Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1: SAO Is Back But Does It Work?

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1 - Kirito

I’m going to be honest and admit this was one title I was highly anticipating this season. There’s been a lot of hype around this arc thrown around but to be honest I’ve tried to avoid reading any actual spoilers so I went into this knowing nothing other than more SAO. And that in and of itself is probably enough to power through some of the less elegant moments of this 47 minute monster of an introductory episode. Emotionally, I fell back in love with Sword Art Online, Kirito and everything I hope this series will be. Objectively, there’s some issues. So I’m going to hit the negatives first and then tell you why you should watch this anyway.

*Some Spoilers – Okay, lots of episode spoilers, no spoilers of future developments because I don’t have a clue where this is going.*

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1

Going in with no knowledge of what this arc is about is incredibly disorienting. You are thrown in as a young version of Kirito and a blonde haired kid named Eugeo try to cut down a tree and then a blonde girl named Alice shows up and feeds them lunch. It’s a very low key introduction but without any context you’re brain is mostly trying to figure out whether Kirito is playing a game, and if yes, why is he so young.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1
Isn’t young Kirito adorable?

Discarding those questions and just going with it, you get a pleasant enough introduction to this world with the kids taking you on a quest to find some ice, driven by Kirito. It is probably this part that made me the most convinced that they were in a game given the other two characters seem very NPC like in the way they respond to his suggestions.  Though, the same could be said for Klein and the normal cast of SAO so that wasn’t exactly a proven fact. But, this does make it a slow start. Yes, I get this episode has 47 minutes, but this was a very meandering way to begin the story and while we will eventually get to a dragon fight and an arrest and things that are interesting before Kirito essentially wakes up, this series is very much banking on audience anticipation to keep you watching because if a series you had no familiarity with started this slowly it would probably hit the cut list very quickly.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1

A final problem with this episode is the exposition dump Kirito lays on us in the second half when at the cafe with Asuna and Sinon. As soon as they started talking about the new full dive technology accessing souls I kind of wanted to roll my eyes just a little. I can go along with head gear that makes your senses feel like you are in a game and translates those sensations to the body, but directly accessing the soul (which is apparently light stored in tubes inside your head in case you were wondering) and writing to it just seems like an unnecessary complication and lending itself to pseudo-science jargon. I’d have happily bought time distortion in standard VR technology without bringing souls into the mix.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1
Not sure why we are viewing this through the table leg.

Now, why should you watch anyway, other than it being Sword Art Online?

Firstly, Kirito and Asuna. Admittedly, the episode focuses almost exclusively on Kirito. The entire first half he’s the only one of the original cast who is present and it isn’t until the second half where we meet up with the rest of the gang, but Kirito is in fine form. The younger, weaker Kirito who still has that save the damsel and fix things mentality was kind of adorable to watch and the older more contemplative Kirito seems like he was going to be pretty interesting. Not to mention, Kirito practically proposes to Asuna asking her to go to America with him because he can’t live without her, which kind of hits the idea that SAO has ever been a harem anime firmly on the head. Despite his save the damsel in distress motivation, Kirito has only ever had eyes for Asuna. Of course, doing so practically raises his own death flag and this episode is happy enough to oblige in the name of ending on a dramatic cliff-hanger (47 minutes and you still felt the need to leave the audience just hanging).

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1
Go on, admit it. They are the cutest couple ever (except maybe Zen and Shirayuki).

However, leaving Kirito aside, SAO is clearly doing what it has always done and that is exploring the line between games and reality and the nature of humans whether it is in game or in real life. That aspect of the show has always been nicely done and regardless of the arc the story has come back to the theme again and again. Alicization isn’t deviating from that although again I’m not sure we needed to throw souls into the mix.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1
Asuna, that’s creepy.

Finally, despite the pacing and the exposition dump, this episode was still really fun. Okay, that’s a biased opinion from someone who just enjoys SAO but that’s kind of the point. This is entertainment and it does that. Is it going to work for everyone? Probably not. But fans of the franchise will probably not be disappointed and I’m not sure this exists for anyone else anyway given the episode barely pauses to introduce Klein, Sinon and the others who briefly show up for a gun battle before vanishing from the episode. There’s assumed knowledge of characters and context making it clear this one is for existing fans and isn’t an entry point. Unless of course the only important characters are Alice and Eugeo and the others just exist to give fans a hand wave and then vanish, in which case new viewers will be a little confused momentarily but just fine in the long run.

So, I’m hyped for more of this and I’m really hoping it delivers.

20 thoughts on “Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 1: SAO Is Back But Does It Work?

  1. I agree with you. Child Kirito really threw me off a loop there. I had no clue what was going on and it did feel kind of dragged out but it was nice introduction to this new world. The info dump from Kirito about the system and all went over my head. I’ve never been good with stuff like that but it did sound interesting. I’ve always liked the exploration of reality and fiction in this anime so it was nice to see that all over again. Even if it was a confusing episode, there was some good stuff here so I’m looking forward to this long season of SAO. Here’s to hoping that it will be worth it!

    1. Yep, good fun even with the confusing. Looking forward to where it all goes and hoping it is at least half as good as some of the hype for this arc has been.

  2. Well,.. if you really don’t like spoilers and can’t wait, I recomend the Light Novel.
    Although the English translation isn’t done with the Alicization arc yet.
    Btw, Alicization is pronounced Alice ization, like Alice plus cization. Hehehe the world is called the ‘Underworld’ for a reason; I’m not spoiling it, and will most likely be revealed later in the in the anime.

    1. Idk, the light novel is honestly SAO with waaaaay too much exposition and not enough action to compensate for it. I would only bother reading it if you are able to meander through an over abundance of explanations.

  3. I agree that this episode was really fun but man was it not structured well. I was mostly just confused by child Kirito and then the, seemingly, random jump to GGO stuff… This doesn’t even mention all the info dump. You don’t get a solid picture of what this season is even going to be about until the last 10 minutes of the episode, which was almost an hour long. There are some hints to gain context a bit more quickly if you saw Ordinal Scale, but even then the episode was mildly confusing. I’m thinking this will be a great season but I would have loved to see a stronger start.

    1. It did enough but yeah, considering how long we’ve waited for a return it would have been nice for this to start with a bang. That said, I was still pretty happy in the end.

  4. “which kind of hits the idea that SAO has ever been a harem anime firmly on the head”

    As if it needed yet *another* fatal blow. Really, that’s the claim from SAO haters that annoys me most.

    1. It bothers me too because I really do wonder what show people who think it is a harem are watching. Just having a large female cast does not make it a harem. Asuna and Kirito have always been an adorable couple and I’m really glad that this season starts of firmly reminding us of that.

  5. Funny enough, I agree with what you said about Kirito receiving almost an exclusive focus in this episode. Seriously, being a reader of the novels, I know well that shit goes down hard along his journey in the Underworld.

  6. It’s really nice to see a positive first impression for this one, as I’ve been seeing quite a lot of snark already on Twitter (which was inevitable, but it still sucks).

    I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed the new season so far. As you said, it’s a little disorienting in the beginning, what with little Kirito and all, and the infodumping is high, even by Anime standards, but it’s good. Very good. And I can assure you it’s only going to get better as things progress.

    As for the side characters potentially losing their focus, I wouldn’t worry too much. While Asuna’s role is very different to that of Kirito’s, if the novels are anything to go by, she gets a lot of focus herself, with her own story arc occurring as Kirito’s own arc unfolds within Underworld. She’ll be doing, and saying, plenty this time around, unlike GGO where she stuck to the sidelines for much of the time.

    Looking forward to seeing your impressions every week. I’ll be keeping an eye on your weekly reviews for this for sure!

    1. It was inevitable that returning SAO would receive snark. Honestly though, for people who already hated SAO you have to wonder why they are even bothering to watch it. Do they enjoy making fun of it that much?
      I’ll look forward to seeing more of Asuna this time around then.

  7. Yes, was waiting for this post (didn’t expect it to turn up until later today, but hey: I’m not complaining 😊). Your thoughts on this episode pretty much echo mine. I actually rewinded the technobabble talk three times to make sense of the thing, but eventually I just gave up and thought: Whatever! 😂😂 The intro really was confusing: at first I thought we were looking maybe into Kirito’s past in some way, which of course ended quite quickly. But other than that: I’m in full fangirl, erm boy mode. I really enjoyed the heck out if it. And it was great to see Kirito and Asuna again (and admittedly Sinon as well, since I think she is a pretty cool character). You are so right though with that caption: they do make the cutest couple ever 😊.
    All in all this was a great start of the season, and I can’t wait to see where this will go 😊😊 With 49 more episodes on the way, let’s hope it will continue to deliver! 😀😀

    1. I know, fan-girl mode is fully turned on so despite the flaws in the episode which I am certain will be pulled out as reasons to avoid despite it still being a perfectly fun episode, I’m really looking forward to where this is going.
      I am kind of hoping though that they do something to sort out that technobabble exposition dump because if it becomes important from a plot point of view later my suspension of disbelief is going to have trouble kicking in with the explanation we’ve been given.

      I slightly reworked my schedule to move this review up because I just wanted to talk about this show.

      1. Haha, well as I said no complaints from me 😊
        I think we will probably get more of an explanation as the season progresses. Can’t believe that this is just it, and we have to figure the rest out by ourselves (sure we can never be certain completely but still😊) I’m pretty sure that it will become important, especially considering the cliffhanger. (I’m figuring that the technology might in some way be involved in helping Kirito in the real world, but I guess we will have to wait and see).
        Oh yes, probably we will get enough people dismissing it just for that reason, but as I said I don’t really care. I love this show, and I think we are going to be in for a fun season. Fingers crossed for that! 😊😊

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