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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Blue Eyed Demon: Sword Art Online 9

To save a group of players and Asuna from from a Boss character, Kirito is forced to play his trump card. (Source: Crunchyroll)
Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the ninth episode of Sword Art Online.
In the cliffhanger ending for the previous episode, Asuna and Kirito were facing down the 74th level boss Gleam Eyes and for all intents and purposes looked not so ready to clear the floor's final enemy. And if you guessed that the battle wouldn't happen so soon in the episode - well, you would be right! The ninth episode opens with our fearless Aincrad heroes running for their lives from Gleam Eyes. It would almost be cowardice if being killed by Gleam Eyes did not mean a permanent 'game over' for the both of them.

In this episode, we are introduced to a group of players known as the Aincrad Liberation Force guild, a self-appointed army of players who have been struggling to reach the front line. Their leader, Corbatz, is a dick who thinks running his men ragged is an awesome idea. Spoiler: it really is not and he pays for it, hard. I also observed that a lot of the guys in the ALF were older players, thirty years old and up, which piqued my curiosity. Made me wonder if there were any ex-military members trapped in Aincrad, back on the battlefield.
We also reunite with Klein, the first player Kirito interacted with in Sword Art Online. He's doing remarkably well for himself, now that he's part of a guild. Looking good, Klein! His instant camaraderie with Kirito is one of the better aspects of the show; I think Klein, Kirito, and Asuna make an interesting and amusing trio of players.
Most of the episode is dedicated to the battle between the various Aincrad players and Gleam Eyes, who is a bad mofo to beat. He's the bloody Baal of SAO, apparently, with the ability to knock weaker players to the ground with barely a strong breath. It soon becomes one of those battles where everything is on the line and it takes drastic measures to win - the kind of battle in an MMORPG where you end up using all your manna and health potions and start wishing you had put more skill points into your healing spells.
By 'drastic measures', I mean Kirito reveals his special skill set that apparently no one else in Aincrad has access to: he's a dual wielder, able to handle two swords at once. Suddenly, the fact that he commissioned a new sword makes sense - he need two swords of equal strength to use together, Elucidator and Dark Repulsor. Y'know, that white and black stuff John Locke keeps spouting on LOST, except with swords. They complete each other! Wait, like Kirito and Asuna? Oh boy.
The episode ends with Kirito getting sucked into a duel with the Knights of Blood's commander, who is understandably upset that his second in command is buggering off to join Kirito full time. I'm dying over the fact that his name is Heathcliff, by the way. If Kirito wins, he'll have to join KoB with Asuna - but is joining KoB really that terrible? Kirito could rally the troops to break through the front lines and reach the top level, and his skills could be really useful in battle. I'm guessing KoB is not a nice place for players to join.
Really, though, the biggest revelation in "Blue Eyed Demon", other than all self-proclaimed armies suck at their jobs, is Kirito's hidden skill set. It's why he had a sword made, it's why he doesn't use a sword, and it's why he's one of the best players in Sword Art Online. I could see why irrational players would be upset that this one guy has a skill set no one else does, even if it doesn't make sense. If anything, it would put Kirito more in demand for his abilities - right?
Kirito seems a little too powered up right now. A Beta player who has amazing rare items, incredibly fast HP restoration, and now two awesome swords that can cut through the biggest and baddest of bosses with relative ease. Plus, as a solo player, he can pretty much do whatever he wants beside be a Player Killer. Kirito as a person has plenty of faults; Kirito as an Aincrad warrior seems like a piece of brooding battle perfection. It's an odd contrast between two halves that may end up clashing in the near future as Kirito gets closer to the end of his journey.

Right now, however, with the unstoppable duo of Asuna and Kirito, reaching the top level and defeating the final boss doesn't look that impossible. However, guild drama and in-fighting might end up destroying their best efforts. I'm looking forward to the duel between Kirito and Heathcliff to see who wins; the final result could possibly shift the current dynamics of the show in an all new direction - for better or for worse.
Note: It looks like Toonami will no longer be hosting past episodes of Sword Art Online on the Adult Swim video website. This means if you want to catch up on SAO, it's subbed via Crunchyroll or dubbed via Funimation's various websites.