Kirito and Leafa begin their journey to the World Tree.
Suguha’s mind wanders back to the days when Kirigaya was still trapped inside Sword Art Online. The pain of losing her own brother drove her to wonder what made him so passionate about online gaming in the first place, so she ultimately resolved to find out by creating the character “Leafa” on Alfheim Online. Back in the present, Suguha meets up with Shinichi Nagata (Recon) in reality and informs him that she will be tagging along with Kirito instead of their usual party. However when Leafa reunites with Kirito online the pair are confronted by her old party members, who obstinately demand that Leafa stay with them. Fortunately, Kirito defuses the situation by observing that the other citizens in town wouldn’t be happy for a conflict to start between them in the open. After this incident Recon tells Leafa that he’s through with their old group, and happily orders Kirito to take care of his friend for now.
Upon exiting town, Leafa and Kirito go airborne and head for the main dungeon. The pair take small breaks throughout their trip, leading to Suguha nervously wondering about what feelings are driving her to help Kirigaya. Her thoughts are interrupted when Kirito wakes up back inside the game and the party proceeds on the quest, unaware that a group of players are spying on them. Meanwhile, back at the World Tree, Asuna is slowly learning the password that can grant her freedom from her cage…
“To the World Tree” is a sluggish episode that does not cover very much besides Suguha developing feelings for her own cousin. Nothing really happens besides a lot of unnecessary filler that’s more about pulling in certain male viewers than moving the plot forward in a timely way. I’m saddened to see the series stoop so slow for this kind of fanservice when it’s so charming in other areas and sporting its share of interesting concepts. Don’t get me wrong though, I think this episode did have some charm of its own as it brought other aspects to the fore. Leafa’s ex-party is seeming wonderfully antagonistic, it seems Recon is on his own mission to discover something important and Asuna is finding a way to get herself free. Hopefully I was too quick to call Asuna a “damsel in distress” after all.