They Came, They Rode An Elevator, Now They’ll Fight

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode Review Title Image

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 16 Review

Kirito was warming up his ultimate move last week and this week starts with him unleashing it. I’m going to be honest, for the build up, and given how pretty Eugeo’s skill was, I’m kind of disappointed with black light reaching out across the distance and just kind of brute force overwhelming the opponent. Even more wondering why said opponent flew upward and hit the ceiling given the direction the two forces opposed to each other were pushing (just kind of seemed a little physics breaking). Still, the fight comes to a suitable end just in time for Kirito to sermonise.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 16 Kirito and Eugeo

You know, Kirito was a lot more fun when he was a solo player. Because he helped people but he didn’t bother to explain his reasoning or motives, he just kind of did things and offered very little in the way of justification. Kirito in Alicization is endlessly explaining himself to Eugeo and trying to justify his choices and while it makes sense from the point of view that Eugeo really hasn’t had a lot of exposure to other ideas so kind of needs it, it makes Kirito a really dull and preachy character. We get it, the knights are humans so even though they are enemies you don’t want them to die… blah, blah. Tell us again. Sure, why not.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 16 Eugeo

We then move on to an elevator ride up to the eightieth floor to really hammer home the point that the 100 floor thing was an entirely pointless conceit given we’ve seen exactly 3 of these floors. And guess what, they found Alice.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 16 Elevator

I think this is when I realised that finding Alice had long since moved from being the central goal of this anime. The problem is, I have no attachment to any of their other goals of defeating the administrator and preparing for some upcoming war. For me, the only goal I’m attached to is Eugeo finding Alice and realistically, mission accomplished, you know except the part where she’s still trying to kill them and all.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 16 Alice

Realistically, Kirito’s finishing move on the fiftieth floor didn’t impress but got the job done. The fight with Alice was visually a lot cooler and the cliff-hanger ending works at making me want the next episode now, but as has become usual when watching Alicization, I’m increasingly wondering if the payoff will ever be worth all the set up and I’m finding myself more and more not really caring whether they actually succeed or not. Still, pretty lights, clashing swords, and hyped up music so it works well enough.

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Sword Art Online 9 (light novel) : Alicization Beginning
Sword Art Online 9 (light novel) : Alicization Beginning

Harsh Comparison Of Experience and Naive Ignorance in Battle

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 15 Review

Episode 15 continues directly where the last episode of Alicization left us with Eugeo and Kirito encountering two girls in the tower. Now there girls, like so many people we’ve met in recent episodes, are a little bit messed up in the head due to a tragic and very short back story (yay for not another multi-episode exposition dump). Still, when they drop on the audience that 28 kids were slaughtered in the attempt to perfect resurrection and these two nut-jobs are the only survivors you kind of think that maybe this is an issue the story should actually expand upon.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 15
Wait did you just casually mention kids exploding and this is all the time you are giving this idea?

But no, in the same episode with multiple other issues including a really weird and pointed comment about gender and feelings of inferiority that Sword Art Online does not have the narrative strength to carry off and feel like anything other than a patronising nod at gender politics. Seriously, if they want me to take SAO’s commentary on gender even vaguely seriously they should give Asuna a sword again and let her fight side by side with Kirito. Then I’ll start taking some of this messaging a little more seriously (a little bit, it’s SAO so I’m not exactly looking to it for gender politics).

However, neither of those points, both fairly big points, were what I walked away from the episode wanting to discuss. Instead, my focus is very much on the Eugeo and Kirito dynamic. It was something very early in the episode that shifted my attention to this and despite all these other distractions I never really got off of thinking about it.

Sword Art online Alicization Episode 15 Eugeo, Zel and Nel

At the beginning of the episode, when the two sweet girls on the stairs are introducing themselves, Kirito taps Eugeo on the shoulder, tells him he’s not good with kids and that he should handle it, and then places himself behind Eugeo. This seems like such a weird move for Kirito. You know, Kirito, the guy who picks up every cute girl and gets involved in their business until they are smiling and happy even though he acts like he doesn’t want to get involved. Not to mention, he adopted a program as his and Asuna’s kid. So not being good with kids is a major flag going up that something was going on. I actually replayed the scene to see if I could figure it out and I was really pleased later in the episode when I realised I had pin-pointed what had made Kirito act weirdly. There’s a line that girls say that warns Kirito not all is as it seems and he appropriately takes action (admittedly, he does seem to figure out not just that something is up but just what nature of attack he’s about to face which seems a bit far-fetched, but hey, Kirito).

And that really highlighted something for me between Eugeo and Kirito. During the last episode, Eugeo was the one who ended the fight after Kirito acted as the diversion. Kirito’s role was the more risky one because he had to be able to defend against a full attack while Eugeo prepared, but Kirito managed. However, in all of this, Eugeo has been seen as a fairly solid swordsman in his own right.

Sword Art online Alicization Episode 15 Kirito Fighting

This episode splits the two characters very solidly not on their talent with the sword but on their experience in actual battle. We’ve seen more than once a situation where Eugeo has become emotional in the midst of conflict and we see it again in this fight. We also see that Eugeo isn’t on guard against the two girls even though they are in enemy territory and they are fighting their way to the top. It is here that Kirito’s past, his knowledge and experience, allow him to shine. Even though once the fight begins in earnest, Eugeo plays a critical role, again it is Kirito leading the pace and direction of the battle.

Sword Art Online Episode 15 Alicization Kirito
I wonder if we’ll actually see this attack or if they are just faking us out?

The dynamic between the two characters and Eugeo’s changeable nature as he is new to this environment make for some of the more interesting moments that Alicization has brought to the franchise. Must admit, I really ended up enjoying this episode even with the sheer amount they tried to cram into it and as a result ended up doing a pretty ordinary job of.

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Fire Meets Ice Before The Tower Climb

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 14 Review

A new opening, new outfits, same old story. Kirito and Eugeo recover their swords ridiculously easily but immediately find themselves locked in combat. It’s an improvement from the exposition dumps but still not sure this hit the mark.

The ease with which Kirito and Eugeo get to the armoury and recover their unguarded swords is absurd particularly when they are confronted by a solitary knight immediately on trying to leave the armoury. Seriously, he couldn’t have attacked them before they were armed? And why send just one knight? We learn later there’s a whole bunch of knights waiting on the 50th floor so why not send a couple of them down to take care of the problem before it becomes a problem? And just because Kirito and Eugeo are told there are knights waiting on the 50th floor, why aren’t they at least looking at the other floors to see if there’s anything useful. If we’re not going to even pause on these floors why do they exist?

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 14
Two things: One, if you are right outside the door why didn’t you stop them getting their swords in the first place? Two, have you never heard of overkill? What is with all those arrows?

This whole set up is so frustrating!

And taking a breath.

Outside of incredibly brainless plot developments resulting in characters acting in idiotic ways, this episode was actually better than the last two (not hard mind you). Still, the fight between Kirito, Eugeo and the Knight was actually pretty well handled and injected some much needed excitement back into the show, and the following conversation didn’t feel too much like yet another exposition dump.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 14 Kirito and Eugeo
I’m glad you two are impressed, now do you plan to actually fight that thing?

We also had a fairly solid character moment from Eugeo. Since he’s been freed from the Taboo Index he hasn’t really been faced with too many moral choices and now he’s confronted by the knight who took Alice away all those years before. While it wasn’t the most nuanced scene ever, seeing Eugeo weighing up his options and make a decision was a fairly interesting moment (though probably would have been more interesting if Eugeo hadn’t chosen the goody-goody route that Kirito follows). So much potential exploration if Eugeo unleashed decided to take the knights out.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 14 Eugeo strikes
I think literally everyone will have this screen cap, but so what. It was a great Eugeo moment.

One final nit-pick though before I let this episode rest; how is it that every time Eugeo and Kirito change outfits they managed to find a pair of perfectly colour coordinated outfits? Here they just raided the armoury and changed clothes and yet Eugeo still has his bright blue and Kirito his standard charcoal. It would be nice, just once, if they through Kirito into red and Eugeo into green or something just to shake things up.

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Short Battle Followed By Attack of The Exposition

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 12 Review

Sword Art Online Alicization continues to do what it does best – give us a short but reasonably interesting action sequence followed by a lot of sipping tea and talking. Oh boy.

It isn’t that the information conveyed in the second half of this episode isn’t important. It kind of explains the fundamentals of how Underworld got to the state it is in and why it is a little messed up. Though, to assume that only one of the original four humans passed on the idea of ambition and that no soul after managed to just figure out it wanted more is kind of overly simplistic and we could open the whole nature vs nurture argument on this one but let’s just shrug and go along with the logic here that whatever you are taught as a kid sticks.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 12

The problem is more that once again Sword Art Online looks at the most boring method of delivering information to its audience. First the episode sends Eugeo away to have a bath because he got wet during the fight and that means Kirito doesn’t have to worry about keeping any secrets about not being from Underworld and can have an open conversation. That’s fine and fairly necessary if we’re going to learn what we need to learn. But why then do we need to watch Kirito and the Cardinal whatever sitting drinking tea while she slowly narrates events? Surely they could have shown the audience what happened and let us experience it rather than just telling us that this happened.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 12 Kirito in the library

Admittedly, it would have needed multiple episodes to show us that kind of flash back. If only they had some more time in this series. Oh wait, they wasted half of last week on a conversation between Eugeo and Kirito that added nothing to either character and just delayed the fight until the end of the episode. And previously… well we could trim minutes more or less everywhere from this series.

Sword Art Online Episode 12 Alicization Quinella

It isn’t that I’m not interested in this story. I actually really like the ideas so far. It is more that the execution and the pacing have been lacking. Even the brief moments of action haven’t been enough to break this up or make it overly exciting to view. There’s a lot of potential in this story, but I’d struggle to recommend this given 12 episodes in and it still feels like we’re setting things up and unless you are already a big fan of the series, listening to all that exposition isn’t going to be high on a viewers list of priorities.

Why More Time Isn’t Helping This Story

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 11 Review

There are so many anime that cram a million ideas into eleven or twelve episodes and fans end up saying, ‘that was good but I wish it had more time’. When Alicization was announced we also got the announcement that it was going to run for four cours which is a massive length of time in seasonal viewing. That was kind of exciting. Having that much time meant the story didn’t need to rush through things and the story could be planned out and paced well.

Unfortunately, eleven episodes in and I have to concede that it isn’t what we are getting. While I have no idea what happens in the source material or what needs to get covered (nor do I really want to), as an anime viewer, Sword Art Online Alicization is missing the mark over and over again. There are exciting moments but they are scattered far and wide and the narrative in-between is anything but exciting. Not even the nostalgia of being reunited with Kirito (a character I actually quite like) is enough to keep me from starting to wonder if maybe they could have given this story a much tighter edit and produced something far more engaging to watch.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 11 Kirito and Eugeo

Episode 11 is a great example of what this series has consistently done wrong. It starts with Eugeo getting knocked down by Alice which is a fine enough transition for us given he was all stunned that he was seeing Alice, so no problems there. Then we see Eugeo and Kirito chained to the dragon mount about to be flown to the citadel. No issue. However, let’s delay the journey we started so many episodes ago yet further by having a tearful farewell from the pages who also hand their swords over to Alice.

You know, they could have just had the swords already strapped to the mount, handed over by the school, if they really needed viewers to know that Eugeo and Kirito would in fact get their swords back. This whole sequence was more amusing than emotional and to be honest I’m not sure how invested we’re supposed to be in the pages given they’ve been used strictly as plot devices up until now and with the scene change it is hard to know whether we’ll ever see these characters again.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 11 Kirito

The sequence in the cell works well enough though just when they are about to escape, Kirito decides to question whether Eugeo is ready to go against the church. Again? Really? Hasn’t this issue already been clearly established and put to rest? It really feels like a rehash at best and bloat at worst and it adds nothing. 

Jump a few minutes later to the boys pausing in the rose garden for a heart to heart. Again, it adds nothing to either character. It adds nothing overall to the plot. Every part of this conversation feels like we’ve heard it before and it is neither interesting at this point or particularly relevant to the current situation.

Finally, we get to the end of the episode where they encounter a knight who has apparently been waiting for them in the garden and they all get ready to fight.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 11 Knight

So all those overly long pauses and conversations were just trying to time it so the episode could end on this cliff-hanger rather than getting to this fight this episode. Seriously? And while it wouldn’t be a problem if they had kept the conversations fun and interesting, instead we just feel like we’ve heard it all before.

The cut to Asuna was also pretty bland and while we did gain some new information from that, again it was given in the least interesting way possible outside of text scrolling across the screen so no excitement to be found there either.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 11 Asuna
Have they actually told us why she can’t go into Underworld?

There isn’t a lot more to say. Sword Art Online Alicization has a potentially very interesting premise that it has so far managed to drag out the execution of to the point where it is almost actually distracting and even as a fan I’m finding myself losing focus mid-episode because not enough is happening. While early on this could be forgiven as setting its scene, we’re now nearly one cour through the show. There’s no excuse at this point for still feeling like we haven’t even finished setting up.

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Warning Labels and Defeating Taboos In SAO

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Review

With the bullies having escalated their antics in the previous episode, I kind of expected the path this story arc was taking, and the warning label at the start of this episode more or less confirmed it, so there was no real surprise that Sword Art Online Alicization decided to walk down this road. It isn’t even a first for SAO in general though I think most people will agree that Sword Art Online is at its worst when it attempts to deal with issues like sexual assault and rape in general because it just doesn’t manage to get the tone or depth right. Look at Fairy Dance’s Asuna and we can all clearly see that she as a character was stripped of what made her an interesting character in order to deliver a substandard plot that turned sexual assault into a mere plot device at best and was mostly just a strange spectacle of over the top cackling villainy.

Now, given I’m watching both Goblin Slayer and Dakaichi this season, it should be well noted I have no particular issue with rape and sexual assault within narratives. I prefer it when it is dealt with appropriately, can deal with it though don’t much like it when it happens and it at least feels like the narrative wasn’t endorsing it, will put up with it when the story chooses to just kind of have it happen and move on from it (not a great choice for the story), but then there are stories that either play it as a joke (and they are generally dropped) and stories like SAO that include it, but don’t quite manage to deliver it in a way that gives it actual weight.

Sword Art Online Episode 10

So Alicization, episode 10, sees Eugeo’s and Kirito’s female pages (and why do all of these characters have female pages, are there no male wannabe knights left now that Kirito and crew moved up the ladder), being bound and assaulted by the two ‘think they are better than everyone else because every single law in this world supports that theory’ noble brats. The actual terror the girls are feeling in this situation is fairly solidly conveyed, though again you have to question why Sword Art Online insists on building up reasonably decent female characters just to turn them into the victim of the week.

Sword Art Online Alicization Laws

What is also dealt with really well, is Eugeo having to overcome all of the programming essentially that keeps him following the world’s laws and the taboo index. For whatever reason, fighting to overcome that causes his eye to more or less explode and bleed, odd given nothing of the sort happened to Alice when she broke the taboo index, but then he is freed to swing his sword around and cleanly take off the lesser of the two bullies arms.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Eugeo

And this brings us to a number of problems. Firstly, despite Eugeo’s fantastic growth in the last two episodes, clearly Kirito still gets to be hero number one (not that I mind, I like Kirito and all, but it just limits Eugeo’s growth to never being better than Kirito). Eugeo, despite being closer to the bully leader, only manages to disarm (bad joke, I know) the lesser one. It takes Kirito coming in to take on the leader (in a very cool light show style sword fight, just the way SAO is good at them).

However, the other problem, the greater one in fact, is that while bully number 2 is literally gushing blood from a severed arm, his reaction is almost comical in nature and the girls on the bed, bound, traumatised, and now covered in bully number 2’s blood, are more or less inert for the remainder of the scene until Kirito cuts them free. A moment ago they were struggling and crying out for help and now they are just kind of lumps on the bed and genuinely get no further part in the story. Why deal with the victims and their trauma when you can focus on the cool sword fight I guess, but it isn’t exactly a satisfying way of dealing with the situation.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Kirito

Likewise, when the bully leader gets his arms hacked off by Kirito, the scene of him sitting on the ground, arms forward, blood spraying out, just killed any tension in the scene. It was too much, too silly, and just didn’t fit with how seriously the rest of the sequence had more or less been played. I mean, this is the closest SAO has ever gotten to dealing with this kind of issue with proper weight behind it, and they still managed to have these reality breaking moments in it.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10 Glitch

On the other-hand, the bully leader glitching out before dying, was kind of awesome. Not so much with how they presented the scene or because he is dead (though I won’t be shedding any tears about that), but because of several questions it raises about the game world and the program. 

At the end of the day, this was a fairly decent episode, provided the subject matter doesn’t have you wanting to skip it in the first place. It advances the story, it pushes the characters forward, it raises some interesting questions about the mechanics of the world. Was it a particularly deft handling of the subject matter, not so much, but I think that past experience should have prepared fans of Sword Art Online for that and for the most part this was reasonably executed.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 10

Still, I’d love to know your thoughts on the episode so be sure to leave me a comment below. Did they go too far? Did you like how they dealt with the subject matter?

Discover the Noble Spirit Hidden Inside a Would-Be Swordsman

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 9 Review

This week Kirito takes a back seat, and more or less puts his feet up, sips tea, eats sandwiches, and offers some advice that I’m feeling walks dangerously close to encouraging Eugeo and the two pages to start looking at ways to work around the Taboo Index. However, despite the protagonist of the story choosing to take a back seat, Eugeo as the apparent deuteragonist steps up and its really nice to see his character start to get fleshed out a bit more than guy-standing-beside-Kirito.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 9 Eugeo

Eugeo is very much a nice character and someone who really wants to do what is right, which under normal conditions would just make him standard protagonist or best friend fodder that would be swiftly forgotten. Where he becomes more interesting is because of the context we are in. Inside the game the Taboo Index controls these characters and we’ve already seen that in action when Eugeo stood and watched Alice getting taken away unable to act despite his own desire. This creates sufficient conflict to make even the nice-guy character really quite interesting because seeing Eugeo coming to terms with what he believes to be right vs what the law says is right and trying to find a path that ultimately he is okay with walking gives plenty of scope for exploration.

Or brooding, though so far we haven’t had a lot of that.

Where we also get tension in this story comes from the fact that Eugeo is very much working toward a goal and so far that has given him a new calling, taken him from his village, and now he’s standing side to side with nobles, who very much look down on him. Over the past few episodes we’ve seen that delicate balance and strain with both Kirito and Eugeo of showing respect to characters of higher social station, but not allowing themselves to get trampled underfoot by those who outside of their title just really don’t have much to recommend them by way of character.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 9 Eugeo accepts

This comes very much to the forefront at the beginning of this episode where Eugeo, taking some of Kirito’s advice and attempting to grow, accepts a challenge thrown his way and ends up fighting one of the bullies in a duel that ends in a draw. The bully, rather than targeting Eugeo directly, chooses to instead humiliate his page, who just happens to be room-mates with Eugeo’s page. It’s a round-a-bout attempt at revenge, it is juvenile, and a little pathetic, but it also stays within the limits of the rules and laws.

While the sword action remained strictly low key and at the beginning of this episode, the fight for moral high ground, for doing the right thing, and just for decency, ran throughout this episode and seeing the characters outside of Kirito respond and deal with the crisis, limited as they are by the rules and laws of the world, was interesting. It makes you wonder how far they can go without triggering the Taboo Index and it also makes you wonder what’s really at the heart of all of these rules.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 9 Picnic

SAO continues to be an entertaining affair and brings many questions to the table that you can contemplate about the real world or not. Either way, I’m curious to see where they go with this particular incident and just how Eugeo ends up reconciling things.

How Does Kirito’s Belief In Himself Cause Success?

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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.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 8 Kirito

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.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 8 Kirito and Mentor

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.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 8

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.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 8 Kirito and Eugeo

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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