Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 23 (Fin) – A Hug and a Sword

She may have put up a brave front for most of last week’s episode, Alice’s cracks show at a cocktail party and culminate in an escape from Rath altogether. Kirito just gets off the phone with Rinko when he receives a large package.

Sure enough, it’s Alice, who shipped herself to his house! It strikes just the right balance of hilariously ridiculous and tremendously sweet, especially when you consider Alice isn’t just any heartsick maiden, but an artificial life form.

Alice has been unfathomably lonely since awakening in the real world, and who can blame her? She’s literally the only being of her kind in that world. She’s lost and adrift, but the sight of Kirito—or rather the physical presence Kirigaya Kazuto—soon soothes her, especially when wrapped in a big hug. He also tells her she is his hope, and the hope of all decent people in the world.

But Kirito can discern that she needs more than a tour of his humdrum family home. He takes her to the nearby dojo puts a practice sword in her hand, and the two spar. After defeating him with a cheekily improvised move called “Iron Headbutt”, Alice’s confidence and sense of self is restored. All a knight needs is a sword and a cause, after all!

Alice stays the night, and gets to witness a rare sight for SAO: the entire Kirigaya family seated around the dinner table. After his dad asks him to once again apologize for stressing them out during his latest mission, Alice herself defends Kirito as a hero in her world.

To her surprise, her father responds with pride that he’s aware of Kazuto’s accomplishments, and that he’s already a hero in the real world as well, making his son blush. Kazuto also informs his parents of his new course in life: to earn a degree in electronic engineering and join the Oceanic Resource Exploration & Research Institution, AKA Rath.

That night, Alice sneaks into a sleeping Kirito’s room, but not for that. She received a strange message through the network, and with Yui’s help Kirito determines the message is code for a specific IP address in which to re-access the Underworld.

Kirito, Alice, and Asuna meet at the Roppongi facility where Rinko helps them log back into the Underworld, two hundred years after leaving it. The three are shocked to find they’ve spawned not on the Underworld, but in orbit of it, out in space!

There has clearly been some possibly Macross-inspired technological advances in those two centuries, because Tiese and Ronie (or two people very much like those two) are “integrity pilots” locked in a desperate space battle with an eldritch abomination called “The Abyssal Horror”, all eyes, mouths, and tentacles.

Since the pilots are in trouble, Kirito, Asuna, and Alice all pool their considerable offensive powers in order to freeze, impale, and utterly destroy the spacebeast, all while the pilots gaze in awe and recall that the trio are historical figures back in the Underworld. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the planet surface and how things have advanced.

Granted, that would probably have been digging too deeply than what was required of this episode: a worthy send-off for Kirito, Asuna, and Alice, and a tantalizing sneak-peak at their next adventure, called the “Inter-Intellegence War.”

Whenever that new anime is released, I’ll certainly be there to follow our old friends as they hopefully manage to avoid falling into comas or being held hostage by perverts! Until then, I bid sayonara to the now-completed War of Underworld and ja ne to Sword Art Online. It was quite a fun ride.

Season Average: 8.55

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 – 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 – 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 – 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.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 07 – Trouble, as Usual, Finds Kirito

As Asuna has arrived at Rath and taken a seat at the table when one wasn’t offered, Kirito continues to play, or rather live, in the Underworld. Two whole years have passed since we last saw him, and his goals remain the same: to learn this new virtual game’s rules, abide by them as he and Eugeo seek Alice, and most importantly, get good enough to face any opponent that might crop up.

To that end, after winning a swordsmanship tournament, they enrolled at Swordcraft Academy in the capital Centoria, to serve as pages to their mentors. Kirito’s mentor is the Second Seat Sortilienta Serlut, or “Tiena-senpai” for short (SSSS could also work ;), ably voiced by Han Megumi. In the time he’s trained under Tiena, Kirito has learned that attaining strength in this world is, unlike SAO or ALO, as much about confidence and willpower as the hard numbers.

Since they’re now in the Big City, Kirito and Eugeo’s statuses as commoners makes them the target of pompous high class elites who are always trying to press their buttons. When Kirito showed Eugeo the progress on his garden, I thought for sure that garden was going to be destroyed by the two punks who tried to provoke Kirito in the dining hall.

Tiena can tell there’s something of Kirito’s “Aincrad Style” he’s been holding back, and she believes the key to her improving (and finally defeating First-Seat Volo Levantain…what a name) is for him to reveal to her what that is. Since training on a day of rest is forbidden (and rules aren’t broken in this world, only bent a little), he labels his last sparring session with Tiena a “graduation gift.”

But before the session, Kirito picks up a newly completed sword from the metalsmith’s which was forged from a branch of the Gigas Cedar. The resulting black/blue blade is definitely Kirito’s style, and when he successfully swings it, he even gets it free of charge.

Kirito can’t help try out sword skills he was unable to break out with a simple wooden training sword, but in his enthusiasm to do so, he gets mud on one Volo Levantain’s crisp white uniform. Volo lets him off for practicing on a day of rest (he himself finds it hard to keep back from doing that, and understands as a fellow swordsman)…but he won’t let the mud stain slide.

So he challenges Kirito to a public duel to first point (not stop short) with real swords, perhaps eager to see what he can do with his new black blade. Kirito has never defeated Liena in a training session, and she’s never defeated Volo, so his mentor is understandably nervous about what he’s getting into. As for Eugeo, he’s just surprised his friend didn’t get into trouble much earlier.

Of course, Kirito has only fought with wooden swords at Swordcraft Academy; more training tools than actual weapons. We’ll see if he gets embarrassed before his mentor, friend, and assembled fellow students (not to mention punished for breaking the sabbath), or if he’ll be able to call his new blade Volo Levanbane…should he choose to.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 06 – One Big Weapons Project

Now that Asuna has revealed herself, Kikuoka must answer some questions for her. It turns out he wasn’t lying when he said Kirito was receiving treatment he couldn’t receive anywhere else. They have him in a full-spec STL that is gradually rebuilding his damaged brain, though they still don’t know if he’ll ever wake up.

However, Kikuoka didn’t bring Kirito to Rath HQ out of the kindness of his heart. As an SDF official, he has always sought new ways to fight wars ever since the NerveGear came out. When fully copying the souls of fully-formed real-world adults failed (none will ever accept they are copies), they had to use the copies of infant souls, and raise them in a controlled virtual environment where they’d accept their existence—bottom-up AI.

While that in and of itself was a major achievement, it caused problems for Kikuoka vis-a-vis his ultimate goal: to develop a new weapon for the defense of Japan. The AIs followed the law—the Taboo Index—precisely and without exception. The Underworld was a utopia with no crime…until Alice crossed that border as a result of her dealings with Kirito, whom they placed into the world after wiping his memory.

In effect, Kirito was the chaotic element they needed in order to “teach” their homegrown bottom-up AIs to break the law; even to murder. Alice, or A.L.I.C.E. (a rather tortured acronym I will not repeat), was the first product of introducing Kirito to the project: the first AI to dissent and resist the Taboo Index (even if it was accidental).

That, Kikuoka hopes, is the first step towards building an army of artificial fluctlights capable of killing an enemy, which will mean no longer having to sacrifice real-world soldiers in conflicts—a huge strategic advantage that could elevate real-world Japan to the highest echelons of global power.

Of course, this opens up a tremendous ethical and philosophical can of worms; one so large Kikuoka himself isn’t interested in pondering it beyond the limited scope of what is essentially a weapon R&D project. But having experienced about as much virtual life as Kirito, Asuna is not okay with exploiting souls that are the cognitive equal to real-world humans as, well, cannon fodder. Perhaps they’re not real humans, but they’re close enough for it to be wrong.

Nevertheless, in the imperfect human world, two or more wrongs often make a right, and while Kikuoka is definitely putting out some serious supervillain vibes with his secret base and yukata, his intentions to eliminate the human cost of war are noble. But he execution has yielded the creation of a new race of beings that aren’t necessarily his to do with as he pleases.

Project Alicization is, in a way, one massive crime against virtual humanity. While she loved Kayaba too much to kill him, Koujirou Rinko is still aware of the role she played in his crimes.  But when she confesses that role to Asuna, Asuna is forgiving, because she doesn’t feel she’s in any position to forgive.

Asuna and Kirito, like Rinko and Kayaba, have also committed crimes in their various virtual dealings. But all they can do is accept that and move forward, learning the lessons that had to be learned. And right now those lessons are telling Asuna that Kikuoka is doing is wrong, even if it is saving Kirigaya Kazuto.

I imagine at some point Asuna is going to plug into one of those unused STLs, to reunite with Kirito and, if he ends up remembering her, confer with him on how they should deal with Kikuoka and his monstrously advanced experiment.

Even assuming Kikuoka had free reign to do as he pleased, there are so many complex variables in his system that something unexpected is sure to arise. If and when it all blows up in his face, he’ll need people like Asuna and Kirito to clean up his mess.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 05 – Returning the Favor

After spending four episodes in the Underworld with Kirito, we finally return to the real world, picking up right where we left it, when Kazuto got injected while protecting Asuna.

Asuna meets Suguha and Kazuto’s mother at the hospital, where they’re informed that he may never regain consciousness after suffering untold damage when his heart was stopped for five minutes.

Then everyone’s favorite morally ambiguous suit Kikuoka Seijirou shows up, telling Kaz’s family that there’s only one place that can treat him properly.

They concur, and Kazuto is transferred to another facility, but when Asuna and Suguha try to visit him the same evening, they aren’t allowed. Further, Asuna’s monitor of Kaz’s heart rate is out of range; he’s just gone, and so is Kikuoka.

Asuna and Suguha meet with their friends in ALO to bring them up to speed, and with help from Yui they begin to assess the places he’s been and the places he could be now. The group splits up, with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha to a nondescript warehouse and helipad…but there’s no Kazuto, at least not anymore.

Apparently at a dead end, Yui tells “Mama” Asuna not to give up, as “Papa” Kirito never gave up looking for Asuna in ALfheim. Agreeing, Asuna asks Suguha if she remembers anything her bro said about his job; she remembers that the machine he used was based on the Medicuboid, designed by Kayaba Akihiro, AKA Heathcliff, inventor of NerveGear and Game Master of SAO.

Asuna recalls someone watched over Kayaba while he was diving, then recalls her name: Koujirou Rinko. Yui finds Rinko at a lab in California. She, along with Kayaba, was a member of the Shigemura Lab, which developed the Augma headset. It stands to reason she might know about STL and Kazuto’s wherabouts, so Asuna sends her an email.

Turns out Dr. Koujirou Rinko has already been hounded by Kikuoka to join him on a new project, and so she travels to his location via helicopter, which turns out to be a Totally Awesome Top Secret Floating Base called “Ocean Turtle.” Rinko is accompanied by her blonde English-speaking, somewhat shifty assistant Mayumi Reynolds.

After going through a veritable gauntlet of security checkpoints, Rinko and Mayumi enter a command room that oversees the Underworld Kirito is currently living in. It would seem to be an actual physical environment, which explains why those crossing its boundaries into the “Land of Darkness” are so harshly punished.

In the control room they meet Kikuoka, donning yukata and geta as if he were at a seaside retreat. That’s when Rinko reveals why she finally agreed to come: her assistant “Mayumi” is really Asuna in disguise. When Rinko heard from Asuna that Kazuto—whom she met following the death of her lover Kayaba, and who chose not to destroy the World Seed—she decided she’d help Asuna any way she can.

And so now Asuna has managed to slip by a number of layers of carefully laid security and is in the very heart of Rath’s operation. And she’s PISSED. She wants to know where Kirito is, pronto. Considering everything she’s been through thus far, including one would hope Kikuoka would be amenable to her request. Now things are starting to get interesting.