Kirito and Yui finally arrive inside Asuna’s cell and free her from her imprisonment, but this backfires when “King Oberon” (Sugou) teleports Kirito and Asuna inside his private domain. Kirito finds himself stuck on the ground by gravity magic, while Asuna is forcibly chained up as punishment. Sugou mocks Kirito’s efforts while slowly torturing Asuna for going against him. Before things get even worse, Akihiko (the creator of Sword Art Online) reaches towards Kirito’s mind and gives him his admin panel, allowing him to properly fight Sugou without restrictions. As a shocked Sugou cries out in anger, an enraged Kirito forcefully slashes every inch of Sugou’s avatar, tosses him into the air and deals a finishing blow to the wicked man. Asuna is finally able to log out, after which Akihiko explains that he is the spirit of the man who used the avatar “Heathcliff” in Sword Art Online. He proceeds to then give Kirito “The World Seed”, which will offer further answers in the future. With that Kirigaya wakes up in reality and runs outside, riding his bike to the pospital in the cold snow to see Asuna.
In this episode, the final showdown between Kirito and King Oberon at last goes underway! Oh, hold on, it looks like its not much of a “final battle”. Instead it’s an entire episode dedicated to completely downgrading one of the characters and allowing the protagonist to save the day, thanks to a previous antagonist deciding to help him out in a most absurd turn of events.
I’m going to be flat out honest, this is without a doubt the worst episode in the entire series. The amount of frustration I have with this particular episode goes so far that I wish that I had logged out from this series when season 1 concluded on such a decent note. The main problem here is that Sword Art Online has had an extremely hard time understanding where it wants to go as a series. Season 1 became a very compelling, romantic storyline of metaphors about two people falling in love beyond reality’s barriers. Season 2 throws all of those ideas out the window and decides to simply make it a “rescue the princess” storyline with aspect of sibling bonds mixed in. But, most of this entire second half has been either painfully dragged out, or so quickly paced depending on the episode, and ultimately only an ending hitting on some incredible notes would possibly save the storyline. Sadly, this does not come to fruition in “Gilded Hero” as Asuna’s character is being utterly forced down as a victim to Sugou’s evil behavior.
Sugou’s maliciousness gets so much screen time just to further exemplify why the audience should hate him. It completely backfires; this is repulsive writing that betrays everything that had made this series charming and renders it absolutely distasteful. Am I really supposed to believe that Akihiko could not have helped Kirito from the start, instead of Asuna being attacked in such a terrible manner for over five minutes? Why didn’t Asuna get the same help? The writing frames the boy as the cool hero while the cute-looking girl looks weak. So much Japanese animation takes this route, and the repetition of it is a major turn-off. Masterpieces such as Rurouni Kenshin, Gundam, and arguably Casshern Sins do not go about dehumanizing a gender in pursuit of a high-quality story. If any female viewer can feel comfortable viewing this, that’s stunning on its own. If there is any character who should of been the hero of this arc, it was Asuna considering the entire crisis centralized on her ability to defend against Sugou’s malice. Instead, we are given more stale reasons why Kirito is the super awesome hero who slashes towards victory instead of anything else.