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 – 15 – Everything Will Go Our Way

The good vibes of the previous episode’s SAO OG reunions were thoroughly, mercilessly washed away this week, starting with Sinon arriving too late to save Bercouli. In a rare-for-SAO demonstration of restraint, there is no music in the opening scene between Sinon and Alice, just the marvelous talent of Sawashiro Miyuki and Kayano Ai, which is all that is needed.

Sinon has to be the bearer of bad news—Vecta may be dead, but the real-world person isn’t, and could be back any moment in a new form. This makes Alice despair that neither her efforts nor her uncle’s sacrifice had any meaning, and this is all a farce. Sinon begs to differ: her and her friends’ love of Kirito is real, and so is his desire to save Alice. Everyone is buying time so she can get to that altar and end the war.

That said, the war is very much still going on, and victory is not yet certain for the good guys. As we see, there isn’t a real-world power-user account helping out Sheyta and Iskahn, so they’re eventually on their own against a legion of American foot soldiers as all of their comrades have fallen around them. Sheyta takes what little time she has left to tell Iskahn she finally realized why she had to slash so much.

It was in order to find what she didn’t want to slash—i.e. whom she wanted to protect. And that’s Iskahn. While showing the impending doom of two characters whose names I know is an effective way to show the battle is growing desperate, the couple’s joint confession doesn’t quite resonate, as I barely know these guys besides the fact they’re both tremendous badasses.

Meanwhile, Seeing Asuna and Klein simply having a breather in between cutting down columns of baddies carried more emotional weight for me, since these two peeps have been fighting side by side since the beginning. I’m reminded why Klein and the others came: not just friendship, but a desire to repay Kirito and Asuna for saving them all back in SAO.

Unfortunately the pleasant moments are quickly blotted out by new dark developments. Vassago is back in the form of Laughing Coffin leader PoH…and he’s brought a ridiculously large number of reinforcements down the digital well. They’re not all from America, either.

In a very neat shift of POV, we’re introduced to the real-world gamer Moonphase and his teammate  Xiang Mei Mei. Both get the same notice from Miller and Vassago’s men as thousands of others throughout Korea and China: Evil Japanese hackers are besieging the Underworld and a coalition is being formed to stop them.

Both Moon and Mei volunteer for the mission, but they immediately feel like something is not quite right about this. Moon’s clearly seen his fair share of fighting, and can tell the Japanese “villains” are fighting far too desperately to be the antagonists in this conflict. Here’s hoping these two can offer the “helping hand from a stranger” roles our heroes are apparently going to need as the odds are further stacked against them.

Miller wasn’t even out of the Underworld for a whole episode before returning in his Subtilizer avatar, just in time to meet Sinon, whom he defeated in GGO. Honestly my memory’s a little fuzzy on the details of their fight but the fact Subby has a creepy focused look in his eyes and seems to be restraining Sinon with some kind of telekinesis doesn’t bode well for her.

That said, I for one am hoping Sinon can break whatever hold he has and make this a good rematch without needing to be rescued. And if she has to be bailed out, I’d like it to be Alice, even though she really should be using the time Sinon is giving her to head to the Altar.

Asuna is really getting worn down by the unyielding masses of enemy troops, so it’s nice to see Klein, Agil, Lisbeth and Silica help plow the road for her a bit; she’ll need to stay fresh and relatively intact for what I imagine to be a duel with PoH.

As for why I’m not in a hurry for Alice to reach the Altar? Because I knew Higa was going to run into trouble once he reached the terminal or whatever where he can interface with the STLs of Kirito and his three friends. That’s because Yanai was and is an obvious mole, and pulls a gun on him in a panic.

Since Yanai doesn’t pull the trigger, maybe Higa can still find a way to have him stand down, or maybe Rinko or someone can intervene. The bad guys made the lion’s share of the moves this week and may have inadvertently brought in a group of wild cards who don’t quite buy what they’re selling. As Asuna says, eventually things should go the good guys’ way…but I wouldn’t bank on that happening just yet.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 14 – Quantum Family

The original Sword Art Online theme plays triumphantly the SAO OGs and additional allies from ALO (including the dearly departed Yuuki’s Sleeping Knights) dive into the game, having converted their accounts to the Underworld. Their arrival allows Asuna crucial time to fall back, heal, and create a better strategy for the battle. It’s also a chance for Renly to see, through Liz and Silica, that not all real worlders besides Asuna are scary.

As Kirito’s friends and family dive in, Higa notices sudden momentary blips of activity in his catatonia. Thinking everything through out loud, he determines that despite having never made a Fluctlight of Kirito and despite the damage that has been done to his self-image, Asuna, Suguha, and all of his friends collectively represent a backup they can use to restore most if not all of what he’s lost.

Things get very technobabbly here, but nothing Higa proposes clashes with the fictional science laid out thus far. But if Gabriel Miller’s force and/or the JSDF escalate the battle, irreparable damage could be caused, so the procedure must be begin immediately, while everything is online and the source of the backup self-image (i.e. those closest to Kirito) are still diving.

Higa volunteers to go on an extremely dangerous mission into the bowels of Ocean Turtle where his scrawny frame will be able to access Kirito’s STL control panel. Kikuoka and Rinko will deploy the experimental Ichiemon robot as a decoy, while Mr. Yanai asks to join Higa, in case someone needs to take a bullet for him. An honorable sentiment, but this guy practically screams “Gabriel Miller mole.”

The rest of the episode is spent resolving the battle between Bercouli and Vecta; losing one arm barely slowed the guy down. And here, the animators decided to go for much thicker lines and bolder colors than the softer scenes with Asuna & Co. and on the Ocean Turtle. The more intense visuals befit a boss-vs-boss battle, in which every strike creates a shower of sparks and tears the earth asunder.

Bercouli isn’t fighting to win on Vecta’s terms, but seeking to kill him using his unique time magic. Once he locates the afterimage of Vecta a bit less than 600 seconds ago, it’s just a matter of waiting for the proper moment to strike. His dragon Hoshigami (the reflection of whom Vecta sees within Bercouli’s eyeball) buys him invaluable time, and he doesn’t waste it. Once he slashes Vecta’s past, Vecta’s present body shatters.

Vecta is defeated and Alice is safe (for now), and without any help from Sinon, who is presumably still en route. Unfortunately, Bercouli doesn’t survive the battle either, and is dead before Alice comes to. As she cries out in anguish, his ghost tells his apprentice and daughter she’s done well and will be okay without him. Then the Administrator of his memories (one who he notes is still warm, kind and can smile) appears and joins him on his dragon ride to the thereafter.

Fanatio can sense when Bercouli has died, and she too has a quiet moment of grief, promising him she’ll raise their daughter, still in her belly, to be a “gallant, proud human” like her father. Back at Ocean Turtle, Gabriel wakes up, gets a quick report on the American MMO forces and Vassago, then has his personal “Subtilizer” account converted. No doubt he’ll return even stronger than Vecta was—and be a prime final boss for Kirito, if Higa is able to revive him.

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 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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