So this is the first thing I see when I start up the episode… is this what we’re gonna do this afternoon, SAO? Are we gonna fight?
Plot summary: Kirito and Leafa reach Arun, the capital city of ALO. Since a server maintenance is about to start, the two of them decide to take a “short” break. Meanwhile, Asuna has broken out of her cage, and stumbles across a room full of trapped consciousnesses being experimented upon. She finds a console that could help her log out, but she gets caught by pink slugs (yep) and nearly gets tentacle-raped in the process (double yep). In the end, the pink slugs put her back in her rightful place as the damsel-in-distress. During this time, the ever-productive Kirito takes Sugu with him to visit Asuna in real life, but somehow, neither Kirito nor Sugu have yet to realize that they’re both playing ALO together. When they later log on to continue their journey, Yui suddenly tells Kirito that she can sense Asuna’s player ID above them, so Kirito takes off flying like a fucking idiot.
• Well, we’ve given you the obnoxiously green, so here’s the obnoxiously bright:
World-building at its finest! Oh wait, you mean MMO players wouldn’t want to spend most of their time in a city so annoyingly radiant?
• Leafa: “That’s because you were showing off by giving all your money to Sakuya. You should have saved money for an inn.” Wow, that makes Kirito’s actions from last week even stupider than before! I’ve got my true love to save, but here, take literally all my money! How would you feel if you were in Asuna’s shoes right about now? The answer is nothing, because it was a trick question; Asuna only exists in the world of wish fulfillment, and thus she has no personality!
• But why is Leafa griping? Did she give up all her money too? Or did she just not bring any because Kirito was supposed to pay for it?
• Speaking of Asuna… you get to see her go full Solid Snake:
Only in SAO would the villain be too dumb to assign people to guard Asuna’s cage.
• I like how she freaks out at an empty hallway. Three cheers for our heroine.
• Here, I’ll take a break from bashing the show to do a bit of interpretation. When Kirito hears that Sugu didn’t get to bed until 4AM last night, he tries to play the big brother role but quickly realizes how hypocritical he sounds: “Don’t spend too much time on it. Not that I should talk.” As he says this, he stares into his own reflection in a bucket of water. He then reaches for it, but his reflection disappears as soon as the surface of the water breaks and ripples. Both his words and his actions, I believe, lead to two different interpretations that are both plausible, and because they are both plausible, for once, the anime actually delivers some sort of psychological tension.
One moment from the very beginning of the series has always stuck with me: Kirito admitting that he feels more alive in an MMO than in the real world. So here he is in real life, reaching for what is supposedly his true self, but it dissolves. Has he spent so much time online that his real persona barely exists anymore? I mean, this kid doesn’t even go to school or has a job. All he does is play games, but on that note, this is where the other interpretation comes in.
Think of how the reflective surface represents not just a mirror in this very moment, but how it also resembles a computer screen. Perhaps what he sees is not a reflection of real-world self, but one of his online avatars. Kirito tells Sugu that she shouldn’t spend all her time online, knowing fully well that he just spent all night playing yet another MMO. He wouldn’t warn Sugu, however, if he didn’t know at the back of his mind that spending all night playing some game isn’t right. So when he reaches for the reflective surface of the water, think of it as him trying to reach out to a computer screen — trying to reach out and touch his online persona.
So wait, you might say, either the reflection represents his true self or his online self. It can’t be both! But that’s exactly the point. This is where the tension comes from: Kirito doesn’t know where his true self exists anymore. It is neither in the real world, nor is it in some video game. At the start of the series, Kirito would’ve likely said his true self existed online, but now? He’s on a virtual quest only to save something very real: his true love. What would make this all extra poignant is if Kirito’s quest to save Asuna actually had sense of urgency to it. After all, what does the quest do? It cuts through the existential angst; the search for genuine companionship and love helps him get over his cynicism.
Unfortunately, Kirito doesn’t really seem like he’s in much of a hurry, so the end result is that it appears as though he doesn’t give much of a shit about Asuna or anything. I mean, the whole show has been one long series of missed opportunities one after the other. Remember how in SAO, your in-game avatar resembles your real world appearance? Imagine if this had not been the case. Kirito would’ve fallen in love with a female avatar without knowing whether or not it was really a girl in real life. Imagine, also, that after SAO ended, he never met Asuna at the hospital, but he embarks on his quest in ALO to save her anyway. Think about it… he lacks knowledge of his true self, but he wouldn’t know Asuna’s true self either. Yet this need to save and nurture another human soul — the sublime faith in love — helps him get over the fact that he doesn’t know what Asuna looks like or how she really acts in real life. And if he can do that for her, he could certainly do that for himself. His quest in ALO wouldn’t just be a quest to save her but also to save himself.
But y’know, herp derp, we’ll just have Gary Stu dual-wielding and bouncing ambassador tits instead. C’est la vie.
• Okay, enough being all serious and shit. Let’s go back to Kirito being a massive dick:
• The server maintenance is only from 4AM to 7AM. If Kirito really cared that much about Asuna, he’d be back online, but we get to see him and Sugu cook instead. Cool. In fact, he tells Sugu he’s going to head to the hospital. How is that going to help you save your e-waifu? Maybe after seeing all the ridiculous fanservice from last week’s episode, Kirito needs to remind himself why he’s bothering to save Asuna in the first place.
• I love how the creators of ALO literally programmed in a room full of floating holographic brains. Just because… it’d be cool and shit, man.
• What the hell? The experimenters have pink slug-like creatures (with teeth, I must add) for avatars? They also can’t just receive a bunch of data in the real world.
They have to log into ALO and stare at the holographic brains to see what the brains are thinking and feeling!
• Sugu: “Hey onii-chan, what about school?” Silly girl, Gary Stus don’t have to go to school. He’ll just become a pro-MMO ga…mer… yeah.
• According to Sugu, he used to get good grades too. Hah, Gary Stu online, Gary Stu in the real world.
• The way the show oscillates between seriousness and mundane domesticity is actually kind of funny. Here, we have Asuna trapped in some terrifying, maniacal brain prison, then we cut to Kirito sitting on a bus to visit his e-waifu at the hospital. If only Asuna knew what her e-hubby was up to, she’d be like, “Fuck, I’m trying to save lives here and you’re just jerking off to me in real life?”
• Whenever shadowy tentacles appear behind you in an anime…
You gotta be fucking kidding me:
So one of them tries to rape her. No, I’m not even joking.
• Sugu: “What a big hospital.” Kirito: “It’s amazing inside, too. Like a hotel.” Okay, guys, we’re not in an MMO anymore. You don’t have to try to impress me with a damn hospital.
• What’s sort of interesting is how the slugs don’t initially recognize Asuna. She’s just some pet project on the side for what’s-his-face… the villain so terribly interesting that I’ve forgotten his name already. Oh right, Oberon the Fairy King.
• Oh, it’s just Leafa crying because she can’t be with her brother. All my cares… nope.
• This grand, glorious music plays when the two of them come a little closer to the World Tree. Kirito even breathlessly remarks… “The World Tree…”
But if you’ll remember, he did the same shit at the start of the episode:
Sorry SAO, but you can’t double-dip. The majesty of the World Tree loses its impact when you keep mentioning it. I can imagine these two pausing after every step just to smack themselves in awe over some virtual tree. Meanwhile, Asuna pounds her fists on the bars surrounding her and screams, “STOP GAWKING AT THE DAMN TREE AND SAVE ME!”
• When you reach the top of the World Tree, you become an Alf. I don’t want to be an Alf. Why would you want to be an Alf?
• Dude, Leafa just told you that there’s an invisible wall to prevent you from flying up the World Tree. Way to waste even more time and energy.