Sword Art Online Alicization Series Review

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 7 Kirito

Proving that more is not always better.

There be spoilers below.

I remember back when Sword Art Online had just begun. I remember the first episode of the Aincrad arc and just how quickly it seemed to pass by and how heavily the bombshell at the end of that episode fell. I remember rapidly skipping to the next episode (it came out before I could stream things as they aired but that meant I could binge) and I remember just how absorbed I became with the characters and the story and just how much fun the whole viewing experience was.

Sword Art Online - Aincrad
Nostalgia, sigh.

Admittedly, the entertainment of the very first series from 2012 shouldn’t really have all that much to do with whether or not this story arc from 2018-2019 is actually any good, nor should I compare them and expect that to be the same. Kirito has grown as a character since then, the technology has moved on, and almost all the other characters we spend any length of time with in Alicization are completely new. It is its own experience but not stand-alone. The events in the real world do require pre-existing knowledge of the franchise to make sense so even if I wanted to give Alicization a clean break from the seasons of SAO past, it wouldn’t really be doable.

Could someone totally new to the franchise start with Alicization?

Sure. They’d miss some context for things but mostly I doubt that would change the overall viewing experience. Except perhaps that a new viewer would go in without any expectations of Sword Art Online and so some of the disappointment I faced while watching Aliciation wouldn’t have played a factor. Maybe a new audience member could just enjoy a romp in the new world with the new cast and not wonder what happened to the cool and reckless Kirito before he ‘grew up’ and became the boring, moralising and largely passive protagonist we encounter here.

I know. I just called Kirito boring. I didn’t think I’d ever do that. Lots of other people did even back in Aincrad but I always really liked Kirito as a character. Alicization was the killing blow though.

Part of this is because Kirito spends a large part of Alicization seemingly mentoring Eugeo. Being pushed into a mentor or teacher role means that he does need to explain and sermonise and take the high ground in order to lead by example. It also means standing back at times and taking the background role to let the student grow. And honestly, given the context of Alicization, which I’ll get to in a bit, Kirito moving into that role makes perfect sense, but it isn’t interesting.

The sacrifice of Kirito’s spirit and character, though a significant blow to my enjoyment of the franchise, possibly could have been rationalised as Eugeo is actually an interesting character to watch grow. While never as interesting or dynamic as Aincrad’s Kirito, he wasn’t a bad substitute. However, Eugeo’s character arc comes to an abrupt and fairly pointless and ridiculous end by the end of this half of Alicization. So ultimately I watched Kirito help another character grow at the expense of being entertaining in his own right and then that character isn’t going to do anything because they are already finished. Or at least, finished enough as I don’t doubt SAO’s ability to come up with rubbish reasons for this not to be the end.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 11 Kirito
Or Kirito, you could maybe do something. That would be nice.

This isn’t the first time Kirito has had someone he’s mentored and helped has died. The Moonlit Black Cats, particularly Sachi, were a large part of his character growth in Aincrad and Sachi’s death left emotional scars that Kirito had to work really hard to overcome.

The problem is that Eugeo’s character had pretty much 20 something episodes of mentoring and then before he surpassed his master he died and his death hasn’t seemed to amount to anything, though perhaps they’ll capitalise on it in the next half. All I know is that it left an incredible taste of dissatisfaction in my mouth.

Eugeo - Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 23
Well, it was nice getting to know you Eugeo, even if it turns out to be pointless.

For all that I’ve just attacked the characters, I’m now going to back up a bit and actually look at the fundamental problems in Alicization as a series. Keep in mind, there are some really great moments throughout the 24 episodes. Sequences where one character or another really rises up and does something cool and dramatic and for a moment you can just get swept away. So I am not saying there’s nothing good about Alicization.

However, what really hurts Alicization, other than the time difference between events in the real world and the events in underworld which results in Asuna and the others getting bare minimum screen time and an absolute lack of audience buy in to the event in the real world…

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 6
Wouldn’t we love for this to have actually been explored. Sure maybe they’ll get to it in the second half but how long does it take to actually get to a point?

Okay, the time thing probably needs its own section because it was a really unnecessary contrivance that really hurt the pacing of the real world events. With the large gaps of time between when we even saw characters in the real world and how little progress that plot made over the course of a whole season, because events in Underworld move fast, it just isn’t a very effective way to tell a story, particularly in a season spread over more than six months. Perhaps binge watching would alleviate some of this issue but honestly, at times I all but forgot what Asuna and the others were even doing so the dramatic final for them really had next to no impact.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 6 Asuna

Right, so what really hurts Alicization, other than all that stuff, is the way they execute the story. The idea behind Alicization is actually really interesting with souls being digitalised and raised within a virtual world. The pseudo-science techno-babble explanations of the how and the why don’t really help here but the concept is cool. The problems within that world where those in control of the command codes are corrupt and others are forced through the Taboo Index to essentially obey those of higher standing within the world.

I mean, it isn’t terrible original if we put it in the context of a dystopian kind of story, but it works and there’s a lot of potential ideas for exploration and so many potential paths for the story to take.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Eugeo
And yes, I’m deliberately not going to discuss the use of sexual assault here. It actually fits what the narrative was trying to do and people have already discussed the execution of the scene to death. With so many other issues in the anime to address, the lack of nuance around this particular development is hardly the gravest sin.

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And while Alicization does take some interesting paths and does explore some of the concepts, it does it in an incredibly poorly conceived manner. Where large chunks of information are given to us through forced exposition in the form of incredibly long and artificial sounding dialogue exchanges between characters, and a lot of that information is either repetitive of previous bits of information, or just so abstract that it will make no difference whether the audience has it explained or not, it just doesn’t make for interesting viewing.

Imagine you were watching some kind of fast paced sporting tournament and every now and then the competitors stopped, poured out some cups of teas, and sat around discussing their motives, training methods, and the history of their coach. Then they just get up and start competing again.

Sword Art Online Episode 13 Kirito the collaborator
Buckle up, this conversation is taking a whole episode. You’ll get flash backs, but they are just going to keep on talking.

Alright, Alicization wasn’t that bad, but the analogy is kind of apt in terms of the enjoyment in viewing.

When you throw in the fact that Kirito and Eugeo set out from Eugeo’s home town to find Alice and end up enrolling in a school and just happily training for a few years (happily may be an exaggeration) and it doesn’t seem like they are in any kind of hurry to achieve their goal, the pace of this story seems all over the shop and goals that drive characters seem to do so selectively. Even once they get to the tower and begin facing off against Integrity Knights, it is very hard to care about these characters as antagonists and their motives for fighting, or not fighting, are really hard to swallow sometimes. As is Alice’s rapid decision to work with Kirito when they were hanging outside of the tower.

Sword Art Online Alicization Eugeo
Yep, priorities.

What it comes down to is you’d get a moment of excitement or interesting interaction and then Alicization would hit the breaks to explain something to you and just when things got going again it would do the same. With the narrative pacing off the characters really needed to step up to sell some of these exchanges only they didn’t. Outside of Kirito and Eugeo, barely anyone got any screen time and the few who did didn’t really draw me into the story so much as just existed within it.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 4

The music is workable but doesn’t give anywhere near the sense of excitement that I found in the score in the original series. Visuals work fine and the various attacks are pretty cool to watch. Eugeo really wins out here with his sword being exceptionally beautiful and its attack leads to some really interesting effects. Kirito is less lucky and because he gets limited time to go crazy with his sword there are far less moments where he just looks super cool on screen in Alicization. However, overall, Alicization is kind of average to look at. Character designs work as do settings but very little of it is stand out or amazing.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 18 Eugeo Ice

I really did want to like this latest Sword Art Online. I was excited about the return of the franchise and to be honest, my love of the original has meant that subsequent iterations get a lot of leeway. However, Sword Art Online Alicization is not just not good, it is openly obnoxious at times as it drags the audience along and through unnecessarily long sequences and seems to care little about making any character actually more than just another plot point to be resolved. The end results is I didn’t have much fun watching it and realistically, if it hadn’t had the SAO connection, I’d have dropped it after the first cour rather than persevering through all 24 episodes. What’s worse than holding on 24 episodes? Watching 24 episodes for the thing to end on a cliff-hanger.

I feel like I’m writing a break up text to SAO with this review.

Honestly, I can’t recommend this. For those newer anime fans, I still think trying the original SAO is worth it despite the online hate factory for it, but Alicization is a lesser show in almost every way imaginable and while there were many readers of the light novels proclaiming that Alicization would fix the narrative issues with SAO, I think Alicization the anime just found new and improved ways to annoy an audience.

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Karandi James
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And Apparently We’re Done For Now

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 24 Review

I wasn’t aware until the episode ended that this is actually the end of this season and the story won’t be continuing until October when we get Sword Art Online Alicization – War of the Underworld (that’s a mouthful and a half of a title). So on that note the complete cliff-hanger on an ending makes kind of sense knowing that this will continue but on the back of now 24 episodes of very little really being all that engaging, I’m just kind of left wondering if I will pick up the series when it comes back.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 24 - Eugeo encouraging Kirito

Am I that curious about the fate of fluctlights who’s nature and existence hasn’t actually been satisfactorily explained other than some pseudo sciency ‘soul’ babble that went on way too long and essentially explained nothing? I know the only character I did have any kind of desire to see grow is now dead so that kind of doesn’t exactly help my desire to watch more. I also know Kirito, who I used to really like as a character, has spent the last 24 episodes making me really just bored with his current holier than thou attitude. I need to go back and watch Aincrad again just to remind myself that I actually do like his character.

Honestly, when I do my full series review of this first 24 episodes of Alicization, I’m going to really struggle for positives. For the few shining moments sprinkled throughout, there’s a whole lot of nothing and a lot of babble about less than nothing.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 24 - Kirito

The final episode continues the trend with a fight between the Administrator and Kirito. Kirito who changes back into the clothes of the black swordsman through… not a command or anything. He just kind of wants it to happen and it does. Before someone tells me he’s in a game world, I get that. I also get that at no point in this series has Kirito demonstrated that he can just create things out of thin air without going through an actual command process. And while Kirito has broken games before to pull a victory from nowhere, that didn’t involve equipping a new costume mid-fight.

The Administrator pulling sword skills and the like from previous iterations of the game actually was kind of cool to give credit where it is due. Although, they pull the Godiva hair trope on and on and you just wonder if it really would have been so hard to have her wear clothes during any part of this fight.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 24 - Administrator

Then Eugeo, who I’m pretty sure was already dead, gives Kirito a pep talk and I’m pretty sure his blood turns into a sword. Again with the how and the why? This literally came out of nowhere. Yep, Eugeo turned into a sword last episode but Cardinal did that and there was quite a process. It wasn’t just a hold my hand, say some encouraging words and presto have a sword.

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Though, of all the stupid things going on in this episode, Kirito’s horror when the Administrator decided to go to his world just kind of made me laugh. We have no reason to believe she’ll be capable of anything once she crosses over. No body, and even if she’s the proverbial ghost in the machine, they can delete her. I kind of feel if they wanted me to take that seriously as a threat, they possibly should provide some context for why that is threatening. Then the senator chasing after her and her reaction actually did make me laugh because it was just so stupid.

In the final moments we see Kirito finally communicating with someone outside the game and things are going poorly. Then we get our cliff-hanger moment with another, oh no did Kirito die kind of moments, but shrug. Honestly, this series has been a mess and the final episode is equally messy.

Sword Art Online Alicization - Episode 24 - Cliff hanger

It really expects you to ask no questions of it or challenge anything. It really doesn’t want you to look for logic. It literally just wants you to jump along to the next cool moment and appreciate it because any other kind of viewing experience makes this one just fall apart. You can’t ask questions because there are no answers (or at least none that make sense).

Can we go back to the days where the crazy guy just wanted to make his own world and trap everyone inside of it?

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Empty Promises Preceding Empty Actions

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode Review Title Image

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 23 Review

I’ll give this episode its positives first, because to be honest I’m kind of at the point where I’m not sure if next season I’m going to continue with episode reviews or whether I’ll just watch in batches of three or four episodes at a time and review once it is done. On the positive side, we finally got some action and significantly less exposition. The action was flashy and sparkly and suitably dynamic and all and all it kind of worked.

And there the positives end.

Cardinal - Sword Art Online Aliciztaion Episode 23

Cardinal makes the Administrator swear on her fluctlight that she’ll let the others go and then offers essentially to die. Administrator, agrees (as if anyone believes her) and then proceeds to blow Cardinal around the room with a bunch of flashy light and explosions ending with a limb flying off and Cardinal flopping onto the ground to be held by Kirito.

So, why didn’t the Administrator just kill her?

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 23 - Eugeo are you...

Oh I know, this is meant to be showing us how cruel Administrator is by playing with Cardinal. Also how over-confident etc, etc. But mostly it is just making her look like a complete idiot because what it does is gives the Cardinal a chance for one more program.

Then we have the whole sword automaton thing that is apparently made up of three hundred people somehow drawn from the memories of the inegrity knights (okay, that part lost me a little, but it had to do with the shiny little crystals in the roof).

Sparkly Ceiling - Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 23

However, if I thought the Cardinal was dumb for trying to make deals with the Administrator, and then I thought the Administrator was dumb for not just actually killing her, then Eugeo gets the prize for most idiotic decision making of the episode.

Cause, you know, turning into a sword and flying around is going to fix everything.

Eugeo - Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 23
The imagery was also somewhat less than subtle.

What’s tragic is Eugeo’s one sword, I’m guessing because he chose and accepted it, took out the core of the 300 sword thing. Which just kind of makes you wonder if maybe they couldn’t have figured out a better way to do that.

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Then he turns his attention to the Administrator and attacks her. Admittedly, he does land a blow and injures her but the end result is one dead Eugeo.

I kind of feel like this series threw his character well and truly under a bus. Giving Kirito and off-sider and a male companion was actually kind of novel but mostly he’s just been used by the plot over and over again and now they’ve split him in two and dropped him bleeding on the floor. I’m just not convinced that this was a particularly compelling character arc and given how idiotic his actions were here I’m not even particularly upset that he met his end.

Eugeo Sword - Sword Art Alicization Episode 23

Kirito also has Asuna flashbacks as Alice gets in-between him and the Administrator and that is apparently what triggers him into action. Not Cardinal’s death. Not Eugeo choosing to turn into a sword, which no one did anything to stop. Not Eugeo subsequently fighting alone as a sword before being cut down. Not Eugeo dying. But a flash back of Asuna jumping between Kirito and Heathcliff from Aincrad. That gets him moving.

I like the Aincrad arc a lot, but really?

More importantly, unless Kirito has some program destroying move in mind he’s still going to lose. And if he does have a program destroying move in mind, Eugeo’s death was worse than idiotic, it is pointless.

Sigh.

Really wondering what is supposed to be appealing about the current state of the story because I’m just not getting it.

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Anime Characters Should Not Review Their Own Episode

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 22 Review

While I’ll get to reviewing the episode in a moment, I just want to look at the opening act of this episode which addresses the fight between the Senator (only barely introduced a few episodes ago) and Eugoe (no longer brainwashed), Kirito and Alice. Mostly because there was a lot of build-up around a character only just introduced, a cliff-hanger as the fight got started, and then we spend the opening scene rewatching his power up. Only to essentially one shot kill him. Alice distracts his flame creation with little difficulty, Eugeo diverts attention from Kirito by half-heartedly attacking the administrator causing the senator to look away, and then Kirito light beams him to death. The end.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 22 Kirito

In the words of the Administrator herself, that was boring.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 22 Administrator

All that build up and a week’s wait and nothing. Barely even a whimper.

Then without any further discussion, the Senator’s body is flipped against a wall and promptly forgotten. Discarded as the bit character he was but he essentially served no purpose. None at all. Not even a cool fight sequence and diversion. Literally he just put the breaks on the story for a build up that never delivered.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 22 dead Senator

Following this the episode gets back into exposition and sermonising mode. They did at least draw parallels between whether the game world and reality are similar in asking whether humans live their lives in fear of being reset by some unknown creator, so points for thematic linking back to the original SAO. However, again, this is a lot of back and forth covering content we already knew. The only real take from this is that Eugeo now knows Kirito isn’t just someone from his world (which I’m left wondering why Kirito hadn’t told Eugeo this by this point, but whatever).

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 22

However, the Administrator then decides to reveal her ultimate weapon that will replace the incredibly flawed system with the integrity knights. It is shiny and golden and really large. So cool. In a matter of seconds it impaled both Alice and Kirito and left them bleeding on the ground and Eugeo shaking in his boots.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 22 Alice is stabbed

Of course, after a spider vs sword golem moment that makes about as much sense as it sounds like it should, Eugeo stabs the special dagger into the floating platform and somehow that lets the Cardinal appear. In an instant Kirito and Alice are healed, we get some more exposition while the Administrator just kind of floats and gloats, and then the episode ends.

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This show makes me want to face palm so badly almost every week at this point.

Nothing is having any consequence at the moment. Eugeo brainwashed – fixed next episode. Senator guy is really powerful – killed in one shot within minutes. Kirito and Alice stabbed and bleeding – instantly healed including their clothes and bloodstains.

Meanwhile, the Administrator seems to just have whatever power they decide to give her which makes you wonder why she doesn’t just rewrite the world’s code to disappear the floor and send Eugeo, Kirito and Alice back to the bottom and ignore them. Why bother fighting at all? As to the Cardinal, who knows what she’s up to?

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 22 Cardinal

I’m almost all for letting the humans outside of Underworld hit the reset button at this point. It couldn’t make it any sillier.

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The Power of Friendship Strikes Back

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 21 Review

I’m in two minds about this fight between Kirito and Eugeo. On the one hand, I’ve been wanting to see these two go head to head for a fair while in Sword Art Online Alicization. On the other hand, it doesn’t look like either one ultimately took the fight all that seriously. More importantly, that was some fast acting brain washing and just as quickly removed with a few words about friendship.

Alicization Episode 21 Eugeo and Kirito

I actually kind of get that the original brainwashing job wasn’t exactly first class, which explains why she was trying to redo the whole process now that she had more time, but still… it all seems like an unnecessary step. Plenty of characters get brainwashed and go to the darkside (look at Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon), but having it last not even a whole episode kind of makes it seem like a relatively shallow point. Like they thought it would be cool to see Kirito and Eugeo fight but had no ongoing narrative purpose for putting the two against each other and so rapidly backtracked.

Alicization Episode 21 Eugeo

Even then, it could have worked out except that Kirito didn’t overwhelm Eugeo with some amazing swordplay or even pull out any crazy or cool moves. Alice didn’t even fight. She was just bystanding. Nope, Kirito just spouted a whole bunch of names of people who haven’t been in the show for ages as if they are somewhat relevant or important and Eugeo turned Kirito and Alice into ice before going off to face the administrator alone.

It wasn’t exactly a satisfying outcome.

Alicization Episode 21 Eugeo, Alice and Kirito

Now of course we’ve got the three of them together facing off against the senate guy in the jester costume. Can I hope that giant flame monster thing he summoned means we’re going to maybe get a cool fight next week or is that asking a little too much at this point?

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SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION [DELUXE EDITION]
SWORD ART ONLINE: HOLLOW REALIZATION [DELUXE EDITION]

The Friend Turned Foe

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode Review Title Image

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 20 Review

Kirito and Alice are finally back inside the tower after far too many episodes hanging off the edge. Amazingly enough they didn’t even make us watch the final stretch we got to actually just be at the top with Alice realising that Kirito had carried her the rest of the way. But, no time to rest because they need to track down Eugeo.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 20

Through a bit of magic they track down the sword and find the leader of the knights but no Eugeo. I think the bit with the knight turning into stone was meant to be emotional but honestly we barely knew the guy and he didn’t leave much impact other than yet another obstacle so this was mostly just an on the way to the actual final act.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 20
Also we clearly have time for another flash back in here.

They then go to the senate and act all shocked by the horror of how people are treated by the administrator, bit late now really to be worried about that. Then Alice and Kirito find the clown guy, they all babble a bit, the clown explodes, only doesn’t, and runs away leading them to… Well, we found Eugeo.

Sword Art online Alicization Episode 20

I’m just going to point out, I really like Eugeo’s new look. It is definitely working for him. Now, do I think he has a chance of beating Kirito in this fight? Not really. Do I really get why Eugeo wants to fight Kirito other than generic brainwashing motivation? Nope. And why isn’t Alice getting involved if they really want to stop the Administrator because surely it would make more sense to dump Eugeo on his backside and go actually do the thing they need to do and then deal with it later, but hey, I’m pretty sure we’ve all wanted to see a serious Eugeo vs Kirito moment so logic be gone because we’re getting that fight. Also a tease about Kirito dual wielding again before that got snatched away from us.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 20

Honestly, this episode progresses things along. I’m not really sold on Alicization and how this story is rolling out or its pacing, but this episode was fairly competent and had enough interesting moments in it. Plus, did I mention they set up a fight between Eugeo and Kirito? That on its own might be worth the price of admission (watching twenty episodes to get here) if they don’t exposition us to death mid-fight, have some silly interruption before they get serious, or unless Kirito just beats Eugeo down in one swing. In which case it would all be a fairly pointless build up to nothing.

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SWORD ART ONLINE 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: ZEKKEN YUUKI MOTHER’S ROSARIO VER.
SWORD ART ONLINE 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: ZEKKEN YUUKI MOTHER'S ROSARIO VER.

The Story of Brainwashing and Exploding Eye-Balls

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 19 Review

After spending a week recapping, this episode looks like it is going to go much the same way with Kirito and Alice still chatting on the ledge outside the tower. Amazingly enough, Alice ‘feels’ that she does know the name ‘Selka’ and so concludes Kirito must be telling the truth about everything and therefore determines to fight against everything she’s been protecting up until now.

Alicization Episode 19 Kirito and Alice

I don’t know about you, but this seemed way too easy. I mean, the best cons are the ones that seamlessly blend the truth with the lie. Just because Alice had a sister named Selka doesn’t mean that Kirito was being truthful about the rest of the stuff he said but Alice accepts the whole lot at face value based on one feeling.

Alicization Episode 19 Alice's eye

Anyway, we already knew what happened to those who tried to break the laws and Alice’s eye begins giving her the alert. Despite being warned by Kirito, or maybe because of it, Alice chooses to defy the law anyway and pop. I just have to say, that has to hurt.

Alicization Episode 19 Eugeo

We then cut to Eugeo who is having some nightmare before he wakes up and goes through his own kind of brainwashing. Again it seems a little too simple to convince him, but I guess there’s something going on inside his head as well as the words being said as it seems like his memories are getting cut off or skewed so that might explain it. Honestly though, it all seemed a little too easy and what kind of argument is ‘your mother didn’t only love you’. Of course one person had love for more than one other individual.

Anyway, despite the usual issues when anime characters seem to get brainwashed or hypnotised in about three seconds, this leads to an interesting possibility now that it seems like Alice is joining Kirito and Eugeo is joining the other side. Now it would just be nice to get to some of those interesting possibilities and not have another episode with Kirito and Alice sitting on a ledge.

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SWORD ART ONLINE 1/7 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: ASUNA HAREGI VER.
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