Sword Art Online II – 04

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After three weeks of setting the stage, Kirito is finally in Gun Gale Online…and he looks like a friggin’ girl! Though he isn’t a girl in the places that count, his clothes hide that fact. The extremely low female player population of GGO means he sticks out like a sore thumb, and I like how uncomfortable being ogled makes him. HA! Now you know how all your many lady friends feel, KK!

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His looks work in his favor when he runs into Sinon, who’d likely be a lot more standoffish if he was a guy, even the willowy Kirito of ALO or SAO. As it is, she’s glad to be hanging out and talking with another girl, considering she has no friends of any gender in the real world. Their walk to the gun store gives us a better look at GGO’s whimsical cyberpunk capital. At the store she unleashes a hail of gun geekery on Kirito…but with a thin wallet his choices are limited.

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Enter Untouchable!, a goofy minigame within GGO that’s deceptively primitive but requires that you anticipate the animatronic gunman’s bullet trajectories. Most people just try to dodge them when their HUDs warn them, but he inevitably gets them. Kirito takes the game on and clears it easily, netting him a cool 300K and the dropped jaws of Sinon and everyone else who watched.

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Then he goes and blows half of it on…well, there isn’t an easier way to say this, so I’ll just say it….on Mace Windu’s lightsaber. The darn thing has the exact same on-off swooshing and woom-woom sounds. I’m guessing these sound effects, originally created by Ben Burtt, are used under some kind of license. At any rate, it’s quite fitting that Kirito is bringing a sword to a gun fight. Stick with what you know!

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As for guns, he knows nothing, but Sinon is a walking Gunipedia and is willing and happy to help him out. When they lose track of time and have only ten minutes to get to the Governor’s office to register for the Ballet of Bullets, Kirito shows off his racing game skills, giving Sinon an exhilarating 3-wheeled buggy ride. We’ll see what she thinks of him when she finds out he’s a guy, but for now, it’s all smiles and figurative sunshine.

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Sword Art Online II – 03

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After her great victory over Behemoth in GGO, Asada Shino logs off to find herself back in her lonely, tenuous, pitiable existence in the real world. Bullies shaking her down for fare in a dark alley threaten to show her a model gun, and we learn why that’s such a big deal: having put three bullets into a bank robber to save her mom as a small child, Shino now gets intense panic attacks every time she sees or touches a gun.

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Shino’s guy friend Shinkawa, who saves her from the bullies, suggested she dive into GGO as “immersive therapy”, and she found she could handle the guns in the virtual world without any issues. In fact, her entire motivation for rising in GGO is so the strength she’s gaining as Sinon will somehow “rub off” into the real world. But that seems like wishful thinking even she can’t always maintain, as she sinks into her bed thinking “Someone, please save me.” The real world is the real world, and GGO is GGO.

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Thanks to Death Gun, whom Kirito still hopes is just an urban legend but whom we know exists, those worlds are becoming intertwined. Those he targets in GGO die in the real world. Kirito and Shino’s paths have yet to cross, but now that he’s in GGO it’s only a matter of time, especially since we learn in the end that Sinon needs saving too: she’s Death Gun’s next target, no doubt having gained enough esteem to catch his attention.

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Kirito has a nice setup thanks to Kikuoka: a hospital room; the same saucy nurse Aki who took care of him when he was trapped in SAO; constant observation and instrumental monitoring. He’s not going in half-cocked, except for the fact he’s still not convinced the Big Bad is real. So…who is he? Well, we only see part of his face in the end as he strokes a picture of Sinon, but my guess would be Shinkawa. (Note that this is just a guess; no spoilers in the comments, please!)

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Their awkward tea revealed some of the inadequacies that could fuel a villain, from daddy issues and being on a path not on his making, to his friend surpassing him in the thing he introduced her to. It’s still unsettling to think he’d resort to murder; perhaps he bears deep psychological scars as Shino does, only his are expressed in violence towards others, particularly those who make him feel inferior, and he can’t stop any more than Shino can keep herself from vomiting. We’ll certainly see.

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Sword Art Online II – 02

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This week backed up a bit from Sinon’s introductory scene last week, setting up that scene with a bit of team strategizing, and then barreling right into the action, which barely lets up thereafter. The episode is dominated by one big, elaborate, very slickly-animated, thrilling battle. Just two episodes in, and things are looking good here at SAO.

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In GGO, Sinon is the sniper in a six-man crew of player-hunters, but their latest prey appear on the horizon with a new face attached to a big, cloaked body. Sinon is uneasy about this unknown, and wants to take him out first to eliminate that unknown, but the team leader Dyne overrules her. Sinon shoots the known Minimi gun-holder first, and can’t take out the stranger after, as he dodges. Then he pulls the cloak off to reveal…a minigun.

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Turns out the big man is Behemoth, a noted bodyguard-for-hire whose smile on the battlefield only further fuels Sinon’s intense desire to kill him, proving she’s the strongest on said battlefield. When her team loses a man, Dyne wigs out, but Sinon calms him down and directs everyone to execute a pincer attack. Behemoth still won’t go down, even after Dyne lunges at him with a gutsy suicide attack that buys her time to find a new nest.

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But even high up in a huge, awesome half-collapsed skyscraper, as Sinon’s crosshairs focus on Behemoth, his focus on hers, and she loses her leg, dodging a lethal shot only barely. As she plummets to the ground, she executes a number of bullet-dodging acrobatics before finally regaining her bearings and delivering a perfectly timed headshot. Sinon 1, Behemoth 0; Game over. “Sinon” awakes in the real world, unsatisfied. She won, but lost two comrades and a leg. She’s not as strong as she wants to be. Not yet.

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The episode could have cut to credits right then and there and I’d have been perfectly happy, but instead we get Bonus SAO, as we check in on Leafa, Liz, and Silica still chillin’ in ALfeim Online, gathering loot. Kirito and Asuna are also there with Yui, happy as clams. Staring up at Aincrad, Kirito ready to discuss something with Asuna—most likely the mission Kikuoka gave him last week. The day he inevitably crosses paths with Sinon should be something to behold.

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Sword Art Online II – 01

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Aside from a few brief glimpses of the scale and majesty of the new online world of Gun Gale Online (see above) and a few flashbacks to more energetic times, this was a pretty quiet, unflashy opening to a new season of SAO. Yet after more than a year and a half since we’ve seen Kirito and Asuna, I rather appreciated a less hectic, more introspective start that catches us up with what’s been happening in the world.

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For one thing, both Kirito and Asuna (who are the focus of the episode) seem to have more or less retired from gaming. While neither seem to be in the throes of PTSD, they did endure quite a few horrors, and four thousand people did perish in SAO, so I could understand if they decided to be totally done with VMMOing. Still, Kirito wants to transition from playing to R&D, so the virtual world can be made even more like the real world, where holding hands with Asuna conveys a lot more information between them than in current games.

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There’s a definite sense of peace and contentment between the two as they walk hand in hand through Tokyo’s Imperial Gardens, maintaining the subtle but warm romance they started in the virtual world. Having been there myself, I can relate to the deep, inscrutable aura of a 2km x 1.5km area of land virtually untouched by time in the center of the world’s biggest urban conglomeration. It’s a nice nod to their past that the two show up for their date wearing the colors of their SAO avatars.

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Of course, Kirito isn’t really done gaming. In the classic “pulled in for one last job” scenario, he’s lured into a swanky cafe and given free rein over the dessert menu by one Kikuoka Seijirou of the Advanced Communications Networks Promotion Division Section 2 (“Virtual Division”) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Telecommunications Bureau, which is a ridiculous title, but sums up what he does, which doesn’t sound all that different from what Kirito eventually wants to get into.

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Kikuoka wants to employ Kirito’s very particular set of skills to infiltrate GGO and investigate a set of player deaths whose hearts stopped in the real world after they were shot in the game by the lamely-named “Death Gun”. Since people can and do make their living playing GGO, it’s a tough game for an amateur, but if anyone can quickly pick up a game, it’s Kirito, and as the OP (here the ED) suggests, he may well bring a (glowing purple) sword to the gunfights and still kick ass.

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So, we had to sit around in a cafe for some time, but the table has been set for the adventures to come. The player deaths will probably prove not to be mere coincidences Kirito and Kikuoka hope they are. At some point Kirito will meet Death Gun, along with the New Girl, handle “Shinon” (Sawashiro Miyuki), who has Eureka-like hair, a nice bum, nicer aim, and uncertain loyalties. Will they warm to each other, or butt heads? I’m guessing the latter, at first.

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