato and Mei go with Asami and all their friends. They part ways early, but Mei’s mom insist she put on a yukata and go back. She meets Yamato at the shrine, who is very happy to see her, despite their missing the fireworks.
Megumi’s catharsis, while important, didn’t need a whole episode all to itself. Nor did the summer festival. Realizing this, the series shrewdly combined them to make this episode. We like the choice, because it made both stories move quickly and efficiently, without losing any of their emotional impact. Megu-tan had simply had her fill of the way she interacted with people and swerved off the road. Yamato and her best friend Momo are able to restore her confidence and get her back on track. She can’t live her life concerned with what others think about her. And her wild new hair rocks, so there’s that.
The second half shows us how far this circle of friends has come, and it’s nice to see them as one big happy group simply enjoying the summer festival (also efficiently illustrated via montage). Asami is the glue that brought them all together, and when she eats to much and gets sick, everyone kinda drifts away, though the night is still young. Mei, ever going with the flow, misses the opportunity, but we’re glad her mom gives her a well-needed nudge back out to see Yamato alone. The sight of her in traditional dress utterly floors him, and they share a kiss – the perfect ending to an episode that is equal parts redemptive and feel-good.
Rating: 8 (Great)
Myoue first meets Lady Koto, the human form of a black rabbit his master once painted which came to life. The three lived in seclusion as the seasons passed. Lady Koto stands on an unknown world with the earth in full view, holding an infant that looks like Koto, promising her they’ll meet again someday.
This was probably the most cryptic of the five Kyousogiga segments – one in which the majority goes without spoken dialogue, only a song sung in English. The different seasons are beautifully rendered in the frame of the temple, and we liked the concept of the entire strange city we’ve seen thus far being a painting by Myoue’s master, painted piece by piece and pasted to the wall.
There are probably a lot of ways to interpret everything that went on in this last few minutes (carrying lady Koto with a trail of blood behind her, followed by the appearance of a young Myoue…was she pregnant?) but it drove home the point that the whole series, brief as it was, was a nice, trippy, ephemeral look at another world and the colorful lives that inhabit it – and didn’t get bogged down in excessive explanation.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Saki, Maria and Satoru set out to find Mamoru, who has a three hour head start on them. They follow sled tracks across the Holy Barrier, and find queerat tracks alongside it, possibly indicating a chase. The tracks end on the edge of a cliff, and they find the sled buried suspiciously deeply and neatly. They eventually come across a queerat hut, and Mamoru is inside, saved by Squonk, who they helped years ago. He said he had to run from the village because he was being hunted by tainted cats.
Poor Mamoru. Among those still alive in Team 1, he has the weakest Cantus, the weakest talents, and the weakest will. When Maria calls him “quiet and cooperative”, it sounds like a back-handed compliment. It also makes us think of the fiends Tomiko mentioned – how they were always suspected of harboring evil thoughts and such. Mamoru isn’t like them. No, he seems to be next in line for disposal because of what he knows. Information can be a sickness, and if he’s infected enough, he may snap just like a fiend, in spite of his natural disposition. It doesn’t help that his friends are all far superior to him in every way that matters (Cantus skiing and bunny hopping FTW!!), and are keeping secrets from him.
Like everything that happens in this series, something is fishy about the picture that is pieced together by Saki, Maria and Satoru with the tracks and clues they have. It would seem tainted cats were sent to Mamoru (must be fun having a teacher who is plotting to have you killed), causing him to flee in terror. But Saki remembers that queerats are one of the tools in the Ethics Committee’s arsenal. While Squonk is simply repaying kindness (and as he said, saving a god is in their nature), one can’t help but wonder if the Mamoru was simply supposed to quietly vanish, only he didn’t, because the Scooby Gang wouldn’t let him. He may be useless, but he’s still their friend, if anything were to happen to him, Maria may be next, as guilt over what she could’ve done to save him could consume her.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)