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Kirito s adventure in the Land of the Fairies, Alfheim Online, continues. There are hijinks, flying lessons and the world of AO is revealed to have a rather familiar setup

Last time, you may recall that my review of the new scenario for the series was less than ecstatic. As of yet I have not been sucked into the new world of Alfheim Online. It may be partly to do with the whole fairy thing which, after fourteen episodes of a more heavyweight fantasy world, seems to be an unusual change of dynamic. There is also the issue of urgency: Sword Art Online had a real clincher with the Death Game mechanic, as it allowed the drama of the series to flourish and created sufficient motivation for the characters to get a move on. Not that trying to save your girlfriend from a digital prison isn t sufficient motivation, but the lack of deadly threat unfortunately removes a lot of the series tension from the Alfheim arc.

Then again, after a superlative first arc any situation that doesn t outstrip a Death Game is going to seem a little less dramatic. At least this episode tries to add a different kind of tension to make up for the lack of a body count.

Most of the first few minutes deal with our new cast of characters. Following a solid trouncing of the red player killers, we get a proper introduction to the sylph player Leafa. Any hopes of a new romantic lead are dashed here by the appearance of Yui , Chief Shipping Protection Officer. There is a little cute piece of dialogue before we get a proper introduction to the whole flying element of Alfheim Leafa taking the lead to teach Kirito how to soar through the kingdom. Landing is not a subject covered in her tutorial. Hilarity ensues. We are also given a reintroduction to supporting cast member Recon. I am not sure whether he is a likeable comic relief the twitching hand on his scabbard amuses me or a future annoyance. I do not have a huge fondness for weak-willed characters unless they come packaged with suitable character development. Seeing as he only took up two minutes of screen time with his low self-esteem this week, I am considering giving him a full pardon for his transgressions.

Anyway, enough of my bugbears. Leafa provides us with a little geological background on the world of Alfheim Online. It is divided between the nine fairy races, and at the dead centre is the World Tree as was mentioned last episode. However, the World Tree is not just a decoration it is a tower with powerful guardians. Should any player conquer the tower, the Fairy King Oberon will bestow on them the power to fly indefinitely without limit. Because, you know, flying is so boss in this world. The only difficulty is that it would take months to clear the World Tree, and requires the different races to work together for a prize only one warrior could claim. In case you ve forgotten, time is the one thing that Kirito doesn t have to spare. Thankfully Leafa is willing to support him and get him to the top.

We get a rather downplayed reveal that Leafa is, in fact, Suguha. Downplayed is best in this case, as anything melodramatic here would quickly derail the good mood of this new arc. As a lead female role in this arc, though, her real world persona is more ditzy than any other female character in the series so far. This episode marks the second time she has had a full-body blush, and it is possible to kill her off with a muffin. Her Leafa persona is a bit more active and competent than her real self, and I would like to see development in that part of her character.

For those not easily pleased by slapstick and blushing maidens, the last few minutes of the episode mark the most intriguing element of Alfheim Online. Fairy King Oberon introduces himself as Sugou to Asuna, his Titania. While she resists his advances, Sugou reveals that he has been working on technology to behaviourally modify people, using ex-Sword Art Online players as test subjects. Though this is not the death threat that drove the SAO part of the series, the danger of personality dubbing manages to hold a viewer s interest as a threat. Sugou means business, and only his ego stands between a free-willed Asuna and a submissive Titania.

Episode 17 manages to rescue Sword Art Online from the pitfalls of its sister series Accel World. While there is no longer the threat of death and oblivion in the digital world, there is sufficient drama to keep the new series going. The blushing maidens and jittery comic reliefs are decently characterised as well, but I expect that as a given from Sword Art Online, and I would like to see some character development in the future episodes. All in all, the Alfheim arc seems to be shaping up well.