You wanna know what I’m thankful for? I’m thankful for the fact that this isn’t a double-length episode. Unfortunately, it still somehow manages to be even more boring than last week’s exposition-laden entry.
— So Kirito wakes up and finds himself back in Underworld, but this time, he’s all grown up. In the real world, they probably had to hook him up to Rath’s VR tech in order to keep him alive, because of course that’s a thing. I now expect the story to try and justify why he needs to go on an MMO adventure if he wants to survive in the real world. What’s particularly concerning is that I don’t even think the people in Underworld are real. The story will likely argue that they have real souls — artificial souls, but souls nonetheless — but eh, that’s a hard sell.
— This time, Kirito keeps his memory of the real world. Slowly but surely, he’ll eventually remember his childhood friends from this universe. That sounds as silly as it looks on paper, but I mean, there ya go. In a single three-day weekend, Kirito experience a childhood with Alice and Eugeo.
— Our hero quickly learns that there’s no menu! There’s no log out function! This is like the real thing, baby!
— From a storytelling standpoint, however, I just don’t get why you would always create a whole new life and a whole new cast of friends for the hero every single time there’s a new novel. We did it with Sinon and GGO, and we’re doing it again here. Even assuming that I’m an SAO fan — and I’m obviously not — wouldn’t I want the series to continue following Kirito and Asuna? Wouldn’t I want to see their exploits as a couple? Wouldn’t I want to see them continue growing up together? But that’s not what we get. Look, I’m not suggesting that Asuna won’t have a role to play in this arc. I’m sure she will.
— And I get that this premise allows our hero to explore all sorts of MMO worlds, and the story is trying to take advantage of that. I’m just saying that the setup seems curious. I’m just saying that I don’t get why he has to ditch his old friends every single time he goes on a new quest. Kirito gets to go on all sorts of grand adventures. Meanwhile, Asuna is just like the ol’ ball-and-chain that keeps him anchored to the real world. She’s like a reminder that while he gets to have his fun, Kirito needs to remember that he has to come home every now and then.
— To put it another way, imagine reading a Harry Potter novel where the eponymous protagonist finds himself in a new magical kingdom and thus starts hanging out with Not-Hermione and Not-Ron at Not-Hogwarts. If I’m a fan of the series, why would I want that? Do we just get bored of our close friends that easily? “Bro, I hung out with you in the last novel! Give me some space, bro!”
— Shh, I think SAO Alternative‘s “Ryusei” was a better OP.
— And speaking of exploring all sorts of MMO worlds, we’re right back to another generic fantasy universe. We got brown and bland GGO, and now we have sword and magic. Not exactly being as imaginative as we can, huh?
— Oh boy, I’ve already written 500 words and I’m only four minutes into the episode. Alright, time to pick this up a bit.
— Great, it’s that dumb tree again.
— For some reason, Kirito and Eugeo don’t recognize each other. Well, going by in-game logic, they probably haven’t seen each other in years. But there’s probably another explanation for this.
— There’s apparently lore in Underworld to explain why outsiders keep popping up. It’s a fully-realized universe with its own set of customs and beliefs… too bad it’s all just a simulation for some military project. But I guess we have the same existential concerns, don’t we. Oooooh, maybe we’re just a simulation within a simulation~~
— Kirito keeps going on and on about how this world feels too real. Likewise, the person he’s talking to also feels too real. But dude, he just forcefed exposition down my throat last week all about how the STL allows you to experience a world that is super duper realistic thanks to SOULS, so c’mon, man, don’t play dumb now.
— Eugeo says he can only buy bread early in the day, so there are only leftovers from the day before? Don’t bakers bake new bread early in the morning before the sun comes up?
— Even though we just watched last week’s episode, we have to sit here and listen to Eugeo tell his sob story about how Alice had been taken away all those years ago. Like literally minutes after minutes wasted on what we’ve already seen. SAO‘s pacing still sucks.
— It’s funny, however, how history has been rewritten so that Kirito no longer exists. He was like a foreign agent sent in to corrupt these artificial souls in just three real life days. For what purpose, who knows? All that’s certain is that Rath quickly scrubbed the world of his presence as soon as the part-time job was over. All that remains are the consequences of his actions, i.e. Alice being taken away and forced to become one of those Integrity Knights. That’s not much of a spoiler, since you can tell as much from just the OP alone. It’s all but certain that Kirito and Eugeo will go on some quest to save their friend, but how this plays a crucial role in saving our hero’s actual life in the real world remains to be seen.
— Eugeo whines that it would take a week for him to reach the central city from his village. That’s it? You care so much about your childhood friend, but you can’t set aside a week to look for her? What a wimp.
— Oh right, the Taboo Index. The people in this universe have some weird inability to disobey their orders. And this is where Kirito comes in, I suppose. He’s the corrupter of souls.
— Even in this fantasy, made-up universe, our hero has to be a teenager. VR worlds basically ensure that Kirito never has to grow up.
— Eugeo’s job is to hack away at the same dumb tree for years and years. Assuming I’m right about him being an artificial soul, it’s curious how he’s never once questioned his pointless existence. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know — the system prevents him from disobeying.
— I don’t know why we’re now learning about a dumb tree and its related lore. This dumb tree better play a crucial role in the rest of the story.
— Kirito thus offers to lend Eugeo a hand with the dumb tree, but like before, it’s no use. Sorry Kirito, but you’re not overpowered in Underworld… not yet, probably.
— Dude, what am I watching? First, I got dumb tree lore, and now, I’m getting tips on how to chop down said dumb tree? Why? All this just so Kirito can remind himself how to play VR games?
— Lots of trees are invincible in games. Remember the trees in GTA?
— Our hero proceeds to hack away at the tree for hours. Time just flies when you’re having fun. Amazing storytelling.
— Look, Eugeo starts talking about his Calling at about the 12-minute mark. We don’t see these two go home until around 16:30. That’s four and a half minutes spent on chopping down a tree.
— When they get back to the village, some jerk starts picking on Eugeo, so Kirito tries to stand up to the bully. I thought we would get like a quick swordfight or something, y’know. Just a little action to spice up this dull episode, but nope. All we get is Kirito hacking away at a log.
— We soon see that he still has his precious sword skills. So when do we start dual-wielding again?
— Later that night, Kirito continues to wrack his brain some more over his current situation. All of the information has already been provided to us in last week’s episode, though. No one here is an NPC, because they’re all artificial souls. I don’t know why we’re belaboring the point.
— Finally, our hero comes to the same conclusion. Finally. Only took all episode.
— So they copied souls of newborn babies and stuck them into Underworld. For what purpose, though? To see how humans would react to a world bound by strict rules and regulations? And what was the point of sending Kirito into the world as a tester? To see if he could corrupt them into breaking the law?
— After Kirito goes to bed, we suddenly cut to a naked lady sleeping in a tall tower. Um, okay.
— But yeah, that’s the, uh, second episode for you. Literally nothing happened. Our hero woke up back in Underworld, listened to Eugeo talk about the past, listened to Eugeo talk about a tree, and… yep. All this just for our hero to conclude that he’s surrounded by artificial souls. Good ol’ SAO storytelling strikes again.