Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 06 – Spitting in the Wind

After a comprehensive layout of the order of battle on both sides, the flatland goblins, giants, and mountain goblins advance on the three sides of the first unit, led by Deusolbert, Fanatio, and Eldrie, respectively. Eldrie falls victim to his inexperience and lets the goblins get too close, and their smoke bombs turn his flank into confusing chaos.

But Sir Deusolbert has a big ol’ quiver of giant arrows, each one of which is capable of blasting away dozens of foes in an instant. It’s impressive firepower…but there’s a limit to it, and when he runs out of arrows, he’s badly exposed and must rely on his men to protect him by essentially throwing their lives away—lives the Human forces cannot afford to lose.

Fanatio also looks poised to make quick work of the charging giants, until their chief starts to glitch and enters a kind of savage berserk mode that catches Fanatio off balance. Fortunately, her loyal lieutenant Dakira steps in and blocks the giant’s attack. Unfortunately, Dakira dies of her injuries, and Fanatio uses up a lot of time and energy eliminating the chief.

The episode ends with the front lines just barely holding together after just the first wave of Dark Territory forces, with Eldrie’s unit in particularly bad way. And that wave is nothing but cannon fodder; it felt like the knights were throwing their best weapons at this enemy without much thought to preserving some of that power for the tougher waves.

Then again, they don’t have a choice. Their regular soldiers are under-trained and untested, and even one of the younger Integrity Knights demonstrates he has no integrity by fleeing the battle to hide in a storage shed. The battle has barely begun, and the forces of the Human Empire have already taken a serious hit in manpower, energy, and morale.

Alice glides over all of this, holding her powder for the next waves to come, and summons a massive ball of…something. Destructive energy, I guess? Hopefully she can slow the enemy’s advance at least somewhat to allow the units to regroup, but it still feels like the Humans are going to need a lot more help, either from Kirito finally waking up (or at least instinctively contributing somehow) or the timely arrival of Asuna.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 04 – I Don’t Want to Live In This Dark Territory Anymore

Before arriving in Underworld as Emperor Vector, Gabe has a vision of a girl he grew up with, and remembers his father talking about the location of the brain in humans compared to insects. I already didn’t like where this was going, because there’s little point in showing this guy’s past other than creeping people out even more than his desire to eat ALICE’s “sweet” soul.

Most of the tribes of the Dark Territory support Emperor’s decree for more “blood and terror”, except for Dark Knight Commander Vixur ul Shasta and his lieutenant/lover Lipia. Dark the Dark Territory may be, but they know delicate alliance between the tribes will be thrown out of balance and lead to ruin if they go all out against the Human Empire.

Lipia shares Vixur’s sentiments on this matter, but takes it upon herself to rectify it by waiting for Vector in his bedroom and attempting to assassinate him. He’s able to repel her attack, and after strangling her to death, her soul emerges from her forehead and he eats it, experiencing something he’s been yearning for since it happened just once more in his life, with his childhood friend Alicia.

It hapened after he killed Alicia when he drove a screwdriver too far into her ear, hoping to find her soul. Whether he was trying to kill her or not, he was extremely happy with the result, and sought to repeat it by doing it to many, many others. It helps that he’s voiced by the veteran Ishida Akira, who does “aloof, world-weary misanthrope” very well, but yeah…yet again we’re dealing with a straight-up sociopath and irredeemable bastard of an SAO villain. Would be nice if he had more…nuance.

Gabe’s lieutenant (who gets a name this week: Vassago) is amused by how naturally and how well-suited for acting like an emperor his boss is. In a communication with Critter back IRL (where just two hours and change have elapsed), they are warned that if they’re killed in their current bodies, they won’t be able to return to the Underworld as superusers, but mere grunts. So for all intents and purposes, they’re mortal here.

Gabe goes ahead and warns his would-be future assassins by presenting the head of Lipia frozen in a block of ice. This throws Vixur into a fit of rage, but one of the dark mages poisons him before he can touch Vector. Somehow, he manages to overcome the poison and enter a kind of Overdrive mode, launching a suicide attack on Vector that ultimately fails.

Vixur ends up in a strange void where he learns Vector’s soul is “neither alive or dead”, which will make it hard for anyone to kill him. It sucks that seemingly the only two people who opposed Vector are immediately out of the picture.

Before joining the other knights in preparing their defense, Alice peeks over the suddenly crumbling Eastern Gate and spots the massive armies of the Dark Territory advancing. The Human Empire isn’t just, as Alice says, “out of time”, but they’re also very lacking in numbers, and even if they were to mobilize regular citizens, what hope to they have against vicious goblins, orcs, ogres, giants, and…er, pugilists?

We’ll just have to find out. Suffice it to say, I’ve seen enough from the perspective of the bad guys, who are, in true SAO fashion, the baddest bad guys to ever bad who need to get got in the worst way. I don’t like them; mission accomplished, show. Hopefully it returns to Alice’s POV, and/or gets around to updating us on Asuna’s status.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 03 – Starting Positions

Now things are starting to fall into place: the black ops team that infiltrated Ocean Turtle are a tactical team led by Gabriel Miller, AKA Subtilizer in Gun Gale Online. The NSO approached him to carry out the mission on behalf of the US Government to prevent Japan from gaining a decisive advantage in military AI tech. But with Alice’s Lightcube out of reach, their tech guy Critter determines the best way to achieve their mission is to dive into the Underworld and secure Alice that way.

The only problem they face is that all the high-ranked “superusers”of the Human Empire are also locked, meaning they can only dive in as ordinary citizens. Miller suggests they dive as a Dark Territory player instead, and sure enough, their two highest ranks, Dark Knight and Emperor Vector, are unlocked and ready to use. Miller will go in as the Emperor, and his right-hand man the former.

While Miller’s team is figuring all this out, Higa pretty much also determines their best bet is to dive in, only they have full access to their choice of Human Empire superusers. Since Higa determines that Kirito needs forgiveness from someone close, Asuna is the natural choice to dive in.

Higa also seems to realize the Dark Territory superusers are unlocked and available to the enemy, but for some reason doesn’t bring it up to the others. Asuna finally prepares to dive in and save her fiancee, which is now also a mission to keep Japanese military tech out of foreign hands. Three guesses as to which she considers more important.

Before diving, Asuna does something very wise, which is texting the SAO/GGO/ALO Scooby Gang to tell her where she’s going and that she’ll be back with Kirito. While she doesn’t explicitly tell them not to go in after her, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shino & Co. don’t remain on the sidelines for this one.

Thankfully, Yui seems to know about the situation, which will probably only intensify their desire to help their friends. Prior to the ALO meetup, Shino has a flashback to a GGO match in which Subtilizer killed her. If she learns the same dude just dived into the Underworld as the arch-villain, settling the score with him (or just overcoming her fear of him) is just extra incentive for participating.

That brings us to a palace in the Dark Territory I don’t believe we’ve ever seen, but it’s reassuring to see that the “bad guys” in Underworld aren’t all inhuman monsters. There are humans like an aging lord and his younger protege, who are apparently locked in a will-they-won’t-they romantic situation. A super quick way to, well, humanize the Dark Territory and make its forces bit more more compelling than hordes nameless, faceless beasts.

Just as the older man finally proposes to the woman, there’s an emergency: the lock on the throne room has been destroyed, and Miller and his LT have spawned there as Emperor Vector and the Dark Knight. Just as the Dark Territory was looking at the possibility of peace talks now that Administrator is dead, these two bros are going to jack everything up in their quest to get Alice.

It’s already been established he can be a creep with women…so there’s that to not look forward to. Mostly I just can’t wait till Asuna’s in there kicking ass and rescuing (and hopefully curing) Kirito. The stage is finally set; now it’s time to start the game.

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.

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 – 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.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 02 – Familiarization


One minute Kirito is pushing Asuna away from the injector in a lunging Johnny Black’s hand, the next, he’s waking up in what he soon surmises to be the Underworld, neither the real world or a game, but a virtual world. After the dense, somewhat whiplash-inducing first episode, it’s nice to have a simpler, more elemental outing, in which the protagonist is just as much in the dark as we are.

Kirito soon meets Eugeo, and learn that six years have passed since Alice was arrested and taken away by the Axiom Church for her transgression. Since then Eugeo has kept hacking at the Gigas Cedar. Clearly Kirito doesn’t remember being friends with Eugeo, but he gets vague, nostalgic glimpses of Alice, and he and Eugeo hit it off in short order when he offers to do some of the axe work.

Eugeo explains the Stacia Window interface everyone has, along with the concept of callings, the extent of his in particular (over 300 years and seven generations), and the Taboo Index that keeps him from searching for Alice but also prevents theft.

In the village, a kid named Zink who mocks Eugeo’s job as “useless” is put in his place when Kirito “thinks he remembers” his calling was that of a swordsman. To Kirito’s surprise, going through his usual SAO/ALO/GGO motions results in unleashing a powerful sword skill.

Kirito spends the night in a church, where his schedule is dictated by the head sister, and uses the time before falling asleep to think things over. He posits that all of the “characters” he’s encountered could be copies of the souls of newborns raised entirely within the Underworld, making them “Artificial Fluctlights.”

With at least 300 years having passed in this world (and possibly many more than that), Kirito worries what the ramifications would be of living for months, years, or decades in the Underworld while in the real world mere hours or days are passing.

His ultimate goal is to contact Kikuoka, which he believes might be achievable in a larger city like the Central City Eugeo mentions as the place where Alice could still be alive. Before heading there (where a powerful-looking woman lounges atop an ornate tower), he resolves to learn more about this world (you clearly do not want to break any laws here) and properly preparing for such a journey.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – 01 (First Impressions) – The Cutting Edge

“Prime” SAO is back after a brief detour into GGO with LLENN, and drops us into yet another new VRMMO world in which Kirito is the only familiar face. He’s friends with a lad named Eugeo and the village elder’s daughter Alice.

Tired of food quickly spoiling in the summer heat, they go forth into the mountains to harvest some ice. But they get turned around and end up in the forbidden Dark Territory, where Alice accidentally slips and momentarily crosses the threshold between realms.

For that seemingly mild transgression, she is charged with committing a grave taboo, and sentenced to death by an Integrity Knight of the Axiom church, who carries her off on his white dragon. Kirito and Eugeo can do nothing; the knight is far too powerful.

As the dragon disappears into the sky, Kirigaya Kazuto awakens in a lab: he’s a test subject for a new full-dive VR experience unlike any other. The lack of context with which the first half of this double length episode is fitting, as Kirito’s experience felt far “realer” than any VRMMO he’d played before—and thus more disorienting.

Back into a game he knows far better: GGO. Sinon has recruited him, Asuna, and their other friends to try to take out a veteran PK team that has a 100% success rate. They fail to kill the PKs, but do force their retreat. Still, Shino wants Kirito’s help in the next BoB to defeat the one player she couldn’t: Subtilizer.

While not altogether necessary, the brief “cameo” stint within GGO brings us back to familiar territory and reminds us of the bonds that have been forged between these players. Kirito and Shino are friends IRL, and just as comfortable conversing there as they are fighting in-game.

Asuna joins them as Kirito tells the two women more about his “part-time job” as alpha tester for the new full-dive system from a company called Rath. The tech is called Soul Translator, or STL, and while it’s unlike any other VR dive before, Kirito retains no memories of what actually goes on there. As such, while the mention of Alice causes a reaction, he’s not precisely sure why it does.

Kirito’s talk of stints within STL that feel much longer than the real dive time (which sounds like a time-bending DMT trip), as well as his slighter figure, worry Asuna and Shino alike, but he assures them he’s fine. In fact, he’s prepared to head to America to check out the very latest full dive tech, but expresses his wish for Asuna to accompany him, as he “can’t live without her.”

She agrees, but their romantic bliss doesn’t last long, as a character from their past appears IRL: the last surviving member of Laughing Coffin, Johnny Black. The slightly unhinged dude whips out a poison injector and nicks Kirito just as he stabs him in the leg with his umbrella. Now obviously Kirito doesn’t die here, in the first episode, but there are sure to be ill effects.

The question is what Asuna will do in the immediate aftermath of the attack, when Kirito recovers, and whether there are any lingering effects of the injection. Will the America trip have to be called off? Will Kirito get to help Shino out in GGO? Who is Alice and why is she Alicizing? These are some of the many questions I intend to get to the bottom of by continuing to watch SSO:A.

Sword Art Online II – 15

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With the BoB behind us and a week removed from a recap, I was eager to get back to Sword Art Online, and maybe get some more scenes in the real world between Kazuto and Shino. Alas, Sugu tells Kirito that someone’s after the Holy Sword Excalibur, and he’s back off into MMOLand.

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Sinon unfortunately just becomes one of the gals, with cat ears and a tail that’s seemingly specifically there for Kirito to pull in jest. Kirito and Sugu gather Asuna, Yui, Klein, Lisbeth, and Silica to complete their rather large and ungainly party of eight. I can’t say I care all that much about Klein, Lisbeth, or Silica; but they’re here, and I suppose they’ll have a unique use as this arc progresses.

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The characters descend into the frozen wastes of Jotenheimr, which is below Alfheim but above Niflheim. There, Sugu summons her friend she rescued from baddies: a very cool-looking eight-winged elephant-octopus thing she named Tonkii that kind of freaks everyone else out a little but proves helpful.

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Once the party boards him, they fly through the skies of Jotenheimer until “Urd, Queen of the Lake” appears to deliver quite a bit of exposition about the arc to come. She and her two sisters are of the Hill Giants, who were subjugated by the Frost GIants led by King Thrym of Niflheim who ascended to Jotenheimer and disconnected the roots of Yggdrasil, turning the verdant paradise into the arctic wastes we see.

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He did that with Excalibur, which means if Kirito & Co. can retrieve it, the frozen castle Thrymheim that is lodged in the rock ceiling will descend and return Jotenheimer to its previous state. Since he wanted to grab Excalibur anyway, Kirito and Urd’s goals match. I’m not sure what to make of this all yet, but the striking visuals of the new landscape were marred by the sudden gaggle of old and not entirely compelling characters.

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Sword Art Online II – 14

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I was initially a little disappointed that yet again a Damsel in Distress would be rescued by the valiant Kirito, and then Kyouji proceeds to pin him down and inject him. In that moment, he’s the damsel now, and it’s Shino who saves him by knocking Kyouji out with her boombox. Sure, the lethal injection didn’t enter his body (Kyouji just happened to shoot into an electrode on Kirito’s chest which is lucky to say the least), but Shino still saved him, and herself, from the psychotic Kyouji.

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In the next act, Shino shows how much she’s grown since meeting Kirito and winning the BoB: when three bullies ask her for money, she politely refuses; when they pull a gun on her, she freaks out a little at the sight of it, but recollects herself. When the girl can’t pull the trigger, Shino disarms her, turns off the safety, and hits a can dead on from pretty far away, revealing it’s a BB gun. Then she puts the safety back on and hands it back to her terrified would-be tormentor.

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It’s an immensely satisfying exchange, escpecially when Shino’s out of sight and nearly collapses from anxiety afterwards. She didn’t suddenly become Rambo in the real world, but she’s taken the crucial first small step, and she’s going to keep taking more. It’s also pretty funny that Kirito picks her up from school in his motorcycle, which creates a small sensation from Shino’s classmates and likely raises her stature in the school a couple of ticks, simply because they don’t know that Kirito’s actually a bit of a dweeb.

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What follows is unapologetic exposition about the three people who together were Death Gun in and out of GGO, and how they planned to take out powerful players. Both Kyouji and his older brother were fueled by envy of those more powerful, while Kyouji himself dealt with the additional stress of being the heir to the family hospital after their dad gave up on his older brother. As their plan to kill elite players got more realistic, the virtual world became his reality.

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Here, Shino shows a different kind of strength when she insists on talking to Kyouji as soon as it’s possible. Even though he did terrible things to her, he was a broken person, and she doesn’t want him to keep on being broken. She herself once sought power in GGO, and risked having that world become more real than her own. Her apparent willingness to forgive Kyouji may be more than he deserves, but its her right to bestow that forgiveness if that’s what she wants.

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The final and most powerful act of the episode that redeems the somewhat boring Death Gun infodump is the sort of intervention-light that follows. At first it seems like Kirito is just going to introduce her to Asuna and Rika, but then he reveals (and apologizes for) his true intent: for her to meet the post office worker whose life she saved by killing that gunman. The worker comes with her adorable four-year-old daughter, whom she was pregnant with at the time of the incident, so Shino saved two lives in one.

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One can weigh the pros and cons of one’s actions all they want in one’s head, but having grateful beneficiaries of your actions staring right at you, thanking you profusely and giving you a drawing is another thing entirely. Because she saved lives, she has the right to forgive herself for taking one, as much she has a right to keep blaming herself. While certainly a delicate and highly personal situation, Kirito went through a very similar thing, and because he and Shino became friends, he did all he could to help her, as did Asuna and Rika; before they even met her.

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