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As all the side stories are tied off, this episode begins the endgame of Sword Art Online. Will our heroes survive

Firstly, my apologies for the delay of this review: I have been attending my cousin s 5th birthday party in Wales a land where there is no wifi, it seems and following the party, I have come down with a cold. I am typing now, tissues in hand, trying to objectively review episode 13 of Sword Art Online in spite of my congestion.

In comparison with Sword Art Online s sister series, Accel World, the pacing of this season seems to have different nuances. For instance, Accel World had more of a focus on longer overarching story arcs, with side stories changing or interrupting the flow. Sword Art Online, on the other hand, has been playing around with shorter, self-contained storylines with a focus on a single or group of characters, considered disposable when the plot demands it. This short-arc structure has served SAO well: in some ways, the series as a whole can be seen as an anthology, gathering a number of stories together where Kirito has touched another player s life.

This episode is disguised as another side story: while fishing at the lake, a senior player invites Kirito to join him in catching the biggest fish of the lake. Said senior, named Nishida, used to be the head of an internet security firm coincidentally, the same firm that protects Aincrad, the Sword Art Online world. Nishida is quite clearly not the combatant type, so while he waits for others to complete the game, he is passing his days SAO s fishing holes.

I had expected the fishing side story to fill the whole episode, but here my expectations were subverted quite early in the episode, the monstrous fish is dragged out from the depths and, as is common with all fishing trips, Asuna fillets it with her rapier. Nishida thanks Kirito and Asuna, and wishes he could do more to help them. There is a touching scene with these three, and Asuna reaffirms the reason she is fighting at the front lines.

Having worked on the anthology angle throughout the series, the production team seem to have fit an episode s worth of story into ten minutes. It feels rounded, complete and amazingly unhurried. This is an achievement which not many studios can pull off, so I doff my cap to them. Simultaneously, they have prepared the viewer for what seems like the final arc of the SAO storyline. We have seen a number of stories that represent the events of the last two years, depicting the months that have passed by. Now, we are finally presented with an ultimate deadline.

The importance of Kirito to the Sword Art Online players is threaded into episode 13 even when talking about fish, he has been given great significance by other characters. When called by Heathcliff to fight the highest level dungeon, this significance is capitalised on. As the game continues, it becomes clear that a few of the players have been moved to hospital because of their declining health. This is definitely a shift towards an endgame story arc. Two years ago, anyone could have spearheaded the frontlines now Kirito has to take charge, or more people could die.

After meeting up with old companions Klein and Egil, all the front-line players head for the dungeon. Trapped in the boss room, they fight for their freedom against the deadliest boss they have encountered.

To conclude: this is a well-paced episode, managing both a light-hearted story and the greater story arcs in parallel. There are some good touches, and both comic and serious fight animation looks suitably epic in scale. This episode is preparing for the final cadence that will lead to the conclusion of Sword Art Online s two year battle, and I am glad to have watched it.