Kirito’s determination to save Asuna borders on the insane. His reckless is stopped when Leafa suddenly logs out. / Even though a wall has been built between Kirito and Sugu, he must save Asuna. The next time he challenges the final dungeon he won’t be alone. (Source: Crunchyroll)
Spoiler warning: Post contains spoilers up to episode 23, "Bonds".
Did someone tell Sword Art Online that they only have two more episodes left after these? Because in this duo of episodes, the story gets kicked into serious high gear and plot happens. And it's so good! Well, unless you're name is Suguha. Then it's just all kinds of bad. Also, we learn that Asuna is not a common name whatsoever - either that or Suguha is good at jumping to conclusions that end up being true. And Yui is ridiculously adorable when she's not piling on the 'mommy/daddy' chirping!
Onwards - into the final act of Sword Art Online series one!
You know who wasn't cute? Recon. I kinda don't want him to go out with Suguha now. Yes, confess your feelings and then try to force a kiss on her! Gag me with a spoon. That is totally not romantic. Then again, outside of Kirito and Asuna's epic romance, not much romance actually succeeds on Sword Art Online. Either one person dies or feelings are not returned or the other person is a totally creep who is only using their future significant other for personal gain and greed. Speaking of which, where's Sugou?
We also learn more about Kazuto's reasoning for going into virtual reality gaming in the first place: his learning he is not blood related to his immediate family and his feeling separated from them. His isolation led to him finding comfort and companionship in the digital world, which led to SAO, which led to two years trapped in a fantasy and realizing he's abandoned his family one too many times. Although you'd think after beating Alfheim he would never want to see another NerveGear device in his lifetime but yeah, SAO 2 is close to existing.
The Suguha/Kazuto/Leafa/Kirito relationship is a hot mess and the way it was resolved - first, by Suguha's sudden confession of feelings, then the in game duel that apparently solve all of Kirito and Leafa's problems. You telling me that the burning emotions that Suguha had for Kazuya are just going to disappear like that? I'm a young woman with feelings of unrequited love, I know that life well. We don't play like that. Everything hurts and being around Kazuya's digital self won't make it go down any better for Leafa.
But it's out there now. Suguha is in love with Kazuto - or was. Then she tried to fall in love for Kirito, until she realized that Kirito was Kazuto's ALO self. Now she's totally lost but she doesn't want to stop helping Kirito get back to Asuna. It's further made complicated by Kirito's refusing to tell Suguha how he really feels about her until Asuna has been saved.
Kirito, just reject her and move on already. Err, right? You can't have a harem ending! It's Asuna or Nice Boat time! (That reference isn't too dated now, is it?)
A good bulk of these episodes seem concerned about Kirito and Leafa's relationship. Good thing then that the other part is all about fighting through the World Tree to get back to Asuna. We soon see why most players have yet to clear the World Tree's levels of guardian NPCs. They are tough. Like, god mode tough. All the swords and archers and warriors just waiting to annihilate anyone trying to run through the gauntlet of weapons.
That battle was hard to watch because it was so unfair. It's obviously rigged so that it is impossible to win, and even if you do go through all the fighters and survive, you reach a door that cannot be opened unless your girlfriend drops a key card out of her cage and you happen to have a mod sprite that can hack into the card and use the code to open said un-openable door. Ergo, unless you are Kirito and have deus ex machina on your side, it's not happening.
Luckily for Kirito, he is Kirito. Also lucky for him is that the Salamanders subplot happen, as the Sylphs and Cait Siths end up backing him up in his second attempt since his first ended in his death. Also, Leafa followed him in, although she does not come with him to the doorway to Asuna's cage. It's nice to see the clan leaders again, although they are quickly delegated to the side as Kirito's muscle so Kirito can fly through while the majority of the firepower is diverted away from his avatar. Good one!
I've been pretty unhappy with how things have been shaping up during this Alfheim story arc, but it's almost over, and Kirito is almost across the threshold and with Asuna. Next episode, I tell myself. Next episode and they'll be together! Sword Art Online, don't let me down! Because if you do, I will quite possibly lose my Asuna-loving fangirl mind.
PS - Sugou is an idiot. Seriously. Sugou knows Kirito's handle from SAO. He knows what Kirito's avatar looked like. He knows Kirito is dedicated to Asuna fully. So why wouldn't Sugou just destroy Kirito's account and lock him out of Alfheim's servers? Anyone running around duel wielding swords and calling themselves Kirito and gunning to clear the World Tree - the place where Titania is being held captive - is most likely Kazuya coming for his SAO wife.
If I were Sugou? Yui would have been hacked and turned into a worm that would have destroyed Kirito's NerveGear from the inside out. His equipment would become buggy, his stats useless, his contact list inundated with spam. Kirito's avatar would have been a pile of digital dust already. But then it wouldn't be much of a series, would we?