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.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 18 – Back in the Game

This week, we get into Kirito’s head as he gets up from the symbolic “desk at school” and starts off to his symbolic “home”, passing Alice and Eugeo without noticing them while in transit. Higa was successful in connecting him to his friends, and process of awakening has begun. He just needs a little more time.

While Asuna is certain she can no longer even stand, she’s helped up by the spirit of Kanno Yuuki, who gives her angel wings with which to take up the fight with PoH anew. The art style again shifts to Not Fuckin’ Around Mode, and Asuna proceeds to mop the floor with PoH. Unfortunately, he’s only stunned temporarily, as Sortiliena notices his weapon is absorbing sacred resources. Within moments he’s on his feet and turning the entire force of foreign players on the Japanese.

Meanwhile, in Kirito’s head, he’s forced to walk down memory lane, specifically all of the worst memories he’s had since entering SAO, including  the death of Sachi and the Moonlit Black Cats on the 27th floor, long, long ago, and the time he carved Nobuyuki Sugou up like a turkey. These memories disgust Kirito, and he’d rather tear his own heart out than keep watching and hearing them.

Kirito is momentarily snapped out of it by the appearance of Sinon, Suguha and Asuna, but it’s still not enough for him to forgive himself. Just as Higa is pondering what fourth person could be used to, a fourth connection is established not by a person but an object: the Blue Rose Sword. The remnants of Eugeo merge with Kirito’s own memories of him to create a spectral Eugeo who urges Kirito to wake up and keep fighting, for there are so many people waiting for him.

The first thing Kirito does when he wakes up is use Enhance Armament to freeze PoH and his forces in their tracks. When even this fails to restrain PoH and he rushes Asuna, Sortiliena, and Ronie, Kirito puts up a shield around them, then pushes PoH back, neutralizing him for the moment. From there, Kirito can finally get back to his feet. An elated Asuna simply says okaeri—welcome back—and Kirito replies tadaima…I’m back.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 17 – RGB

With Yuuna & Co. captured, the question this week was “who’s left?” to rescue them and stop PoH? That’s answered by Yui, who sends two characters from the Ordinal Scale movie…which I must sheepishly confess I’ve yet to watch. They are the idol Yuuna, whose singing buffs her partner Eiji’s stats. They dive in and fight PoH, and while they aren’t able to beat him, they do buy precious time for Higa to wake Kirito up.

As Eiji and PoH fight, we learn of PoH’s backstory and why he hates Japanese so much (he had a Japanese half-brother whom his dad valued more than him, and made him give up a kidney for him). When he learned of the SAO incident, he used a black market NervGear to dive in and commence killing players as part of Laughing Coffin, with the PoH handle standing for “Prince of Hell”.

Frankly I can’t quite care about a sadistic, unrepentant serial killer’s background; any injustices committed against him have long since been outweighed by the death and suffering he’s caused, and I truly hope he pays for it sooner rather than later.

On other fronts, Sinon loses her legs but manages to take one of Subtilizer’s arms (thanks to her Solus profile and Kirito’s pendant), while little sis Suguha gets impaled through the eye but keeps on ticking thanks to Terraria’s infinite regeneration.

Subtilizer ends up breaking off from Sinon, which seems odd considering he wanted to eat her soul and she’s pretty vulnerable. I guess he intends to group up with PoH? In any case, back on Ocean Turtle a well-thrown wrench from Rinko causes Yanai to lose his balance and fall off the platform, ending the standoff with Higa. I for one hope the dinner date they make doesn’t turn out to be a death flag.

No longer hampered by a mole, Higa proceeds with the operation, connecting Asuna, Suguha, and Shino’s STLs to Kirito’s. Their avatars glow red, green, and blue, respectively, combining into a golden light that surrounds Kirito…though he notably doesn’t quite open his eyes to reveal they’re no longer dead-looking. I’m hoping next week he finally does wake up for real and get to work—he can’t possibly ask any more from his girlfriend, sister, friends and comrades.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 16 – Avenging Admi

Things start out like they’re going to get very unpleasant indeed when Subtilizer uses his black and purple smoke to control Sinon’s body and draw her closer to him until she’s in his arms.

Just as he’s about to kiss her (and thus “taste” her sweet, sweet soul), he is suddenly repelled several meters back by electricity emanating from a pendant from Kirito Sinon didn’t even know she was wearing. She and Subtilizer produce their GGO weapons of choice and prepare for the next phase of their duel.

The secondary Dark Territory fights are a mixed bag. Even when Siune manages to briefly pause the fighting and gain the attention of Moonphase and Mei, the loud, charismatic PoH viciously declares the “dirty Japanese” are lying liars and that anyone who helps them are traitors.

Sheyta and Iskhan, on the other hand, are rescued from certain doom by the timely arrival of Leafa, Lilpilin and his Orc forces, who relieve the few surviving Pugilists. Even so, they’re still outnumbered by the hordes of red knights.

Higa, who arguably has the most important job of everyone in attempting to revive Kirito, finds himself on the wrong end of a pistol being held by Yanai, whose betrayal of Kikuoka and Rath goes far deeper than mere cooperation with American intelligence agencies and loyalty to Sugou Nobuyuki—with whom he seems share a perverse sadism where women are concerned.

As Kikuoka and Rinko learn from the titular “Code 871” on the monitor, Yanai has been corrupted by a lower-level Alice-like artificial fluctlight. Judging from his voice and devotion to “Admi”-nistrator, he’s basically an outside-world version of Chudelkin. Yanai wants Kirito’s soul to die.

Bottom line, Higa is in trouble, but Yanai isn’t the most stable guy and he hit Higa in the shoulder when he was trying not to, so maybe when he actually tries to hit him he’ll miss? That’s not much to work with, but Higa needs to shake Yanai and get back to work ASAP.

That’s because back in the Underworld, PoH successfully gets Asuna, Lisbeth, Klein, Agil, and everyone else in the main battle to surrender and produce the catatonic Kirito. Moonphase and Mei’s presence hasn’t made a difference as of yet, Leafa and especially Sinon have their hands full, and with Kirito’s virtual body in enemy hands, the window for reviving him is closing rapidly.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 15 – Everything Will Go Our Way

The good vibes of the previous episode’s SAO OG reunions were thoroughly, mercilessly washed away this week, starting with Sinon arriving too late to save Bercouli. In a rare-for-SAO demonstration of restraint, there is no music in the opening scene between Sinon and Alice, just the marvelous talent of Sawashiro Miyuki and Kayano Ai, which is all that is needed.

Sinon has to be the bearer of bad news—Vecta may be dead, but the real-world person isn’t, and could be back any moment in a new form. This makes Alice despair that neither her efforts nor her uncle’s sacrifice had any meaning, and this is all a farce. Sinon begs to differ: her and her friends’ love of Kirito is real, and so is his desire to save Alice. Everyone is buying time so she can get to that altar and end the war.

That said, the war is very much still going on, and victory is not yet certain for the good guys. As we see, there isn’t a real-world power-user account helping out Sheyta and Iskahn, so they’re eventually on their own against a legion of American foot soldiers as all of their comrades have fallen around them. Sheyta takes what little time she has left to tell Iskahn she finally realized why she had to slash so much.

It was in order to find what she didn’t want to slash—i.e. whom she wanted to protect. And that’s Iskahn. While showing the impending doom of two characters whose names I know is an effective way to show the battle is growing desperate, the couple’s joint confession doesn’t quite resonate, as I barely know these guys besides the fact they’re both tremendous badasses.

Meanwhile, Seeing Asuna and Klein simply having a breather in between cutting down columns of baddies carried more emotional weight for me, since these two peeps have been fighting side by side since the beginning. I’m reminded why Klein and the others came: not just friendship, but a desire to repay Kirito and Asuna for saving them all back in SAO.

Unfortunately the pleasant moments are quickly blotted out by new dark developments. Vassago is back in the form of Laughing Coffin leader PoH…and he’s brought a ridiculously large number of reinforcements down the digital well. They’re not all from America, either.

In a very neat shift of POV, we’re introduced to the real-world gamer Moonphase and his teammate  Xiang Mei Mei. Both get the same notice from Miller and Vassago’s men as thousands of others throughout Korea and China: Evil Japanese hackers are besieging the Underworld and a coalition is being formed to stop them.

Both Moon and Mei volunteer for the mission, but they immediately feel like something is not quite right about this. Moon’s clearly seen his fair share of fighting, and can tell the Japanese “villains” are fighting far too desperately to be the antagonists in this conflict. Here’s hoping these two can offer the “helping hand from a stranger” roles our heroes are apparently going to need as the odds are further stacked against them.

Miller wasn’t even out of the Underworld for a whole episode before returning in his Subtilizer avatar, just in time to meet Sinon, whom he defeated in GGO. Honestly my memory’s a little fuzzy on the details of their fight but the fact Subby has a creepy focused look in his eyes and seems to be restraining Sinon with some kind of telekinesis doesn’t bode well for her.

That said, I for one am hoping Sinon can break whatever hold he has and make this a good rematch without needing to be rescued. And if she has to be bailed out, I’d like it to be Alice, even though she really should be using the time Sinon is giving her to head to the Altar.

Asuna is really getting worn down by the unyielding masses of enemy troops, so it’s nice to see Klein, Agil, Lisbeth and Silica help plow the road for her a bit; she’ll need to stay fresh and relatively intact for what I imagine to be a duel with PoH.

As for why I’m not in a hurry for Alice to reach the Altar? Because I knew Higa was going to run into trouble once he reached the terminal or whatever where he can interface with the STLs of Kirito and his three friends. That’s because Yanai was and is an obvious mole, and pulls a gun on him in a panic.

Since Yanai doesn’t pull the trigger, maybe Higa can still find a way to have him stand down, or maybe Rinko or someone can intervene. The bad guys made the lion’s share of the moves this week and may have inadvertently brought in a group of wild cards who don’t quite buy what they’re selling. As Asuna says, eventually things should go the good guys’ way…but I wouldn’t bank on that happening just yet.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 14 – Quantum Family

The original Sword Art Online theme plays triumphantly the SAO OGs and additional allies from ALO (including the dearly departed Yuuki’s Sleeping Knights) dive into the game, having converted their accounts to the Underworld. Their arrival allows Asuna crucial time to fall back, heal, and create a better strategy for the battle. It’s also a chance for Renly to see, through Liz and Silica, that not all real worlders besides Asuna are scary.

As Kirito’s friends and family dive in, Higa notices sudden momentary blips of activity in his catatonia. Thinking everything through out loud, he determines that despite having never made a Fluctlight of Kirito and despite the damage that has been done to his self-image, Asuna, Suguha, and all of his friends collectively represent a backup they can use to restore most if not all of what he’s lost.

Things get very technobabbly here, but nothing Higa proposes clashes with the fictional science laid out thus far. But if Gabriel Miller’s force and/or the JSDF escalate the battle, irreparable damage could be caused, so the procedure must be begin immediately, while everything is online and the source of the backup self-image (i.e. those closest to Kirito) are still diving.

Higa volunteers to go on an extremely dangerous mission into the bowels of Ocean Turtle where his scrawny frame will be able to access Kirito’s STL control panel. Kikuoka and Rinko will deploy the experimental Ichiemon robot as a decoy, while Mr. Yanai asks to join Higa, in case someone needs to take a bullet for him. An honorable sentiment, but this guy practically screams “Gabriel Miller mole.”

The rest of the episode is spent resolving the battle between Bercouli and Vecta; losing one arm barely slowed the guy down. And here, the animators decided to go for much thicker lines and bolder colors than the softer scenes with Asuna & Co. and on the Ocean Turtle. The more intense visuals befit a boss-vs-boss battle, in which every strike creates a shower of sparks and tears the earth asunder.

Bercouli isn’t fighting to win on Vecta’s terms, but seeking to kill him using his unique time magic. Once he locates the afterimage of Vecta a bit less than 600 seconds ago, it’s just a matter of waiting for the proper moment to strike. His dragon Hoshigami (the reflection of whom Vecta sees within Bercouli’s eyeball) buys him invaluable time, and he doesn’t waste it. Once he slashes Vecta’s past, Vecta’s present body shatters.

Vecta is defeated and Alice is safe (for now), and without any help from Sinon, who is presumably still en route. Unfortunately, Bercouli doesn’t survive the battle either, and is dead before Alice comes to. As she cries out in anguish, his ghost tells his apprentice and daughter she’s done well and will be okay without him. Then the Administrator of his memories (one who he notes is still warm, kind and can smile) appears and joins him on his dragon ride to the thereafter.

Fanatio can sense when Bercouli has died, and she too has a quiet moment of grief, promising him she’ll raise their daughter, still in her belly, to be a “gallant, proud human” like her father. Back at Ocean Turtle, Gabriel wakes up, gets a quick report on the American MMO forces and Vassago, then has his personal “Subtilizer” account converted. No doubt he’ll return even stronger than Vecta was—and be a prime final boss for Kirito, if Higa is able to revive him.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 13 – They’re (Not) All Women

Three months later than originally planned, we return to the War of Underworld already in progress, picking up where we left off (this is a trend in sequels this season). The good: Sinon beats the second wave of American players back, and is able to have a quiet moment with Kirito that makes everyone in the wagon tear up.

He has got to wake up, and since this sub-arc is called Awakening, here’s hoping he does just that when his friends need him most. Sinon’s Solus character can also fly without a time limit, so Asuna immediately sends her to join Bercouli to rescue Alice from Vecta.

Another familiar face suddenly appears in Leafa (AKA Suguha, Kirito’s sister), though unlike Asuna and Sinon her entrance isn’t very grand. She falls to the ground in front of the grieving orc soldier Lilpilin, who is astonished to hear Leafa refer to him as human, since they’re talking and all.

Within minutes Dee Eye Ell shows up and restrains Leafa with her glowing, groping, probing tentacles. Taketatsu Ayana makes a lot of, ahem, distressing sounds during this scene, and while Leafa loses a lot of blood (and presumably life energy) she’s still able to endure.

When Dee tells Lilpilin she’ll let Leafa go if he strips down and walks on all fours like a pig, he prepares to do it, because he has no other choice. That’s when Leafa breaks free from the tentacles without much effort, slices Dee’s arms off, and then blows her into bloody pulp. A girl has her limits.

Meanwhile Asuna’s forces repel more hordes of American players at ruins that form a bottleneck. In that narrow place Lightning Flash Asuna shows off her stuff—as do the battle animators. All the while, Vassago, who has returned to the Underworld in a new body, bides his time.

When Bercouli is unable to catch up to Vecta even with three fresh dragons, he resorts to cutting Vecta’s dragon down with Uragiri, the “sword that slashes the past”. Vecta and the unconscious Alice are grounded, but Bercouli soon finds he’s no match for Vecta’s swordsmanship. He throws everything he’s got at him, only for Vecta to call him an “old vintage wine”—not to his taste, but perhaps a god “palate cleanser”.

Vecta also has a nasty ability to make Bercouli completely freeze up and forget what he’s even doing for a few crucial moments during which Vecta can hack and slash at him at will. Remembering his former boss Administrator’s question about a “premonition of death”, he resigns himself to dying there, but not without protecting his beloved Alice, who has always been like a daughter to him.

If Bercouli can buy just a little more time for Sinon to catch up, he’ll have succeeded. Obviously, Vecta can’t be allowed to place Alice on the World’s End Altar, or the good guys lose. As a bloodied Asuna is mopping up the last of the Americans, the sky opens once more, but it’s not more enemy reinforcements, it’s their old comrade Klein…and he’s not alone.

Ten episodes now remain to tell the Awakening story. I imagine this week’s format—cuts between individual battles and conversations—will eventually resolve into fewer lines as allies reunite and combine. Vecta and Vassago are still quite the tough customers, but they’ll soon find themselves outnumbered as more of Kirito and Asuna’s wide network of friends—both women and men, Ronie—flock to his support.

 

 

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 12 (Fin) – A Matter of Choice

When the hordes of red soldiers arrive, they don’t distinguish between Human Empire or Dark Territory, they just start killing everyone. It’s because of this that the Pugilists’ general, Champion, rips his eye out in order to defy his original programming and do what needs to be done to save his people from being wiped out: join forces with Asuna.

While Asuna briefly loses an arm in combat and is strongly fatigued by using her godlike powers to rend the earth, she has enough both to heal herself and build bridges across the chasm she made so that the Pugilists can reach their isolated comrades and take the fight to the red soldiers.

Asuna, the Pugilists, and the Integrity Knights fight well, but in the chaos, Vecta swoops in on his dark dragon and captures Alice, knocking her out with a sleep spell. Needless to say, this is a big, big disaster, since the world will end once she’s placed on the World’s End Altar (hence the name, presumably).

Bercouli is the first to give chase on his dragon, and once she’s healed, Asuna mounts her horse and follows, but Vecta has a hell of a head start. They can only hope his dragon tires before he reaches the altar far to the south, and that they’ll catch up to him while the dragon is resting.

Back at Rath, Critter is about to send a second wave of American players to overwhelm what’s left of the Human Empire’s army. Vassago wakes up after being out for eight hours. The JSDF will attack in twelve hours, so he wants to dive right back in to fight Lightning Flash Asuna and Kirito, whom he assumes is there fighting and not in a semi-vegetative state. He also tells Critter he has a “very special” account to use this time.

The second wave arrives and surrounds Asuna’s forces, but they are decimated by aerial bombardment from a single archer in the sky: Shino has finally taken the stage, much to Asuna’s tearful relief. With Critter re-instituting the 1000:1 time difference, they’ll have a whole other cour in which to catch up to and defeat Vecta, but it’s not going to be easy. Unfortunately, we won’t return to Underworld until April 2020. It will be a long wait; hopefully there will be some decent Winter shows to keep us distracted until then.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 11 – Protecting The World They Built

When Vecta sends his remaining troops across the chasm Asuna created a few at a time, it goes predictably badly, gaining the ire of the leader of the Pugilists. Asuna, Bercouli, and the other knights mop up the relatively defenseless forces, but Vecta isn’t surprised; the Human Empire has superior AI for its grunts and generals. But he has another ace up his sleeve, where his tech Critter is hard at work back on Rath.

The first thing Critter does is synch the Underworld’s clock to the real worlds, so an hour here is an hour there. Then he sends out a massive invite blast to an Underworld “beta test” in America. The resulting montage of people speaking horrific English made me wonder why they bothered, as it almost pulled me right out of the episode, but the end result is that Vecta is able to amass a reserve army of seasoned American MMO gamers, thus potentially turning the tables.

From the realm where she’s on standby, observing the digital world, Yui notices the implementation of the fake beta test, and notifies both Suguha and Shino. Following Yui’s instructions, the girls head to the Roppongi branch of Rath, ask to speak to Kikuoka, and are given access to STL beds. Looks like Asuna will soon be getting reinforcements.

Finally, Yui rouses the rest of the SAO/AFO crew: Lisbeth, Silica, Klein, and Agil, and brings them up to speed. Needless to say, all of them are fully on board with helping Kirito and Asuna any way they can, but the four of them plus Suguha and Shino won’t be enough.

They need numbers to counter the American invasion. A similar beta test blast in Japan won’t give them those numbers, as it’s the middle of the night when perhaps a tenth of the active users. Definitely a clever use of time zones as an obstacle to gaining parity with Vecta’s forces by the same methods.

It falls to Lisbeth & Co. to gather what members of the various tribes of AFO are awake and deliver to them a heartfelt speech that will convince them to undertake all of the risks that come with diving into the Underworld. Those risks include the lack of admin control, UI interfaces, and pain absorbers, and the potential for character degradation or even total loss.

It’s a tough sell, and many of the assembled players believe SAO survivors look down on them, but Lisbeth digs deep and gives an impassioned call for everyone who loves MMOs to come to the aid and defense of a world all of them helped create, and an AI in Alice who is the culmination of their shared experiences and emotions.

As we all know, War of Underworld is being split into two cours, the first of which will end with the next episode. And while it will be hard to wait for the ultimate conclusion to this arc, this first half looks primed to end on a very satisfying note as the titular Underword War enters its next phase.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 10 – The Turn of the Tide

After a quick look at Asuna utilizing the STL to enter the Underworld, she makes her appearance and saved Bercouli, Ronie and Tiese. The latter two are the first she meets, and she corrects their assumption that she’s the actual Goddess of Creation Stacia. When they thank her for saving everyone, including Kirito, Asuna asks to see him at once.

Their reunion is powerful but muted on the surface, like Kirito himself, but he still manages to shed a good number of tears upon hearing his girlfriend’s voice, seeing her face, and feeling her embrace him. It’s also clear to the pages that these two definitely know each other. But when Asuna leaves the tent, she is attacked by Alice, and the two spar magnificently until Bercouli breaks it up.

A good deal of exposition follows, as Asuna explains who she is, where she and Kirito come from (in terms they’ll understand), and the forces at work beyond the Underworld. Her mission as a representative of Rath is to bring Alice to the real world before the enemy, or the entirety of the Underworld will be erased. Bercouli figures out for himself that the enemy Asuna seeks is Emperor Vecta.

Despite all the sitting/standing around and talking, this is still an episode I enjoyed immensely. Not only did Asuna finally reunite with Kirito, but she and Kirito’s Underworld allies finally get on the same page. Alice is reluctant to “run away” to the real world with her, but the alternative is much worse, she agrees to do so, but only after the Dark Territory is defeated, or a peace negotiated.

Asuna agrees to join them in that fight. Now, at least, Alice is aware of the stakes of having a target on her back; merely sacrificing herself will be pointless, as it will spell the end of Underworld’s usefulness to the enemy. Once everything is laid out, the various parties head to bed…but it isn’t long before Asuna goes to Kirito’s tent, which Alice previously had forbade her to enter without her permission.

The two women reach a compromise: in exchange for access to Kirito, Alice wants to learn more about Kirito from Asuna, who is happy to agree (though she warns it’s “a very long story”; a nice meta quip). The two start by listing all the weeks, months, and years they’ve known Kirito, and in what capacity. His page Ronie joins in the “information sharing”, as does his former master Sortiliena Serlut.

Even in his present vegetative state, Kirito was able to bring together four strong, talented, kind people together to share stories about their time with him. The “competition” never strays into the realm of the absurd (watching the four tug at his arms and legs, for instance just wouldn’t do). I also appreciated the show didn’t throw in a cliffhanger introducing the latest threat, but ended on an earned, calm, and optimistic note.