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.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 09 – Slash & Flash

Getting impatient, Vecta orders his main force of Pugilists and Dark Mages to advance with orders to capture Alice unscathed at all costs. Now that his prey/soul-snack is in sight, it won’t be long before he takes a more active role in the battle.

Another new Integrity Knight in Sheyta Synthesis Twelve volunteers to meet the Pugs and slow them down. Her specialty is impossibly fast slashes from an elegant and flexible épée-like sword skinnier than she is (the Pugs mock her lack of muscle tone on several occasions).

Sheyta has no problem carving up the Pug leader Champion’s forces with brutal efficiency, but Champion himself is literally made of harder stuff, which intrigues her. She draws the battle out longer for two reasons—she’s buying time for Bercouli, Alice, and the others, but once all of her armor has been sheared away and Champ is at full power, she’s actually having fun.

She’s about to finish things when Champ’s lieutenants snatches him away. The match ends in a draw, but put a rare smile on Sheyta’s face. She and Champion gained a mutual warrior respect, the kind of two-sided badass brawl I prefer to simply obliterating the masses of boring evil monsters.

Vecta sends Vassago to harass the Humans’ supply corps, and ends up crossing swords with Ronie (never any luck, that girl). However, she’s able to sound the alarm, and Alice and Bercouli are also there, having anticipated their supplies would be targeted. Even so, Ronie is in big trouble against the far stronger Vassago…until a miracle occurs.

At least, Ronie considers it a miracle, because the God of Creation Stacia appears above her and rends great fissures in the earth that swallow up Vassago and his minions. Stacia, of course, is merely an Underworld avatar being inhabited by our good friend Yuuki Asuna, who makes one hell of a divine entrance that simply gave me goosebumps.

On his way down his own personal size abyss, Vassago recognizes “Lightning Flash” from Knights of the Blood in SAO. The hero(ine) is finally, finally on the scene, in a powerful avatar poised to rescue the damsel-in-distress—in this case Kirito in a welcome inversion of SAO II. I can’t wait to see her fighting beside Alice.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 08 – Sacrifice on Both Sides

Alice just continues to be the biggest badass in SAOA, as it should be, since her name’s in the title. Fresh off of obliterating a sizable chunk of the enemy’s forces, Alice comes down to earth exhausted, but there’s no rest for the weary as she gets right back up.

When the chief of the Ogres emerges from the carnage, Alice learns that she’s the primary target of Emperor Vecta before sending him to the grasslands to where he wants his people to return.

Meanwhile, Eldrie comes before her consumed with shame and self-pity for not being able to live up to the standards of her disciple, but she’s just happy he’s still alive.

After a brief war council, Alice proposes and Bercouli agrees to split up their forces. Being the “Goddess of Light” the Dark Emperor seeks, she’ll gain the attention of a sizable chunk of his remaining forces, evening the odds for the Human Empire. She’s essentially bait.

On the other side, a discouraged Dee Eye Ell gets her second wind when Vecta offers her the lives of the 3,000 orcs in order to provide the energy necessary for a large-scale counterattack.

Like the Ogre Chief who simply wanted his people to return home, the orcs are painted in a sympathetic light, and the show is unblinking in their suffering as they give up their lives for a larger cause than themselves.

Alice doesn’t see the attack coming until it’s too late, but Eldrie is there to divert and absorb it with his Recollection, resulting in severe injuries that ultimately claim his life. While Alice is beside herself and orders/begs him not to die and leave her, promising to do anything for him, Eldrie couldn’t ask for a happier death, in the arms of the mentor he protected, valued and loved above all else.

Thanks to Eldrie, Alice can fight on, decimating the Dark Mages to the point Dee Eye Ell just starts sacrificing her own underlings in order to stay alive. Dee dreams of becoming Empress, meaning at some point she’d have to betray Vecta.

But Alice intends to skip over her entirely and go after Vecta directly. She knows at some point she must reach the World’s End Altar, she just has more immediate matters to attend to—not to mention a full head of steam after losing Eldrie.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 07 – The Broken Knight Repaired

Last week we saw Renly had run and hidden in a supply tent behind the lines, but as luck would have it that’s the very tent to which Ronie and Tiese take Kirito in order to keep him safe. Before they arrive, Renly is haunted by Administrator saying he’s always been “broken” due to his inability to master Perfect Weapon Control.

We learn the reason for that is that when sparring with a friend, he accidentally dealt a lethal blow to him after shattering his sword. But when a goblin too big for the girls to take on bursts into the tent, and he sees how strongly Kirito wants to protect them, Renly snaps out of his funk and kills the goblin with his sparrow blades.

He then makes his way back to the lines, killing every goblin he sees. until he’s faced with their chief, for whom his standard attacks won’t work. Again he remembers Kirito’s determination and uses Recollection to bind his two blades into one, cleaving the charging chief straight in half. Linel and Fizel, who fell back to rescue him, return to their unit, learning he’d managed to found his courage without them.

Elsewhere, the Dark Mages and Ogres are on the march, but 800 aerial minions are launched as air support. They all fly straight into a dense lattice of Bercouli’s time slashes, which he activates simultaneously, taking them all out. If last week was the Dark Territory making some inroads, this week was clearly the Human Empire pushing back.

That trend continues when Alice finally makes her move. She had generated a giant mirror filled with luminous elements harvested from the souls of the dead below. She’s saddened to learn that both human and dark territory forces have the exact same souls, rendering their entire conflict pointless in her mind. Nevertheless, this is a battle that has to be one.

To that end, she compresses the mirror sphere into a much smaller size, until the elements within reflect infinitely. Having scooped up all the souls, the charging dark mages aren’t able to fire off a single attack, and along with the ogres, are obliterated when Alice finally unleashes the destructive power built up within the sphere in a terrifying beam.

Alice gathered the spent lives of thousands in order to craft an attack to destroy still more thousands, all for the sake of one. To her, protecting Kirito is paramount, but as we know, it is she who is most important and in need of protecting, as she is Gabriel’s primary target.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 01 – The Price

When we last saw Kirito and Alice, Eugeo had just died, Administrator was defeated but not killed, and Kirito had lost his right arm and his fluctlight fried by some kind of power surge. This exemplary episode is all about the aftermath of those events, both immediately following them and some months later.

Aside from Rintarou Okabe or Natsuki Subaru, I can’t think of a protagonist in recent anime memory who has suffered as much or fallen quite as low as Kirigaya Kazuto. He was being kept alive in Underworld, devoid of memories, but after saving that world from a tyrant, he lost even more. In the present, autumn is falling on Underworld, and Kirito is a mute, emotionless husk under Alice’s care—with frequent visits from her sister Selka.

Alice is no slouch in the loss department either. She may have regained a sister and, incidentally, her freedom from the Axiom Church and Order of Integrity Knights, but she lost Eugeo, one of the best friends whom she’d forgotten, while the other of those friends in Kirito is the aforementioned husk. It’s ultimately Alice’s episode, and it’s an unyielding portrait of anguish.

Alice scratches out a meager wage felling trees with her sword skills, incomparable to anyone else in the village. The villagers need her help to make progress, but suck their teeth behind her back and even mess with the minimally-responsive Kirito and the Blue Rose Sword he inherited from Eugeo. It doesn’t matter that Alice, Kirito, and Eugeo saved them from Administrator’s evil plans; they just don’t like them.

Knowing Kirito wouldn’t be safe anywhere near the Cathedral, she tried to return to Rulid Village, but her own father shunned her, so she settled in a cabin on the town’s outskirts with Kirito and her loyal (and adorable) dragon Amayori. It would be a happy life—were it not for Kirito’s condition and the still-looming Dark Territory situation.

The tranquil, picturesque surroundings call to mind Kirito and Asuna’s cabin, once the site of so much joy. But while Alice and Selka try to make the best of things, there’s no escaping the fact this is an extremely dismal situation, with no immediate sign that things will get any better.

Quite the contrary: with Administrator off in some other dimension, the world of men has never been more vulnerable to incursions of orcs and goblins from the Dark Territory. Bercouli musters his fellow Integrity Knights and starts re-training lower-ranked forces Admin had banished, but the time of the titular War of Underworld is just over the silver mountain horizons in the background of those gorgeous vistas.

Eldrie is on a mission to confirm the various tunnels into their lands have been blasted to slow the enemy’s advance, but his dragon senses his younger sibling Amayori and thus Alice. Eldrie begs her to rejoin the knights and join the fight. Alice doesn’t tell him she won’t, but that she can’t. Even if she didn’t have to care for Kirito, she can no longer wield her sword. Eldrie reluctantly accepts this and the two part ways cordially.

As Alice turns in with Kirito, sharing his bed to keep him warm or just so she can have human contact, her remaining eye fills with tears as she asks Kirito just what the hell she should do. After all these months with no progress, I imagine she’s starting to lose hope he’ll ever recover, and in the meantime has been coping, enduring, and operating on inertia.

When Kirito suddenly moves as if reacting to something, there’s a sudden glimmer of hope that’s just as quickly snatched away—he’s only reacting reflexively, as Amayori does. You see, fires are blazing in the direction of the town and there are sounds of fighting—no doubt a Dark Territory raid. So yeah, no hope, just more awful shit to deal with.

As all this is happening in Underworld, we have no idea what is transpiring in the real world with Asuna on the Ocean Turtle. While I’m no sucker for punishment, I do appreciate the bleak depths to which our heroes have fallen, because it will make it that much more compelling if and when they manage to claw themselves out. That’s why we must watch.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 20 – Student vs. Teacher

Kirito carries Alice and climbs up to the Cloudtop Garden, whereupon Kirito casts a spell to track the Blue Rose Sword. Find the Sword, Find Eugeo is his logic. The spell leads them to the bathhouse, still covered and ice, and to the petrified Bercouli, whom Alice affectionately refers to as Uncle.

They cannot free Bercouli from his stone prison; their options are either to get Prime Senator Chedulkin to break the spell, or kill him for his refusal to do so. Bercouli gives Alice his blessing, telling her she has nothing more to learn from him.

Alice and Kirito ascend to the Senate level, where Kirito learns that the weird bald headed dude who appeared after he attacked the noble rapists was a Senator. They observe and detect breaches of the Taboo Index, then dispatch Integrity Knights as needed.

The existence and function of the Senate is something previously unknown to both Kirito and ourselves, and even Alice is a bit fuzzy about it. But it makes sense for Administrator to leave the day-to-day operations to proxies in the form of the Senate rather than be hands-on about everything and never get any beauty rest.

They locate Prime Senator Chedulkin’s tacky chambers (which somewhat resemble those of the giant baby in Spirited Away), but when Alice confronts him, he merely reminisces on the day four years ago when young Alice first appeared, tearfully begging not to have her memories of those she loved erased.

Chedulkin’s deeply goofy appearance is matched by his boundless cruelty and sadism, but when Alice runs him through with her sword, he merely explodes into a puff of smoke. Getting rid of the little chud won’t be so easy.

More distressingly, he largely succeeded in his mission to stall Alice and Kirito with stories that only served to further boil Alice’s blood. And clearly, Administrator used that extra time wisely, quickly transforming Eugeo into her thirty-second and newest Integrity Knight.

When Eugeo appears before Kirito and Alice, he has no memory of his relationship to either, nor does he care. The Pontifex has given him something he’s apparently been missing his whole life, and something neither of his friends could provide to his satisfaction. So Kirito and Alice are naught but rebels and enemies of his Pontifex to be eliminated without delay.

While Kirito warns Eugeo that he’s the master and Eugeo the student in their imminent duel, I imagine Admin didn’t send Eugeo to fight Kirito without a few tricks up his swanky new sleeves Kirito might not be able to predict. And then there’s the whole matter of Kirito not wanting to go all out lest he accidentally kill Eugeo, while Eugeo is completely wrapped around Admin’s finger. In any case, it should be some duel.