Sword Art Online II – 19

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It took until just five episodes left in the damn show, but SAO II finally delivered something I’ve been yearning for since the second season was announced: an episode with Asuna as the focus, doing things. While part of me is content we got an episode like this at all, I’m pleased to report that it was a damned fine episode in its own right.

By now we’re well aware of the inner turmoil Kirito, Asuna, and the others carry with them, even though only Kirito has gotten that much screen time to explore it (as well as Sinon, whose turmoil came from the real world, not the game). What we haven’t seen is much of Asuna’s struggles with that turmoil, and just how cold and uncaring her family is to her situation.

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Asuna leaves her very cold bedroom to the huge, stodgy dining room where her mother scolds her for not being five minutes early for dinner. The dinner starts off relatively innocuous until Asuna realizes her mother is using this opportunity to tell her she plans to marry her to a countryside banker and move her to a better school so she can start college early.

This dynamic works because while Asuna’s mom is basically the villain here, she’s decidedly not evil, only cold and pragmatic: she didn’t come from money, but married into it, and she’s determined to make sure Asuna avails herself of the opportunities she’s been given in life.

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And that’s all well and good…if ignoring the fact that Asuna “one of those children who spent two years killing each other.” Her mom’s phrasing seems to be designed to underplay just how traumatizing the experience is, and shrug it off as an unfortunate inconvenience, but she can’t just wave away the emotional scars, nor the bond she formed with Kirito. Her mom’s checked into him as well (again, devaluing him by calling him a child), and forbids her to choose him as her mate.

When Asuna questions her judgment after subjecting her to the criminal Sugou as her first betrothed, her mom dismisses that as her father’s choice, not hers. Asuna is forced to retreat, but not before tossing that dig about her mom being ashamed of being from poorer parents.

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Asuna doesn’t want the path that’s been laid out for her; it’s a path laid out by parents who may on some level care about her happiness, but are forcing their own definition of happiness upon her, “for her own good.” It’s pretty tough love, and unlike Kirito, whose family situation is just peachy (aside from his sister briefly being in love with him), it’s made diving into ALO a kind of emergency release for Asuna. With the weight of the world and her parents’ expectations bearing down on her, ALO is where she has strength and agency.

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Yet even in the virtual world, Asuna admits she hasn’t done much and is worried the Lightning Flash Asuna of yore is gone, along with her innocence. Fighting Zekken — whom she’s surprised to find is a girl — is a way of validating whether she’s still “got it”, which in turn could give her more strength to face her problems in the real world.

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Zekken is a perfectly nice, polite young lady, but the surprise of her gender throws Asuna off at first – as does her ridiculous speed.

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Taking a step back and another deep breath, Asuna realigns her resolve, remembering why she’s there: not just to prove she’s still a power in ALO, but to blow off some steam. The difference in the two halves of the fight are like night and day; in the latter half, Asuna goes all out and is able to keep up…

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…Right up until Zekken turns it up and breaks out her overpowered, almost-cheating special skill. At this point, while Asuna’s resigned to losing, she’s not upset by her performance; it was a duel she can look back upon with satisfaction. Then, at the last second, Zekken holds back her blade and ends the fight. It turns out she wasn’t necessarily looking to win the duel either…only test her opponent. And Asuna passed.

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Before the duel, Kirito confided in Asuna that he thought something was fishy about Zekken, as if she were a “product of the full-dive environment.” I don’t understand that term any more than Asuna, but it is an unsubtle hint that there’s more to Zekken than just a duel-loving heavy user. The fact her player name is “Yuuki”, Asuna’s last name, is also telling.

Kirito’s suspicions are confirmed when Yuuki flies Asuna up into the sky to formally ask her to “please help [them],” meaning whatever Yuuki is, there’s more than one of her, and as powerful as she is, their duel impressed her enough to believe Asuna could be of help. And I’m sure that notion alone raised Asuna’s spirits considerably. This episode sure raised mine!

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Sword Art Online II – 18

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We start in a warm and familiar log cabin in the forest on a cold and snowy night…

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Perhaps well aware its audience would only tolerate so many recaps, SAO II wisely avoided a re-telling of what was a brief, self-contained Excaliber arc. What we got instead was still lightweight enough to make Colin Chapman blush, but rather than a random, partially-baked, pulled-out-of-its-ass Norse-loaf, both distinct halves of this episode were steeped in the SAO we’ve lived through and emotionally resonates the most for us. It was a warm, cozy episode.

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Full-size Human Yui > Tinkerbell Yui. There, I said it.

God, I almost forgot Yui was once normal-sized! Yes, we go all the way back to the halcyon time of almost perfect contentment on Aincrad’s 22nd Floor, a log cabin in the forest where Kirito and Asuna fell in love and built a home and family. Unlike Kirito, Asuna didn’t really like her home and family in the real world, so when they lost their cabin, it was like losing the only home where she’d ever been happy.

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So when Egil notifies Kirito and Asuna that the 21st through 30th floors of New Aincrad are open for exploration and clearing in ALO, they jump at the chance to find and reclaim that home. Their friends and family help out, and unlike the Jotenheimr arc, there’s an actual important purpose to their fighting that I care about. The boss on Floor 21 puts up a fight (on Christmas Eve!), but with their usual excellent teamwork the party brings it down and advance to the next level.

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Asuna’s well-earned jubilation at returning to Floor 22 to find their cabin just as they left it, and Yui returning to her normal size after they press they “Buy” button together…I’m not gonna lie, I got a little glassy-eyed myself. It’s a beautiful little moment; filled with joy. And now we know why in the episode’s cold open the gang was in that cabin!

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The timing couldn’t have been better for Asuna, either. As the daughter of a super -rich aristocratic family in Kyoto, her family subjects her to meet-and-greets and omiais with sketchy rich douchebags. There isn’t any indication she’s being forced into anything, but it’s clear ALO isn’t just an idle escape; it’s where she finds strength and control over her life. There, she has a family in Kirito and Yui and the rest of the gang. But still, you’d think her folks would let her choose for herself after she came so close to being freaking coma-raped last season.

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It’s at her home in the cabin in the woods where she’s having a study sleepover session with Kirito, Yui, Sugu, Liz, and Silica, where she learns of Zekken, a mysterious but singularly powerful dueler offering a unique eleven-hit combo sword skill that matches her preferred setup to the one who beats him (or her; they’re continually referred to without gender).

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Liz, Sugu, and even Kirito have already gone up against Zekken and lost, so it would seem to fall to Asuna to get the job done and win that skill for herself. That’s a good thing, as it would be nice to have Asuna front and center kicking ass again, as we’ve only seen the slightest tastes of her in action thus far this season.

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When Asuna is shocked Kirito couldn’t beat Zekken, Liz has a very good theory for why he lost. Sugu remarks that Kirito wasn’t slacking off, but nor did he dual-wield. As Liz puts it, Kirito will probably only ever fight with everything he’s got if the game is no longer a game, such as it was in the days of SAO and when he was fighting to free Asuna. It’s a nice bit of analysis from Liz, another one we hear far too little from.

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No green-bobbed Slylph Asuna? BOOOO!

Just kidding, Blue Asuna will do just fine for the upcoming fight. A new ending sequence prominently shows a girl who somewhat resembles Asuna but isn’t Yui or anyone we’ve met before, and furthermore matches Zekken’s general color scheme. Combined with the way the gang talked about Zekken without specific gender articles, this girl is probably Zekken herself. I for one am excited to see where this new Asuna-centric arc takes us.

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And now, your SAO II Moment of Zen:saoii18mz

Sword Art Online II – 17

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Nearly as quick as a fairy archer’s kick to a frost giant’s nose, the Norse Mythology / Excaliber (not “ur”) quest is wrapped up.  King Thrym turns out to be far less of a threat than I thought, and he’s dealt with in the episode’s A-part.

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That’s accomplished due to more teamwork by the party, and in this case, again I find myself forgiving the sheer size of said party, for no other reason then…well, look at the size of the boss! You need a forward team laying down melee attacks while others stay back and offer ranged attacks and support spells. It’s all pretty by-the-numbers…then Freyja has Kirito find Mjolnir and transforms into a He-Man-garbed Thor!

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OMG ASUNA DOES SOMETHING THIS WEEK!

Not does her sudden gender-swap kill Klein’s brief and only love interest to date (not that it really mattered, since she was virtual), but gives the party the edge they need to bring down Thrym, as Thor proves quite the large and effective decoy, keeping Thrym’s hands full as the rest of the party can attack at will.

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SUUUURRRRRRRRRGE!

Klein wins Mjolnir as a reward (though he sucks at hammer-wielding), and the party moves on to the lowest level of Thrymheim where Excaliber rests. It’s at this point that both Kirito and I remember that he summoned the holy sword once before, after his foe failed to do so…

Yeah, I kinda wish the sword had turned into an creepy, annoyingly haughty cartoon character.

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After it’s removed, Thrymheim crumbles and the party starts falling with it, but Tonkii arrives on cue to bear them to safety. It’s at this point that Kirito holds Excaliber uneasily in his hand, and, deeming it still too heavy, throws the thing into the dry lake.

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This seemed like a stupid thing to do, and Sinon, agreeing with me, quickly retrieves it with an arrow enchanted with a retrieval spell. I thought she did this because she wanted it herself, but she just gives it back to Kirito, making him promise to think of her when he uses it. A little out-of-character this week, aren’t we, Sinon? Also, why are you giving it back to him? He’ll just throw it away again!

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Okay, that helmet is kinda cute…

Then Urd appears along with her sisters Verdandi and Skuld to thank the party and officially end the quest, and Klein instantly falls for Skuld and asks for her contact info even though she’s just a virtual NPC and not a real woman and he just met her. This strange and somewhat pathetic move somehow earns Klein Lisbeth’s respect…though maybe she’s being sarcastic?

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We cut to Kazuto showing Shino and Sugu his new “mechatronics” demo which allows his digi-daughter Yui fly around the bar, and is it just me, or is the episode running out of stuff to do??

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Finally, we end with a big New Year’s feast in the real world, with Kirito taking care of the check with funds he presumably earned in the GGO arc. Overall, this episode was a little disappointing and safe. It wrapped up a fairly inconsequential sidequest, but seemed to have difficulty filling the running time. I’m wondering if one or two more lightweight sidequests are all that’s left in store for the last seven episodes, which would be an even greater disappointment.

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Sword Art Online II – 16

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The stakes of the group’s New Years “Just For Fun” Optional Quest for Excalibur are raised significantly when Yui realizes that because ALO uses the same Cardinal architecture for creating random quests drawn from human mythology, literature, and history, the natural conclusion to their present Norse quest is Ragnarok, a “final battle” that will destroy the world, meaning the entire ALO game map, wiping out everyone’s progress.

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That’s like your Playstation packing up without warning. Yes, this has happened to me, and it sucks. So now that this is no longer playing around, this episode get sback to the basics of SAO: RPG-style battles filled with physical and magical attacks and defenses. We also finally get why the party is so big; even the minotaur-like guards on the “easier” of the four floors are tough customers that require sustained onslaughts to bring them down. The only thing missing from the battle are flying numbers showing how much HP and MP is being lost or spent.

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That tough battle is eventually won thanks to contributions from everyone — yes, even Asuna and Silica fight! — and they move down to the next level, but run into an ice cage where a beautiful damsel is imprisoned and, well, Klein can’t help himself, succumbing to his “Bushido” and freeing her, even though everyone (including him) is pretty dang sure It’s A Trap!

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She turns out to be not just any wench, but Freyja, Norse goddess of love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr (sorcery), war, and death. Not a bad addition to the party, in other words…and Hey, none of the other girls seem to have an interest in Klein, but Klein needs love too!

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With Freyja now part of the fray, Kirito goes over the plan with everyone: Nothing fancy, just observe the upcoming boss’ moves, look for patterns and weaknesses, and take the bastard out before the medallion turns completely black and they lose all the hours of progress they’d amassed in the game thus far. This one’s for all the marbles.

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Freyja immediately exhibits a boon of having her in the party, as she casts a spell similar to “Bubble” that no one else wields, which increases everyone’s Max HP by at least 50%. Combined with Asuna’s party buffs, they’re as prepared as they’ll ever be to face King Thrym. My only nitpick would be that they didn’t get a little more intricate and thorough with the support spells, the way one must do in RPGs prior to a big fight.

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Once in the King’s Chambers, the party is flanked by fantastic wealth, obviously meant as a temptation to draw them off their path or even just delay them until Ragnarok arrives. King Thrym himself, being a frost giant, is suitably imposing, haughty, and mocking, dismissing the intruders as nothing more than flies sent by Urd to annoy him with their buzzing.

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Before the battle begins, Thrym notes that Freyja is with him, and that she was sent to his fortress to wed him, an offer he’s kept open, but imprisoned her because he suspected she was trying to steal from him (likely Excalibur). He also loads up three separate health bars, meaning he’s no Yiazmat (by God that guy was a pain in the ass), but he’s no Goomba, either

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Sword Art Online II – 15

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With the BoB behind us and a week removed from a recap, I was eager to get back to Sword Art Online, and maybe get some more scenes in the real world between Kazuto and Shino. Alas, Sugu tells Kirito that someone’s after the Holy Sword Excalibur, and he’s back off into MMOLand.

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Sinon unfortunately just becomes one of the gals, with cat ears and a tail that’s seemingly specifically there for Kirito to pull in jest. Kirito and Sugu gather Asuna, Yui, Klein, Lisbeth, and Silica to complete their rather large and ungainly party of eight. I can’t say I care all that much about Klein, Lisbeth, or Silica; but they’re here, and I suppose they’ll have a unique use as this arc progresses.

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The characters descend into the frozen wastes of Jotenheimr, which is below Alfheim but above Niflheim. There, Sugu summons her friend she rescued from baddies: a very cool-looking eight-winged elephant-octopus thing she named Tonkii that kind of freaks everyone else out a little but proves helpful.

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Once the party boards him, they fly through the skies of Jotenheimer until “Urd, Queen of the Lake” appears to deliver quite a bit of exposition about the arc to come. She and her two sisters are of the Hill Giants, who were subjugated by the Frost GIants led by King Thrym of Niflheim who ascended to Jotenheimer and disconnected the roots of Yggdrasil, turning the verdant paradise into the arctic wastes we see.

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He did that with Excalibur, which means if Kirito & Co. can retrieve it, the frozen castle Thrymheim that is lodged in the rock ceiling will descend and return Jotenheimer to its previous state. Since he wanted to grab Excalibur anyway, Kirito and Urd’s goals match. I’m not sure what to make of this all yet, but the striking visuals of the new landscape were marred by the sudden gaggle of old and not entirely compelling characters.

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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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Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince – 17

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Ange is sent to assist the fleets on the front lines, but the rest of the Rabbits turn around and head to earth, where an independent Wulgaru detachment is headed, targeting the Gurantseere Academy. The detachment is led by Klein, who wants revenge for what the lumata did to him. Lumes (Rumes?) wants to join him, but is ordered to stay put. Izuru, Asagi, and Tamaki intercept them in time and stall them as Kei coordinates from orbit. Further out in space, Suruga targets a massive optical cannon at Klein, but after firing, he either misses or it is ineffective, as Klein emerges from the smoke unscathed.

Majestic Prince is nothing if not consistent –  always taking an episode off and change before the next big battle – and workmanlike in executing that battle once it comes.  This one’s the biggest so far; so big, we only get to see one half of it this week. Ange is sent to the front lines with the Dobermans, while Team Rabbits is ordered to deal with a far more imminent threat of a pissed Klein and a crafty Lumes armed with knowledge of where the humans make their elite pilots. Even snooty Price Jiart appreciates that pathetic as humans are, they’ve made a few such elites who have at least entertained him, meaning all this isn’t a complete hassle.

As for Klein, he’s still butthurt from his previous defeat by Ange, who isn’t even there for the rematch. But the Rabbits work much better as a team without that dude(ette), and while watching him/her battle among massive fleets of warring ships in space, the episode’s showpiece is the battle on earth, which starts with with Izuru and Asagi piggybacking on Tamaki’s Rose 3 as it barrels into the atmosphere. The Rabbits-on-Wulgaru skirmishing is kept fresh with the new backdrop of the blue sky and fluffy clouds. Suruga’s ultra-sniper weapon may have failed, but it looked awesome doing so.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Curiously, Amane isn’t promoted to Admiral in this episode. Not yet, anyway.
  • The other rabbits want to know how Izuru’s “date” went, knowing full well he only had five minutes with the girl, and she had a chaperone. It was a disaster.
  • Up until Asagi says otherwise, Tamaki had always believed she was the Ace of the team. She does have the biggest, toughest, most powerful mecha, after all.
  • The camera cut to the reaction shots of the evacuating humans on the surface, but one guy stuck out like a sore thumb on a few occasions…Click here to see what we’re on about.

Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince – 13

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The ship Suruga was waiting for his entire day off turns out to be transporting a new AHSMB, Black 6, to be piloted by a new member of Team Rabbits, Ange Kuroki. While seemingly shy and submissive at first, after engaging in a mock battle with Izuru (which he wins handily) his personality totally changes; a slap from Kei and the soft-spoken Ange returns. The MJPs are deployed to 4 Vesta to defend the GDF base from a Wulgaru attack led by Klein. Ange ignores all orders and operates on his own, destroying Klein’s entire squadron, then Klein himself, all while displaying the highest harmonic levels ever seen.

Well, that’s one way to shake things up! With a new half-season comes a new character, the “aloof ace”, someone who isn’t concerned with hobbies, socializing with his teammates, or even listening to a damn word they say. Ange Kuroki…well, he gets Angery. Ahem…we mean angry. He totally schools Izuru, then looks down on him. His AHSMB is the most advanced unit, and he must be the product of some new training program that’s left him less functional as a complete human being than the others. He’s not fitting in, nor does he seem to want to. Sure, Ange disobeyed orders, broke formation and did whatever he wanted, but he got the job done, and the superiors only care about results.

With the possibility Ange ever becoming one of the team being remote when he and his AHSMB are so far ahead of the curve, you have to wonder why he isn’t just his own one-man team. He certainly makes the other Rabbits look bad; no one but Ange is able to save an ambused Kei, who let herself get surrounded, and Tamaki just blasted after the first bogey Kei saw: a decoy. Add a pinned Izuru and Asagi and an inaccurate Suruga, and the team looked pretty poor out there. Even so, we’ve seen what they’re capable of and know they’re better than this. It just seems like Ange served as a hair in their pickled fish guts. Unfortunately for them, it’s a hair they’ll have to live with.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • We’re assuming Ange’s a male and not a female, though he obviously has at least two distinct personalities. FWIW he’s voiced by a lady; Watanabe Akeno, who’s voiced characters of both genders, including Gou from Free!
  • That said, we like how disenchanted Suruga and Tamaki get after Ange’s revealing tantrum.
  • As if we didn’t have enough reasons to love Kei, she’s the first to slap Ange. Excellent!
  • Rin keeps trying to get closer to Izuru, only for him to completely not notice her. Keep at it, Kei!
  • We like the new OP and ED; we liked the old ones too but it’s good to freshen things up.

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 – 09

Kirito and Asuna take a quick look at the boss, Gleam Eyes, but they quickly withdraw and then have lunch. Klein and his Fuurinkazen guild show up, and are excited to see the legendary Asuna in person. A squadron from the Aincrad Liberation Army also appears, and their commander gets the dungeon map from Kirito. When Asuna hears the cries of his men, she, Kirito, and Klein hurry to the boss room, where the army is getting decimated by the boss and teleport crystals are useless. Asuna rushes in, but is overwhelmed by Gleam Eyes’ power; Kirito has to bail her out. Kirito utilizes his secret dual sword-wielding skill to barely defeat the boss, with only a sliver of HP left. When he wakes up, a concerned Asuna embraces him. Later, the Knights of the Blood Oath Commander Heathcliff challenges Kirito to a duel; if Kirito loses, he must join the guild.

Kirito wasn’t fooling anyone when he said he wouldn’t engage the boss. They were fighting that boss, one way or another. Turns out, they did it to relieve a bunch of foolhardy guild members who rushed headlong at the boss with no strategy and no hope of victory. And surprisingly, it’s Asuna – not Kirito – who rushes in first to save them. Her innate decency won’t allow her to stand in the doorway and let weaker players get slaughtered. It’s a ballsy move, as she and Kirito run out of the boss room screaming in the beginning of the episode, with no interest whatsoever in engaging the guy alone. When the chips are down and lives are at stake, however, they’re more than willing to stick their necks out for their fellow players.

It’s nice to see Kirito actually break a sweat as he does this week. He even has to whip out his secret weapon, a heretofore unheard-of ability to wield two swords at once – including the one Lisbeth made him. Speaking of ladies: Asuna’s showing signs of seriously falling for Kirito. When he’s almost killed delivering the coup-de-grace to Gleam Eyes, she’s almost in hysterics. Far from indifferent to Kirito’s existence, she comes out and says she doesn’t know what she’d do if she lost him. When news of his victory gets to Blood Oath HQ, both he and Asuna are in trouble with the commander. Apparently they won’t allow him to poach Asuna, and he’s going to fight him for her. One wonders why Asuna doesn’t have a choice in the matter…


Rating: 8 (Great)

Sword Art Online – 03

While the front line teams are approaching the halfway point of the game, Kirito wallows down on the 20th floor, where he saves the lives of a guild called the Moonlit Black Cats. They insist he join them, and he does, though he conceals his far higher level from them. While a member, they climb high, and he befriends Sachi, a girl constantly afraid of dying; Kirito insists she won’t. While the Cats’ leader Keita is off buying the guild’s first house, the rest go to a dungeon and are ensnared in a treasure box trap, and everyone is killed except for Kirito. When Keita returns and learns of Kirito’s level, he commits suicide.

Kirito goes after a level boss called Nicholas Renegade, who arrives at the stroke of midnight on Christmas, believing he’ll drop a rare item that will bring Sachi back. Klein and his men fight off the elite Holy Dragon Alliance, and Kirito defeats Nicholas, but the item will only bring back a life ‘within ten seconds’ of dying. He gives the item to Klein and slinks off on his own. That night, he recieves an auto-sent message from Sachi, in case she died, telling him not to blame himself and keep surviving to the end.

This weeks episode shows us a Kirito who hasn’t taken leadership of any group or guild, but merely wanders the game, leveling up and staying away from the front lines. But circumstances led him to saving a lower-leveled guild, and when they insist he join up, he can’t say no. This is a group of friends in real life (a PC research club), and it’s probably nice from Kirito’s perspective, at this point in the game, to see that there are close-knit ‘families’ fighting for one another. He probably couldn’t turn his back on that…only he didn’t reveal he was double their level when he joined. Thus he entered a “safe” arrangement – until he learns that one stupid mistake in the game can mean game over. It’s pretty awful to see the guild get killed one by one, but as soon as Kirito told Sachi earlier she wouldn’t die, we kinda expected her to, and she did.

Sometimes simple premises are the best when dealing with single-episode romances like that of Kirito and Sachi, so we’re glad they didn’t do too much, and were moved nonetheless. We found ourselves hoping he could keep her alive and help her overcome her fear. When she died, we hoped he could bring her back, but it just wasn’t to be (the “within ten seconds” catch was particularly heartbreaking). Sachi’s posthumous message was a touching coda to their story of tender, doomed romance. It hopefully allows Kirito to move forward and become a more important force in SAO – if not for himself, than for everyone else; something his dead leader Keita insisted the elite groups were doing.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Sword Art Online – 01

In 2022, a revolutionary new VR MMORPG called Sword Art Online or SAO is launched, with an initial group of ten thousand “lucky” players. Kirito, already an SAO buff having participated in the earlier beta, has been looking forward to nothing else, but when evening arrives, his newfriend Klein isn’t able to log out, as the button doesn’t exist. All players are teleported and held in the main plaza, where an avatar of SAO’s programmer, Kayaba Akihiko, informs them SAO is not a game, and there is no escape unless you clear the 100 floors and complete the game, or die trying. And when you die in the game, you die in real life.

The “Game Gone Wrong” premise is by no means new in the world of anime, but here we have an immediately fresh and engaging take on it. We came into this series blind, not knowing it would in fact take a turn for the sinister. The initial minutes in which Kirito logs on and enters the world is a sequence full of wonder and anticipation, but when Klein casually learns there’s no log out button, and he laughs it off as a bug, we knew it wasn’t just a bug; this isn’t going to be fun and games, but a struggle for survival. After that initial realization, the series wastes no time efficiently setting the rules and the stakes. Many players freak out, but knowing what needs to be done, Kirito simply gets on with it.

And the stakes are high: 213 players are killed by having friends or loved ones unwittingly removed their NerveGear helmets (though it’s left to our imaginations how such dangerous equipment is available for sale in 2020.) Clearly the Programer Kayaba is a megalomaniac who created the world of SAO so he could rule it; the fact that he eliminates everyone’s idealized avatars and reverts them to how they look in real life underlines his thirst for power. A final ominous message at the episode’s end further indicates the hardships ahead for Kirito, Klein, and a yet-to-be-introduced but large host of others: after one month, 2,000 players die – a fifth of the total – and no one has managed to clear the first of 100 floors. Clearly the difficulty is not set to “novice”.


Rating: 8 (Great)