Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 22 – The Work Goes On

Last Week, Alice’s lightcube was successfully ejected. This week we find her walking and talking in the real world, in an artificial body. She and new Rath chief Koujirou Rinko hold a press conference to announce her arrival. Kikuoka is publically declared KOA, but remains alive in hopes of keeping Ocean Turtle and the Underworld safe.

As one would expect, most reporters ask tough, pointed questions about Alice. She hilariously agrees to open her skull and show one of them her brain—provided he does it first! She also declares her love for a real-worlder we know to be Kirito. Rinko declares that Artificial Fluctlights are human beings, not a resource that either can or should be mass produced for what would amount to slavery.

Rinko also makes clear that there is only one condition under which the AFs might rise up and destroy their creators: if those creators tried attacked them first. There are monumentally huge questions posed by the mere existence of Alice and the tech that created her, which challenge organic human exceptionalism itself.

The road ahead will not be straight or smooth, but ass with the humans and machines in The Matrix, only way forward is together. Pandora’s Box is open, and without peaceful coexistence there is only mutual destruction.

That unity and coexistence has already been tested and proven by Kirito, Asuna and their friends who fought in the War to protect Alice and the Underworld. Alice abruptly leaves the press conference when she senses that Kirito is about to wake up, and is the first person he sees when he opens his eyes for the first time in a month (in the real world) and far longer in hers.

Both that powerful moment and the quieter, lived-in, love-filled moments between Kirito and Asuna in the hospital brought tears to my eyes, just as Asuna’s reconciliation with her mom did back in SAO II. Turns out Asuna ruled as Queen of the Underworld for all two hundred years, with Kirito either co-ruling as King or serving as her knight and consort.

After waking up and informing Alice her sister Selka is in deep freeze ready to be revived, he quickly urges Kikuoka and Higa to delete those two hundred years of memories. His voice is noticeably lower and more gravelly, which at first I thought was because his real body was so parched. However, in order to return to being the Kirito he was before the rapid acceleration, those memories, and the evolution of his self that resulted, had to go.

The not-dead Kikuoka tells Kirito and Asuna the current situation. Ocean Turtle, Rath, and even Alice are all in danger of being seized by the government and then poked and prodded into oblivion or perverted into military weaponry. Their only weapon is P.R., and Alice and Rinko’s press conference was the first shot fired.

From here, they must bring public opinion to their side that Artificial Fluctlight tech is not a commodoty, but the next stage of human evolution, and as such subject to the same rights. But then we learn that Higa didn’t delete the 200-year-old Kirito after all, but copied him when Kikuoka and Rinko weren’t looking.

After briefly deliberating over whether to open this newest can of worms, he activates the Kirito copy, who being 200 years old naturally predicted “something like this” might happen. Indeed, he and Queen Asuna assumed one of three scenarios involving one or both of them being copied. In the case only Kirito were copied, he vowed to devote all his energies to the protection of the Underworld.

While the satellite linking them to Ocean Turtle and Underworld has been seized by the government, Kirito believes the copy of Heathcliff AKA Kayaba Akihiko still lives. He’s the key to regaining access and beginning the important work that must be done. I for one am glad Higa didn’t delete the old, grizzled Kirito, and looking back at his and Queen Asuna’s two centuries of rule could surely fill another two seasons, if not more.

Meanwhile, Kirigaya Kazuto returns to his home and lies down in his own bed, after a month at Rath and a week of rehab that was, to him, a hell of a lot longer. As soon as his eyes open, he hears the voice of his dear Eugeo as clearly as if he were in the room. Kirito begins to sob, wishing all of his Underworld memories could have been wiped to spare him all this grief.

However, Suguha comes into his room, sits on the bed, and gently pats Kirito’s head, asking him to tell her everything about his time in the Underworld, starting from the beginning. And so he tells her about Eugeo, Rulid Village, and the three-centuries-long quest to chop down a single cedar tree.

Finally, at one of what is surely an interminable string of tedious public events nevertheless vital to Rath and the Underworld’s survival (not to mention her own freedom), Alice gloomily gazes out the window at the cityscape beyond, reaching out to Kirito, telling him she feels like she might “wither away”.

Being the first true artificial human adjusting to the physical world is hard enough…doing it while knowing the man you love is already spoken for…that’s just not fair!

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 21 – Loose Ends

With all the battles in Underworld ended, all of this week’s SAO prior to the end credits takes place on Ocean Turtle, as Kikuoka, Rinko, Higa, and Nakanishi attempt to eject Alice (which is successful), log out Kirito and Asuna (who tells Rinko she’s staying with Kirito) and secure the facility.

Instead of the fantastical battles in the Underworld, it’s all metal, shadows, bullets, blood, and keyboard clacking. There’s more than a little Die Hard to the proceedings.

Gabriel Miller “wakes up” only to see his own body still lying dead on the STL, his face contorted in pure terror. He’s just a ghost, and Alicia appears and drags him under the water. When Critter reaches his and Vassagos STLs and finds them dead, he loses the will to fight any longer.

Still, his comrade Hans insists they continue their mission to the end. If they can’t steal Alice, they’ll destroy her by overloading Ocean Turtle’s reactor and rigging an explosive to cripple the control rods that prevent cataclysmic fission.

With Ocean Turtle suddenly converted into a ticking nuclear bomb, Nakanishi rushes to the reactor only to be pinned down by Hans, who is willing to die for Miller and the mission. He’s bailed out first by the robot Niemon, who somehow contains the consciousness of Kayaba Akihito, and also the wounded Kikuoka.

The deus ex machina Niemon is heavily damaged, but Akihito manages to restore control to the reactor and destroy the explosive detonator before collapsing, thus saving the Underworld, Alice, and his lover Rinko.

As Critter and the remainder of Miller’s team escapes on their sub, the timer zeros without any accompanying explosion, and Critter assumes they’ve failed. However, when he checks the bodies they brought with them, there are only two: Miller’s and Brigg’s.

What happened to Vassago’s? And what happened to Niemon, who also vanishes without a trace? We don’t know, and between those unknown elements, the looming JSDF, and Kikuoka’s health, the Ocean Turtle team can’t breathe easy despite no longer being in imminent peril.

Higa seems hopeful he can log Kirito and Asuna out before their fluctlights run out of memory capacity, but after the credits roll the two meet, embrace, and resign themselves to two hundred years in the Underworld.

No number of centuries matters to them as long as they’re together. And since they’re probably the two most powerful people in this “just born” new world, they feel obligated to do their part ensuring it will be a world of peace and happiness for all its inhabitants.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 20 – Starburst Scream

Asuna gets to use her avatar template Stacia’s special move (always a great sound effect) to create an earthen staircase with which to convey Alice to the World’s End Altar. She and Alice are able to get away because Gabriel Miller has to get past Kirito first.

When asked who he is, Kirito momentarily blanks, but Eugeo reminds him: he’s Kirito the motherf***ing Swordsman. A duel filled with bombastic bright lights and colors ensues. Kirito loses his lower half but fights on. Gabe transforms into a neon angel/demon entity.

This showdown has been built up for years, so why did it feel somewhat …  underwhelming? It was okay—it wasn’t great—and it did kind of…go on. I can offer several reasons. First, we’re epic dueled out. Second, while featuring some impressive visuals this fight wasn’t as good as the one between Subtilizer and Bercouli. Visually things got a bit abstract, muddled, and even a little dull. Kirito’s edge—the love amassed from everyone’s hearts—was always going to beat Miller’s hate and greed.

Mostly the lavish duel just felt superfluous; ceremonial. A formality for Kirito to get through, perhaps so that the final final threat can come to light. At least the fight was generously punctuated by beautiful callbacks to the very beginning of Alicization and cameos from both friends and former foes. I also appreciated seeing everyone wake up in the normal world hoping they did enough, providing a neat contrast to the fantastical environs of Underworld.

I also liked how…ho-hum the Worlds’ End Altar looked. Rather than a towering baroque basilica, it’s a relatively modest shrine in a pleasant, tranquil garden. When Kirito reaches it, Alice has already logged out…or has she? Whatever happened to her, she’s no longer in the Underworld, nor are Suguha, Shino, and everyone else.

Kirito assumes he’s the only one who didn’t make it out before the acceleration factor grew too high for fluctlights to bear. He gets on his hands and knees and starts to weep, lamenting how he’s alone again and separated from those who love him. That is, until, quite curiously, Asuna appears, with a reassuring smile.

We know she’s still beside him in the STL room at Ocean Turtle, and so weren’t subject to the logout failsafes of the other players. But whether they’re stuck in there or there’s (more likely) hope for them to get out in one piece, it’s clear Asuna won’t let Kirito face the latest, and possibly final trial of Alicization alone.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 19 – Bros Before PoHs

Once Kirito is awake and functioning, he hasn’t time for breakfast or even to splash water on his face; he has to fight PoH immediately. Maybe he has a little rust to shake off, because he’s soon pinned down and even gets his throat nicked by PoH’s massive cleaver. That’s when his old friend Eugeo shows up in ethereal form to keep Kirito steady and tighten his grip.

Together, the two release Recollection in order to log out PoH’s entire red army without causing them any harm, then absorbs the amassed sacred resources to heal all of his friends and allies. In one last parting shot of Yuuki, she expresses relief Kirito is working to make the Underworld a beautiful, fun and joyous world like those of SAO and ALO were meant to be.

PoH is no longer able to summon more soldiers or restore his own vitality, so all Kirito has to do is give him his best shot, resulting in a very sick explosion complete with long booming bass. While he has a giant hole in his chest, PoH still vows to log right back in, or otherwise just find him and Asuna on the street and slit their throats.

In response to that, Kirito prevents him from ever logging out for a good long time by basically planting a new Gigas Cedar inside the hole in PoH’s body. The tree rapidly grows and merges with him until his face is embedded in the bark. Kirito muses that perhaps in a couple centuries there will be a village at that spot like Rulid, and two kids will try to chop him down.

I almost hoped he’d shout the one-liner HAPPY ARBOR DAY“, but that would have admittedly been pretty tacky. With PoH/Vassago taken care of (hopefully for good), everyone finally rushes in to celebrate Kirito’s return. There’s lots of tearful moments, but none more powerful than when Asuna finally embraces her love; the pure unbridled joy on her face is devastating in its effectiveness.

Okay…next crisis. When Miller’s tech tries to increase time acceleration past a certain level and hits a security lockout requiring a key, his colleague shoots the lever, which for all he knows could have killed their boss and everyone in the Underworld. Instead, it releases the acceleration limiter, which means in fifteen minutes time there will pass too quickly for human fluctlights to handle.

Considering four episodes still remain after this one, I could have done without a literal ticking clock here, especially when there’s no chance whatsover those fifteen minutes will occur in real time. There’s been so much twisting and turning of time in WoU already, it just feels excessive. Hopefully the wounded Higa can fix it before the time is up (with Kikuoka’s help).

Until then, the stakes and urgency of Kirito’s mission were just raised a hundredfold. It’s good then, that he has the ability to quickly fly (with Asuna in his arms) to Alice’s location, just as Miller is about to kill her two dragons, who ignored her orders to abandon her and go make babies.

Like Asuna, Klein, Ronie, and everyone else who is glad he’s awake again, Alice tears up when he sees Kirito back in action, just when she needed him most. Interestingly when he appears Asuna isn’t with him; I wonder if she’s hanging back in reserve or if Kirito has a plan. In any case, the stage is set for Gabe vs. Kirito. If past epic duels this season are any indication, it should be a sakuga smorgasbord.