The latest chapter in the Sword Art Online franchise, Alicization starts a new chapter revolving around Kirito, Asuna, and thrusts us back into the fantastical world where full-immersion video games are a real thing. A two-part premiere, the first episode feels a bit like walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes, and then breaking into a full-on sprint in the final minute. With quality animation we’ve come to expect from SAO, there’s a lot of talking and scene-setting, which sometimes makes it hard to fight through the extended debut.
Part 1 Summary
The series opens by introducing us to a trio of friends: Kirito (that name sounds familiar…), Eugeo, and Alice. Kirito and Eugeo have a playful rivalry, with Alice being the apparent peacekeeper.
While the kids are enjoying a picnic lunch together, they muse how it’s unfortunate that their food can spoil so quickly in the heat. Kirito ponders this dilemma for approximately 15 seconds before coming up with the genius idea of collecting ice to keep the food cold. This begins a journey to the cavern of a nearby white dragon in order to collect some ice.
Eugeo encourages caution, bringing attention to a series of laws known as the “Taboo Index” that can spell serious trouble for any of them if they’re caught in violation. Alice reveals a bit of a scheming streak in these moments, rationalizing the adventure as “helping the village”. So, the trio sets off to the cave and, unsurprisingly, they do eventually discover ice…and something else.
That’s right – inside the cave they also discover the bones of a dragon – presumably the white dragon that used to call the cave home. While dragons are typically seen as a threat, Alice comments that they’re actually seen as protectors of humanity – so killing one comes across as cruel.
After reflecting on the fate of the dragon, they gather up some ice and attempt to make their way out of the cave, only they’re not sure which way they came in! A bit turned around, they journey down a hallway, unsure if they’re headed the right way until they feel the outside breeze and see the light. Dashing towards it, they’re mortified to find that what they’ve stumbled upon is actually The Dark Territory – a forbidden land beyond the mountains that encircle their otherwise peaceful hometown.
In this territory, they see two mysterious figures are doing battle while riding dragons…you know, like you do. As they witness a white knight shoot down a black knight with an arrow, Alice is inexplicably drawn to the body. Kirito attempts to stop her, making her trip as the tips of her fingers inadvertently touch the ground of the dark territory. A mysterious floating screen and head takes note and identifies Alice before disappearing.
Shaken, the friends make their way back through the cave, exiting the right way this time, and heading back into the village. The next morning Kirito and Eugeo are back to chopping down the tree when they realize Alice hasn’t come to join them. As they’re making this observation, they notice the same white knight from the previous day fly overhead and land in the village. They rush into town and try to get Alice to escape with them, but before they can, the knight informs the village elder (who also happens to be Alice’s dad), that she will be questioned and then executed.
Desperate to save his friend, Kirito tries to charge the knight and is quickly incapacitated by a blast of invisible energy. Eugeo appears to have a “system error” triggered in his right eye as Alice is taken away, and Kirito calls after his friend as she’s taken into the air by the knight and his dragon steed.
Just as he calls out, the Kirito that we’re more familiar with suddenly awakens with a gasp.
Part 2 Summary
We’re quickly thrown into a world slightly more familiar to us: the gun-centric world of Gun Gale Online. Shinon, Kirito and Asuna engage in a spat with a high-ranking team, fighting them to a draw before the other team retreats.
Outside of the game, Shino asks Kirito and Asuna to assist her in the upcoming Bullet of Bullets competition. She shares the legend of a powerful player who bested her in the past, indicating that the next BoB would be exceptionally challenging if this player entered the fray once again. Always up for a challenge, the pair agrees to join her.
The conversation then shifts to what Kirito has been up to recently. As it turns out, he’s been helping a company test a new full-dive immersion system from a company called “Rath”. Their objective is attempting to locate where human consciousness, or “the soul”, resides. Stranger still, he’s not entirely sure how helpful he is in testing the system, because his memories of the experience are erased each time he comes out of the game.
Asuna and Shino are both concerned by the setup, but Kirito’s got his eyes on something different altogether: going to America.
As he and Asuna walk home, he tells her that he’s committed to going to America and being on the cutting edge of full-immersion technology. Wondering if this will mean a new and challenging phase in their relationship, Asuna’s delighted to hear him invite her along so they two can remain together. She agrees, and they continue their walk home.
On the way, however, they’re stopped by a shady figure. Kirito instinctively guards Asuna and engages the stranger in a brief conversation, only to discover that he’s the last remaining member of the infamous player-killer guild Laughing Coffin: Johnny Black! Revealing that he’s armed with the “death gun” that wrought so much pain and chaos within GGO, Kirito realizes the grave situation they’re in. With no weapon at his side, Kirito pushes Asuna aside, using his umbrella to try and strike out at Johnny, still getting hit by the death gun in the process. The episode ends with Kirito on the ground, mortally wounded.
This was definitely an… interesting way to kick off the Alicizaiton arc. The first half seemed like a standard introduction: setting the stage for this new world that Kirito is in. Meeting Eugeo and Alice, being introduced to the Taboo Index, etc.
Their adventure into the nearby dragon cave on an epic search for ice was cute, and helped to identify the dynamic of the three friends. It featured great animation, some great world building, and overall decent structure and pacing.
However, it’s after Kirito wakes up that things get a bit bumpy.
The GGO action sequence was great, showcasing that signature style of action that won over fans from the start. Moving outside of the virtual world, however, the narrative gets bogged down with lots of pseudo-science and a lot of talking/telling, rather than showing.
Admittedly, Alicization is due to be the longest arc yet in the SAO franchise, so it stands to reason that there would be more world building and explanations on the front end. Ultimately, it just felt like the 45+ minute premiere was largely spent lazily meandering through the world, only to have it explode at the very end with Kirito and Asuna’s encounter with Johnny Black.
While the fantastic animation may have been bogged down by the odd pacing, one thing is for sure: the OP for Alicization is incredible.
You can find Sword Art Online: Alicization on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 10!