This week we follow Kirito and Asuna as they take a break from the chaos of frontline combat. Heathcliff is completely right – they’ll be back, how could they not? If they were to up and leave the battlefield now and never look back, why then have they been fighting for so long? They may have each other now, but Asuna at the very least is not an overly selfish person. I doubt she’d be able to bear the idea that others were fighting while she spent all her time having fun with Kirito. Heck, we can actually see a little bit of discontent from Kirito at points during the episode – he’s probably itching to get back to fighting solo – and Asuna’s attack on the child-molesting Army members doesn’t feel like it was entirely because of her distaste for them. With all they’ve invested in clearing the game so far and the prospect of getting together on the outside, there’s even more reason for them to get back out there and continue pushing forwards with the other clearers.
Speaking of getting together on the outside, I find it strange that Asuna would feel the need to ‘fall in love with [Kirito] again’ outside the game – given that their artificial avatar appearances are long gone (and much of the feeling of anonymity with it) and they’ve been in this world for two years already, it feels hard to believe that they’d be drastically different people outside the game. Surely the Kirito she’s fallen in love with here is also the real Kirito? Unless she’s secretly afraid that he’s some horrible lecher in real life and this game world was his chance to start afresh with a new life! But no, it’s hard to imagine people acting so differently from their true selves in such a reality. At least I find it that way. Especially when they managed to feel strongly enough to consider Yui (Itou Kanae) a surrogate daughter.
Asuna derives amusement from Kirito’s sometimes childish naiveté, but it’s pretty evident she has a childish side of her own. Her constant desire to go out and have fun with Kirito and wanting to ride on his shoulders to be higher up both seem a little out of character for someone of her age. Or maybe it’s just relieving some of the stress from spending two years fighting (that doesn’t make it less childish though)! But Kirito’s idea of a ‘fun outing‘ is rather twisted, especially in comparison to hers. Ghost hunting? In a dark, creepy forest? Sure sounds like the perfect date! It does give us a chance to see a side of Asuna we’ve not seen much of though – a side I’m not particularly fond of if I’m perfectly honest. Since early in the series, she’s always been portrayed as strong and independent, always capable of standing up for herself. But the moment Kirito appears, her default becomes to hide behind him when faced with any real or perceived danger. Sure, she usually ends up fighting her own battles, but that initial reaction just doesn’t sit right with me.
SAO has one of those concepts that make very little sense from a design standpoint – it’s physically possible to pick up NPCs, but doing so will give you a harassment warning which could potentially lead to jailing the player. If you’re not allowed to do something in a game, why make it possible in the first place? Why not just disable it altogether? It’s like one of those honeytraps where they try to tempt you into doing something because there’s nothing stopping you, only to lash out at you for actually doing it. It’s a little like banning people for looting chests. Well, not actually quite as bad as that, but still not exactly right.
Once again, we get to see the despotic actions of The Army. Just as when they appeared the previous two times, they’re up to no good, demanding what they believe is rightfully theirs from players. This time it’s taxes. Sort of. Well actually it basically comes down to forcing young children to strip. Can you paint these guys as worse people? Probably not. Had Asuna and Kirito (mostly Asuna) not arrived in time, things would likely have ended up much worse for Sasha (Fujii Miyako), and the trio of children, Mina (Akari~n! Ahem, sorry Mikami Shiori), Gin (Muranaka Tomo), and Kain (Mori Yuko). Heck, maybe it would have cumulated in them being dragged outside the barriers of the safe zone. Would they have gone that far? Maybe. Quite possibly.