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Something is rotten in the state of Sword Art Online.

Surprisingly, we have a murder mystery on our hands folks. If I think about .Hack//Sign, Star Ocean, or any other anime based on an online game, it s very rare that they devote an episode or two to crime solving. Most favour the straight action and adventure route, but Sword Art Online does something different by introducing us to a murder mystery.

I m glad that they re continuing to explore the theme of player killing (PK ing for short). We re introduced to new and ingenious ways people are killing each other even in safe zones. I must say, the extremes people are willing to go to are a little...uh, extreme, to the extent of making a sleeping player agree to a duel with their hand and then hacking them to death while they sleep. This all just adds to the fear and the seriousness of the situation everyone is in. You re not safe even in safe zones. You re not safe when you sleep. It s enough to drive anyone crazy.

The feeling of insecurity heightens as Kirito (who is with Asuna now) comes across a murder in a supposed safe zone, which defies the common rules of the game. All that s left behind is a mysterious spear and a girl who may be the key to unravelling this mystery until...well, yeah.

In terms of mystery, I m just as stumped as Kirito and Asuna as to how this person is pulling off these murders. As Kirito says, there s no way they could happen within the established rules. This leads to only one possibility. The rules that they thought they knew no longer hold. Just like when the boss Kirito and Asuna first fought together changed its weapon, the online world seems to be subtly different from the one they expect, and that, folks, is dangerous. If you can t rely on the rules to hold up, what can you rely on I imagine that Kirito and other beta testers are the most at risk by this because they know how the game should be so well that they re less prepared for something different. The gravity of their situation is really shown in watching the two members of the Golden Apple completely freak out. There are some lovely expressions in this episode.

Again, what are minor annoyances in a normal online game become real threats here. Player killing and squabbling over rare items aren t exactly unusual, but here if it happens it can have deadly consequences. It s interesting seeing how the threat of death makes people act. That there are people willing to kill others to improve their chances at survival is shocking but at the same time understandable. When there are people constantly dying, Asuna sees a day spent relaxing as a day wasted, while Kirito has a more laid back approach.

Speaking of Asuna, the world of Sword Art Online is very well established, but the pacing leaves something to be desired. I was surprised to see Kirito back with Asuna all of a sudden, and that she s know a squad leader one of the front line guilds. The beginning in which they are planning to use NPCs as bait was interesting, but then we never see what becomes of it. Don t bait and switch!

That said, this is the first time that we ve got something other than a stand-alone episode. I hope they put it to good use.