Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 17 – RGB

With Yuuna & Co. captured, the question this week was “who’s left?” to rescue them and stop PoH? That’s answered by Yui, who sends two characters from the Ordinal Scale movie…which I must sheepishly confess I’ve yet to watch. They are the idol Yuuna, whose singing buffs her partner Eiji’s stats. They dive in and fight PoH, and while they aren’t able to beat him, they do buy precious time for Higa to wake Kirito up.

As Eiji and PoH fight, we learn of PoH’s backstory and why he hates Japanese so much (he had a Japanese half-brother whom his dad valued more than him, and made him give up a kidney for him). When he learned of the SAO incident, he used a black market NervGear to dive in and commence killing players as part of Laughing Coffin, with the PoH handle standing for “Prince of Hell”.

Frankly I can’t quite care about a sadistic, unrepentant serial killer’s background; any injustices committed against him have long since been outweighed by the death and suffering he’s caused, and I truly hope he pays for it sooner rather than later.

On other fronts, Sinon loses her legs but manages to take one of Subtilizer’s arms (thanks to her Solus profile and Kirito’s pendant), while little sis Suguha gets impaled through the eye but keeps on ticking thanks to Terraria’s infinite regeneration.

Subtilizer ends up breaking off from Sinon, which seems odd considering he wanted to eat her soul and she’s pretty vulnerable. I guess he intends to group up with PoH? In any case, back on Ocean Turtle a well-thrown wrench from Rinko causes Yanai to lose his balance and fall off the platform, ending the standoff with Higa. I for one hope the dinner date they make doesn’t turn out to be a death flag.

No longer hampered by a mole, Higa proceeds with the operation, connecting Asuna, Suguha, and Shino’s STLs to Kirito’s. Their avatars glow red, green, and blue, respectively, combining into a golden light that surrounds Kirito…though he notably doesn’t quite open his eyes to reveal they’re no longer dead-looking. I’m hoping next week he finally does wake up for real and get to work—he can’t possibly ask any more from his girlfriend, sister, friends and comrades.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 16 – Avenging Admi

Things start out like they’re going to get very unpleasant indeed when Subtilizer uses his black and purple smoke to control Sinon’s body and draw her closer to him until she’s in his arms.

Just as he’s about to kiss her (and thus “taste” her sweet, sweet soul), he is suddenly repelled several meters back by electricity emanating from a pendant from Kirito Sinon didn’t even know she was wearing. She and Subtilizer produce their GGO weapons of choice and prepare for the next phase of their duel.

The secondary Dark Territory fights are a mixed bag. Even when Siune manages to briefly pause the fighting and gain the attention of Moonphase and Mei, the loud, charismatic PoH viciously declares the “dirty Japanese” are lying liars and that anyone who helps them are traitors.

Sheyta and Iskhan, on the other hand, are rescued from certain doom by the timely arrival of Leafa, Lilpilin and his Orc forces, who relieve the few surviving Pugilists. Even so, they’re still outnumbered by the hordes of red knights.

Higa, who arguably has the most important job of everyone in attempting to revive Kirito, finds himself on the wrong end of a pistol being held by Yanai, whose betrayal of Kikuoka and Rath goes far deeper than mere cooperation with American intelligence agencies and loyalty to Sugou Nobuyuki—with whom he seems share a perverse sadism where women are concerned.

As Kikuoka and Rinko learn from the titular “Code 871” on the monitor, Yanai has been corrupted by a lower-level Alice-like artificial fluctlight. Judging from his voice and devotion to “Admi”-nistrator, he’s basically an outside-world version of Chudelkin. Yanai wants Kirito’s soul to die.

Bottom line, Higa is in trouble, but Yanai isn’t the most stable guy and he hit Higa in the shoulder when he was trying not to, so maybe when he actually tries to hit him he’ll miss? That’s not much to work with, but Higa needs to shake Yanai and get back to work ASAP.

That’s because back in the Underworld, PoH successfully gets Asuna, Lisbeth, Klein, Agil, and everyone else in the main battle to surrender and produce the catatonic Kirito. Moonphase and Mei’s presence hasn’t made a difference as of yet, Leafa and especially Sinon have their hands full, and with Kirito’s virtual body in enemy hands, the window for reviving him is closing rapidly.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 13 – They’re (Not) All Women

Three months later than originally planned, we return to the War of Underworld already in progress, picking up where we left off (this is a trend in sequels this season). The good: Sinon beats the second wave of American players back, and is able to have a quiet moment with Kirito that makes everyone in the wagon tear up.

He has got to wake up, and since this sub-arc is called Awakening, here’s hoping he does just that when his friends need him most. Sinon’s Solus character can also fly without a time limit, so Asuna immediately sends her to join Bercouli to rescue Alice from Vecta.

Another familiar face suddenly appears in Leafa (AKA Suguha, Kirito’s sister), though unlike Asuna and Sinon her entrance isn’t very grand. She falls to the ground in front of the grieving orc soldier Lilpilin, who is astonished to hear Leafa refer to him as human, since they’re talking and all.

Within minutes Dee Eye Ell shows up and restrains Leafa with her glowing, groping, probing tentacles. Taketatsu Ayana makes a lot of, ahem, distressing sounds during this scene, and while Leafa loses a lot of blood (and presumably life energy) she’s still able to endure.

When Dee tells Lilpilin she’ll let Leafa go if he strips down and walks on all fours like a pig, he prepares to do it, because he has no other choice. That’s when Leafa breaks free from the tentacles without much effort, slices Dee’s arms off, and then blows her into bloody pulp. A girl has her limits.

Meanwhile Asuna’s forces repel more hordes of American players at ruins that form a bottleneck. In that narrow place Lightning Flash Asuna shows off her stuff—as do the battle animators. All the while, Vassago, who has returned to the Underworld in a new body, bides his time.

When Bercouli is unable to catch up to Vecta even with three fresh dragons, he resorts to cutting Vecta’s dragon down with Uragiri, the “sword that slashes the past”. Vecta and the unconscious Alice are grounded, but Bercouli soon finds he’s no match for Vecta’s swordsmanship. He throws everything he’s got at him, only for Vecta to call him an “old vintage wine”—not to his taste, but perhaps a god “palate cleanser”.

Vecta also has a nasty ability to make Bercouli completely freeze up and forget what he’s even doing for a few crucial moments during which Vecta can hack and slash at him at will. Remembering his former boss Administrator’s question about a “premonition of death”, he resigns himself to dying there, but not without protecting his beloved Alice, who has always been like a daughter to him.

If Bercouli can buy just a little more time for Sinon to catch up, he’ll have succeeded. Obviously, Vecta can’t be allowed to place Alice on the World’s End Altar, or the good guys lose. As a bloodied Asuna is mopping up the last of the Americans, the sky opens once more, but it’s not more enemy reinforcements, it’s their old comrade Klein…and he’s not alone.

Ten episodes now remain to tell the Awakening story. I imagine this week’s format—cuts between individual battles and conversations—will eventually resolve into fewer lines as allies reunite and combine. Vecta and Vassago are still quite the tough customers, but they’ll soon find themselves outnumbered as more of Kirito and Asuna’s wide network of friends—both women and men, Ronie—flock to his support.

 

 

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 11 – Protecting The World They Built

When Vecta sends his remaining troops across the chasm Asuna created a few at a time, it goes predictably badly, gaining the ire of the leader of the Pugilists. Asuna, Bercouli, and the other knights mop up the relatively defenseless forces, but Vecta isn’t surprised; the Human Empire has superior AI for its grunts and generals. But he has another ace up his sleeve, where his tech Critter is hard at work back on Rath.

The first thing Critter does is synch the Underworld’s clock to the real worlds, so an hour here is an hour there. Then he sends out a massive invite blast to an Underworld “beta test” in America. The resulting montage of people speaking horrific English made me wonder why they bothered, as it almost pulled me right out of the episode, but the end result is that Vecta is able to amass a reserve army of seasoned American MMO gamers, thus potentially turning the tables.

From the realm where she’s on standby, observing the digital world, Yui notices the implementation of the fake beta test, and notifies both Suguha and Shino. Following Yui’s instructions, the girls head to the Roppongi branch of Rath, ask to speak to Kikuoka, and are given access to STL beds. Looks like Asuna will soon be getting reinforcements.

Finally, Yui rouses the rest of the SAO/AFO crew: Lisbeth, Silica, Klein, and Agil, and brings them up to speed. Needless to say, all of them are fully on board with helping Kirito and Asuna any way they can, but the four of them plus Suguha and Shino won’t be enough.

They need numbers to counter the American invasion. A similar beta test blast in Japan won’t give them those numbers, as it’s the middle of the night when perhaps a tenth of the active users. Definitely a clever use of time zones as an obstacle to gaining parity with Vecta’s forces by the same methods.

It falls to Lisbeth & Co. to gather what members of the various tribes of AFO are awake and deliver to them a heartfelt speech that will convince them to undertake all of the risks that come with diving into the Underworld. Those risks include the lack of admin control, UI interfaces, and pain absorbers, and the potential for character degradation or even total loss.

It’s a tough sell, and many of the assembled players believe SAO survivors look down on them, but Lisbeth digs deep and gives an impassioned call for everyone who loves MMOs to come to the aid and defense of a world all of them helped create, and an AI in Alice who is the culmination of their shared experiences and emotions.

As we all know, War of Underworld is being split into two cours, the first of which will end with the next episode. And while it will be hard to wait for the ultimate conclusion to this arc, this first half looks primed to end on a very satisfying note as the titular Underword War enters its next phase.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.

Sword Art Online II – 12

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Last week was almost entirely Kirito and Sinon idle in the cave talking, and it seemed like they’d arrived at a plan. That was the planning, this week would be the execution, right? Hold on; we’ve got ten more minutes of exposition and re-planning in the cave before we see a lick of action. That’s a disappointing choice for the midpoint a show that’s had no shortage of them this season.

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I get that asking for a prompt resolution to the Ballet of Bullets arc is something of an unreasonable demand, but the fact of the matter is, I’m just not into it anymore. It’s been dragged out too long and the urgency and momentum aren’t there. Even when we get to action, as we do in the Kirito/Death Gun/Dark Wind/Sinon battle, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. Sniping is only so interesting an activity, as is dodging bullets and swinging a purple lightsaber around.

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I’m glad Sinon is able to take out Dark Wind, gaining back her confidence in the process, and isn’t even particularly troubled when Death Gun takes out her scope. As for Asuna, I’m glad the show is trying to involve her somewhat, but this week all she did was move from ALO where she was watching Kirito on TV to the hospital where she watches him on TV.

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The development of her part in this is molasses slow. One thing I did like was how Kirito will never remember Death Gun’s real name because he arrogantly refused to learn it in the first place. But it wasn’t a particularly confidence-inspiring episode going into the show’s second half. I never thought I’d be considering dropping SAO…but even my patience has limits.

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Sword Art Online II – 11

Sinon's Ass, From Four Different Angles
Sinon’s Ass, From Four Different Angles

Those of you looking for some SAO action this week were surely disappointed, as literally absolutely nothing happened this week. Kirito tells Sinon about his past and his mission and they formulate a new plan, while Asuna gets Kikuoka to spill the beans about Kirito’s whereabouts. But it’s all just talking, and most of it is while Sinon is in a needlessly compromising position. There are also enough shots of her ass to make a decent drinking game.

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Still, I can appreciate the need to have a calm-before-the-storm episode before the mid-season climax, and what is said in Kirito and Sinon’s episode-long discussion is at least interesting to me most of the time, even if the episode on the whole isn’t. For one thing, Kirito realizes that Death Gun can’t actually kill people with a virtual bullet: that’s magic. It’s far more likely there’s a second Death Gun—his accomplice—in the real world, preying on players who live alone and have crappy locks on their doors.

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Sinon is Death Gun’s latest target, and the real-world one is indeed in there, even administering a shot that raises her heart rate, though somehow Kirito is able to calm her down and keep her from logging out, which would have meant certain death. Still, the Death Guns seem to be following a certain code, which means the real world one won’t kill her unless virtual Death Gun shoots her. For that reason, Sinon needs to stay out of Death Gun’s sights, which won’t be easy as he can become transparent.

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The plan is pure simplicity: Kirito will serve as a decoy and draw Death Gun out, and Sinon will snipe him from afar. Easier said than done. Other highlights of their talk was Sinon learning Kirito hasn’t learned how to deal with the lives he took while in SAO, any more than she’s learned how to deal with those she killed in the real world. All he can tell her is that to “keep thinking” about it—at acknowledge that it was done—is the minimum amount of atonement.

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Both of them have yet to learn that atonement need not consist of them hating themselves for the rest of their lives. I can’t say I was enamored of the overdone Sinon fanervice this week, but I like the fact that the responsibility for taking out Death Gun will fall to her, as well as the fact Asuna may yet involve herself in this situation out of love for Kirito. The mission he told Kikuoka he’d carry out may be important, but isn’t worth his life, and Asuna seems poised to see his life isn’t lost needlessly.

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Sword Art Online II – 10

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On the one hand, I watched a good deal of this episode with a firm frown on my face, bitterly annoyed and disappointed that Sinon is, for lack of a better word, comprehensively emasculated from the in-game bad-ass we liked so much since her first episode, and put into the position where the steady, reliable Kirito has to rescue her, even if she’s not even sure she wants to be rescued.

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“It’s all good Sinon. We all have our days when we’re not at our best.”

On the other hand, that Sinon we liked never really existed. She was only a front; a shell Asada Shino created when she started GGO as a form of therapy. In other words, when it was just a game. When suddenly confronted with a trigger for her PTSD—namely, the gun she used to kill someone—she crumbles and can no longer pull the trigger, but there’s nothing out of left field about that; it makes sense, when taking all her circumstances into account.

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THERE…That wasn’t so hard, was it?! (It was.)

The flaw in Sinon’s goal, as laudable as it sounded in theory, was that even if she was recognized as the strongest player in GGO, it wouldn’t have any effect on the Asada Shino in the real world. Sinon was a persona, and a fragile one, that the reality of her psychological issues was simply too much for. So while we’re disappointed Shino had to hit rock bottom, it’s better for her illusion of strength to be broken now, not quite halfway through, so she can begin the process of becoming stronger the right way (whatever that is).

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You may ask yourself: “But Hannah, if Sinon gets so worked up around Death Gun and her past, why is Kirito such a cool cucumber?” Well, I have a few answers to that. Sinon had to kill when she was just eleven years old; she killed in the real world, getting literal blood on her hands; she was ostracized by her peers. Shino got the shorter end of the stick all around, and had a far weaker support system. Long before Kirito was trapped in SAO, Shino was trapped in a prison of guilt and self-loathing.

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For the record: the “Circle of Chanting Mean Kids” trope should really be retired.

She’s still not completely out of that prison, and Kirito is still in one of his own. As cool and composed as he was this week, he still can’t guarantee he won’t abandon her, turn tail and run when that Death Gun is pointed at him again. Storms of fear and doubt rage beneath his calm exterior, Sinon just hasn’t seen it’s full extent, while we (and Nurse Aki) have.

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So…when does he break it to her he’s spoken for?

I’ll be honest: the show is currently breaking zero ground in having the girl rely on the guy so much thus far, but I can accept this setback provisionally if it represents the first step towards her properly dealing with her past (Wishful thinking? We’ll see!), which could lead to a stronger, more stable self. That’s a greater possibility now that she knows Kirito shares the burden of having killed for real. She’s been working so hard to forget about what she did, but Kirito did forget, and can speak from experience: forgetting and plowing ahead will never be as effective as acceptance and forgiveness.

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Sword Art Online II – 09

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There are only a few cases in entertainment where watching people watching something within the show is tolerable. MST3k is certainly one of them. SAOII is not. There’s something a bit silly about Asuna, Yui, Rika, Suguha, Keiko, and…er…what’s-his-name watching the BoB from within ALO. Why lie in bed alone when you could get together in the real world and watch in person?

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In any case, these scenes were part of a larger over-arching problem with this episode: it lagged. I was a little more tolerant of the pace when things were still building up, and I realize this arc will probably be over in three episode’s time, but the stalling was a bit too over-apparent here, and there wasn’t really anything we haven’t seen before (Kirito’s bullet-dodging is kind of one-note, for example). At this late stage, I was left wanting.

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Worse still, despite how little happened in this episode, it has the audacity to end on a cliffhanger, with Sinon being paralyzed by Death Gun (who has more super powers than a State Farm agent) and is about to be shot (and killed for real) when the ep cuts to credits. This means Sinon is either dead (doubtful) or has become yet another damsel in distress for Kirito to swoop in and save.

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There are other possibilities (another player could save her), but it’s frustrating how much being around Kirito has sapped her of her agency. He’s pawing her constantly and calling all the shots. The fact that Death Gun’s Death Gun (which is the same kind she used to kill as a child) turns her into a basketcase doesn’t help matters.

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Sword Art Online II – 08

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No more setup or qualifying; Ballet of Bullets 3 officially kicks off this week; a 30-man battle royale with only one victor (at least, there was only one in the previous two BoBs) taking place in a 10 square kilometer stage filled with several different terrains. One of SAO II’s challenges is to make the game look like a lot of fun, and it doesn’t have any trouble with that: the pre-BoB betting; the drinking and carousing; the countdown and the fireworks all conspire to make this a grand, exciting event.

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Before it starts, Sinon allows Kirito to keep hanging around her asking for information, likely because she felt a connection between them in the qualifying finals. Unlike us, she doesn’t know exactly what Kirito’s deal is, but in exchange for letting him stick by her, she gets a lot more information in this regard, and even realizes that Kirito could well be an SAO survivor, something he doesn’t admit for sure (though we thought he would).

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In a nice moment of levity, Kirito capitalizes on his new-found celebrity in GGO, which has all but equaled Sinon’s overnight. Of course, that would evaporate almost instantly if everyone finds out he’s really a guy. But he wants all eyes on him because that’s what all of Death Gun’s victims had when he murdered them: it was done out in the open, with an audience. And there’s no greater audience in GGO than BoB.

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After Sinon reiterates the promise Kirito made her to stay alive so they could fight, they jump into BoB. Nine of the thirty players drop almost immediately, and surprisingly, Sinon and Kirito aren’t apart for long. Kirito makes another deal with her: they’ll watch the battle unfold until there’s only one player left and them; that person is sure to be Death Gun, if he’s the threat Kirito believes him to be, after all.

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Sinon agrees (as long as she gets to fight him seriously at some point in the future), but Death Gun surprises them both by showing up out of nowhere, hitting “Pale Rider” (whom Kirito thought could be Death Gun) with a stun round super-rare silencing sniper rifle then aiming his handgun at him. Fearful Death Gun’s shot will kill the player, Kirito orders Sinon to shoot Death Gun first. Cliffhanger and roll credits. Rats!

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All in all, nice episode. Certainly all the pieces seem to be in place for the final confrontation with Death Gun, including the reveal of who he actually is. Like the 75th Hunger Games, the BoB will probably fade into the background in light of Kirito’s more pressing mission, and again, Sinon should prove a valuable ally. While she may exhibit tsundere-ty on occasion, I’m loving Sinon’s interactions with Kirito, wanting to learn more about him as her trust in him gradually grows.

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Sword Art Online II – 07

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In this calm-before-the-storm episode, SAOII puts the action on hold and takes the time to reflect on the present emotional states of Kazuto and Shino, painting the coming rematch as must-win for both of them. If Kirito loses, his chances of facing off with Death Gun diminish greatly, now that Death Gun is far more than the target he was hired to investigate.

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While outside of the MMO where he gets to shoot and slash and take his mind off things, in the real world Kazuto is haunted by his titular “crimson memories,” or rather the lack of detail in them. After putting on a brave, reassuring face for both Asuna and Sugu (a face they don’t quite believe), it’s Nurse Aki who finally gets to the heart of his torment: because he forgot two of the faces of the men he killed, he believes he’s a monster who doesn’t deserve to be saved.

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Aki can’t do much more than offer hugs of increasing intensity, but hugs can be immensely effective in moments such as this. I particularly like how Aki admitted she had no idea what it must’ve been like to kill in SAO, but as a medical professional she deals in life and death all the time, and sometimes someone has to die for someone else to live, and someone else has to choose, and live with that choice.

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Neither I nor Aki can believe that Kazuto is the monster he claims, simply because a monster wouldn’t suffer like he is. And as Aki says, people have a right to save themselves by balancing their guilt for the people they killed by remembering the people they saved and protected. It’s a burden to be acknowledged and carried, not a pyre upon which to immolate oneself.

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Shino is in a bit of a tough spot as well. Her time spent with Kirito in GGO has changed her; she’s even making a gun shape with her hand in the real world, something she never could do. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, he’s helping her become stronger. Meanwhile, Kyouji confesses to her in both worlds, wanting her to go back to the way she was; a selfish notion, considering how much we know Shino didn’t like the way she was.

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Continuing his campaign of acting like a very suspicious motherfucker, Shinkawa Kyouji makes Sinon even more uneasy—not the best thing to be when you’re in the tournament of your life—but Kirito is just as uneasy. These are two people whose souls have been wounded by the lives they’ve taken, and both have chosen the BoB as the venue of their redemption, if there’s any to be had. But only one of them will move on.

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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)

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)