In The Absence of Action, We Get An Attack of the Talking Heads

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode Review Title Image

Sword Art Online Alicization – Episode 6

There was a lot of talking this episode. Like massive amounts of talking. And a lot of it is that weird kind of technobabbly talk that happens when a concept really doesn’t make a lot of sense but the writers are earnestly trying to convince the audience that it does. Seriously, the more they mention fluctlights, the less believable I am finding the central concept. They really should just stop trying to explain and justify, just leave it at the ‘it is reading the soul, man’ kind of explanation, and get on with the story because all this talk just left me wanting to sit down and come up with a list of all the reasons why their idea is really unworkable.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 6

However, unrealistic narrative conceits aren’t new for SAO so I’m not exactly going to let that get in the way of what has so far been a pretty interesting set up. The problem is, everything kind of felt like it screeched to a halt this week. Or more accurately, like they felt the need to consolidate all the kind of ideas we’d been given and just kind of lay out what has happened and a motive and objective and the best way they felt they could do that was by standing around and talking followed by some sitting around and talking. Basically, lots of talking heads.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 6 Asuna
Millions wouldn’t.

Now does that mean the episode isn’t interesting? Not so much. Because in amongst all the babble, we get to see a copied soul/mind essentially self-destruct when being unable to come to terms with being a copy. We find out what the deal is with Eugeo and the others not being able to even consider breaking the taboos. We also realise why the company/government/whoever has gone to so much trouble with the project in the first place and the application they want for it and we get some nice foreshadowing that when Kirito finds out what they actually intend to do he’s probably not going to be happy about it.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 6

But, I’ll be frank, it wasn’t enough. Twenty minutes of chatter and dodgy tech and medical terms being bandied about as well as questionable moral stances by characters just wasn’t compelling viewing. It is more something I’d expect from Index, and why I like Index, I don’t have anywhere near the love of it that I have for SAO. All things considered, I’m really hoping next week picks up again because I’ve now had just about as much set-up as I can handle.

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Karandi James
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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 5: Asuna’s Turn

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 5 - Leafa and Asuna

You know, I had a lot of fun last week seeing Kirito do his thing. As I said in my weekly update, Sword Art Online is most fun when it gives Kirito a sword and a target. So imagine my surprise by just how good episode 5 is where Kirito is only present in flash backs and a shot of him on a hospital bed?

See, we’re finally in the real world addressing what happened after Kirito got attacked. And this is something I’ve been dying to know given I haven’t read the source and the story was doing a good job of distracting me by building up its in-game world setting, however this question has just been hanging over the whole thing since the end of episode one. And the answer we get is satisfying in its own way, even if you have to do a few leaps to avoid the plot-holes if you actually start looking at the situation as being part of the real world and not part of a fantasy story.

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However, the reality of companies and or governments conspiring and experimenting on people and souls in the development of essentially a game (I guess there are other applications but I can’t really bring myself to care in the context of this show) is not something I’m overly concerned about. Anyone overly concerned with a plot that remained firmly grounded in plausible gave up on Sword Art Online a long time ago and those of us who remain are generally happy to say, ‘okay, this is what happened so what are you going to do with that?’ And generally speaking the answers have been fun to find out. Trapping 10 000 people in a game that could kill them for over two years is a really interesting concept even if it is highly implausible. Seeing how people react and respond and the different groups and approaches made it a rich discussion point so the reality of it didn’t really matter.

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So what does matter this episode?

Asuna.

She’s been a fantastic character all the way along, but because season one is Kirito’s story she is very much a supporting character and love interest (a really good one, but still a supporting character). In Fairy Dance she is literally the damsel in distress, the caged prize, and while she actively tries to free herself from that situation, the plot ultimately doesn’t allow it. GGO, Asuna really just gets sidelined. There’s no way around that. It is only really in the Mother Rosario arc that Asuna gets to take the lead and then my problem is that the tough Asuna who earned the title of The Flash for her incredible sword skills, ultimately gets an emotional dilemma to face and one that while there is fighting involved is primarily concerned with Asuna being a friend and nurturer. It doesn’t hurt her character but it just makes you wonder why she doesn’t ever get to be the hero given she’s every bit as solid a character and lead as Kirito.

While once again we don’t see Asuna strapping on armour and kicking in the door to save Kirito, we do see her pursuing him literally across the ocean and reaching out to whoever she needs to in order to get to him. As implausible as it is that the super secret corporation didn’t pick up the photo swap in the database allowing her access, Asuna gets an incredibly cool moment this episode where we realise she isn’t going to happily sit aside as the damsel in distress.

Now if only Sword Art Online could commit to that and give her character the story she deserves (and if you know what happens please do not tell me, I’m looking forward to finding out).

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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 4: Kirito Is Back

Sword Art online Alicization Episode 4

I don’t know that I’ve mentioned this before, but I really like Kirito as a character. He’s like the little brother I always wanted but never had, and I love watching him struggle to overcome things and then overcoming them. He gets a lot of criticism online, but for me, Kirito is always just someone I enjoy hanging out with and Sword Art Online as a whole is something that I just enjoy returning to even if I do pick at some of the follow up arcs.

The reason I bring that up is because episode 4 of Alicization showcases what I like most about Kirito. He isn’t original or unique, not a bad boy, or smoking hot, or any of the usual draws for a character. Kirito is the ordinary nice guy who actually takes action and isn’t a push over, and I love him for it.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 4

With the goblins advancing on Kirito and Eugeo and Eugeo frozen in utter panic, Kirito takes the time to get Eugeo out of it and gives him some clear direction. He isn’t using Eugeo as cannon fodder, or leaving him to hide behind the crystals while he goes rambo on the goblins. Kirito makes a clear assessment about what Eugeo can do and makes sure Eugeo is moving again.

Then Kirito goes to town on the goblins. Now, I love the way sword fights have been animated in SAO since the beginning and while it could definitely be seen as messy animation, I find it quite invigorating to watch and so this sequence was quite the treat and given we haven’t seen anything resembling action since episode 1 it was a nice delight. I felt a little bad for the goblin leader because literally as soon as Kirito decided to win the fight it was all over for him because Kirito is still wrapped up in plot armour that is pretty much impenetrable, but the goblin leader did at least make a good showing of it.

Sword Art online Alicization Episode 4
This guy is so dead right now, he just hasn’t realised it yet.

And that actually leads to my one criticism of the sequence. Kirito takes a strike to the arm that for once actually makes him feel the real pain of getting hit with a sharp and heavy object. None of the Aincrad little red line on the skin but keep on running. We actually see blood dripping down his sleeve and onto his hand.

And then it is gone.

Poof.

Like it never even happened.

Now, I don’t exactly want Kirito to be rolling around on the cave floor in pain but given they are the ones that made the big deal about him feeling pain and then showing us the blood, there could at least be some kind of residual impact, you know like a blood stain on his sleeve, for the remainder of the fight. But no. Magically healing clothes as well as shoulders in this sequence.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 4

Having spent a long time on Kirito this episode I should probably point out that the second half of this episode is very much about Eugeo. Eugeo making his choice, standing up, getting knocked down, standing back up and then finally freeing himself from his calling and earning the right to choose his new destiny. It is a nice character arc more or less dumped into about seven minutes of screen time making it feel just a little bit cheap even as it is exactly what the story needs to really get moving.

Sword Art Online Alicization remains this weird mix of things I love about Sword Art Online as well as some old problems perpetuated and some new problems thrown in. The big issue though is pacing. While I appreciate the large episode count means we can spend time on set up, I just keep thinking how Eugeo’s progress here got really short changed and yet last week we kind of sat around waiting for nothing to happen.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 4

Despite that, I had a lot of fun this week and that’s what really does continue to work for this series. Fans of the series are at this point fans of the series and for me as long as this puts the characters I like on screen and gives them something even mildly interesting to do I’ll probably still happily watch. And a fight with a horde of goblins before knocking down a demon tree was more than mildly interesting so I had a great time.

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Karandi James
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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 3: Oh Look, A Shiny New Sword

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 3

There must be something about the Autumn anime season and Goblins. Between Goblin Slayer, That Time I was Reincarnated as a Slime and now this goblins are getting quite the show casing early this season. Still, I somehow suspect these goblins aren’t the cute and friendly kind we met in slime and I also doubt they are going to give Kirito all that much trouble (though it is early in the season so who knows).

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 3

On that note, Kirito really is learning his limitations within the game world. Things he feels he should be able to do from past experience are proving beyond his current skill level and there’s a lot about how this particular system functions that he’s yet to understand. This makes it a pleasant experience and one we haven’t really encountered since Aincrad where Kirito isn’t already fully developed and ready to go. Sure he has a lot of past experience up his sleeves but clearly he’s going to have to work if he wants to employ that to maximum effect in this world.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 3

As much as people make fun of Kirito being overpowered, in Aincrad while he was certainly a strong solo player there was always the risk of death and he was grinding hard to ensure he could keep climbing the levels (they just fortunately cut a lot of that process off screen so we didn’t have to watch it). However that meant that at each stage of that arc, Kirito was evolving as a player and a character and it was by far my favourite part of SAO. Alicization seems to be returning to that dynamic without actually doing a full reset on Kirito’s character and so far they are actually kind of pulling it off.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 3

Eugeo is also remaining a pleasant enough character to get to know and I’m looking forward to how he changes under Kirito’s influence (and we do already know Kirito can influence him given he did back when they were kids even if neither of the characters remember it). Though, I’m hoping Selka is more than just the damsel in distress to get things rolling because it really seems like she could be a more interesting character than that.

Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 3

All and all, the first three episodes of Alicization have been intriguing. While it is definitely a slow lead in to the story, there’s been enough going on to keep me interested and certainly I’ve enjoyed coming back to seeing Kirito in a virtual world, so I’m looking forward to more, and to when they eventually get around to showing us what is going on in reality.

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Karandi James
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Sword Art Online Alicization Episode 2: He’s Back in the Game

Sword Art Online Alicization - Episode 2 - Kirito and Eugeo

This episode did more or less what I expected it to, and that is it answered nothing and left us hanging on what happened in the real world. That isn’t actually a problem given how many episodes this series is going to have. Unlike an 11 – 13 episode show it doesn’t have that pressure of getting to a solution now or the problem that the end may feel rushed if it doesn’t get things moving and so we have plenty of time for set up and viewers going in knowing the length of the show are probably happy enough. Not to mention, the best part of the first episode was when Kirito was inside the Underground and so spending the whole episode with Kirito trying to get his bearings there again when he has some memories of his life but almost none of the virtual world and how it works is actually pretty interesting.

Sword Art Online Alicization - Episode 2 - Kirito

Of course, interesting is subjective, so if you are in the camp where watching Kirito wander around, eating bread, and chatting to characters that may or may not be NPC’s isn’t something you find fascinating, you are in for an episode that doesn’t really appeal.

Sword Art Online Alicization - Episode 2 - Eugeo

I did really like that we got to spend a lot of this episode with Eugeo. His memory of Alice’s disappearance is a little different to the way we saw it last week given Eugeo doesn’t seem to remember Kirito at all and that is just one other thing to later figure out. It is really nice to see Kirito kind of making a friend and the two of them play nicely off one another making it fun just to hang out with them.

Sword Art Online Alicization - Episode 2 - Kirito

Still, as I said at the beginning of this episode review, Alicization is in zero hurry. Practically nothing happens in this episode other than Kirito getting his bearings and one shot of some blue haired girl in a tower. There’s a million questions about the fallout from episode 1 but I guess we’ll all have to wait and in the meantime at least the virtual world is really pretty.

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Karandi James
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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.

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No Game No Life Series Review: It’s Not Just a Game

This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in June 2016 and can be found here.

This review was initially written in a style I very quickly dumped and that was separating out the characters, plot and setting under heading and discussing them in isolation. While I haven’t really changed my view on this anime, I have restructured the review quite significantly.

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This is a series I’d rewatched even before my first review and I noted that while the show remained ridiculously fun, the flaws of the series become far more glaringly obvious when the pretty shining colours and wow factor are less distracting and you already know the outcome of the games (though you kind of new the outcome in the first place it was more how they were going to pull it off).

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It is worth noting that realism is not what this anime was going for. All of the characters are complete and over-the-top parodies of human beings (even though the vast majority aren’t human). And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does make it hard to feel sympathy, empathy, or anything else for the characters. This problem was actually made worse when I finally got around to reading the first light novel hoping it would perhaps shed some light on some of the character’s back stories (note, it doesn’t at least not in volume 1).

And just when you think Sora and Shiro aren’t so bad afterall, Shiro’s outright lack of human emotion will punch you in the gut or Sora will follow up a truly brilliant dialogue with a panty joke or something equally jarring from the flow of the show.

That said, there is something amazing about these characters. My personal favourite is Izuna, who unfortunately doesn’t come along until close to the end but is actually the character I found the most sympathetic.

Jibril has some shining moments (anyone who values libraries and knowledge automatically gets some brownie points) and her adaptability is something to behold. But, those moments are contrasted with their attempts at using Jibril for comedic purposes that mostly fall flat. She was at her funniest when recalling the previous wars when she apparently single-handedly wiped out many elves. That was some pretty dark humour being thrown around in that scene, though that’s fairly consistent within No Game No Life. A lot of what you will be amused by within the context of the anime is actually quite dark and problematic when taken out of that context.

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The plot here is really where some people will start to drift away. They tell us early on that Blank  will NEVER lose. Seriously, they weren’t joking. Doesn’t matter what the situation or odds, these two are going to find a way to win. Whether you find the incessant rationalisation and explanations for how they managed to win charming and amusing or just pretentious will really determine how much you enjoy the story here.

More importantly, it kind of cuts off just as it’s getting interesting. They are progressing toward their stated goal but still have a long journey ahead of them and that’s it. Game over. Or, anime over. Perhaps we’ll eventually get a follow up, but for now, we’re left with Blank ready to start on their journey to challenge Tet (the god of Disboard) and yet we don’t get to see that journey.

There isn’t really anything resembling a subplot in this. There are supporting characters and something about a potential rebellion in Elven Garde but mostly this just serves as more fodder for explanations about how Sora manipulated the situation to win. What back story there is revolves around the previous King who lost a lot of Imanity’s (Humanity’s) territory to the War Beasts, and again, it isn’t a subplot so much as another piece of a long and convoluted explanation of victory.

However, where the characters might be questionable in how they are presented and the plot will only work provided you enjoy watching how they win rather than feeling any tension about whether they will win, the visuals are distinct, to say the least. Even on a rewatch, Disboard reamined beautiful.

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Okay, the colour palette is a little on the insane scale but it is supposed to be a fantasy world ruled by a god who thinks games are the best way to solve conflicts so we can probably let that go.

The music works but is reasonably forgettable and the voice acting is neither particularly good or bad. Shiro’s voice annoys me because it feels like everything she says has been put through a filter and is just that little bit too high and whisper like. Maybe this was supposed to make her sound cute but it drove me crazy by the end of the series. Fortunately, Shiro doesn’t talk anywhere near as often as Sora.

There’s fanservice here. Lots of it. Bathroom sequences and female characters losing their clothes for some fairly flimsy plot points. While bathroom scenes aren’t by themselves a problem their lack of purpose in this case is. It seems at times the entire plot just screeches to a halt while they chatter about random things while covered in suds. Could they at least talk strategy while showering? And seeing Sora using his phone to try to get photos of Stephanie in the bathroom is just all kinds of creepy.

Despite all the problems this series has that keep it from being a must watch, I like the set up and enjoy the games that are played. I like that the characters aren’t just proclaimed to be smart but they actually are planning ahead and have a vision of what they are trying to accomplish. The value of knowledge in this anime is expressed over and over again and that is something to be celebrated. That and the whole thing is so over the top and fun. While it won’t be for everyone, you can do a lot worse than No Game No Life.

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Karandi James
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NO GAME NO LIFE – SHIRO 120CM BIG TOWEL
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