“Above us!!” Asuna shouted next to me. I looked upwards in surprise. On the ceiling of the dome—it was there.
After being recruited by a local fisherman, Nishida to assist in fishing up a huge monster in the lake, Kirito and Asuna receive a message from Heathcliff: they are to go back to the front lines and participate in the 75th floor boss battle. Having an anti-crystal field and a sealed room function once the party enters, Heathcliff plans to fight it using the largest party possible. Upon engaging the Skull Reaper, they quickly find out its clean hits are OHKOs, and struggle to defeat it with the death count rising.
I must say, I was beyond surprised when the episode kicked off with the mini-fishing story I was so sure they’d skipped after giving a shout-out to it last week. Evidently it must have been after the Yui incident, which would then make sense and tie in well with the shift to the story’s next section.
HAHAHAHA THE FISHING. Love how loads of random people turned up to see a fisherman catch a fish xD Having expected action, I was rather pissed at more slice-of-life to start off with, but all’s good and well, with the fishing not being too boring to watch in the end. For some backstory, the giant fish is actually the “local god” monster who lives in the giant lake in the middle of the 22nd floor, needing an insanely high STR stat to fish out due to its size. Thus, the local fishermen weren’t really able to do it and all the people with high enough STR were clearers on the front lines. A well-timed honeymoon had Kirito turn up to help! Poor guy…I don’t think that orange thing even qualifies as a fish to be honest. Asuna sure didn’t think so, either. Her facial expressions made my night, really xD She’s just that type of character in anime who gets even random small movements animated by the studios because they know we’ll carefully watch it, and we do – just like with Yui.
It must run in the family.
Asuna also got her random sexy movements animated, and I strongly think that was a very sneaky move for them to linger on showing the two in bed, both to cheer for our OTP and incite rage among us all that Kirito is the one whom she’s cuddling in bed with. Heh, sex changes everything doesn’t it xD In all seriousness though, its this love; this open display of love that becomes important very soon. All the love between them is really sincere and pure, and Asuna herself said she wants to date, get married and grow old for real instead of in a virtual reality. This actually leads on to what I wanted to say next – something on the whole debate behind living in SAO versus clearing the game and going back to reality. On the 22nd floor you have Nishida, the fisherman who spends his days peacefully. The LN tells you he originally only tried SAO to see the network he helped set up, and is probably the oldest player online – but is happy with his life, and doesn’t seem to show any regret, being content with spending his days near the lake in a cottage. Then you have people like the clearers, and Kirito + Asuna themselves, who fight for survival and eventual freedom, so that they can one day return to reality. Knowing there’s an eventual time limit once everyone’s physical body can’t be sustained by medical technology any more doesn’t make it better, putting even more pressure on them.
You know how in the past, (First World War I think) people who had never gone to war before glorified it, thinking of it as heroic patriotism where you fight, then return and be honoured beyond your wildest dreams? I think their faces when they saw the trenches and chemical warfare was something like when they saw the Skull Reaper for the first time, complete with its 5 HP bars. I know it’s not a direct parallel in the sense that the veteran SAO players have experienced battle, know of the risks and are prepared to die, but really, there’s not much you can expect from the background characters who all look the same. All the morale and support Heathcliff had rallied up outside the door disappeared, and it was an absolute mess inside despite them supposedly being top players who were their respective guild’s best. An anti-crystal field as well as a sealed boss room is ridiculously scary already in normal MMOs, and especially more when you remember it’s a death game, and once you’re in you either live to fight another day or die forever. No-one actually seemed to do anything other than Heathcliff, Kirito, Asuna, Klein and Egil.
Gone are the glorious battles (though the epic Kajiura Yuki music remains), as well as the overpowered Kirito who Starburst Streams his way through boss battles single-handedly. Like the 50th floor boss battle before it, the 75th floor is another key marker typical to gaming and to be honest they should have anticipated that given how many lives the 50th floor battle took. No-one else died from the 50th until the 74th, and that was the Army’s recklessness entirely. For Kirito and Asuna though, there is the fear of not losing just their lives, but their reason to live – their love for each other. I understood fully Kirito’s hope that Asuna would sit tight at home waiting, as well as Asuna wanting to kill herself if Kirito died. It’s clear they’re both more scared than they’re ever been before, and only part of it is due to the boss itself.
I won’t lie – heaven and earth comes crashing together next episode, and that much is easily clear from our preview title “The End of the World”. I actually thought they’d end it with a separate cliffhanger, [Heathcliff's Revelation] if they clipped some bits and placed it right at the end, but I guess they’ll deliver everything all with full force in one go to end the arc. Let’s see how SAO handles it when push comes to shove.