Aside from a few brief glimpses of the scale and majesty of the new online world of Gun Gale Online (see above) and a few flashbacks to more energetic times, this was a pretty quiet, unflashy opening to a new season of SAO. Yet after more than a year and a half since we’ve seen Kirito and Asuna, I rather appreciated a less hectic, more introspective start that catches us up with what’s been happening in the world.
For one thing, both Kirito and Asuna (who are the focus of the episode) seem to have more or less retired from gaming. While neither seem to be in the throes of PTSD, they did endure quite a few horrors, and four thousand people did perish in SAO, so I could understand if they decided to be totally done with VMMOing. Still, Kirito wants to transition from playing to R&D, so the virtual world can be made even more like the real world, where holding hands with Asuna conveys a lot more information between them than in current games.
There’s a definite sense of peace and contentment between the two as they walk hand in hand through Tokyo’s Imperial Gardens, maintaining the subtle but warm romance they started in the virtual world. Having been there myself, I can relate to the deep, inscrutable aura of a 2km x 1.5km area of land virtually untouched by time in the center of the world’s biggest urban conglomeration. It’s a nice nod to their past that the two show up for their date wearing the colors of their SAO avatars.
Of course, Kirito isn’t really done gaming. In the classic “pulled in for one last job” scenario, he’s lured into a swanky cafe and given free rein over the dessert menu by one Kikuoka Seijirou of the Advanced Communications Networks Promotion Division Section 2 (“Virtual Division”) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Telecommunications Bureau, which is a ridiculous title, but sums up what he does, which doesn’t sound all that different from what Kirito eventually wants to get into.
Kikuoka wants to employ Kirito’s very particular set of skills to infiltrate GGO and investigate a set of player deaths whose hearts stopped in the real world after they were shot in the game by the lamely-named “Death Gun”. Since people can and do make their living playing GGO, it’s a tough game for an amateur, but if anyone can quickly pick up a game, it’s Kirito, and as the OP (here the ED) suggests, he may well bring a (glowing purple) sword to the gunfights and still kick ass.
So, we had to sit around in a cafe for some time, but the table has been set for the adventures to come. The player deaths will probably prove not to be mere coincidences Kirito and Kikuoka hope they are. At some point Kirito will meet Death Gun, along with the New Girl, handle “Shinon” (Sawashiro Miyuki), who has Eureka-like hair, a nice bum, nicer aim, and uncertain loyalties. Will they warm to each other, or butt heads? I’m guessing the latter, at first.