Quotes, quotes everywhere.
There is quite a number of important monologue and mechanics in this episode. Although it’s superficially eye candy, there’s an attenuated system of mechanics. Like I said, SAO’s novel has mechanics heavily integrated into everything; the author explains each new development, and attributes it to the game. SAO, and any other adaptation cannot practically cover monologue; it’s the key component that makes visual novels and light novels more vivid in character development. It’s difficult to ascertain the mood of a character from countenance alone. At times, the character’s mindset justifies an otherwise, asinine, and or pompous action.
«Holy Sword»: Heathcliff’s extra skill; almost antithetical to Kirito’s extra skill [«Dual Blades]; its primary feature is its indomitable defense. Rumors claim that Heathcliff’s health has never dropped into the yellow zone [While Kirito nearly died on Gleameyes and on the Christmas boss].
Dueling Modes: There are three primary types of dueling modes in SAO: Normal Mode, First-Strike Mode, and Time-Limit Mode. Normal Mode is rarely ever used in SAO; the duel ends when the health points of one of the opponents falls to 0 [the type of mode used during the Sleep PKs in Murder Mystery]. The third mode, which hasn’t made much of an appearance in the novels, is the time-limit mode; after a definite period of time, the person with the higher amount of health points wins. The second mode, which is the most common mode would be the first-strike mode; the winner is decided by whoever lands the first clean hit, or by whoever lowers the opponent’s health below 50% [during this duel, clean hits weren’t exactly landed; Kirito’s rapid blows were riposted by Heathcliff’s rapid blocks].
Laughing Coffin: As shown during previous episodes [Scilica’s Side Story & Murder Mystery], Laughing Coffin’s one of the few PKing guilds. They’re leaded by an enigmatic, sociopathic, yet intelligent leader; they devise and execute new methods of killing players [such as Sleep PKing]. The number of victims that Laughing Coffin has claim to is in the triple digits.
Cradil’s Betrayal: Arguably, one of the better things done in the anime, than the source. The anime implemented Laughing Coffin members into the audience during his and Kirito’s duel; this didn’t happen in the light novel, it made the intervention of Laughing Coffin seem a bit brusque and deus ex.
Heathcliff: He finally makes a salient appearance; he should have showed up in Murder Mystery [which would have established his unshakable confidence in his knowledge of game mechanics], but the adaptation brushed aside the mechanics and went for the blatant storyline. Anyways, some quotes that Kirito attributed to him.
[after the duel proposition]
“I feel like I could finally understand a bit of this mysterious man. He was someone obsessed with sword duels. Furthermore, he had unshakable confidence in his own skills. He was a hopeless person who could not throw away his pride as a gamer despite being trapped in this inescapable game of death. In other words, he was the same as me.”
[during the duel]
“How should I describe it? It was as if some of my time had been taken away from me. For several tenths of a second, everything around me seemed to freeze; everything except Heathcliff. The shield that should have been on the right suddenly appeared on the left, as if I was watching a stop motion video, and blocked my sword. “Wha-!” I was stunned for a fatal moment after the strong attack was blocked. There was no way that Heathcliff would have lost that chance. The long sword in his right hand launched a one-hit skill, which came at me with a detestable accuracy that would surely decide the match. I fell into an unsightly heap. I could see the purple system message, which announced that the duel had ended, with the corner of my eye. My battle state had disappeared. I simply laid there, my mind blank, even as the cheering registered in my head once again.”
[immediately after the duel]
I still couldn’t believe it. Heathcliff’s unearthly speed during those final moments had gone past the limits of a player—past the limits of any human. I even saw the polygons that made up his avatar distort for a moment because of the impossible speed.As I sat on the ground, I raised my head and gazed at Heathcliff’s face. But the expression of the winner was angry for some reason. The red paladin glared at us with his metallic eyes, then turned around wordlessly and walked over to his waiting room amidst the thunderous cheering.
Kirito-Asuna Interaction: I described their relationship as symbiotic, or more specific, mutualistic. Kirito and Sachi’s relationship was mutualistic too, but they never transcended into the levels of intimate sentimentality. Kirito and Asuna on the other hand have evolved together. We’ve seen Kirito’s half of the bargain during the previous episodes [or we should have]; his reason for evoking a will to live within Asuna, in an otherwise depressing world [Aria]. Asuna pays her half of the bargain during this episode, or at least she should [typing portions of this entry prior to watching]; she serves as a cathartic medium for Kirito; her role’s similar to Sachi, except they’re actually close [Sachi was an objective medium, Asuna, not so much]. Anyways, it’s a bit difficult to give the brief summary of Kirito’s guilt and troubles without it seeming objectively trite, cliche, and melodramatic. But we do have to take into account the variables of the situation; he entered the game at fourteen, because of his own weakness [via his perception], he caused the death of numerous “friends”. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t his fault, the emotions, emulated or not, felt the same to him; being depressed hurts regardless of whether it’s a justified one. In his case, his immense guilt for being a “beater” [which inevitably caused the death of numerous guild mates, and subsequent others] catches up with him [can’t quite keep an objective apathy up forever].
“But it was too late. I saw Sachi reaching out towards me with her hand while a monster cut her down mercilessly. Her eyes were still trusting even as she shattered like a glass statue and disappeared. She had trusted and relied on me until the very end; but because my words were weak and shallow, they had become nothing more than an empty promise, a lie. I felt my throat contract. As I recounted these memories that I had sealed deep inside my heart, the painful emotions of back then returned with perfect clarity. I gritted my teeth. Although I wanted to reach out to Asuna for comfort, a voice in my mind whispered, “you have no right to do so,” which left me with only the option of tightly clenching my fists.”I had killed them. If I didn’t hide the fact that I was a beta tester, I would have been able to persuade them to leave the chest alone. It was me… I’m the one who had killed Keita… and Sachi…” With my eyes wide open, I forced these words out of my gritted teeth. Asuna suddenly stood up, took two steps towards me, and caressed my face with both her hands. She pulled her beautiful face closer to mine with a warm smile. “I won’t die.””
There’s also a matter of his “last moments”; before death, the inner monologue of the one facing it is probably the most important aspect of the situation. Anime has difficulty adapting monologue without it seeming brusque, or forced; but, they do have the advantage of flashbacks and other images.
Cradil pulled his sword out of my leg and stabbed my stomach this time. My HP decreased significantly and went into the red danger area. But it felt like this didn’t concern me, as if it was all happening in another faraway world. Even as I was being tortured by the sword, my mind was embarking down a dark path, as if a heavy and thick cloth was gradually covering it. But then—a strong fear suddenly clenched my heart. Asuna. If I disappeared and left her in this world, Asuna would fall into Cradil’s hands and endure the same pain as me. That possibility formed an unbearable pain which shocked me back into consciousness.
Determination and adrenaline rushes are more so anomalous variables in SAO. You can’t quite justify this development as being utterly bullshit and devoid of the mechanics from which the game built itself on, but you can’t quite justify this as an adherence to the mechanics. It’s a gray zone, an ambiguity; there’s not a blatant mention of this type of development.
The warmth of our bodies began to melt my frozen heart bit by bit.
There was a shit ton of development in this episode. I really expected them to cover Chapter 14, perhaps 15; but they covered 14,15 and 16. I’m not complaining, in fact, rereading the chapters felt longer than the 39 pages it did cover. The much coveted developments of Chapter 17 – Chapter 19 occurs during the next episode. They’re essentially my favorite chapters [it’s almost like a filler episode, but it’s a nice break, and it’s centered around Kirito and Asuna], even without the bonus material; I really just like the interactions between Kirito and Asuna. As I’ve said, two components hold up SAO’s structure: the mechanics of the world, and the character interactions. The mechanics of the world immerse you into the game itself, by building such a detailed, idiosyncratic world, it details a vivid picture. The interactions on the other hand, immerse you further with “realistic” characters, and enjoyable interactions. Kirito and Asuna’s interactions are the most enjoyable part of SAO’s first half, it’s now a matter of how they’ll cover the next episode.
Oh and right, for those that want a more detailed rendition of Chapter 16.5
It’s in Chapter 16 of Volume 1. Should probably read SAO too, the adaptations covered Aria [a supplementary, integral side story], Volume 2 [the compendium of side stories; there’s one more side story, which we’ll see soon] and parts of Volume 8 [Murder Mystery].
The chronological [and recommended] reading order would be Volume 1 -> Aria -> Volume 2 -> First Side Story in Volume 8 -> Volume 3+