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 – 24 (Fin) – Bigger Fish to Fry

It’s all down to Kirito vs. Administrator now, and their climactic swordfight doesn’t disappoint. Despite having really long hair and only one arm, Administrator is no slouch in the swordsmanship department. She knows all the Aincrad-style moves Kirito showed Eugeo, plus a few that even Kirito doesn’t know about, and seems to revel in the opportunity to teach an insolent cur from the outside world an abject lesson in submitting to his betters.

Kirito looks like he’s just barely hanging on while Administrator is content to draw out his suffering, but Eugeo, barely hanging onto life, reaches out to Kirito, and they have a little tête-à-tête in which Kirito finally recalls the memories he lost of growing up in Rulid Village with Eugeo and Alice. Eugeo tanks Kirito for his friendship, brotherhood, and love these past few years, then bestows upon him the Blue Rose Sword, which becomes the Red Rose Sword in Kirito’s hand.

Now dual-wielding against a one-armed opponent, Kirito would seem to have the upper hand, but it ends up yet another draw, as in exchange for the increasingly crazed Administrator’s last remaining arm, Kirito loses his right one, while Admin reveals her hair is prehensile and can be used to restrain and strangle Kirito, which she does.

Administrator can’t get over how much insolence she has to contend with in this fight, but as Eugeo says, Kirito is going to keep standing up and dusting himself up as many times as it takes. He manages to cut through Admin’s hair, then delivers a strike to her core that does irreparable damage, forcing her to access a console and beam herself out of there.

Before she gets away, promising she’ll be seeing Kirito again in the real world, a naked, burning Chudelkin jumps onto her, seeking her loving embrace, resulting in a huge fiery explosion. Quite the ignominious end for the ruler of the Underworld…though it’s probably not a true end.

With Admin out of Kirito’s hair, he tries to tend to Eugeo, but it’s way too late for anything other than a tearful goodbye, with Eugeo relaying what he now understands about love being something you give, not something you seek. Both a younger Eugeo and a younger Alice appear in Kirito’s head to announce that while their paths may soon separate, their memories of one another will remain forever.

Just after Eugeo passes away, Kirito gets an “external observer call” from Rath: it’s Colonel Kikuoka and Higa. The control room is under assault, either from the military or some other power that wants their hands on the STL tech. They give Kirito instructions to deliver Alice to some place called the “World’s End Altar”, presumably to complete the process of bringing Kirito back to the real world with his brain in one piece. Asuna is also mentioned. But Kikuoka’s foes have other plans.

They seek to sever the main power line, which will cause a surge that could fry Kirito’s fluctlight, killing him before he can be safely extracted from the Underworld. The line is severed, the surge occurs, and Kirito experiences something akin to a lightning strike, inside of which a blurry image of Asuna from above, fitted out in her SAO regalia. Whether it’s Kirito’s memory or Asuna entering the “game” for the first time, I’ll have to wait until October to find out, when the Alicization saga continues with War of Underworld.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 04 – Calling Fulfilled

It took three episodes and the absence of a designated Goblin Slayer, but Sword Art Online: Alicization finally got around to showing some decent Sword Arts when Kirito goes up against the head goblin holding Selka captive.

The fight is as fast and brutal as the animation is smooth, silky, and stylish. But when he’s nicked by his opponent’s blade, the pain is unlike anything he’s experienced in any VRMMO, and it slows him down.

Eugeo freezes a lot early in the fight, but when it’s clear that he and Kirito and Selka aren’t going to get out of there alive unless he joins the fray, he summons enough courage to draw his sword and cross blades with the boss.

He only buys Kirito a bit of time before he is near-mortally wounded across the midsection, but it’s enough for Kirito to recover, take over, and use another one of his latent Sword Skills to behead the goblin, threatening the others away unless they wants some.

Selka is none the worse for wear, but she and Kirito must put their lives on the line with a high level Sacred Art in order to save Eugeo, who recalls a memory of Kirito being with him and Alice six years ago. As Kirito can feel his vitality draining into Eugeo, he has a vision of Alice behind him, telling him she’s still waiting for them atop the cathedral in Central City.

The healing is a success, and the three return home. The next day, while hacking at the tree, Eugeo asks Kirito to train him in swordsmanship; Kirito tells him he is a master of the “Aincrad style”, in reference to his time in SAO, and a brief training montage ensues.

At the end, Eugeo can summon a Sword Skill in the Blue Rose Sword, and the vitality of the Gigas Cedar has dropped to the point it only needs one more good strike to fell it, a strike that Eugeo executes, bringing the massive tree down.

As someone who adores huge trees, it was a little upsetting to see it not only fall but its demise be celebrated, but considering how much of a scourge it is on the village, I suppose I can make an exception.

At the post-felling celebration, Kirito encounters Selka and assures her she need not try to catch up with, surpass, or be a replacement for Alice; there are things only she as Selka can do, and she should focus on being the best Selka she can be instead. Selka knows. Eugeo sees her off, apologizing for what she and her family went though and promising to return with both Kirito and Alice.

The reward for fulfilling the calling of felling the Cedar is that Eugeo gets to pick his next calling. Thus, he is playing by the rules in choosing to become a swordsman like Kirito. The two set out for Central City, where the plan is to locate and bring back Alice. We’ll see what trials await them on the way to the city, and when they arrive, we’ll see if she’s anything like the Alice who was taken away by that Integrity Knight six years ago.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 03 – Don’t Freeze

Kirito settles into a pleasant routine, waking up in the church, going to work with Eugeo, eating stale bread. He wants to get to the Central City, but knows the only way is through the Gigas Cedar. When he asks Eugeo if there’s anything stronger than his ax, Eugeo produces the Blue Rose Sword, which he retrieved from the End Mountains where he lost Alice.

Kirito uses his latent sword skill to make an immediate mark, albeit in the wrong place, while Eugeo can’t make a scratch. A dead end, or a simple matter of persistence? Eugeo brought the sword home in hopes of learning to wield it, but laments that when the Integrity Knight came for Alice, he wanted to do something, but just couldn’t move.

That night Kirito has a chat with Selka, whom he learned is Alice’s younger sister. Selka doesn’t like how Eugeo’s mood darkened after Alice was taken, especially when it came to her. It wasn’t her fault her sister was taken, so why can’t he be friendly with her? Kirito doesn’t have the answers, but does tell Selka that it’s fine to cry whenever one feels like it.

Unfortunately, he also tells her something she never knew: why Alice was arrested by the Axiom Church. That new information sends her to the End Mountains, all alone, perhaps in hopes of committing the same crime and reuniting with Alice, as farfetched as that seems.

As she left before dawn, she gets a good head start on Kirito and Eugeo, who rush off after her. Apparently they mount this rescue at a time when Eugeo doesn’t have to chop at the Gigas Cedar, otherwise he’d be shirking his calling and risking justice. When Eugeo uses System Call to illuminate a cattail, it surprises Kirito; characters are using RPG-style interfaces in a virtual world.

 

When they reach the main chamber where the bones of the dragon lie following Selka’s scream, Kirito and Eugeo discover that she’s been captured by—you guessed it—a band of goblins. Figures. Unlike those of Goblin Slayer, they seem content to sell Selka rather than use her as their plaything, but are only interested in selling the meat of males like Kirito and Eugeo.

Eugeo gives away their position, but as the goblins advance, he suffers another acute case of fear paralysis, which means an unarmed Kirito will likely have to deal with the horde all by his lonesome.