So – anything happen while I was away? I have a lot of reactions to that episode, which is more often than not a good sign. I certainly wouldn’t say my reaction is overwhelmingly positive, but rather this: how great would this ep have been if the previous 13 had been mostly focused on building up to it rather than spending 80% of the time trying to cram as many moe girls-of-the-week and overwrought emotional scenes down our gullets?
In other words, the shortcomings of this episode of SAO are not its own, but rest on the previous thirteen. In and of itself it was a barnburner – a vastly entertaining mess, though riddled with inconsistencies that had me shaking my head. More than anything it just felt like everything happened – maybe it was because I didn’t know it was coming this very week, but I didn’t get any sense of buildup to everything coming to a head this week. That undercut the authenticity of the moment for me, which is too bad because this is definitely the series I was hoping I was going to get when I signed up.
I was pleased to see my hunch that something was up with Heathcliff was correct – Kirito’s right, that whole duel the first time around smelled funny. At the time I said that Heathcliff’s moves seemed like an outright cheat, though I didn’t expect it to be so literally so. Kirito was also right that there’s nothing so boring as watching someone else play a RPG, so it figured Kayaba Akihiko had to be lurking inside the game somewhere – the guy just had to have a sadistic side that wouldn’t enjoy this if he couldn’t be there to watch the worm struggling on the hook. Akihiko is the most interesting character in the show for me, and I sure as hell hope that little speech in limbo isn’t all we get in terms of exploration of his psyche. I have a lot of unanswered questions and I’ll be very disappointed if they remain so.
The final confrontation was certainly dramatic, starting with Kirito’s reveal of Heathcliff’s true identity. I have my doubts that someone like Akihiko would genuinely put himself at risk as a “reward” to the guy who outed him (which makes me skeptical about his supposed death) but there are larger matters of consistency that bother me more. Like, for example, how did Asuna overcome the paralysis effect that was built into the game itself? And how, exactly, did Kirito manage to come back after he’d died to finish Akihiko off? I’m not prepared to accept that as simply will power, or the power of love – that doesn’t mesh with the internal logic we’ve been given so far. Again, I hope there are answers coming, because the conclusion otherwise would be that these things happened because the plot needed them to.
We had a very nice farewell scene between Kirito – I guess I should say Kazuto – and Asuna – when both thought their time was running out. So why didn’t it run out – why did they survive (I presume she did, too) when the other 4000 died? I suppose it’s possible Akihiko was lying about them really being brain-dead, but that wasn’t the sense I got. And I’ll give you Kazuto being able to stand up and walk under his own power after two years in a coma, but why the hell wouldn’t a nurse come running when all his life signs stopped? I’ all for suspension of disbelief, but inconsistency is hard to swallow. The arc-concluding ep certainly delivered the goods dramatically, but it doesn’t seem to have done the heavy lifting in doing so – relying upon a lot of shortcuts and contrivances instead. I appreciate it for what it is, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering what it could have been. Much like SAO as a whole up to this point.