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Apologies for the delays. Unfortunately, the real world has interfered with my writing this review with a persistent drone that only the real world can muster. As a result, it is almost like the last week has not happened pretty appropriate when talking about this particular episode.

I have issues with this episode. I don t think that the action and events really fit into the series, following weeks of deep exploration of real/digital fetishizing and relationship issues. I understand that maintaining a grim, dark tone throughout Sword Art Online would not be ideal for most viewers, and it would require a lot of angst shoehorning. Maybe the real issue here is maintaining a level of meaningful conflict.

Some predictions I made about characters are annoyingly accurate. Recon s character development, for instance, is heading straight for the scrap pile. His general level of incompetence is less amusing and more nerve-gratingly depressing. To call him a doormat in this episode would imply that the character has greater substance than he actually does. His defining trait apart from looking like a ToraDora cast member in the real world is his lukewarm devotion to Suguha. Recon is embarrassingly flat to the point where I imagine that he will be forced to make a grand sacrifice to prove his own worth. Good for that moment in time, but right now, his low self-esteem is coming off as annoying.

On top of that, we are treated to the self-destructive political climate within the Alfheim Online community. Sigurd s little sylph clan seems reminiscent of the Knights of Blood, with their overly protective attitude towards guild members. However, the added racial aspect turns the conflict into a rather high-strung affair, to the point where Leafa has to quit her guild to leave with Kirito. How it ever reached this stage is beyond me it s like people getting angry over players being warriors in World of Warcraft and Alfheim Online is supposed to be a pretty casual MMO. It is weird to think about how the community developed this way, although it does reflect the creator Sugou s cynical viewpoint of others.

Similarly, I can t help feeling that Suguha s character has decayed over the course of an episode. She had such a good introduction strong willed, yet sensitive, and able to defend herself in the real and digital realms. Since then, these attributes haven t really come into play. She hasn t been called upon for her sword skills at all, and as far as sensitivity goes, nothing has developed in that direction either. Unless you count her tendency to have a full body blush once an episode; in those terms, she makes huge headway, managing a digital blush that extends to her pointy fairy ears.

Of course, that is my harsh viewpoint. It is not as if the characters have been behaving too moronically. They are still good, wholesome fun (except for Recon, who can slowly bleed to death in a ravine). I do feel that some characters are just fulfilling role expectations, though. Yui, the Token AI has to have her Can Not Compute Love chat; Suguha is a by-the-numbers Childhood Friend Who Can Not Spit It Out. Kirito remains Kirito. In fact, I was surprised that the captive princess Asuna is the most interesting character in the episode the mirror trick to get around the mosaicked password was a smooth move. Also, I like the mirroring of Oberon s loveless bedchamber with the Sword Art Online cottage where Kirito and Asuna romanced.

Maybe what this episode needed was some of that supplementary materials that fans of the light novels say have been left out. I feel that right now, in a rather fluffy setting, what the series needs is a little depth. It s a shame the series has set high standards so far, and this episode doesn t quite reach them.