Sword Art Online – 25 (Fin)

Kazuto arrives at the hospital and is attacked in the parking lot by Sugou, but Kazuto is able to fight him off, barely stopping himself from killing him. He then reunites with an awake Asuna, meeting her for the first time in the flesh. Sugou is arrested and the VRMMO industry takes a throrough beating. A month after waking up, Asuna is on the mend and visits Kazuto in school. Agil holds an SAO reunion party at his bar. The World Seed Kazuto gave him is spreading across the net rapidly, enabling people to create their own online worlds. ALO is now run by a new company, and the floating castle of Aincrad appears there, where Kazuto, Sugu, and all their fellow players plan to clear all 100 floors anew.

Long ago we’ve learned that if there’s no body, don’t trust a death, and Sugou only died in ALfeim. Sure enough, the real Sugou gets one last chance to remind us just how squidly evil he is, believing he can simply murder Kirito right there in the hospital parking lot and none will be the wiser. Luckily, his painful ordeal caused real-life damage, including to his depth perception, so Kirito is able to “defeat” him again. And then we get the much-anticipated first real-life meeting between Kazuto and Asuna, and it’s everything we could have hoped for. After going through all this rigmarole to save her, we weren’t going to be satisfied with her sudden death, or any other deviation from this happy ending.

We’re particularly glad SAO resolved pretty much everything with an episode to spare, because we got some welcome time with all the former SAO players Kazuto had befriended, including Agil, Klein, Lisbeth and Silica, and it seemed fitting to end their collective ordeal with a party. The only odd-man-out, besides a somewhat irritated Lisbeth, is Sugu, who is still clearly upset that she wasn’t the girl he chose, but we like how he makes it up to her by inviting her to help him replay SAO from start to finish and beat it properly (We wouldn’t be surprised if Asuna wanted an extended break from VRMMOs). Finally, “The Seed”, the Kayaba-penned open source MMO program Kazuto decides to release into the virtual wild gives the genre an optimistic future.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

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Sword Art Online – 24

Kirito and Yui materialize in the same white corridor where Asuna was once in. Yui breaks through the walls and they find themselves in the World Tree’s branch system. Kirito spots the birdcage and they race to it, and reunite with Asuna. They need a console to log her out, but before they can do so Sugou materializes, dispersing Yui and immobilizing both with gravity magic. He strings Asuna up and starts to undress and molest her in front of Kirito, who hears the voice of Heathcliff. Kirito gets up and logs in as Heathcliff, then resets King Oberon to Level 1. After defeating him, he logs Asuna out. Kayaba Akihito’s digital afterimage gives him “The Seed”, a new world of some kind, and then Kirito logs out, thanks Sugu, and bikes to the hospital to see Asuna.

We’ve long since written off Nobuyuki Sugou/King Oberon as an absolutely irredeemable, One-Dimensionally Evil Bastard. The video game database GiantBomb has four criteria that exclude a character from this category: “1.) a traumatic or tragic experience in the past that affected their mental state, 2.) a potentially misplaced sense of justice; seeking revenge from a wrongdoing committed against them or someone they cared about, 3.) a potentially misguided belief that their actions will not only benefit his or her self, but the world around them as well, and 4.) ultimately reform their ways and become good.” Sugou has none of these qualities, so yeah, he’s PURE EVIL. In case you doubted it, this week he chains Asuna up by her wrists, starts tearing her already-skimpy clothes off, and starts lapping up her tears with his tongue. You have to hand it to SAO, they were not going to hold back with this guy.

Anyway, he’s clearly decided he’s going to have his way with her, in front of Kirito no less, so it’s a good thing there’s a hint of Heathcliff still floating around this world to aid Kirito. You have to wonder if his desire to possess Asuna body and soul clouded his judgement, causing him to overlook technical stuff beyond his control that lurked in the bowels of the game he stole. In any case, finally Kirito, Asuna, and Yui reunite (this happens early, and it’s a beautifully cathartic little scene), and then, once Kirito has had enough and heard the voice of Kayaba Akihito, he exacts righteous vengeance upon King Oberon, making sure to maximize the pain he can feel before slicing him to bits. Our only concern now is, can Kazuto get to Asuna before Sugou? The episode doesn’t seem all that worried, but we are. When he was killed in the game, he woke up. He’s still a hella dangerous guy. If we were Kazuto, we wouldn’t rest until the real Asuna is in our arms and Sugou’s behind bars.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Sword Art Online – 23

Kazuto asks Suguha to log back in so they can meet up. Sugu challenges him to a duel. In the midst of it, they both give each other a free shot, and Sugu ends up in Kazuto’s arms. He tells her he can’t truly return to the real world until he’s brought Asuna back. Sugu says she’ll help him and wait for him to “come home” for his decision about her. They re-try the grand quest, but are again repelled by the seemingly infinite guardians. Sugu, Recon, the Sylph led by Sakuya and the Cait Sith led by Alicia all help him punch a hole in the defenses, and he reaches the door, which is locked by the SysAdmin. Yui interfaces with the card Asuna dropped for him. The door opens and teleports them away.

Kazuto found out he wasn’t related to his family by blood when he was ten years old. He developed a feeling of not belonging or fitting in, leading to the gradual deterioration of his relationship with Suguha. That situation eventually led to him getting into online gaming, where anyone can be…anyone. Ironically that’s how he met his first love, Asuna, only to wake up to a sister who had finally learned the truth and fallen in love with him. Suguha may have never learned that truth had he never gone into that two-year-coma. Now that he’s back and she has feelings for him, he’s taken. Talk about bad luck. So what do Kazuto and Suguha do?

They have a duel, of course. Both are swordsmen and warriors; allowing the other to win is a gesture of apology, but they both have the same notion. Sugu fights back the tears and agrees to set the matter of who Kazuto loves until they’ve saved Asuna. The one with the worst luck of all is Asuna (though it was pretty lucky the SysAdmin card she dropped fell right where it needed to), who is being held hostage by a psychopath hiding his criminal actions behind her phony coma. Here’s hoping the finale doesn’t pull anything (like some lame ‘wait for the movie!’ cliffhanger), the bastard gets his just desserts, and our Princess is in THIS castle.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Sword Art Online – 21

Kirito and Leafa reach ALfeim’s capital, Arun, and log out at an inn. In the real world, Sugu comes with Kazuto to visit Asuna in the hospital, and she gets conflicted feelings from meeting her. Meanwhile, in the game, Asuna snoops around the World Tree complex, finding huge labs where human cerebral experimentation is going on. She finds a console and is about to log out when she’s apprehended by scientists with slug-like avatars, who put her back in her birdcage and change the passcode. When Kirito and Leafa reach the base of the World Tree’s trunk, Yui suddenly senses “Momma” above them, and Kirito shoots up into the sky.

First of all, kudos must again go to the background and establishing shot artists; we know the word “awesome” is overused in modern society, but it’s the most fitting word to describe it. It’s like Minas Tirith on steroids…and shrooms. Despite all it’s flaws, SAO has always exceled at creating a really cool-looking world you’re really envious of not being able to visit. We especially liked how creepy and Mod the laboratory facilities Asuna gingerly explores. We’re not so enamored with the way in which she was ultimately captured and re-deposited back where she started.

First of all – Tentacle Grape Monsters Casually Threatenin’ Grape + Scantily-Clad, Defenseless Asuna = Obvious Fanservice. This isn’t shokushu goukan, so entangling Asuna in tentacles is both capricious and arbitrary. Also, while we get that they gave these guys inhuman form to add to the general creepiness and wrong-ness of this whole experimentation venture, their words and actions are enough to dehumanize them; they could have just been guys in lab coats. And while we knew Sugou’s evil plans would inevitably attract other unsavory people who worked for him, both his and their evil – the sheer horrifying scale of it – remains a little hard to swallow. Those seeking more ambiguous, “grayer” antagonists will have to look elsewhere.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. Oh yeah, Suguha continues to stuggle with her feelings for her brother, and decides she must bury them deep within her so she may someday forget them. So no change there. As you were.

Sword Art Online – 17

Kirito saves Lyfa from the Salamanders, and she thanks him by teaching him how to fly and buying him a drink. He tells her it’s imperative he get to the World Tree as soon as possible. She grudgingly agrees to accompany him before she logs out and is revealed to be Sugu. Kirito promises Yui he’ll get Asuna back, then falls asleep and logs out as well. Up in the World Tree, Asuna is being held captive by Sugou, AKA the Fairy King Oberon, who calls her Queen Titania. He insists she fall in love with him soon. He also tells her about using 300 SAO players including her and the 10,000 AFO users for secret research into implanting artificial thoughts, emotions and memories.

We can say with confidence if we met someone speaking in the same voice as our little sister, even if she looked totally different, we’d ask if she was our little sister in real life…but that’s just us. As for Sugu, we were expecting her to run over to her brother in the next room, but while Kirito seemed to give her a similar vibe, it seems she hasn’t made the connection yet. So we have a brother and a sister (really cousin!) who likes him, oblivious to who the other one really is, headed to the World Tree to try to climb it – something that hasn’t been done before. There’s a good reason for that: the conditions for clearing the game may not be possible. Only one race can win, but the final quest may require cooperation between races, which will probably never happen considering one would be sacrificial.

Also, no one knows the nature of the quest itself, and there’s a good reason for that too: Sugou Nobuyuki, AKA “Fairy King Oberon”, is using the players of ALfeim Online for clandestine human experimentation, and it behooves him to delay the clearing of the game. Sugou cements his place as the slimiest, Evilest Evil-With-A-Capital-E Bad Guy of the series, who wants Asuna whether she wants him or not. Asuna puts up a brave front, but her horror is palpable as he paws her and explains exactly how he could wipe her memories (including those of Kirito, no doubt), her free will, her personality – everything that makes her Yuuki Asuna, if he displeases him. So she has to sit tight, and hope that zany brother-sister duo finds a way to get to her. Judging by how quickly Kirito learned high-speed flying (an awesome scene, BTW), it may not take long.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Sword Art Online – 15

Kazuto has been back in the world for two months, during which he’s been regaining his strength and visiting Asuna, who is still in a coma at the hospital. One day he meets Sugou Nobuyuki, a research chief of the company that now maintains the SAO servers, of which Asuna’s father is the president. Sugou wants to marry Yuuki Asuna, and warns Kazuto to stop visiting. Kazuto’s little sister Suguha, who is keeping from him the secret that they’re actually first cousins, walks in on him crying and tells him not to give up. Kazuto receives and e-mail from Egil of a photo of Asuna.

This episode had some considerable shoes to fill – after the series totally blew itself up, the question “What’s the heck is next?” hung like a blue moon in the night sky. And we want to be categorical about our thoughts: the episode pulled it off. We had no idea what to expect, but it filled in the blanks nicely, as the teenage gamer formerly known as Kirito – now Kazuto – tries to get on with his life after two years stuck in a virtual MMORPG.

First of all, all those hundreds of hours have made him pretty dang good at fighting, although is style isn’t anything like the Kendo he used to practice. Even in a weakened state, he can use his SAO fighting style to keep up with his quarterfinalist sister in an impromptu sparring session. One really awesome detail is when he makes the motion to sheathe his sword on his back – something that had become a reflex in SAO is still with him in the real world. He also has nightmares, but they’re not about the horrors of the game, they’re about his lost love – who isn’t dead, but trapped between worlds…which is worse, in our opinion.

Then there’s his sister, who looks to play a prominent role in the episodes to come. Yes, another girl in love with him. And because she’s not really his sister, part of her thinks she has a chance (Sugu is appropriately voiced by Lil’ Sis Expert Ayana Taketatsu). But Kiri–er…Kazuto’s heart is still firmly in the hands of Asuna. And seriously, that Sugou guy is a grimy, NASTY little shit, taking advantage of his clout with her father’s company to wrangle a marriage out of it, even though Asuna is in a coma and hates him. Something tells us Kazuto isn’t just going to settle for his little sister…he’s not going to let Sugou have his way.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. New OP and ED! The OP previews another game in which everyone has fairy ears and Kirito has a new girl with green eyes, while the ED focuses on Sugu with her unrequited cousin-love. Both are okay.