Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 8 Review
Sword Art Online fans from the Aincrad arc are well aware of Kirito’s game breaking moment that for some shattered any kind of ability to suspend disbelief. For me, the moment where Kirito resolved not to die, not yet, because he hadn’t ended the game and overcame the mechanics of the game through sheer willpower was glorious. Sure, it feeds into the idea that Sword Art Online is strictly a wish fulfilment power fantasy, but what is wrong with that? Isn’t sending the message that you shouldn’t give up on those things that are non-negotiable, that you should strive to succeed in the face of all odds, and that you have more strength than you know actually kind of a good thing?
Admittedly, it won’t sell for everyone and the more cynical and jaded will find it all a bit trite. In a different context, so would I. But I was watching a fantasy about teenagers getting trapped inside a virtual world that could kill them, and so there was sufficient removal from reality in the first place that I could just kind of get behind the message and the character and really fall in love with his resilience as he managed to avenge Asuna and release all the surviving players from the game. Go Kirito. Power fantasy, wish fulfilment, whatever, I could absolutely get behind it because the anime had carried me to that moment.
Now you might be wondering why I’m spending so much time discussing Aincrad when I’m meant to be reviewing episode 8 of Alicization. The point is, that this idea of imagination and belief, of overcoming preconceived limits, has returned in the Alicization arc and it has never been more prominent or pertinent to the game and the characters. It is almost as if the core idea that wanted to be explored in Aincrad as now been placed front and centre in this story. There’s no need to waste time selling us on the idea of people living inside a game or on virtual realities in general. We already had discussions about whether virtual reality experiences are as valuable as real ones and whether relationships in game translate as real relationships.
And while all these ideas are still in Alicization, and I’m certain the idea of whether or not copied souls and AI’s have rights is coming, Alicization, building on everything that has come before, can cut straight to Kirito himself and his strength and confidence in himself and whether or not he believes he can actually beat these characters/souls in this game. We also see the source of Kirito’s strength as he reflects on all of those who have helped him over the past games and those he has met in the current game with no distinction between ‘real’ people and ‘AIs’ or even ‘copied souls’. For Kirito they are all important and valuable parts of his experience and he values them equally and will defend them equally. Whether you like the execution of this moment or not (and it was a little heavy handed as most things tend to get in SAO), it is a powerful moment and one that ultimately is a delight to watch as it draws those prior experiences and ideas to the forefront yet again but applies them to this new context.
Where this episode was less capable was in the petty bullying and rivalry going on by the bit players, even if this did lead to Kirito starting to get an understanding of how he could use the power of imagination for more than just hitting things with a sword. I will actually be quite disappointed if that development doesn’t go anywhere and if Kirito doesn’t expand on the potential applications that it has opened up.
All and all, Sword Art Online Alicization continues to be Sword Art Online. It has the good and some of the not so great, but if you’ve come this far on the journey, Alicization is pretty much holding the course and slowly bringing new ideas into the fray so for me it continues to be a pretty fun series to watch.
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