Sword Art Online – 25 (Fin)

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)

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Sword Art Online – 24

Kirito and Yui materialize in the same white corridor where Asuna was once in. Yui breaks through the walls and they find themselves in the World Tree’s branch system. Kirito spots the birdcage and they race to it, and reunite with Asuna. They need a console to log her out, but before they can do so Sugou materializes, dispersing Yui and immobilizing both with gravity magic. He strings Asuna up and starts to undress and molest her in front of Kirito, who hears the voice of Heathcliff. Kirito gets up and logs in as Heathcliff, then resets King Oberon to Level 1. After defeating him, he logs Asuna out. Kayaba Akihito’s digital afterimage gives him “The Seed”, a new world of some kind, and then Kirito logs out, thanks Sugu, and bikes to the hospital to see Asuna.

We’ve long since written off Nobuyuki Sugou/King Oberon as an absolutely irredeemable, One-Dimensionally Evil Bastard. The video game database GiantBomb has four criteria that exclude a character from this category: “1.) a traumatic or tragic experience in the past that affected their mental state, 2.) a potentially misplaced sense of justice; seeking revenge from a wrongdoing committed against them or someone they cared about, 3.) a potentially misguided belief that their actions will not only benefit his or her self, but the world around them as well, and 4.) ultimately reform their ways and become good.” Sugou has none of these qualities, so yeah, he’s PURE EVIL. In case you doubted it, this week he chains Asuna up by her wrists, starts tearing her already-skimpy clothes off, and starts lapping up her tears with his tongue. You have to hand it to SAO, they were not going to hold back with this guy.

Anyway, he’s clearly decided he’s going to have his way with her, in front of Kirito no less, so it’s a good thing there’s a hint of Heathcliff still floating around this world to aid Kirito. You have to wonder if his desire to possess Asuna body and soul clouded his judgement, causing him to overlook technical stuff beyond his control that lurked in the bowels of the game he stole. In any case, finally Kirito, Asuna, and Yui reunite (this happens early, and it’s a beautifully cathartic little scene), and then, once Kirito has had enough and heard the voice of Kayaba Akihito, he exacts righteous vengeance upon King Oberon, making sure to maximize the pain he can feel before slicing him to bits. Our only concern now is, can Kazuto get to Asuna before Sugou? The episode doesn’t seem all that worried, but we are. When he was killed in the game, he woke up. He’s still a hella dangerous guy. If we were Kazuto, we wouldn’t rest until the real Asuna is in our arms and Sugou’s behind bars.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Sword Art Online – 23

Kazuto asks Suguha to log back in so they can meet up. Sugu challenges him to a duel. In the midst of it, they both give each other a free shot, and Sugu ends up in Kazuto’s arms. He tells her he can’t truly return to the real world until he’s brought Asuna back. Sugu says she’ll help him and wait for him to “come home” for his decision about her. They re-try the grand quest, but are again repelled by the seemingly infinite guardians. Sugu, Recon, the Sylph led by Sakuya and the Cait Sith led by Alicia all help him punch a hole in the defenses, and he reaches the door, which is locked by the SysAdmin. Yui interfaces with the card Asuna dropped for him. The door opens and teleports them away.

Kazuto found out he wasn’t related to his family by blood when he was ten years old. He developed a feeling of not belonging or fitting in, leading to the gradual deterioration of his relationship with Suguha. That situation eventually led to him getting into online gaming, where anyone can be…anyone. Ironically that’s how he met his first love, Asuna, only to wake up to a sister who had finally learned the truth and fallen in love with him. Suguha may have never learned that truth had he never gone into that two-year-coma. Now that he’s back and she has feelings for him, he’s taken. Talk about bad luck. So what do Kazuto and Suguha do?

They have a duel, of course. Both are swordsmen and warriors; allowing the other to win is a gesture of apology, but they both have the same notion. Sugu fights back the tears and agrees to set the matter of who Kazuto loves until they’ve saved Asuna. The one with the worst luck of all is Asuna (though it was pretty lucky the SysAdmin card she dropped fell right where it needed to), who is being held hostage by a psychopath hiding his criminal actions behind her phony coma. Here’s hoping the finale doesn’t pull anything (like some lame ‘wait for the movie!’ cliffhanger), the bastard gets his just desserts, and our Princess is in THIS castle.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Sword Art Online – 22

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)

Sword Art Online – 21

Kirito and Leafa reach ALfeim’s capital, Arun, and log out at an inn. In the real world, Sugu comes with Kazuto to visit Asuna in the hospital, and she gets conflicted feelings from meeting her. Meanwhile, in the game, Asuna snoops around the World Tree complex, finding huge labs where human cerebral experimentation is going on. She finds a console and is about to log out when she’s apprehended by scientists with slug-like avatars, who put her back in her birdcage and change the passcode. When Kirito and Leafa reach the base of the World Tree’s trunk, Yui suddenly senses “Momma” above them, and Kirito shoots up into the sky.

First of all, kudos must again go to the background and establishing shot artists; we know the word “awesome” is overused in modern society, but it’s the most fitting word to describe it. It’s like Minas Tirith on steroids…and shrooms. Despite all it’s flaws, SAO has always exceled at creating a really cool-looking world you’re really envious of not being able to visit. We especially liked how creepy and Mod the laboratory facilities Asuna gingerly explores. We’re not so enamored with the way in which she was ultimately captured and re-deposited back where she started.

First of all – Tentacle Grape Monsters Casually Threatenin’ Grape + Scantily-Clad, Defenseless Asuna = Obvious Fanservice. This isn’t shokushu goukan, so entangling Asuna in tentacles is both capricious and arbitrary. Also, while we get that they gave these guys inhuman form to add to the general creepiness and wrong-ness of this whole experimentation venture, their words and actions are enough to dehumanize them; they could have just been guys in lab coats. And while we knew Sugou’s evil plans would inevitably attract other unsavory people who worked for him, both his and their evil – the sheer horrifying scale of it – remains a little hard to swallow. Those seeking more ambiguous, “grayer” antagonists will have to look elsewhere.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. Oh yeah, Suguha continues to stuggle with her feelings for her brother, and decides she must bury them deep within her so she may someday forget them. So no change there. As you were.

Sword Art Online – 20

Kirito and Leafa arrive at the meeting place just in time to stop the Salamanders. Kirito claims to be an ambassador for the “Spriggan-Undine Alliance” that will join with the Sylphs and Cait Siths if the Salamanders attack, but General Eugene doesn’t believe him, and challenges him to a duel. Using his Spriggan skills to create an occluding smoke cloud, Kirito grabs Leafa’s sword and surprises Eugene with a dual-wielding attack. Sakuya heals Eugene, who agrees to withdraw for now. Sakuya contacts Sigurn and banishes him from the Sylph. Kirito and Leafa continue to Arun. High up in the World Tree, Asuna enters the correct key code on the door and escapes, but must now navigate the tree’s maze of branches.

Is it just us, or is Kirito growing more insuffrably noble by the episode? He dispatches one of the (if not the) most powerful players in the game with authority, and is then clung to and yanked on by no less than three comely lasses, because Kirito is like a heroin-catnip parfait for the ladies. It’s a good thing this is all taking place in virtual reality. In any case, Kirito’s fight convinces both the leader of the Salamander attack force and his men to withdraw and they all gain respect for the Spriggans, whom everyone seems to hold in high regard (isn’t that racist, BTW?)

Now that Kirito has dealt relatively easily with a problem Leafa thought would be much bigger and more hazardous, they can continue on to the base of the World Tree, where Kirito seeks to rescue his true love – and he ain’t even gonna give all these other floozies the time of day. And with Asuna escaping her cell (which we hope wasn’t intentional on Oberon’s part so as to mess with her, though we wouldn’t put it past him), it looks like Kirito isn’t far from facing off against Foe Numero Uno. The issue of Sugu/Leafa and Kazuto/Kirito not knowing each others’ real-life identities, seems to have been shelved for now. Maybe they’ll never know.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Sword Art Online – 19

Kirito and Leafa enter a cave network that leads through the subterranean town of Lugru, but Yui alerts them to a dozen players headed in their direction. They turn out to be a squad of Salamander mages, who block the entrance to Lugru and force Kirito into a fight. Leafa hangs back and heals him, and he uses an illusion spell to transform into a giant monster that kills eleven of the twelve. Back to normal, he bribes the survivor for information. Once in town, Leafa logs out to learn Recon’s been trying to reach her. He knows Sigurn is working with the Salamanders, and is planning an surprise attack on a meeting between the Sylphs and Cait Sith.

As the main battle in this episode showed, battles in Alfeim are a bit more complicated than swords and shields. Sure, there’s both of those, but augmented by a galaxy of magic that hurts, heals, supports and sabotages. Sigurn has ordered a hit on Kirito and Leafa, and the squad he sends definitely has their shit together. Kirito complains earlier about having to learn English to memorize the spells, but it doesn’t sound like any English we know. He’s a a meleer no surprise the spell he ultimately casts on himself turns him into an even more powerful meleer. Apparently he can also run really fast now, which startles Leafa when he grabs her along for the ride.

Kirito’s goal is to get to that Tree of Life, climb it, and rescue Asuna. Leafa’s faction is now faced with going to all-out-war against the one group who may have the best chance to get where Kirito needs to go. That means Leafa has to deliver the obligatory, selfless “If you want to kill me and join them, go ahead.” speech. Obviously, Kirito declines. In SAO if you died, you were dead in the real world, and if you murdered another players in SAO, that made you a murderer. He’s going to keep playing with a conscience and not give in to the impulses the game offers to sate. To him, they’re all in it together. And there is a life at stake in Alfeim: Asuna.


Rating: 6 (Good)

P.S. Lugru is yet another awesome-looking town. It’s too bad they spend like no time there.

Sword Art Online – 18

Lyfa and Kirito leave the city bound for Arun, the base of the World Tree, but when her fellow party member Sigurn protests, she decides she’ll be a renegade with Kirito. Recon asks him to take care of her while he stays behind to investigate something. Oberon tells Asuna he met Kirito in the real world and doubts he’ll come for her, but Asuna knows better, and discovers the code for her cell door. Kirito experiences “rotating out” for the first time, but neither he nor Suguha notice the other is still in the game. Kirito has the feeling they’re being watched, and Suguha mentions the possibility of an animal “tracer”, in this case a bat.

The series seems to be committed to following Suguha everywhere, even places where she might not be fully clothed. While we know this is just fanservice, showing her in her underwear and naked in the bath could be construed as visual metaphors for her vulnerability as she struggles with her feelings for her brother and the nature of this new Kirito guy who has totally upturned her VR life (which isn’t a bad thing). Her comatose bro inspired her to start playing Alfeim Online, to see for herself the world her brother loved so much. One wonders why her mother allowed her daughter (and only conscious child at the time) to start playing VR games after what happened to Kazuto. Maybe she doesn’t know.

Her adventurous spirit in Alfeim doesn’t show through in the real world, where she decides against barging in on her brother. If she had, she could’ve discovered he’s Kirito, which would make things very interesting, but the series seems to be saving that revelation for another time, which we understand, as it’s a big one. Whenever it happens (and it better effing happen) the awkward situation between Suguha and Kazuto is at least more intriguing than seeing Oberon poking Asuna in her cage. Seriously, dude…you mounted a mirror so that the keypad could be seen in the reflection? We’re hoping that’s intentional, to give Asuna a glimmer of hope to later snuff out, ’cause that’s not good prison design.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. The view from the top of that tower that Kirito and Lyfa jump off is inded quite nice. Also, honorable mention to Yui, who gets some cute scenes.

Sword Art Online – 17

Kirito saves Lyfa from the Salamanders, and she thanks him by teaching him how to fly and buying him a drink. He tells her it’s imperative he get to the World Tree as soon as possible. She grudgingly agrees to accompany him before she logs out and is revealed to be Sugu. Kirito promises Yui he’ll get Asuna back, then falls asleep and logs out as well. Up in the World Tree, Asuna is being held captive by Sugou, AKA the Fairy King Oberon, who calls her Queen Titania. He insists she fall in love with him soon. He also tells her about using 300 SAO players including her and the 10,000 AFO users for secret research into implanting artificial thoughts, emotions and memories.

We can say with confidence if we met someone speaking in the same voice as our little sister, even if she looked totally different, we’d ask if she was our little sister in real life…but that’s just us. As for Sugu, we were expecting her to run over to her brother in the next room, but while Kirito seemed to give her a similar vibe, it seems she hasn’t made the connection yet. So we have a brother and a sister (really cousin!) who likes him, oblivious to who the other one really is, headed to the World Tree to try to climb it – something that hasn’t been done before. There’s a good reason for that: the conditions for clearing the game may not be possible. Only one race can win, but the final quest may require cooperation between races, which will probably never happen considering one would be sacrificial.

Also, no one knows the nature of the quest itself, and there’s a good reason for that too: Sugou Nobuyuki, AKA “Fairy King Oberon”, is using the players of ALfeim Online for clandestine human experimentation, and it behooves him to delay the clearing of the game. Sugou cements his place as the slimiest, Evilest Evil-With-A-Capital-E Bad Guy of the series, who wants Asuna whether she wants him or not. Asuna puts up a brave front, but her horror is palpable as he paws her and explains exactly how he could wipe her memories (including those of Kirito, no doubt), her free will, her personality – everything that makes her Yuuki Asuna, if he displeases him. So she has to sit tight, and hope that zany brother-sister duo finds a way to get to her. Judging by how quickly Kirito learned high-speed flying (an awesome scene, BTW), it may not take long.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Sword Art Online – 16

Kazuto visits Agil, who tells him the pixelated photo of Asuna was taken by players of a new MMO called ALfeim Online, after flying to the highest level they could reach. Agil lends him the game, and Kazuto uses his NerveGear to jump in. Once he registers as Kirito, he learns he still has all his SAO parameters and skill levels compatable with ALfeim, but all his items are unknown save one: the file he copied Yui into. She is resurrected as a Navigation Pixie. Kirito watches two other players, Lyfa and Recon, get chased by baddies; Recon is knocked out of the game, and Lyfa is cornered. Kirito comes to the rescue, owning the baddies.

Let’s get this outta the way – SPOILER ALERT: Lyfa is Kazuto’s sister Sugu. Book it. Yeah, she doesn’t look like her, but she sounds like her, and she yells the same when she’s swinging her sword. Also, she’s good with that sword. Like a kendo quarterfinalist. So now Kirito (he’s Kirito again!) finds himself in another MMO (though not trapped in it) with both his little sister and his soulmate Asuna (who is trapped). The underlying SAO architecture is the same. Asuna didn’t wake up because she remained trapped in that architecture  Why is anyone’s guess, but it certainly is a raw hand to be dealt.

While the new fairy look makes Kirito look dumber, this game is already cooler in our books because players can fly. That’s a nice feature. It does suck, however, that all of Kirito’s inventory except for Yui was corrupted, and Yui isn’t even omnipotent anymore (if they had to bring her back, this was a clever way to do it). But despite that, Kirito is able to kick some ass, impressing someone he probably doesn’t realize is his sister/cousin. And we can bet he’ll be trying his darnedest to get up into that World Tree to free Asuna from her big birdcage. She remains off-screen and inactive this week; naught but a damsel in distress. And she was once so much more, long ago…well, actually just two episodes ago.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

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.

Sword Art Online – 14 (Fin???)

The coalition led by Heathcliff, Kirito, and Asuna defeats the boss, at the cost of fourteen lives. With 25 floors left, players wonder if they’ll really be able to clear the game. Then Kirito figures out that Heathcliff is really SAO’s creator, Kayaba Akihito, who confirms it, telling him he’d be the final boss. As a reward, he gives Kirito the chance to duel him right there, and Kirito accepts. When he’s about to get skewered, Asuna breaks her paralysis and takes the blow for him, and dies.

Kayaba then kills Kirito, who is able to bend the game laws to stick around long enough to kill Kayaba. Kirito is reunited with Asuna in the sky above Kayaba’s Ruby Castle as the game deletes itself. All players are logged out. A malnurished Kirigaya Kazuto wakes up in a hospital bed, removes his NerveGear, and gets up in search of his love, Yuuki Asuna.

Holy Flerking Schnit! We picked the wrong week to go on vacation…it should have been after this episode, which ends everything we knew only halfway through the series! The final boss is revealed. Asuna dies protecting Kirito. Kirito dies killing Kayaba. The game is over. The remaining episodes will be called Sword Art Offline, amirite? (Rimshot!) Seriously, we’re bowled over by what just happened, and haven’t a clue what’s to come. This was no cheap plot twist – to us it was a bold and risky move that changes everything –  as long as it holds up.

As soon as Asuna died, we knew something fishy was going on. When Kirito died, well, duh, he was going to show up somewhere, not just end up in a void. But we weren’t prepared for the awesome beauty of the last scenes: SAO’s always excelled at backgrounds, but the vistas here take the cake. But perhaps most powerful is the feeling of enormous loss we felt right along with him both when Asuna died in SAO and when he wakes up, unsure of where the real Yuuki is. Such is the strength of his love, he’s able to stand up and walk looking for her. We’ll have what he’s having in his I.V.!


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Sword Art Online – 13

After catching a huge legendary fish with an old man named Nishida, Kirito and Asuna are summoned back to the front lines by Heathcliff. The KBO guild are the first line of attack against the newest boss, The Skull Reaper. The boss is extremely powerful – able to kill a player in one strike – to the point only combined coordinated attacks of Heathcliff, Kirito and Asuna will have any effect.

We feel a little cheated over the first third of this episode. Sure, there was a very sweet and intimate bedtime scene between Kirito and Asuna, but for crying out loud, the rest was all about catching a daggone FISH. It was just filler! But in case you haven’t grasped the depths of Asuna’s love for Kirito: she cried herself to sleep every night until he came along; he became her only reason for living, if he were ever to die, she’d kill herself; and she wants to date and marry and grow old together with Kirito, even if it’s in hospital beds hooked up to machines. That last point is the first serious mention of interest in what could be going on with peoples’ bodies in the real world.

Asuna’s absolute devotion forces us to take a good long look at Fayt Leingod Kirito and ponder: is he worth all the fuss? Don’t get us wrong, he’s a nice guy, who’s saved Asuna’s life and the lives of countless others. But now it’s as if Asuna doesn’t consider herself an individual anymore. She’s either going to be with Kirito, or she doesn’t exist. For his part, Kirito is fine with all this devotion-bordering on-obsession, but can’t quite match her desperately intense passion. All of Asuna’s lovey-dovey talk could also be foreshadowing her death, but we highly doubt the series will pull a stunt like that on such a popular character at this juncture, if ever.


Rating: 6 (Good)