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As the deadly game approaches it's second anniversary, Kirito asks himself: who is Kayabe Akihiko, and why did he create Sword Art Online

Hi, this is ShonenBeat, standing in for Racoons for this week's episode! In a prophetic twist, Racoons' post about episode 7 seems to have a lot of relevance to episode 8. As Kirito announces at the beginning, it has been almost two years since despotic game designer Kayabe Akihiko trapped thousands of gamers in Sword Art Online. Since the first months, where almost a tenth of the players died, it seems like the rush to complete SAO's dungeon challenge is grinding to a halt. Like Racoons said, most gamers have found their station in the game world and are unwilling to move. This episode confirms that there are only 500 front-line gamers willing to complete the game and bid for freedom. For the rest of the players, Sword Art Online has become a lotus machine.

Following his compassionate euthanising of a rabbit with throw-able nails, Kirito earns himself some rare S-Rank meat. Taking the logical route, he decides to have weapons merchant Egil appraise said-digital meat. Egil confirms the sad truth - only someone with optimum cooking skill can hope to turn it into something tasty. Thankfully the next customer to enter the shop has that level of skill - surprise surprise, it's Asuna!

Since joining the Knights of the Blood Oath, Asuna's gone up in the digi-world. As vice-commander, she has clout in the largest and strongest guild in the world. It also means that she has less freedom, and is followed incessantly by Kuradeel, a dour knight who instantly dislikes Kirito - to the point that he rubs the 'beater' nickname in his face. The constant escort is something Asuna dislikes about the KBO - since its humble beginnings, the Knights have become too weird for her.

At her place, Kirito and Asuna talk about SAO over rabbit stew. They both feel so accustomed to Sword Art Online's world, they find it hard to remember what it was like in the real world. Asuna makes her determination clear, though: she wants to return to the real world, to do everything she hasn't done yet. For this purpose, she proposes to Kirito that they should clear the next boss together. For a solo player, like Kirito, the upper floors are very difficult, and to get past the quirky monsters they need to work together.

(Asuna laughs at how simple cooking is in-game, by the way. When tapping meat-on-the-bone instantly turns it into fillets, I'd say I agree with her.)

After forcing Kuradeel to back off with an extremely one-sided duel, the battle couple head to the Floor 74 dungeon. In a few seconds of combat, the viewers at home wonder why Asuna needed a bodyguard in the first place, and the two swordspeople make it to the boss chamber. We only get a glimpse of the new monster before episode ends, but by the looks of Kirito and Asuna's faces, it is going to be an uphill struggle.

This is a strong episode, especially at this stage of the series. Kirito's status as a beater had been mostly forgotten up until this point, so it's good to hear the term again. His unwillingness to join a guild also resurfaces, no doubt preparing us for whatever it is that is coming next. I do have an issue with relationship between Kirito and Asuna, which takes so many steps backwards and forwards that it may not in fact be going anywhere. Of course, their progress might be helped if Kirito didn't experimentally squeeze Asuna's boobs three times in an episode. That's just my personal bugbear, though. This is a good episode that builds on the themes of the series, and asks us if we'd really want to live in a fantasy world forever. No doubt this is setting up for an interesting endgame - especially since a robed figure bearing an assassin's guild mark seems to be watching Kirito with interest...

(Note: Kayabe Akihiko, inbetween programming a devilish game that would kill its participants, found time to add a subroutine that would allow groping Fiendish.)