Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.

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Sword Art Online: Alicization – 04 – Calling Fulfilled

It took three episodes and the absence of a designated Goblin Slayer, but Sword Art Online: Alicization finally got around to showing some decent Sword Arts when Kirito goes up against the head goblin holding Selka captive.

The fight is as fast and brutal as the animation is smooth, silky, and stylish. But when he’s nicked by his opponent’s blade, the pain is unlike anything he’s experienced in any VRMMO, and it slows him down.

Eugeo freezes a lot early in the fight, but when it’s clear that he and Kirito and Selka aren’t going to get out of there alive unless he joins the fray, he summons enough courage to draw his sword and cross blades with the boss.

He only buys Kirito a bit of time before he is near-mortally wounded across the midsection, but it’s enough for Kirito to recover, take over, and use another one of his latent Sword Skills to behead the goblin, threatening the others away unless they wants some.

Selka is none the worse for wear, but she and Kirito must put their lives on the line with a high level Sacred Art in order to save Eugeo, who recalls a memory of Kirito being with him and Alice six years ago. As Kirito can feel his vitality draining into Eugeo, he has a vision of Alice behind him, telling him she’s still waiting for them atop the cathedral in Central City.

The healing is a success, and the three return home. The next day, while hacking at the tree, Eugeo asks Kirito to train him in swordsmanship; Kirito tells him he is a master of the “Aincrad style”, in reference to his time in SAO, and a brief training montage ensues.

At the end, Eugeo can summon a Sword Skill in the Blue Rose Sword, and the vitality of the Gigas Cedar has dropped to the point it only needs one more good strike to fell it, a strike that Eugeo executes, bringing the massive tree down.

As someone who adores huge trees, it was a little upsetting to see it not only fall but its demise be celebrated, but considering how much of a scourge it is on the village, I suppose I can make an exception.

At the post-felling celebration, Kirito encounters Selka and assures her she need not try to catch up with, surpass, or be a replacement for Alice; there are things only she as Selka can do, and she should focus on being the best Selka she can be instead. Selka knows. Eugeo sees her off, apologizing for what she and her family went though and promising to return with both Kirito and Alice.

The reward for fulfilling the calling of felling the Cedar is that Eugeo gets to pick his next calling. Thus, he is playing by the rules in choosing to become a swordsman like Kirito. The two set out for Central City, where the plan is to locate and bring back Alice. We’ll see what trials await them on the way to the city, and when they arrive, we’ll see if she’s anything like the Alice who was taken away by that Integrity Knight six years ago.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 03 – Don’t Freeze

Kirito settles into a pleasant routine, waking up in the church, going to work with Eugeo, eating stale bread. He wants to get to the Central City, but knows the only way is through the Gigas Cedar. When he asks Eugeo if there’s anything stronger than his ax, Eugeo produces the Blue Rose Sword, which he retrieved from the End Mountains where he lost Alice.

Kirito uses his latent sword skill to make an immediate mark, albeit in the wrong place, while Eugeo can’t make a scratch. A dead end, or a simple matter of persistence? Eugeo brought the sword home in hopes of learning to wield it, but laments that when the Integrity Knight came for Alice, he wanted to do something, but just couldn’t move.

That night Kirito has a chat with Selka, whom he learned is Alice’s younger sister. Selka doesn’t like how Eugeo’s mood darkened after Alice was taken, especially when it came to her. It wasn’t her fault her sister was taken, so why can’t he be friendly with her? Kirito doesn’t have the answers, but does tell Selka that it’s fine to cry whenever one feels like it.

Unfortunately, he also tells her something she never knew: why Alice was arrested by the Axiom Church. That new information sends her to the End Mountains, all alone, perhaps in hopes of committing the same crime and reuniting with Alice, as farfetched as that seems.

As she left before dawn, she gets a good head start on Kirito and Eugeo, who rush off after her. Apparently they mount this rescue at a time when Eugeo doesn’t have to chop at the Gigas Cedar, otherwise he’d be shirking his calling and risking justice. When Eugeo uses System Call to illuminate a cattail, it surprises Kirito; characters are using RPG-style interfaces in a virtual world.

 

When they reach the main chamber where the bones of the dragon lie following Selka’s scream, Kirito and Eugeo discover that she’s been captured by—you guessed it—a band of goblins. Figures. Unlike those of Goblin Slayer, they seem content to sell Selka rather than use her as their plaything, but are only interested in selling the meat of males like Kirito and Eugeo.

Eugeo gives away their position, but as the goblins advance, he suffers another acute case of fear paralysis, which means an unarmed Kirito will likely have to deal with the horde all by his lonesome.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 02 – Familiarization


One minute Kirito is pushing Asuna away from the injector in a lunging Johnny Black’s hand, the next, he’s waking up in what he soon surmises to be the Underworld, neither the real world or a game, but a virtual world. After the dense, somewhat whiplash-inducing first episode, it’s nice to have a simpler, more elemental outing, in which the protagonist is just as much in the dark as we are.

Kirito soon meets Eugeo, and learn that six years have passed since Alice was arrested and taken away by the Axiom Church for her transgression. Since then Eugeo has kept hacking at the Gigas Cedar. Clearly Kirito doesn’t remember being friends with Eugeo, but he gets vague, nostalgic glimpses of Alice, and he and Eugeo hit it off in short order when he offers to do some of the axe work.

Eugeo explains the Stacia Window interface everyone has, along with the concept of callings, the extent of his in particular (over 300 years and seven generations), and the Taboo Index that keeps him from searching for Alice but also prevents theft.

In the village, a kid named Zink who mocks Eugeo’s job as “useless” is put in his place when Kirito “thinks he remembers” his calling was that of a swordsman. To Kirito’s surprise, going through his usual SAO/ALO/GGO motions results in unleashing a powerful sword skill.

Kirito spends the night in a church, where his schedule is dictated by the head sister, and uses the time before falling asleep to think things over. He posits that all of the “characters” he’s encountered could be copies of the souls of newborns raised entirely within the Underworld, making them “Artificial Fluctlights.”

With at least 300 years having passed in this world (and possibly many more than that), Kirito worries what the ramifications would be of living for months, years, or decades in the Underworld while in the real world mere hours or days are passing.

His ultimate goal is to contact Kikuoka, which he believes might be achievable in a larger city like the Central City Eugeo mentions as the place where Alice could still be alive. Before heading there (where a powerful-looking woman lounges atop an ornate tower), he resolves to learn more about this world (you clearly do not want to break any laws here) and properly preparing for such a journey.

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