The return to the real world is doing a hell of a lot of good for Kirito’s character. No longer is he a never-ending source of inexplicable brooding and curt grunts of “I work alone”; he actually has a semblance of personality beyond being an antisocial dickwad with a fondness for wearing black trench coats. Sure, it’s not quite the same as being a decently crafted human character, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a huge step in the right direction. And yes, it gets sabotaged later when this arc’s hilariously evil villain is introduced, but for a good 10-15 minutes, it’s the best that the show’s been, which is kind of sad when it doesn’t involve the SAO world at all.
Back in meatspace, Kirito’s recovery from his two year stint in virtual reality is portrayed surprisingly well. When sparring with his “sister” in a kendo dojo, he assumes the sword-fighting stance that he used constantly in the game, but is unable to properly grasp the physics of not having a system guiding his jabs for built-in combos. It’s a short few minutes, but it drives home the fact that while Kirito’s body may be mostly recovered from atrophy, he’s still firmly in the mindset of still being in the game. It’s a damn effective sequence, and the chats with his “sister” further cement it as the best thing that the show’s done in many an episode. It even got me to care a bit for Kirito and his “sister”, as small as that sympathetic streak was.
And then, once again, things get bad once Asuna enters the picture. Retaining her general level of usefulness well into her coma, she only serves as the catalyst for the next stage of the plot that showcases Kawahara Reki’s habit of inserting dire, yet easily-avoided altercations with smarmy bastards in impeccable attire.
The villain de jure this time around is none other than the impeccably dressed, smarmy Sugou, who’s in the process of persuading Asuna’s father to adopt him into the family as the informal husband of Asuna. Never mind the fact that this guy wants to be wed to an unconscious girl “while she’s still beautiful” when she can’t even consent (because of a lack of consciousness, you understand), the very fact that he isn’t willing to wait until she wakes up should set up a few warning flags that maybe he isn’t out for her best interests. Yes, it is an arrangement to make him heir to the Yuuki family’s assets, and Sugou exploiting that as soon as possible is perfectly reasonable as a motivation, but admitting that his scheme would be over if Asuna wakes up implies that her parents do take her feelings into consideration in these matters, which makes the fact that he wants to wed her while she’s comatose all the creepier.
I don’t so much think that the way he’s written is all that terribly, even if any hint of nuance goes hurtling out the window when he explains his diabolical plan to Kirito, but everyone in contact with him has apparently been living over a leaking gas main for the better part of the last few decades and don’t have the mental capacity to notice that he seems to covet the marriage into the Yuuki family more than Asuna returning to the waking world. And since Sugou is pretty much guaranteed legal adoption into the Yuuki family regardless of Asuna’s feelings, the wedding is an unnecessary frill to his scheme that’s infinitely less practical than formalizing the “marriage” itself beforehand, requiring more time and giving off much creepier vibes. I mean I know expecting a modicum of intelligence from Sword Art Online is taboo at this point, but it shouldn’t make its villains so unnecessarily, obviously evil.
Look forward to the next episode though, because apparently they’re all going to be flying elves in yet another MMO in order to save Asuna.