As Kirito and his friends continue their journey for the Grand Quest, they arrive at Central Arun, the biggest city in Alfheim, which is situated at the foot of the World Tree where they hope to come to the culmination of their labored mission.
Spoiler warning: Post contains spoilers up to episode 21, "The Truth About The Alfheim".
This was a really frustrating episode to watch. At some parts, I felt like yelling at the television screen, I was that actively irate with what was going on. Up until the very end scene, it feels like it's been walking in circles, trying to keep the drama up while still keeping everyone in the same place. On the other hand, Kirito looks like he's finally doing something definitive about Asuna, so there's that?
In this episode: Asuna escapes, only to be recaptured, but not before discovering the truth of what Sugou is doing with Alfheim. Meanwhile, a shutdown of the ALO server for maintenance puts a temporary halt to Kirito and Leafa's quest. In the real world, Suguha sees that Kirito is in love with Asuna and must contend with burying her emotions than much deeper. The episode ends with Leafa and Kirito approaching the World Tree, just in time for Yui to detect a familiar presence that sends Kirito racing upwards with his wings to try and reach that presence.
I really wanted to be excited about Asuna's escape from Sugou's cage but it seemed like her recapture was a really contrived way to keep her trapped as well as show what Sugou has been doing with the players of ALO. At least Asuna gets out of the situation having stolen a key card, although unless it's a universal key card, I'm not seeing much value in it. Also, Asuna is more determined than ever to break out and get back to Kirito - although that isn't exactly necessary. She was pretty determined already!
We also see that Sugou is using the ALO players as guinea pigs for his experiments, actively controlling their emotions through their NerveGear equipment. Suddenly, having a gaming device that completely jacks into one's brain doesn't seem so cool. At least such abuses of power aren't evident in the later gen devices seen in Accel World, although those machines certainly have their own specific issues. Makes you wonder why Kirito would ever use a NerveGear device again since it can be abused like that. Well, since SAO 2 is already in the works, apparently he does! Groan.
Don't get me started on that damn tentacle scene. I even complained about in on Twitter, saying, "Dear #SwordArtOnline: the tentacles were entirely unnecessary and out of place." And it totally was. Why would Sugou have his lackeys walk around in gelatinous tentacle beast avatars anyway? Who would consent to that when you can be any other race like a Spriggan or Slyph or Cath Sith? Oh, right. Because tentacles are funny! Spare me, SAO.
Having said that, the scene where Suguha logs in as Leafa and ends up crying on Kirito's shoulder was heavy. I may not dig Suguha/Kazuto as endgame at all but having Suguha watch Kirito and Asuna in the hospital room might have been too much for her. That's hard for anyone to go through, doubly so for Suguha, who had to watch a comatose Kazuto during his two years in SAO, unaware he was falling in love with Asuna.
God, but I do wish Suguha finds happiness somewhere with someone. Maybe with that dorky guy friend of hers? Or with someone else? It would just kill me if Sword Art Online ends with Suguha alone, rejected, and without anyone to keep her happy. Especially since it's gonna get real obvious real soon that Kirito and Asuna are Kazuto and Asuna, unless Suguha stays oblivious about that connection as well.
Overall, it wasn't a bad episode, just a little underwhelming, although peppered with good, worthwhile moments. The most exciting moment was at the end, when Yui detected Asuna's presence and Kirito suddenly raced to find her. Having said that, I'm rather tired of Sword Art Online sometimes reserving its best scenes as the episode cliffhanger. Spread out the action! Stop saving the good plot twists for every episode ending!