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.

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 02

cav21

It’s nice to see how well Stella and Ikki are already getting along even before their first day of school; it’s a testament to the equity and fairness with which they each treat each other. They’re both on first-name terms without any reservations, and Stella makes a habit of bringing up things like the possibility of indirect kisses as a big deal, but never once denies that she doesn’t mind such things, when sharing Ikki’s sports drink. She also insists on running the full 20km a day that he runs, which speaks to her competitiveness.

But this, like Asterisk War is still a harem, which means there will be plenty of competition for Ikki’s attention. The first to glom onto him is Kusakabe Kagami, who means to run the school newspaper and saw him fight. Whether you’re a boy or a girl, people dig ability, and it’s clear Ikki has skills, even if there’s no surefire way to evaluate it. Still, the way the six school reps will be chosen works in his favor: rather than assess people by their stats, everyone will be fighting for those spots.

cav22

Kagami essentially fades into the background, however, when a petite silver-haired girl everyone calls “Lorelei” beckons to Ikki. As we gleaned from the cold open, she’s his little sister Shizuku, and the only member of his family who she believes really loves him. Because of that, on top of her sheltered, upper-crust upbringing, to her, that means she needs to show Ikki enough love to make up for all the family members who show none.

To Shizuku, that means French-kissing him in front of Stella and half the school. Now, this is some standard brocon incest ikkiness? On the surface, sure, but it’s nicely mitigated by two factors: Shizuku’s aforementioned strange upbringing, and the fact no one else, including Ikki, is okay with his sister Frenching him.

cav23

Then a catfight breaks out between Shizuku and Stella, who draw their devices, but they get in trouble with the director and must clean all 27 of the school’s girls’ restrooms, which they do while exchanging insults about one another’s breast size and body type.

It’s petty, but it’s conflict born out of mutual misunderstanding. Shizuku doesn’t yet know the full extent of Stella’s bond with Ikki, and Stella doesn’t yet know why Shizuku is acting so possessive.

cav24

That changes quick when Shizuku mentions that the rest of the Kurogane family has always treated Ikki like he didn’t exist, and she hates them for it. Stella, concerned and eager to learn more about her roommate (and master, a promise she hasn’t forgotten), wastes no time asking Ikki about it, and he’s very open about it: due to his lack of verifiable talent, he was shunned as the family’s black sheep. The ostracization was so bad, he once ran away from home into the brutal cold.

He was saved from death by his grandfather Ryouma—a samurai so famous even Stella knows the name—who told him to harness his frustration with being called the weakest or the worst; make that weakness a strength, and never give up or stop working to prove everyone wrong. Ikki then started to train alone—something Stella also did when she was younger. Thus Stella’s understanding of Ikki deepens, as does her affection.

cav25

Those affections lead her to make a move on Ikki for the second week in a row, entirely on a whim while cooking. Her excuse is that a good servant must fulfill a master’s wishes before he even asks, but really, she liked what she saw and felt last week, and wants more. Ikki is understandably a bit on-edge about the whole thing—Stella is a knockout in her pink bikini (her concession to modesty and not letting things get too far too fast)—but lets Stella do what she wants to do, and tells her what she wants to hear.

A nice detail: when the newspaper girl Kagami put Ikki’s arm against her chest, Stella noticed, and so brings it up here, because it looked like Ikki liked it…and Stella wants Ikki to like when she does it. I loved the honesty and equity of this romantic encounter: both Stella and Ikki are getting something they want out of it…right up until Stella loses her top, which she didn’t want to happen. Scream; Slap; Womp-Womp.

Lastly, we come to the show’s ED, with all the girls in Ikki’s prospective harem lounging around nude in a bed of roses with their weapons, to the welcome eclectic tunes of ALI PROJECT.

7_ses