Bofuri – 12 (Fin) – Oh, the Atrocity!

When Payne exacts [Sword of Judgment] on Maple, it looks like the end of her fun has come at last, but she survives with 1 HP thanks to [Stout Guardian]. When her mech’s [Counter] connects, Payne reveals he also has [Stout Guardian]. Maple breaks the stalemate with [Atrocity], transforming herself into an eldritch beast and simply eating all of the Holy Sword members in the cave. When they re-spawn, they accept their loss at Maple’s fairly-acquired mega-skill, especially since they still have their orbs and remain in the lead.

Now that all of Maple’s secret skills have been revealed, there’s no reason to hold back anymore. All of Maple Tree rides Atrocity!Maple as they mop up the remaining guilds. But when they spot the Flame Emperors being attacked from all sides, they don’t add to the piling-on. Instead, they defeat all of the Emperors’ attacking enemies, preserving the big guild to assist in whittling down the smaller guilds (and earning a bit of goodwill).

The third day of the event has barely begun when the admins decide to call it with only six guilds remaining, all receiving the same reward. After debating whether to re-nerf Maple, one of them is consigned to the fact that whether they like it or not she is the face of the game, and an inspiration to other adventurers who hope to one day face her. So they let her be, checking in to see what weirdness she’s up to: being a woolly mech volleyball for May and Yui!

Maple Tree, meanwhile, claimed the third spot, just below the Emperors and Holy Sword. Maple graciously invites both guilds to Maple Tree’s hall in order to share in an end-of-event party. While everyone was all-business during the event, it’s good to see there are no sore losers or grudges, just pleasant conviviality and mutual pride in battles well-fought.

It’s a good way as any to end a show that, for its protagonist, was first and foremost about having as much fun as possible, and sharing that fun with as many friends as possible. Its upbeat outlook is most welcome in these trying times.

 

MAPLE WILL RETURN IN BOFURI II

Bofuri – 11 – Maple’s Inferno

BOFURI shifts seemlessly to Shounen Battle Mode as Maple sends May and Yui off on MegaSyrup and fights Mii, Misery and Markus. At first it’s largely a stalemate, with the Emperors’ attacks unable to do much damage and Maple unable to go on offense. Mii forces the issue with her Noble Phantasm ultimate attack [Prison of Flame], forcing Maple to bust out [Machine God] earlier than she wanted.

Overmatched by Maple’s firepower and with her support KO’d, Mii uses [Self-Destruct] while riding Maple’s back, only to learn upon re-spawning that Maple wasn’t harmed by her suicide attack, leading to another patented Mii-Tantrum. Both the tough and crybaby sides of Mii were well-performed by Satou Rina. As for the Emperors’ orb, it was snatched away by a grunt in the midst of the chaos, so Maple Tree comes away empty-handed.

That proves strategically costly, as Maple Tree couldn’t afford to spend that much effort on one foe with no payoff. Both small and medium guilds are dwindling as Maple Tree barely hangs on to the bottom of the Top 10. While that feat is impressive, it only intensifies the target on their back as one of the last remaining small guilds. Subsequent raids prove fruitless, and Sally senses an attack from one of the big guilds coming, so prepares to move their orb off-base.

Those plans come too late, as Sally miscalculates that a big guild like Holy Sword would take forever to mobilize. Instead Holy Sword only sends four, led by Payne, perhaps the game’s most powerful player. Maple stands ready to test that title as the other three Holy Swords battle the rest of Maple Tree.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger as Payne, ultra-buffed by his comrades, does critical HP damage to Maple. If she’s KO’d it’s probably all over. Can Maple recover and can her guild snatch some kind of consolatory victory from the jaws of certain defeat? We’ll find out in the finale.

Bofuri – 10 – The Little Guild that Could

Maple Tree’s haul totals ten orbs, but that’s only good enough for 17th place. To reach the Top 10 they’ll need more, and the easy pickens from smaller guilds like theirs will be gobbled up quick. That means an already tired Sally must sally forth into the night, where her style of attacking is most effective. Kasumi, Kuromu, Iz and Kanade also strike out to gather more orbs, confident Maple can hold the fort with May and Yui.

But the pitfalls of a tiny guild like theirs trying to compete with the big dogs becomes clear when a nearly gassed Sally bites off more than she can chew and is surrounded by Frederica’s Holy Sword soldiers. She messages Maple that she “might die, sorry”, and Maple rushes to her rescue in Angel Mode and mows the Holy Sword columns away with her Hydras and mech beams.

Maple saves Sally (and her haul of orbs), but leaves the base defense to just May and Yui, who are ambushed by Shin of the Flame Emperors Dread of the Holy Sword, who was watching the guild’s movements. Though he picked the perfect time to strike, the twins manage to avoid KO just long enough for Maple to return with Sally.

Maple KOs Dread, who promises he’ll be back with friends. Frankly, Kanade leaving the base for a mere handful of orbs wasn’t worth it. Had the twins died just a few minutes sooner, Dread would have made off like…well, like a bandit! Kanade, with her insta-spells, would have been ideal backup.

Still, everything turns out fine this time. Sally unveils Maple Tree’s “Plan B”, which essentially swaps who’s on offense and defense. Maple, May and Yui are a three-boss demolition team that mercilessly carves through the guilds Sally mapped out, while the rest of the guild stands by at the base. I doubt I’ll ever tire of the interplay of their cute appearance and mild manners with the utter ruin they dole out.

It’s not long until the next victim on Maple’s list are the vaunted Flame Emperors, led by the legendary Mii. Neither Markus nor Misery—neither of them exactly pushovers—can do much more than slow her down a little. Anything that traps Maple in her tracks is quickly reduced to rubble by the twin hammer girls.

In fact, once they’ve thrown everything they can at Maple to no avail, Misery and Markus resign themselves to death and defeat…until their commander Mii arrives in a streak of flames, just as Maple came to Sally’s aid. Thus the stage is set for the biggest showdown of NWO so far, something everyone watching on the sidelines has been waiting for.

Will Mii’s presence enable Markus and Misery to regroup and keep the twins busy, leaving Maple more vulnerable? Or will Mii fall to Mega-Maple’s might just as so many others before her, and have a big ol’ whiny tantrum about it? We shall see!

Bofuri – 09 – Capture the Orb

On the eve of the fourth event, a guild competition, the members of Maple Tree train, level up, and in the case of Maple, the twins, and Sally, relax a bit on the water. The competition is essentially a five-day capture-the-flag battle, which means small guilds like theirs will have little time to rest.

Just before the event begins, Sally catches Fredrica of the Order of the Holy Sword scouting them, and challenges her to a duel. Freddie yields before the battle gets too serious, but both she and Sally gain valuable information about each others’ skills, or Freddie would, if Sally wasn’t using her “coax” ability to send inaccurate information.

Once the event starts, 5/8ths of the guild remains in their base to defend the orb, while Kasumi, Kuromu, and Sally go on the offense. Sally in particular proves adept at both obvious frontal attacks and sneaky stealth attacks in capturing multiple enemy orbs. She also faces off with a Holy Sword member who, like her, is essentially a super-ninja.

At least this week, Sally is the busiest member of Maple Tree, as she darts from one base to another snatching orbs, including right out from under the Flame Emperor’s leader, Mii (voiced by Satou Rina, AKA Railgun’s Misaka Mikoto!). Mii is able to catch up, but Sally uses Vanish to escape. Mii spams Flame and Flame Lance to no avail, and with no one around to see, she drops the facade of steely confidence and sobs about not wanting to be leader anymore—immediately rendering her more interesting!

When a guild attempts to get their stolen orb back from Maple Tree, everyone is under Angel Maple’s ultimate defense, so the poor intruders can do nothing but get slaughtered by the might of Maple’s comrades. Maple doesn’t have to lift a finger, and the direct strike of a sword bounces right off her cloak.

In all, it’s a good start for Maple Tree, but as the small fry are weeded out the tougher players will turn their focus on her. There’s a well-struck balance between total ownage and the challenge of making the top ten with such a tiny guild.

Bofuri – 08 – Maple Ex Machina

In preparation for NWO’s third event, a cow-hunting expedition, Iz kits out Maple, Sally, and Kasumi in some adorably warm wool outfits. But this is event that values high agility, so Maple doesn’t contribute as much as she could to the final cow count. Rather, she stumbles and falls off a mountain and into a fierce battle with an increasingly gross demon boss. She’s swallowed up, but eats her way free.

For defeating the demon Maple gains some frightening new skills, including the ability to transform into Atrocity, complete with a deep and demonic version of her own voice. At the gate to the Third Level, the rest of the party just stands back with sweat drops and lets their adora-monstrous friend do her work against a tree monster that never had a chance.

The third level turns out to be a distinctly cyberpunk world full of whimsical machinery and flying vehicles (she’s no longer alone in the skies with her giant Syrup). The party splits up to get a sense of the place, and Maple ends up feeding an old man on the street who gives her a rare quest that leads to an encounter with what I believe to be the first generation Machine King.

The former king is malfunctioning and changes its form and demeanor several times, but Maple is quick enough to keep up with those changes, and in one of the king’s lucid moments, he bestows upon her the skill [Machine God], which enables her to transform into a powerful, midriff-bearing cyborg killing machine straight out of Gurren Lagann.

An intense robo-duel ensues until Maple is the last one standing, packed with some really nice smooth and dynamic animation and lighting effects. Once things have died down and Maple gets a look at herself, she not unreasonably wonders what the heck just happened. Will she be able to change back to normal, as with [Atrocity]?

One hopes so; she’s going to have trouble fitting through the guild hall door with all that paraphernalia! Whatever happens, the paradigm of NWO has shifted once more as the scale of its world has expanded and evolved. As she collects more ridiculous skills, her ability to surprise us with fun combinations increases. As Kanade puts it: “Watching Maple never gets old.”

Bofuri – 07 – Kinda Immortal

As they roll—literally, in the case of her poison ball—with Maple, it’s not long before Yui and May are up to Level 20, have double strength, and are able to dual-wield normally two-handed warhammers. They go at the Hydra boss over and over until they can defeat it in under two minutes and thirty seconds…not bad for three girls with no agility!

The members of Maple Tree branch out (heh heh) on their own little mini-quests once Iz gives the sisters new crystal hammers. They monster hunt with Sally as she teaches them low-speed agility, Kuromu finds a hidden undead dungeon with Syrup and gains awesome new armor, Kanade upgrades her Akashic Records, and Kasumi…shears sheep for wool, until Maple demonstrates a new skill that lets her grow a huge ball of wool around her, and even add poison to it. Talk about hogging—er, sheeping?—all the glory…

While everyone else is off leveling up, Maple ends up falling down a rabbit hole of sidequests involving an NPC mother and ill child. These quests would be difficult if she wasn’t a massively OP’d tank with a giant flying turtle, but she completes them all in the space of a few hours.

Due to the unnatural speed with which she clears the chain of quests, the NPC mom’s dialogue is unnecessarily dramatic. Instead of being happy to be thanked, Maple feels like she owes the mom an apology!

The final reward of the sidequest chain is “Loving Sacrifice.” Maple commissions an angelic new white suit of armor and gathers her guild-mates in the overworld to demonstrate. After shedding a slice of her HP (she has over 1,000, so plenty to spare), she dons wings and a halo and creates a barrier around the entire party of eight that no enemy can penetrate as long as she’s alive.

Rather than jump for joy at this development, her guild-mates are…a little nervous. After all, isn’t this just a bit much? Maple became the target of the gamemasters before when she spammed Devour; no doubt they’ll step in to de-power her again in an effort to restore game balance.

At the same time, a much larger guild has set its sights on Maple Tree as a potential rival, and will be watching them very carefully in the third event preceding the guild competition. So while Maple was on easy street throughout this episode, that may not be the case next week.

Bofuri – 06 – The Maple Movement Grows

Bofuri has achieved something amazing by making me care about yet another VRMMO anime. It’s done so largely by sticking to the basics: likable leads, respectable production values, a well-paced story that balances slice of life with action, and an emphasis on having fun in the moment over “winning” at all costs. No matter what’s going on, it’s never not enjoyable.

I also tend to prefer VRMMO anime that don’t forget about the real world, so it’s a great time to check in on Kaede and Risa IRL after a virtual week in NWO. Turns out in-game habits can leak out, resulting in (hilarious) reactions from Kaede that might lead some to believe she’s suffering from Chuunibyou. Kaede wisely decides a three-day break away from NWO is indicated.

Upon her return, developments move rather quickly, as Sally informs her of special “Bright Bugs” that enable those who catch them to claim a guild house. It only makes sense that a game in which you can actually taste food and enjoy scenery for its own sake that you’d be able to buy property.

Bofuri speeds up the house-hunting process with one of its signature montages, which I honestly don’t really mind because, well, they move things along. The two happen upon the perfect guild hall: a Berenstain Bears-style tree house in the forest. The only issue? It’s way too big for a guild of only two.

To justify such a large hall, and, incidentally, compete in guild competitions, Maple and Sally must recruit, and recruit they do, starting with Kasumi and Kanade. They’re also lucky enough to nab Kuromu and Iz before anyone else does, and the two are enthusiastic about joining.

The newly formed guild “Maple Tree” splits into two groups and immediately pays dividends, with Kuromu and Kasumi marveling at Sally’s combat prowess while Kanade’s slot machine-like daily skill acquisition aids a mining quest with Iz as Maple provides defense.

After these six, however, guild master Maple draws a blank on who to recruit next, and they’ll need a lot more numbers to compete with the other rapidly growing guilds. Maple laments the extra responsibility and clerical duties, but hopefully “the more the merrier” adage holds true and the extra work pays off.

Maple and Sally descend back to the first level (which they note is now “nostalgic”) and meet the sister duo of Yui and May, who like Maple have maxed out but one attribute (in their case, attack). That brings their guild to an even eight, but they’ll likely need more to fill those empty spots at the guild table…once said guild table is repaired after Yui and May accidentally destroy it with their awesome strength!

One thing to watch out for is the potential dilution or loss of the wonderful dynamic between Maple and Sally, as already evidenced by their splitting up this week. The other guild members don’t yet possess much in the way of character or personality beyond general affability. They’re just kinda…there. Hopefully they’ll be more fleshed out without short-changing the vital Maple/Sally friendship.

Bofuri – 05 – Flying Fortress Acquired

Maple and Sally’s new PvP opponent decides discretion is the better part of valor in a two-on-one situation and withdraws her challenge. Sally isn’t hearing of it, and the two engage in a super-speed chase across the desert. Maple eventually catches up with them, but all three are caught in a quicksand whirlpool that deposits them in an underground dungeon.

The three are all bound together by a cursed chain, meaning if one of them dies, all of them die. The girls call a truce, work together, combining their skills to reach an otherwise out-of-reach area, and clear the dungeon, lifting the curse.

Their new friend is Kasumi (voiced by Hayami Saori), and all three teleport out of the dungeon with a medal apiece. That said, Kasumi doesn’t join their party, so Maple and Sally have to hustle to gain the nine silver medals they need to reach the twenty necessary to attain a new skill.

The next couple days are filled with mini-quests and battles. In some of them, Maple’s stats and abilities are key; in others, Sally’s, demonstrating how effective and formidable a pair they are. They defeat an underwater boss and solve a puzzle at some ruins—the location of which are revealed by the neutral Kanade, voiced by the always-welcome Arai Satomi.

With two medals to go and only one day left to get them, the duo concedes that despite it being a last resort, they’re going to have to attack some fellow players. Sally volunteers to carry the burden, no doubt eager to test her swashbuckling skills…and she does, making mincemeat of any and all players she comes across during her moonlit massacre.

That’s not to say Maple simply kicks back. I mean, she does, but her awesome defense allows Sally to fight freer knowing they’re safe with her friend an her awesome defense. Maple passes the time by helping both their familiars level up by defeating minor enemies in a cave.

Sally kills a lot of people, but still only ends up with the two medals she needs. Still, it’s enough to achieve Maple’s goal, and she immediately puts her skill prize to work. She activates Syrup’s Megamorph ability to make him enormous, then uses Telekinesis to make him into a flying vehicle form which she can rain down death and destruction at an even greater scale, much to the nervous exhalations of her two friends!

It’s another lighthearted, fun-filled, entertaining outing of Bofuri, without doubt one of the top comfort food anime of the season. We’ll see how far the cartoonish NWO admins go to hinder Maple’s meteoric rise. Meanwhile, the chat room continues to be astounded by her exploits.

Bofuri – 04 – Bird (Ice)Box

Maple and Sally’s foray into the sprawling second level is uneventful until the former falls through a hidden trap into a large cavern containing a club-wielding jester boss. The girls work together to defeat it relatively easily. Maple exhibits her new skill “Cover Move”, which enables her to finally keep up with Sally by mimicking her movements in exchange for double damage. Since zero doubled is still zero, it’s another NWO hack for Maple.

After one day they only have two medals, but when they encounter Kuromu and his party on the snowy but notably not cold mountain (a nod to RPG characters rarely bundling up in cold locations), he reports they’ve got zilch. Feeling indebted to him for his earlier assistance, Maple lets his party go through a one-time use teleport gate, only for the gate to almost immediately reappear, suggesting the boss made quick work of the Kuromu crew.

Maple and Sally use the gate, which takes them to the lair of Silverwing, their toughest boss challenge yet, featuring multiple attack vectors. For once, the usually OP Maple is pushed back by attacks, her HP is depleted, and even the outer layers of her armor is destroyed. Thankfully, ten Devours are enough in concert with Sally’s quick harassing attacks and Mirage skill, which enables Maple to slip in under the big icy bird and deliver a Hydra coup-de-grace.

For their trouble, the duo gains give medals for a total of seven, as well as two mysterious monster eggs. They head to warmer climes and warm them until they hatch, revealing a turtle familiar Maple names Syrup and a white fox familiar Sally names Oboro. Like their masters, Syrup and Oboro feature high defense and agility, respectively, and level up and gain skills as they’re used. They both make adorable additions to the party.

The familiars can also be stashed away when not needed, or in the case of Maple and Sally trudging through a desert inhospitable for either animal. Upon reaching an oasis, the two meet their first PvP opponent: a raven-haired maiden in pink samurai garb, brandishing a katana. She placed sixth in the previous event, and looks to rise in the player rankings and is perhaps thinking of adding Maple and Sally’s seven medals to her own collection.

Bofuri – 03 – No More Maples!

As expected, the admins at NWO reign in Maple’s invincibility somewhat, as she’s now only able to use her Devour skill ten times a day and can now take a degree of damage. Maple isn’t happy, but Sally reminds her of all the damage based effects now available to her.

Before heading to the dungeon that leads to the second level, the pair do some sightseeing. They spot a pair of newbie sisters just starting out, visit a cafe where they meet others who ranked high in the first event, and get a lead on a sidequest in the North Forest.

We learn Sally is super afraid of any kind of ghosts, making Maple the steady party member for this particular quest. They locate a cabin with a hatch that leads an underground passage. There, a man in apparent constant pain is tied to a chair.

Maple’s potion has no effect, but Sally casts a string healing spells, exhausting her MP, and he’s finally healed. Their prize for completing the quest is a Super Speed Skill. Sally celebrates by showing Maple a “never-ending sunset area” where they can just relax and soak in the gorgeous view.

The next day they tackle the dungeon to the second level, which contains a formidable boss: a humongous stag that forms from a tangle of huge vines. Maple’s Hydra attacks have no effect, and the stag launches an earth-shattering counterattack. With no agility, Maple has to be yanked to safety by Sally, and she lands awkwardly, resulting in a brief K.O.

Sally, on the other hand, sticks her superhero landing perfectly and presses her attack on the stag, using her high speed and evasion traits to deliver a death by a hundred slashes followed by an authoritative coup-de-grace. It’s the second straight episode with an exciting, kinetic Sally battle.

With the boss defeated, a disappointed Maple comes to, and the pair continue to the second level’s gathering area, where Iz presents Maple her new white shield, which Maple calls Shirayuki (nice name). The chibi dragon MC then appears to announce the start of the second event: this time, it’s a treasure hunt, and Maple and Sally are able to form a party together.

Since players are allowed to kill other players for their medals, and Maple not only already has a gold medal but has only ten Devours per day, she’ll be even more of a target for opportunistic opponents, so both she and Sally will need to be on their guard. It’s the end of Easy Street…so much the better!

Bofuri – 02 – The No-Damage Duo

Bofuri’s second episode is split between Maple’s first NWO battle royale and when Risa finally joins her. The battle is a cakewalk for Maple, whose ultra-defensive specialization ensures she takes no damage in the process of bagging more than two thousand kills, most of them absorbed as MP by her Great Shield.

Maple actually gets pretty fierce once various parties start ganging up on her, even paralyzing and poisoning those who flee to up her kill count. Compare that to when she’s waiting for enemies, killing time by innocently drawing intricate Yakuza dragon and Nazca lines. I really dig Maple’s low-key drawing talent, which comes through in the game!

Leading up to Risa’s arrival, I was starting to think it would be a running joke for Maple to bring up the fact Risa hasn’t joined her in the game yet, and that she might never join her due to various circumstances IRL. However, once she finally enters (as “Sally”, her real name in reverse), it’s as a “Swashbuckler” class, high on agility and evasion.

This complements Maple’s tank class perfectly, especially when they have to get somewhere far away fast. Sally simply carries the ridiculously slow Maple on her back as she races across the overworld, while Maple dispatches incoming enemies with ease.

Their destination is an underground lake where they can find a particular kind of fish, the scales of which Maple needs for the white shield she’s having Iz forge once she has enough cash. The duo spends a lot of time fishing, while Sally maxes out her swimming and diving skills and finds a cool underwater dungeon.

Tanks like Maple can’t swim, so it’s all up to Sally to take out the beastly aquatic boss at the end of this dungeon. It’s a cool design with lots of pyrotechnic attacks. While both the boss and Sally are CG, and the frame rate screeches to a near-halt, that’s somewhat mitigated by the blur used to indicate they’re underwater. It’s also an exciting, fast-paced, and well-directed battle.

When it’s over, Sally returns to a worried Maple with a new awesome-looking outfit. That’s when the game’s dragon mascot informs them that the second level of the game will soon be opened for those who meet the conditions. In need of a new pair of boots to complete her Swashbuckling look, Sally tosses Maple on her back and races back to town.

The news of multiple levels to the game satisfactorily explains why Maple was able to become so powerful in so short a time: she’s still only on the first of those levels. This fact, and the tough fish boss fight, bode well for their future adventures and battles posing a greater challenge.

One of many details I’m liking about Bofuri is the restrained use of cutaways to online chatting, between the A- and B-parts and before the end credits. The chatting chronicles Maple and Risa’s progress and rise in notoriety. Like similar cutaways in Durarara!! it adds depth, texture and a sense of community to the show.

Bofuri – 01 (First Impressions) – I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense

Kaede‘s friend Risa recommends that she start playing a fun new VRMMO called New World Online…so she does. That’s pretty much it! Oh, and because she doesn’t want to get hurt, virtually or otherwise, she uses her entire allotment of status points on Vitality, or defense, thus becoming a slow but stalwart Tank-class character named Maple.

When Maple finally encounters low-level monsters, they can’t hurt her, and to her dismay, the first of them (a cute bunny) disintegrates before her eyes. However, the violence remains PG-rated throughout, and she continues to gain levels, skills, resistances, and status points—all the latter of which she puts into ever greater defense. Maple’s single-mindedness and bemused commentary keep things lively.

Eventually she heads to a dungeon and buffs her way to the boss, a 3-headed dragon with poison breath that destroys her shield and shortsword. Still, once she gains a poison immunity, she nibbles the dragon to death, and earns some cool armor, among other treasures and abilities, as a reward. Bofuri is not on my list, but it’s competently generic and harmlessly pleasant.

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.