Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 02 – A Knight of the Human Empire

In the first half of an episode split right down the middle between Underworld and the real world (still a rarity in isekai anime), Alice leaves Kirito at the cottage to deal with the goblin and orc raid on Rulid. While I feared the raid was merely a diversion meant to separate the helpless Kirito from his protector, it’s much simpler than that: the goblins and orcs just want to mess shit up.

The village’s chief man-at-arms, whom Alice’s father must obey, almost lets that happen, since the richer villagers want to protect their possessions at the cost of the lives of the poor. Alice arrives in time, and with Selka’s support and by revealing her identity as an Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church, she convinces the villagers to follow her retreat plan.

While the villagers fall back, Alice stands alone between them and the massive horde, but does not falter. Naming herself a Knight of the Human Empire, she orders an air attack from her dragon, then uncovers her right eye and unleashes the power of the Fragrant Olive Sword, decimating the monsters.

After watching her uneasily live a much simpler life, Alice rises to the occasion when the stakes are raised, and watching her act as a one-woman army without a moment of uncertainty is extremely satisfying. It gives me hope that other former Integrity Knights can shrug off Admin’s residual chains of control and stand up as fellow Knights not of the Axiom Church, but of humanity itself.

She allows the remaining goblins and orcs to flee, with the warning that she won’t hesitate to finish wiping them out if they return. Confident they won’t soon bother Rulid again, she takes Kirito and leaves, until such a time that her self-appointed mandate is realized.

She hopes one day she can hang up her sword for good and return as plain old Alice Zuberg, daughter and sister. In addition to being damned fun to watch kicking ass, Alice has emerged as one of the most motivated and compelling characters in SAO. I just hope she’s not killed off needlessly.

That first half on its own scores a solid 9 in my book, as in concert with last week’s episode completes the arc of Alice returning to her role as knight for her world rather than mere caretaker to Kirito. The second half, entirely set in the real world, isn’t quite as strong due to all the exposition, but is just as necessary to watch play out, as adds an extra layer of peril and challenge.

The way SAO works is that we gradually get lost in the fantasy of the virtual worlds, thus that they feel as real as the worlds from which their “players” originate. With the added dimension of severe time disparity between the worlds, and the fact that in our own world about two years have passed, the events aboard Rath’s Ocean Turtle have felt frozen in amber.

But as soon as Asuna grabs Kikuoka by the scuff and all but promises he’ll be a dead man if he loses Kirito, I’m immediately reinvested with what’s going on here, and how it will affect life in the Underworld.

Asuna, Kikuoka, Higa and Rinko are safe for the time being in the sub control room, but a mysterious black ops outfit has successfully taken control of the main control room, STL room, and most of the lower section, and whoever sent them may have enough official sway to keep the SDF escort ship Asahi from intervening.

Whoever they are, it’s clear they’re after A.L.I.C.E., but neither side is able to extract her Fluctlight externally; it must be done within the Underworld simulation itself. Assuming they’re on their own, the mission it to retrieve Alice before the men in black. Kirito, their man on the inside, would seem to be their only hope…or would be, were it not for his present condition.

Higa learns that Kirigaya Kazuto emerged in the Underworld with his memories intact, and has been living the equivalent of two years, training, fighting, gaining and losing friends along the way. When the men in black cut main power, it fried his “self-image circuit”—the virtual equivalent of his ego—which explains his condition. Kirito can’t talk, doesn’t know who he is, what he needs to do, and only responds reflexively to “deeply ingrained memories” (which explains why he reacted to the goblin raid).

That means someone will have to head in there and either help him recover or execute the mission in his stead. Asuna is closely eyeing the spare terminal beside Kirito, so surely she’s that someone. But so are the men in black. As the combatants prepare to enter the battlefield, the true War of Underworld is about to begin, and I couldn’t be more pumped.

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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 – 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 – 17 – The Ascent

Considering the Rising Arc has consisted of “climb a few levels, fight a boss, repeat” structure, SAOA has managed to mix things up by demonstrating both the variety of integrity knights and varied ways in which they fight and think, and the variety of ornate settings in which they fight within the cathedral.

Things get shaken up even more when Kirito and Alice end up outside the Cathedral’s quickly-autohealed walls. All of a sudden things get a lot more simple and minimalist, both in where they are—Dangling from Kirito’s sword, with death beneath them—and who they are to each other: enemies who must work together to survive.

Interestingly, Alice inititally wants Kirito to let her plummet to her death, for she wouldn’t be able to live with the shame of being saved by “such a sinner.” Kirito actually has to remind her that as a knight, her life is not her own, but belongs to the church, and to her Pontifex. Whether she has to bear shame or not, it is her duty to live on and protect humanity from the incursion of the Dark Territory.

He even makes the case that his and Eugeo’s “invasion” of the cathedral is the will of the gods and of Stacia, since Alice herself cites that their will is revealed through the actions of her servants. So Alice holds on, lets Kirito raise her up so she can put her sword in the wall just as his slips out, and then she returns the favor and lifts him up.

A Truce it is, then: they will work together to climb to the open-air Morning Star Lookout on the ninetieth-fifth-floor, at which time the truce will terminate and Alice promises to slay him. Kirito soon learns he’ll be doing most of the work on this climb, as apparently Integrity Knights are a pretty specialized sort, and Alice neither has the athleticism (not to mention outfit) to do the gymnastics necessary to climb.

As Kirito climbs in the virtual Underworld, Asuna and Rinko are having lunch when they a Japanese escort ship on the horizon changing course in a maneuver that catches one of Ocean Turtle’s officials off-guard. In a neat little transition from Asuna piercing her salad tomato to Kirito piercing the wall of the cathedral, we return to the climb. I’m not sure what else to say about the brief trip to the real world, except that it’s possible the easy peace Asuna and Rinko of enjoyed may not last.

With the sun setting, Kirito is finding it harder to generate wedge objects, so Alice makes one of her own (gold and fancy-looking, of course), revealing she was letting him make them this whole time even though she could have chipped in earlier.

Eventually they can see a ledge above them where some kind of statues sit, but they begin to transform into dark territory minions, which start to attack the two. And just like that, what had been a tough enough job of climbing the sheer wall is made that much more perilous with these flying beasts.

Since dealing with the minions isn’t going to work of Kirito has to hold Alice up, he decides to hoist her up to the ledge above, in a move that catches her entirely by surprise, but does add some stability to their situation. Once she’s on solid ground, she hoists him up in the same way, though he hits the wall back-first and upside-down.

Detaching the chain so they can both move freely, Alice dispatches two of the three beasts with one slash, then waits for Kirito to take care of the third, asking if he needs any help. He doesn’t, and once he finishes his foe off, she likens his weird Aincrad style to a kind of dance that would be performed on stage at the summer solstice festival.

That’s an odd thing to note, because when Alice thinks about it more, her head starts to hurt. She’s never actually been to the festival, as she initially said, but heard about it from monks…apparently. Or maybe the Alice buried in the Synthesis is starting to claw its way back to consciousness, due to all of her interaction with her old friend Kirito.

Regardless, throughout the climb Alice’s opinion of Kirito seems to soften more and more, until she even offers her handkerchief to the “criminal” to wipe minion blood off his face. Perhaps she doesn’t want him at any externally-forced disadvantage for their 95th-floor duel. But even as an integrity knight Alice doesn’t like the fact their were minions in such a sacred place…it means someone in the church wanted them there.

Cut to Eugeo, who is without Kirito by his side for the first time in quite a while. He continues climbing, and makes it to a hall on the ninetieth floor, which appears to be a bathhouse. There he encounters a man bathing there, covered in muscles and scars: not just any Integrity Knight, but Commander Bercouli Synthesis One. He asks for Eugeo to give him a little time to relax, as he just arrived from a long dragon ride.

Will Eugeo be able to defeat or at least get past Bercouli without help from Kirito? Will Kirito manage to defat Alice, or possibly turn her to their side once and for all before they face Administrator? Either way, their epic climb is almost at an end.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 16 – Duel at Cloudtop

While Fanatio was able to endure Eugeo’s Enhance Armament, Kirito delivers the coup de grace with his own, overwhelming her sword of holy light. There’s a moment when it almost looks like she’s giving up, and that’s when she’s blown all the way up into the dome of the hall.

Kirito passes out once his attack is complete, but Eugeo is able to revive him by transferring some of his life. Kirito rushes to heal the critically injured Fanatio, but neither he nor Eugeo can stop the bleeding. Kirito decides to use the dagger meant for Administrator, asserting that there’s no way he can walk away from Fanatio carrying the tool of her salvation in his hand.

A bemused Cardinal takes her away and promises to heal her, assuring the lads that they can still defeat the pontifex without the dagger provided they get the jump on her while she’s sleeping, which is…often. Cardinal also sends them potions to bring them back to 100% for the next fight. I wonder if the Fanatio who wakes up will be grateful to her saviors…or regain her memories.

The only way to the higher levels is a kind of elevator shaft glowing with green light. A floating platform appears with an almost robot-like “operator” who simply asks which floor they’d like. It doesn’t matter that they’re criminals, fugitives, or enemies of the pontifex; her calling is to operate the elevator, and that’s it.

The dreary drudgery of such a calling calls to mind Eugeo’s constant hacking at the Gigas Cedar, but at least he got to go outside. The operator, who doesn’t even remember her name, would wish that if they succeed in bringing down the pontifex and her calling were recinded, she’d want to retain control of the floating platform and use it to ply the skies.

She brings the duo to the eightieth floor, the Cloudtop Garden, where they find Saber Alice reclining against a tree, asking for a little more time to relax in the sun. When the lads keep advancing, she reveals that the tree is the ancient form of her divine object, the Osmanthus Blade.

She acknowledges that the boys must have some skill if they were able to make it thus far, but promises them this is the end of the road for them. Kirito and Eugeo have no intention of defeating her, only restraining her long enough to use Eugeo’s dagger to send her to Cardinal.

To put it mildly, Saber Alice…doesn’t make that easy. Her Osmanthus Blade scatters into thousands of petal-like shards, giving her far more unpredictable and adaptable offensive power than a mere single blade. I likened it to the shikai of Kuchiki Byakuya’s Senbonzakura, though I’m sure there are plenty of other analogues.

Things seem to go according to plan at first, with Kirito constantly retreatin, then turning aside Alice’s blows until he’s close enough to grab her and hold her still. That allows Eugeo to unleash his Blue Rose Sword’s Enhanced Armament, capturing both Alice and Kirito in a block of ice.

But that’s where things stop going their way. Alice’s blade is exposed, and it scatters into petals and dissolves the ice. Suddenly on his heels, Kirito breaks out his AE again, and seemingly fights Alice to a draw, as the combined force of their attacks blows a big hole in the side of the cathedral.

They’re on the eightieth floor, the pressure differential sucks them both out before Eugeo can get to Alice with his dagger. Worse, the wall almost immediately completely repairs itself, sealing Kirito and Alice outside and Eugeo inside. Neither Kirito nor Eugeo alone were ever going to be able to face the Commander of the Integrity Knights—let alone Administrator. Yet alone is where Eugeo now finds himself.

I can’t imagine he’ll go all the way back down to the entrance to meet back up with Kirito, and possibly continue assisting him in his duel with Alice. Or perhaps the duel is over as far as Alice is concerned. In any case, getting the two lads back together will take some doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if a dragon was involved.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 15 – Books and Covers

This is an episode of jumping to conclusions with regard to one’s opponents…or is it? Eugeo and Kirito are seemingly caught off guard when the two young Axiom nuns plunge their paralyzing poison daggers into their chest and back, respectively. Linel and Fizel are not merely nuns, but Integrity Knights in their own right. And they both revel in having been seen as nuns just long enough to draw in close enough to attack their prey.

The girls drag the paralyzed guys up to the fiftieth floor Hall of Ghostly Light, where the Four Whirling Blades and Vice Commander Fanatio Synthesis Two are waiting. The nun knights, the last two sheltered survivors of one of the Ponfex’s resurrection experiments, don’t want the other knights stealing their thunder, but still need witnesses when they behead the criminals.

Unfortunately for them, Kirito only mistook them for harmless kids for an instant; far less time than they thought. When he noticed apprentices were disobeying orders (an impossibility in the cathedral) and wearing ruby oak sheaths (for poison daggers), he quietly recited a poison-dissolving art, which completed in time for him to stop them and give them a taste of their own medicine.

He cures Eugeo, then tells him to quietly recite a perfect weapon control art when he can and wait for his signal. Then he drives past the Four Whirling Blades and crosses swords with Fanatio one-on-one. Perhaps impressed by his cheek, Fanatio orders the subordinates to stand back as they duel.

Fanatio learns that despite a sword that contains the reflective power of the sun itself, Kirito and his black sword are no slouch. He chips off a piece of Fanatio’s helmet, endures the heavenly sword’s beam-like strikes (to non-vital areas) and eventually knocks her helmet off. That’s right: Fanatio is a woman. The look of momentary shock in Kirito and Eugeo’s faces pisses her off to no end; they’re faces she’s seen all her life.

But the one who seems most upset that Fanatio is a woman is…Fanatio herself. It is Fanatio reading her own book by its cover, and reading Kirito’s cover as Just Another Guy who won’t fight her with everything he has. As with Zel and Nel, Kirito quickly moves beyond his instinctive surprise and fights her on equal terms; as he says and we know, he’s no stranger to being beaten by swordswomen.

A splendid duel ensues; one that Fanatio almost seems grateful for, as for once she isn’t being underestimated or not taken seriously, despite her “detestable” face. Kirito asks her if she thinks she’s so detestable, why does she doll herself up so; it’s strongly implied she loved/loves Commander Bercouli Synthesis One.

But there’s no room for love, or anything else, for Integrity Knights. Only “glory” through obedience to the Pontifex. And so even when Eugeo unleashes his Blue Rose Sword upon her, he can’t quite finish the job. Part of that is that he trying to beat her with his hatred, and as Kirito calls for his own weapon enhancement, he corrects Eugeo’s thinking.

They’re not there to kill the enemies they hate, but to save the people they love—as well as those enemies themselves—and end the tyranny of Axiom so humans can live normal lives. And he’s going to do it or die trying.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 14 – Opponents Without Pasts

SAO: Alicization commences its second half with an end to the Cardinal infodump, a return to the action, and a new OP that still, unfortunately, prominently features Kirito and Eugeo’s painfully lame secret handshake, which I believe they have yet to actually use in the show itself.

Ah well—no sooner do the two break into the cathedral armory to retrieve their weapons (and some new threads) than they’re attacked by the bow-wielding Crimson Integrity Knight Deusolbert Synthesis Seven. He sends a hail of arrows their way, but the lads are barely able to dodge them all without injury.

Deusolbert then takes off the kid gloves, using his Perfect Weapon Control art to unveil his Conflagration Bow. Kirito manages to slow his first shot with a series of ice shields as well as the sword skill Spinning Shield, allowing Eugeo to get close and unleash the full power of the Blue Rose Sword.

In this ice-vs-fire matchup, the Blue Rose wins, and Eugeo’s Veritcal Arc delivers decisive freezing blows to the knight. It’s perhaps the most jacked up we’ve ever seen Eugeo, no doubt taking a page from Kirito, as it’s absolutely essential in this world to believe you can do what you’re setting out to do, and trust in the source of your weapon to boot.

Defeated, Deusolbert asks Eugeo to finish him off, before he is stripped of his armor and knighthood and essentially frozen indefinitely by Administrator. Eugeo, recognizing his name as that of the knight who arrested young Alice, bound her, and took her away from Rulid, is almost enraged enough to oblige him, but Kirito asks him to stay his sword against one who will no longer fight back.

He also deduces that Deusolbert doesn’t remember capturing Alice, because Administrator erased his memories of doing so, then reassigned him to guarding the cathedral. They leave him on the staircase landing to choose whether to go back to his boss to accept punishment, heal his wounds and come after them again, or…perhaps try to remember more of the dream he always has of a young woman’s ringed hand on his arm. Integrity Knights may not have pasts, but Deusolbert definitely did.

Kirito and Eugeo continue their climb to the fiftieth floor, where a host of Knights await them who have orders to take them dead or alive. But before they can get far, they encounter two mysterious girls. Are they a form of Integrity Knight we’ve yet to see, some other kind of foe…or perhaps not a foe at all?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 13 – Sage of the Infodump, Part II

Cardinal completes her story, in which Quinella, basically running out of soul disk space, copies her memories to a young girl’s fluctlight, overwriting whatever was there. But Cardinal, now possessing a good deal of Quinella’s powers, decided to try to make her move. She fails, but was able to flee to the Great Library to fight another day.

Their duel is brief but exciting, despite all the awkwardly long English incantations the two must make (“System Call: Generate Luminous Object”, etc.) For 200 years since being banished to the library, Cardinal has been observing the Underworld, waiting for the right person with which to collaborate. She used a little spider named Charlotte to help bring Kirito to her.

Cardinal also suspects the god of the outside world (i.e. Rath) aren’t doing anything about Admin because the happiness of the people of the Underworld isn’t their primary goal. Rather, the whole system is a load test to see how much they can tighten the vise on a civilization before it loses cohesion.

Cardinal also tells Kirito that this isn’t just about defeating Asmin and ending her domination over the Underworld. The Forces of Darkness beyond the Realm of Humanity are planning a massive invasion, and Admin’s Integrity Knights are far too few in number to repel them, and she had all four guardian dragons slewn because she couldn’t control them, further hampering her defense.

Cardinal isn’t going to allow the Forces of Darkness to invade the Realm of Humanity; she’s willing to destroy the Underworld and start over to keep that from happening, and this is why she needs Kirito and Eugeo’s help.

If they successfully defeat Admin and Cardinal regains her authority, she’ll let Kirito save “about ten or so” Fluctlights, which if I’m honest, is close to all of the people in the Underworld who mean a lot to him (Cardinal also asks, and is given, a simple human hug, which she considers more than adequate reward for her efforts).

Of course, that’s not ideal, and Kirito will be searching for a way to have their cake and eat it too (I mean, he wouldn’t be Kirito if he didn’t). As for saving Alice, it turns out to be just a simple matter of ejecting the “piety module” from her head that’s blocking her past self, by reminding her of her most treasured memory—stored in Admin’s chambers.

Kirito and Eugeo’s mission has similarly simple steps, though of course they’re all easier said than done: First grab their newly-improved weapons from the third floor. Then, go to the 100th floor to recover Alice’s stored memories.

I have no doubt the 97 floors in between will prove a challenge, but should they run into Alice herself, Eugeo is given a dagger that will connect her to Cardinal, who will put her to sleep. So that’s the plan…all that’s left is to execute.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 12 – Sage of the Infodump

Kirito and Eugeo just barely hold their own against Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-One, who is armed with all manner of magical attacks and divine objects. They’re only able to escape defeat when Eugeo suddenly remembers why Eldrie seems so familiar: he used to be Eldrie Woolsburg, the North Empire representative swordsman.

Hearing his former name and other details of his past, a triangular prism is slowly ejected from his forehead, and the former Eldrie’s personality seems to return. The transformation is interrupted by an attack by a second knight armed with a bow and riding a dragon, but the implication is clear: what happened to this guy must’ve happened to Alice. The person she used to be might not be gone; only repressed.

Kirito and Eugeo would have probably eventually been caught by the second knight, but are given yet another break when a voice tells Kirito which way to turn and presents them with a glowing secret doorway through which to dive.

They land at the bottom of a stair, before a diminutive-looking sage called Cardinal. She is the Cardinal System that once governed the Underworld, but she’s been usurped, and her powers are now limited to the great library that contains all of the world’s knowledge and history.

Upon showing the boys around, she sends a sneezing, soaked Eugeo off to the bath to warm up, and summons some food and tea for Kirito. The balance of the episode is Cardinal (voiced, I think, by Tange Sakura, complete with “umus”) basically delivering a lengthy infodump, focusing on her “twin elder sister”, Administrator, the self-made Pontifex of the Axiom Church and only one who can contact the outside world.

“Administrator” was once Quinella, the offspring of the first political marriage between high lords, and the descendant of one of the “original four” inhabitants of Underworld who, unlike the other three, was driven by greed and a lust for power. Quinella was gifted with System Call, and used it to hunt animals and gain more and more authority.

Eventually, she had her followers, upon whom she demonstrated various “miracles”, build her a church in which she still resides to this day, being worshiped and ruling with absolute authority. She solidified that authority by writing the Taboo Index, which forbade the very actions that gave her the power boost she needed to seize command of the world.

Even Quinella couldn’t initially win against the ravages of time, but even on her death bed never stopped trying to find the right commands to undo her demise. She succeeded, either due to coincidence or help from the outside world, and her fluctlight was augmented with the Cardinal System as it was to create a new, no longer “human” being, naming herself “Administrator.”

Suffice it to say, Admin is one tough cookie. Considering how badly Kirito fared against a novice Integrity Knight, he and Eugeo are going to have to seriously up their game if they want to overthrow her. I daresay it wouldn’t hurt to snap Alice out of her brainwashing (Eugeo knows far more of her past than of Eldrie’s) so she could fight beside them.

But I’m just spitballing at this point. The villain has been introduced and explained. Now we’ll see what the heroes are going do about it.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 11 – You Can’t Have Alicization Without Alice

Any hope of Saber Alice looking upon Eugeo and Kirito and remembering her past is thrown out the window when she clobbers Eugeo for getting too close, and threatens to have his hand off if he does it again. It may look and sound like Alice, but the personality has changed, whether it was overwritten or wiped and rewritten.

She merely fulfills her duty of sending them to the Central Cathedral dungeons via dragon—a pretty short trip, but I guess traditions are important in the Axiom Church. Tiese and Ronie tearfully send their mentors off with their swords, apologizing for their role in getting them in trouble. Eugeo, for his part, tells them they did nothing wrong: it was right to try to help their friend, despite the risks.

Back in the real world, Asuna watches the unconscious Kirito, wishing she could dive in to the Underworld to rescue him—and has me wondering why that hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps it’s still too soon to pull him out without killing him?

In any case, Asuna at least has Rinko to keep her company. She also meets one of Higa’s latest inventions: a robot that is the prototype for the kinds of artificial bodies into which they’ll eventually be downloading fluctlights, which is ethically all kinds of iffy, no matter how lighthearted Higa seems.

In the dungeon, Kirito and Eugeo learn that their chains are the same level, which means when they smack them together hard enough, they shatter. And since the chains are stronger than the bars of their cell, they’re able to knock that down too. It’s a good thing the guard is a very heavy sleeper.

From this point on, the two know they’re openly defying the church: no more hesitation. The plan is to find out why Alice has lost her memories, then find a way to undo whatever was done with her so the three can go home to the village together, just like old times.

They make it into the cathedral’s hedge labyrinth, which is bursting with gorgeous rose bushes, but are stopped by Alice’s student, Integrity Knight Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-One.

Alice expected Kirito and Eugeo to escape, and thus stationed Eldrie where she did. He’ll send them back to the dungeon, but not without doling out some kind of harsh punishment—something neither of them are about to take lying down.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 10 – Heinous Crimes Lead to a Shocking Reunion

When Tiese and Ronie are late for their cleaning duties (why do they clean every day? How messy are Eugeo and Kirito?) Kirito leaps out the window to go find them. Then Eugeo receives Frenica at the door, telling him the other two have already gone to Raios and Humbert on her behalf.

Eugeo rushes to their pad, where they already have Tiese and Ronie tied up on the bed and are preparing to rape them as punishment for insulting and defaming them under their judicial authority as high-ranking nobles, which supersedes any academy laws. So, as I predicted, the villains of the moment have escalated to rape and must thus be dispatched as brutally and righteously as possible by the good guys.

But their escalating awfulness makes me wonder: if high-ranking nobles can get away with such heinous crimes, why isn’t this practice more clearly widespread? Why hasn’t such a glaring loophole, which places the most authority in the least moral individuals, not led to chaos and the destruction of the utopia?

Are the fluctlights of Raios and Humbert unique in their horribleness, so that combined with their high stations in the “game” they and they alone will abuse their power to such an extent?

Never mind; for now Tiese and Ronie are in an intolerable situation, and Eugeo has to help them…but initially, he can’t: a lawful command from Raios all but paralyzes him. He has to remember what Kirito said about some laws having to be broken sometimes, because to not break them would allow worse crimes to be committed.

So Eugeo struggles until a System Alert appears in his right eye, an eye that eventually explodes when he finally lunges at Raios and Humbert, snipping some of the former’s golden locks but relieving Humbert of his left arm. Fittingly, when he begs Raios for some of his life in order to heal, Raios demurs.

What Raios takes great pleasure in, however, is having witnessed such a heinous crime be committed in his presence. He prepares to behead Eugeo for that crime, as is his right as a noble, but Kirito jumps in at the last second, with his new sword. The two duel on the spot, with Raios becoming more and more demonic as he assures himself he’ll win…and then both his hands and forearms are sliced clean off by Kirito’s coup-de-grace.

The tables thus turn: Raios begs Humbert to help him at the cost of his own life, and Humbert cites the Taboo Index as the reason he can’t help, sorry. As he bleeds profusely from the floor, he whips himself into a frenzy, and his body starts to distort like a malfunctioning hologram, before all of the life is drained out of him. Good riddance Mr. Rapist.

As Kirito and Eugeo comfort their thoroughly traumatized pages, the Mr. Clean head pops out of the ceiling and says all the same stuff he said when Alice had crossed the boundary. They’re thrown in Jail, but the next day released by Ms. Azurica, though she’s just handing them over to their Axiom Church escorts. But not before praising them for what they did.

They broke rules that had to be broken, something she couldn’t do—which again calls to mind how widespread sexual abuse is between the higher and lower classes. But because they did something she couldn’t, it also means they’ll be able to go places she can’t. In this case, they’re brought before an Integrity Knight in the Central Cathedral. And that knight turns out to be Alice.

Does she recognize her old friends? Has she been totally reconditioned and drained and sentiment? Were they brought there to be killed…or to take the place in the chuch they earned through their valiant actions, despite them being against the Taboo Index?

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 09 – Stay Cool

When it comes to baddies, SAO isn’t exactly subtle. Lord Raios and his toadie Sir Humbert are both extremely hoity-toity noblemen, and it would seem they draw their power from their conceitedness and by comparing themselves to others. They seem acutely aware that Kirito and Eugeo are Good Guys and thus it’s basically in their nature to want to fuck with them at every turn.

After experiencing the power of Humbert’s conceit in a duel that Raios cuts short in a draw, the two noblemen warn Eugeo that “battle is more than swinging a sword,” suggesting they’ll seek other ways to mess with him. Humbert seems to find a way in Frenica, the dorm-mate of Eugeo’s page Tiese. Specifically, he’s sexually abusing her by, likely among other things, ordering her to massage him in nothing but her underwear.

Until now the duo seemed almost pathetically petty in their bullying (Stomping some flowers? Seriously?). But with his casual cruelty toward Frenica—while staying within academy regs—Humbert, and by extention Raios, have crossed the line into Despicable SAO Baddie territory. Rooting for Eugeo in putting a stop to the abuse is almost too easy.

But the fact that regs aren’t being explicitly broken (the page is merely following orders of her mentor, as is the order of things) and the extreme deference Eugeo must show to his social betters make things tricky for Eugeo. Last week he was holding Kirito back, but now it’s he who must be held back by Kirito. The baddies are counting on him making an unforced error and getting into trouble, or worse.

Of course, that’s not going to stop Eugeo from doing everything he can. He asks Raios and Humbert to knock if off the nicest way he can, though I doubt they’ll heed him, which means stronger measures will be needed that still fall within the strict rules of the academy and the world at large.

Then there’s the relationship between Eugeo and his page Tiese, which escalades very rapidly due to the Frenica incident. Tiese is of a lower-level aristocrat family, and once she becomes the head of the family a husband will be chosen from an equal or higher level. Tiese is terribly afraid of ending up with a man like Humbert.

So after making her formal report, she appeals to Eugeo, whom she knows to be kind, gentle, and honorable, to fight and win the Four Empires Tournament, which will allow him to become an aristocrat and thus an acceptable match for her*. It’s a big ask, but Eugeo will need to do a bit of social climbing anyway to have any shot at reuniting with Alice, so he agrees.

But in the meantime, Raios and Humbert won’t leave Eugeo or Frenica alone easily. I’m worried about what kind of trap they might have planned for him. It might be safer or easier for Eugeo to keep his head down and take everything they throw at him in stride. But that’s not who Eugeo is, any more than it’s who Kirito is. If there’s a wrong being done that they can stop, even the laws can’t get in the way of justice and honor.

*Since Tiese doesn’t explicitly ask for Eugeo to marry her, it could be she’s asking, and he’s agreeing, to simply be there for her when she marries someone else, which would also require him to rise to a higher station. Though marrying her makes the most sense to me. LN readers, set me straight!

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 08 – Blooming in Foreign Soil

After a quick pep talk from Liena telling him not to remember that Volo’s power comes from his vaunted family line as well as the power of his imagination, and to keep his promise to her to show her everything he’s got, Kirito engages in his real-swords duel with the First Seat.

Volo also gives it everything he has, but Kirito remembers he has a family too; not just in Eugeo and Liena but in all his friends IRL. He also draws from the power of the Gigas Cedar his sword is made with, and successfully blocks Volo’s strike.

The faculty member ends the fight in a draw, but Volo is satisfied Kirito has been sufficiently chastened for staining his uniform. It’s good to see Volo has a good head on his shoulders and wasn’t going to take things too far. Liena is elated at Kirito’s feat, as are the rest of the assembled students.

After celebrating at Liena’s quarters, Kirito meets the two highborn bullies who didn’t like the result of Kirito’s fight with Volo, and come to deliver a message in the form of the snipped-off bud of the flowers Kirito had been growing in the garden. As I thought, the jerks just couldn’t lay off the garden…

Kirito had come to feel he had a lot in common with the flowers that don’t usually bloom in such a climate; he too is a stranger in a strange land, far from the family that knew, loved, and supported him. Sure, there’s Eugeo and Liena, but it’s not the same.

Then, suddenly, a voice comes out of the air, urging him to ask for the other flowers in the garden to aid him in restoring his plant. They answer the call and send some of their life energy to the ruined planter, resurrecting the buds.

Liena, having both learned from and been inspired by Kirito’s previous fight with Volo, manages to dig deep and defeat him to graduate as First Seat, and thanks to Kirito learning something new about the world he’s in, he has a bouquet of flowers from her homeland waiting for her.

Liena, Volo, and the other elites graduate, and Kirito and Eugeo become Elite Deciples themselves, complete with cute Novice Trainee pages in Tiese and Ronie. Eugeo may tell the latter that Kirito will be nothing but trouble, but the other side of the deal is she gets to be the first artificial fluctlight trained in his unique Aincrad Style.

Meanwhile, Kirito and Eugeo, after going at it like an old married couple, keep their eyes on the prize: Alice’s most likely whereabouts, the grand white tower in the center of the city. Swordcraft Academy may be fun, but it’s only a stepping stone.