Sword Art Online: Alicization – 01 (First Impressions) – The Cutting Edge

“Prime” SAO is back after a brief detour into GGO with LLENN, and drops us into yet another new VRMMO world in which Kirito is the only familiar face. He’s friends with a lad named Eugeo and the village elder’s daughter Alice.

Tired of food quickly spoiling in the summer heat, they go forth into the mountains to harvest some ice. But they get turned around and end up in the forbidden Dark Territory, where Alice accidentally slips and momentarily crosses the threshold between realms.

For that seemingly mild transgression, she is charged with committing a grave taboo, and sentenced to death by an Integrity Knight of the Axiom church, who carries her off on his white dragon. Kirito and Eugeo can do nothing; the knight is far too powerful.

As the dragon disappears into the sky, Kirigaya Kazuto awakens in a lab: he’s a test subject for a new full-dive VR experience unlike any other. The lack of context with which the first half of this double length episode is fitting, as Kirito’s experience felt far “realer” than any VRMMO he’d played before—and thus more disorienting.

Back into a game he knows far better: GGO. Sinon has recruited him, Asuna, and their other friends to try to take out a veteran PK team that has a 100% success rate. They fail to kill the PKs, but do force their retreat. Still, Shino wants Kirito’s help in the next BoB to defeat the one player she couldn’t: Subtilizer.

While not altogether necessary, the brief “cameo” stint within GGO brings us back to familiar territory and reminds us of the bonds that have been forged between these players. Kirito and Shino are friends IRL, and just as comfortable conversing there as they are fighting in-game.

Asuna joins them as Kirito tells the two women more about his “part-time job” as alpha tester for the new full-dive system from a company called Rath. The tech is called Soul Translator, or STL, and while it’s unlike any other VR dive before, Kirito retains no memories of what actually goes on there. As such, while the mention of Alice causes a reaction, he’s not precisely sure why it does.

Kirito’s talk of stints within STL that feel much longer than the real dive time (which sounds like a time-bending DMT trip), as well as his slighter figure, worry Asuna and Shino alike, but he assures them he’s fine. In fact, he’s prepared to head to America to check out the very latest full dive tech, but expresses his wish for Asuna to accompany him, as he “can’t live without her.”

She agrees, but their romantic bliss doesn’t last long, as a character from their past appears IRL: the last surviving member of Laughing Coffin, Johnny Black. The slightly unhinged dude whips out a poison injector and nicks Kirito just as he stabs him in the leg with his umbrella. Now obviously Kirito doesn’t die here, in the first episode, but there are sure to be ill effects.

The question is what Asuna will do in the immediate aftermath of the attack, when Kirito recovers, and whether there are any lingering effects of the injection. Will the America trip have to be called off? Will Kirito get to help Shino out in GGO? Who is Alice and why is she Alicizing? These are some of the many questions I intend to get to the bottom of by continuing to watch SSO:A.

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Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 12 – A Place to Have Fun

Last week set up a final, hand-to-hand showdown between LLENN and Pitohui, and after a little friendly ribbing, LLENN manages to strike a nerve and get Pito to let her guard down. The thing is, even cutting her in the leg and throat doesn’t come close to bringing her down, and she has an iron fist waiting for LLENN’s face. She even eyes LLENN’s discarded P-chan, and has no qualms about using it to kill its master.

P-chan self-destructs rather than let that happen, but M is nearby with Fuka as his hostage. Pito’s rationale for killing M before Fuka or LLENN is that he betrayed her by bringing his love into what she wanted to be a true “death game.”

Fuka frees herself with the dagger in her hair, rushes Pito, but doesn’t attack her; instead, she cuts off LLENN’S hands and kicks her just right so she’s able to, essentially, tear out Pito’s throat. Pito admits defeat and agrees to honor the promise they made to meet IRL if LLENN killed her.

Unfortunately, the very distracted LLENN and Fuka are taken out by the last remaining team (T-S) who end up winning SJ2, but LLENN’s primary objective was never to win, but to save Pito, and in that she was successful.

After having tea and sweets with real-life SHINC, Karen and Miyu meet up with Goushi (of whose looks Miyu immediately approves), who has agreed to take them where real-life Pito is.

On the way, he describes how he was once a pathetic fatty who stalked Pito, and ended up being captured, restrained, beaten, and turned into her manservant, all of which he’s fine with, because “M” stands for masochist.

After watching Elsa Kanzaki play guitar and sing at her secret concert, Goushi takes Karen and Miyu backstage to meet the real-life Pito…the club owner. But Karen isn’t fooled; Elsa is the real Pito, because she knew things only someone who read her letter could know about her.

Elsa congratulates Karen for seeing through their admittedly half-assed little ruse, and gives her a big kiss that makes her very uncomfortable (though Karen herself gave her a big hug just before that).

When next we see the two, they are LLENN and Pitohui, only now they’re on the same side, enjoying GGO not as a Death Game, but a place to just have fun. And after her first and only encounter with Elsa IRL, Karen is somewhat reluctant to agree to any future ones.

So ends a usually entertaining, occasionally clever, but ultimately inessential edition to the SAO/GGO saga.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 11 – Humvee Jousting

LLENN is initially worried MMTM will kill Pito, but she had nothing to worry about, because Pito confirms that old adage about cornered and wounded being the most dangerous animal.

With a remnant of M’s shield and her Darth Maul-esque double-edged lightsaber, she gruesomely dispatches MMTM one by one. They’re simply outmatched in intensity and insanity. LLENN is finally feeling the weight of promising kill…THAT.

LLENN stays crouched in the brush trying to think of a plan, but coming up empty. Meanwhile, Fuka and SHINC decide the only thing for it is to charge recklessly, which they do, and M and Pito fill them with holes. One by one the Amazons fall, but they fall smiling, figuring that if they were never going to win the SJ at this point, they might as well go out in a blaze.

Fuka, meanwhile, has all her limbs blown off but still won’t give up, irking M and Pito but also making them respect her. Eventually, going over everything that went wrong in this SJ, LLENN has had enough, bursting out of the brush, but away from the cabin, not towards it. Her friends succeeded in unlocking “Psycho LLENN”, the only kind of LLENN who’ll be able to kill the even more psycho Pitohui.

Pito and M give chase in a Humvee, but when they charge her she slides underneath its generous ground clearance, and they crash into a pond. Unfortunately for LLENN it’s a shallow pond.

Pito and LLENN get into a shooting match, and LLENN is hit and almost gives up, but Fuka, her limbs regrown, arrives in another Humvee to rescue her. Turns out she got pretty good at driving from video games as well.

After a brief but thrilling car chase (the lumbering Humvees, while capable, eventually run out of fuel), LLENN is forced to rush at Pito using a willing P-chan as a shield. She stomps Pito in the face and disarms her, putting the two in close quarters with no guns. Pito is grinning ear to ear; LLENN…isn’t.

In the most prestigious tournament of a game about shooting guns, the final showdown may come down to knives, fists, feet…even teeth. That is, unless Pito is hiding other weapons in that suit of hers. The question is, who will be the last woman standing?

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 10 – She’s No Gentleman…But She Could Be a Sith

LLENN and Fuka are saved when SHINC opens fire on MMTM, hoping to take them out, but they escape. Eva wants to have a proper duel with LLENN, but Fuka lets slip the reason she can’t: the possibility of Pito dying.

Meanwhile, Pito agrees to a ceasefire with KKHC only to immediately shoot them once they turn their backs, rejecting the fact they had a “gentleman’s agreement” for the simple fact she’s not a gentleman.

Only one KKHC member escapes, whom Pito doesn’t consider a threat because her teammates said she doesn’t like shooting people (one wonders why she’s in a game where that’s the whole point…unless she’s only interested in the tactics). But this green-haired girl decides it’s okay to kill “vermin” like Pitohui who would so heartlessly slaughter her comrades.

SHINC agrees to work with LLENN and Fuka on a pincer attack of PM4. SHINC demonstrates their proficiency with moving to avoid sniper fire, even from a rifle that can shoot from over a kilometer away.

Before M knows it, they’re shooting one of their own in order to use her big body as an immortal pedestal on which to mount an even bigger, more powerful sniper rifle, and anti-tank gun that takes out M’s shield piece by piece and forcing him to retreat to a cabin.

LLENN is standing by not too far from that cabin, and on Eva’s signal, she moves in to kill Pitohui. Only the green-haired girl gets a shot in first, all because Pito didn’t take her seriously as an enemy. She’s shot through the head, and even a curative doesn’t seem able to stop her HP drain.

However, she does not die. She loses it a bit, most likely because she’s using an SAO-era NerveGear and isn’t being automatically logged out due to extreme neurological stress. LLENN kills the green-haired sniper, but her quarry is interfered with once more when MMTM moves back in and raids the cabin.

Believing the end to be near, M (Goushi) leans in to kiss his beloved Pitohui, still recovering from her head wound. But just as MMTM reaches the door to her room, Pito whips out her latest weapon: the same photon sword used by Kirito when he played GGO.

Looking more sinister than ever in the red glow of its blade, and with MMTM eviscerated, Pito looks not-at-all ready to go down easily to our petite pink P90 pusher.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 09 – Lucky Girl

Pitohui seemed to be talking a bigger game than of that which she would’ve been capable last week, but she holds true to her avatar name, killing everyone she touches (and quite a few she doesn’t) taking out over twenty of the nearly thirty allied opponents all by herself. The episode is called “ten-minute massacre” but her work doesn’t even take that long, and just like that, seven teams and their leaders are taken out, thinning the SJ2 field considerably.

With the number of teams holding Pito and M’s attention dwindling fast, LLENN takes a safe and stealthy route to them through the inside of the Dome, which has a savannah theme of high grass perfect for hiding, especially if you’re tiny like LLENN and Fuka.

When their position is suddenly exposed, they use speed, pink smoke grenades, and a silencer on P-chan to defeat their foes. Fuka gets a bit too cocky and ends up emptying a clip from her handgun without hitting her target, but she draws from her fantasy RPG background to blugeon the guy to death with a rifle.

Throughout SJ2, we’ve gotten color commentary from the peanut gallery, which is a bit tiresome considering how misogynstic many of their comments are. However, I’m willing to tolerate it to a degree because this is, after all, meant to be a Boy’s/Man’s Game with women players seen as upstart outsiders.

In the cases of Pito, LLENN and Fuka, they’re showing they can not only hang with the boys, but dominate. Speaking of women dominating, “Sinon”, AKA Asada Shino, is mentioned as having cleaned up at the last BoB.

We meet a new woman character in Clarence who LLENN and Fuka initially believe to be just another lecherous dude, albeit a more androgynous one. Turns out she’s a pansexual woman IRL and wants to meet them both. LLENN just wants her magazines, since they’re compatable with P-chan.

She agrees to a kiss (a peck on the cheek) in exchange for the ammo and Clarence’s resignation. She gets both, but they’ve been chatting so long a team has manages to sneak right up to them and initiate an ambush. That team is MMTM, one of the contenders for the SJ2 win, which means LLENN will need every one of the bullets she got from Clarence (who promptly dies) as well as the hope she won’t run out of her famous good GGO luck.

Sword Art Online II – 21

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Much to my relief, this doesn’t turn into The Kirito Show just because he showed up at the end of last week’s episode. Heck, he’s not even the only guy who shows up; Klein does too. They’re only there to let Asuna and the Sleeping Knights focus on defeating the twenty people blocking the boss room. And that’s it.

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Kirito estimates he can give them three minutes; the Knights only need two ( I counted). After those two minutes of awesome, blistering battle, punctuated by a powerful charge by the Berserk Healer herself, the way is open for the boss, and Kirito stays behind, giving Asuna the victory sign.

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Facing the montrous two-headed boss for the second time, Asuna notices a special guard stance he takes whenever a gem between his two necks is hit. Asuna focuses on that gem and tells Yuuki to target it, which she does by using one of her male comrades as a step stool. In the heat of the battle, Yuuki slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’. That’s no surprise to me, but Asuna finds it odd.

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She shrugs it off when the boss is defeated and the Knights revel in their victory, rubbing it in the faces of the dastardly rival guild. Kirito is nowhere to be found, I guess he split after those three minutes. But as has been the case with him this entire arc, we’re just fine with him being a cameo.

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Kirito doesn’t even crash the Sleeping Knight’s party, which Asuna hosts, even though it’s held in his house. Classy move on his part, as the party is for the Knights, after all. During the party, Asuna asks if she can join them, but Yuuki seems oddly put off by the request. Sinue seems to want to say something, but never manages to. Changing the subject, Asuna suggests they check out their names on the Soldier’s Memorial.

There, Yuuki again slips up and calls Asuna ‘Sis’, but this time realizes it, and promptly and tearfully logs out. Throughout the boss battle and celebrations that followed, the idea that Asuna’s mom would pull the plug on her again was always in the corner of my mind, lending an extra layer of tension to the whole episode.

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Yet, in the end, it’s Yuuki, who has been sold as Asuna’s secret sister (or half-sister), who disappears from the game, without so much as an explanation. Why doesn’t she want Asuna learn the truth? How did Asuna play so long without getting yanked? Will they ever meet in the real world? All questions I’m hoping will be further explored in the next episode, forebodingly called “Journey’s End.”

Until then, I continue to revel in this Asuna-centric, and really Women-centric arc, really turning around what had been a lackluster SAO II Fall cour simply by treating its female characters as more than just Kirito’s suitors.

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Sword Art Online II – 20

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Asuna’s takeover of SAO II continues this week, much to my approval. When Zekken Yuuki whisks her off, I was partially expecting something more sinister than a guild of friends wanting to make memories before they have to split ways in the Spring, but it still worked incredibly well, because, Asuna was the anchor.

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Yuuki was dueling people in search of a seventh member to join the six of the Sleeping Knights – the smallest party allowed to fight a boss, and she chose Asuna to be that seventh. It’s while hanging with them that she realizes “Hey, this isn’t Aincrad anymore. My life isn’t literally at risk; I can let my hair down, go all out, and have fun!” It’s a liberating feeling.

I like the idea of this Asuna-for-hire. With her skills, exp, and rep, she can basically get work wherever and whenever she wants in ALOIt’s a similar situation in the real world in that she has the ability to be and be with whoever she wants…only in the real world, others are calling the shots for her.

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That point is made clear with the subtlety of a sledgehammer when, still beaming after meeting her new friends and agreeing to fight with them, her mom literally pulls the plug, because Asuna is hella late for dinner. It’s telling that its hard for Mom to wake her up gently, almost as if Asuna’s subconscious self doesn’t want to leave.

Pulling the plug is the only way to pull her out. Her mom is annoyed, but she’s also concerned about Asuna’s priorities, and her continued reliance on a device that stole two valuable years of her life. Still disoriented from being pulled out so roughly, “This isn’t like the NerveGear,” is all Asuna can muster. That distinction means nothing to Mom, but a multitude to us, knowing what she went through. What Mom can’t grasp is that for two years, Aincrad was her daughter’s reality.

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Depriving her of ALO, especially right now when she’d finding herself again, is to deprive her of the means to heal the psychological wounds of the NerveGear, and transition to the mindset mentioned above, that it is just a game, not life and death. Coming to grips with that and making that her new normal is a large step in re-establishing the real world as her primary reality.

Even if her mom was in the mood to listen, Asuna lacks the means to properly explain why she needs this; their experience gap is just too wide. And if Asuna’s late for dinner again, Mom is taking the machine away, period. Asuna is trapped again, and runs out of the house. Looking at her missed calls, a snowflake settles on Kirito, the boy her mother won’t let her have.

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But Asuna, to her credit, doesn’t call Kirito. The next day, she dives into ALO, meets with Yuuki and the Sleeping Knights, and go over the gameplan: they’ll hit the labyrinth and look in on the boss, and if the conditions are right, they’ll have a go at him too. She’d never betray it to her new friends, but Asuna may benefit from a quick mission here, as she’s not sure when that plug will be pulled at any time.

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The strong and balanced Sleeping Knights end up impressing Asuna with how quickly they carve through the labyrinth, but her skills come in handy early when she detects scouts from a rival guild spying on them behind shrouds of invisibility. Interestingly, though the boss makes a badass entrance, we don’t see the fight at all, but they end up losing badly.

That feels like a cheat until Asuna takes the group aside and warns them that their battle was watched by the rival scouts’ lizard familiar, which explains why their last two boss losses resulted in that boss being defeated quickly soon after. The Sleeping Knights are so into the fights, they never noticed they were doing all the heavy lifting revealing the weaknesses to their rivals. Pretty dastardly, isn’t it?

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Asuna, again taking charge, cheers the group by saying it’s not too late to avoid a third theft of their rightful glory: if they hit the dungeon and defeat the boss before the rival guild can mobilize, they’ll their names carved on the memorial wall after all.

When they return to the boss, the partially-amassed rival guild blocks their way and won’t budge. From Yuuki’s perspective, there’s only one thing for it: fighting them. She walks up to the biggest, toughest member of their guild and takes him out in three blinks of an eye. It’s a nice reminder of just how tough this girl is.

In the process, Yuuki tells Asuna “some things can only be understood through fighting”,  and suddenly Asuna thinks of her protracted battle with her mother in the real world. Because words are the only weapon she can use out there, her Mom will never truly understand her.

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That’s not to mean she and her mom need to go have at it in the dojo, of course, but it does explain their impasse. Also, there are other kinds of fighting. I’m also mindful of the fact that Asuna’s mom is out there and doesn’t understand her, but someone who is probably her sister (she’s not called Yuuki for nothing) is in here, and does.

Yuuki’s words galvanize Asuna, such that even when the rival guild’s reinforcements arrive and prepare a pincer attack, and they’re outnumbered dozens to one, Asuna is not fearful. She puts her wand away, draws her sword, and gets ready to rumble. This is where she wants to be, right here and now: fighting beside her new friends. Even if they lose this battle — and they’re probably going to lose this battle — they’ll dust themselves off, come back, and win next time.

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Really the only thing that would make this better for her is if she were having this battle with people closer to her, like, say…this guy. Oh, hey, there he is, right on cue, hiding among the ranks of the charging rival guild members, Yui perched on his shoulder.

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Don’t be mistaken: Kirito isn’t here to rescue the Damsel in Distress and fight so she doesn’t have to…not this time. This time he’s here simply to even the very uneven odds in her present battle. He’ll take on one part of the rival host, while she and the Sleeping Knights can push through the other and fight the boss.

Because of the distinction in how he’s he’s utilized here, I’m not miffed in the least by his presence. It’s a good use for Kirito at a good time. Just being there reminds Asuna that she isn’t alone, those she loves have her back, and her own battles aren’t over and lost yet, either in here or out in the world.

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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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