The Fall 2018 Anime Preview Guide Sword Art Online: Alicization
How would you rate episode 1 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization ?
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How was the first episode?
Opening the third main Sword Art Online TV series with a double-length episode is fitting for a lot of reasons. What better way to honor the beginning of the franchise's longest, involved, and in some senses most ambitious story arc yet, covered in full by a series already scheduled for 52 episodes? But there's a better reason why this needed to be double-length: anyone who hasn't read the 9th novel of the source series would be hopelessly confused by what's going on in the first episode if it was just regular-length. The extra time was also needed to get the story to the most suitable dramatic stopping point.
Without any prelude or explanation, the first half of this episode lays the prequel and foundation for what will be the part of the story set in Underworld (i.e., most of it). The second half of the episode mostly provides the foundation for what Underworld is, what the first part of the episode was about, and how Kazuto is going to end up back there. In the process it provides a strong link from previous story arcs into this one, including slickly integrating in a reference to Ordinal Scale that wasn't in the original novel.
The big mystery at first is what, exactly, is going on with Kirito in kid form. Various little details indicate that he's either in a virtual world or a game-like world, but he's acting just like he actually is a kid. While it seems like a standard fantasy world in most respects, the Taboo Index provides an intriguing twist, as does the suggestion that the boy Eugeo – and possibly all of the other characters, too – are either artificial or living beings with programming built into them that forces them to obey certain rules. What makes Alice's very minor breaking of the Taboo Index such a big deal is unclear at this point (you'll definitely find this out later, but not for a long while), but it sets the stage for what might eventually turn out to be a grand rescue story. The real-world part then explains what Kazuto was doing that he had those experiences, in the process throwing out a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo which tries to explain how the STL system is different than other VR systems. Suspicions about bigger motives than just the next game are dropped, but it's much too early for any details to surface on that. It then wraps with one last, lingering bit of unfinished business from the GGO arc which creates the stunning ending cliffhanger.
For me, the more interesting part is the second half, as it even adds in some scenes that weren't in the novel to allow familiar faces from previous seasons to have at least brief cameos; seeing Asuna, Lizbeth, and Silica all dressed up for GGO was a treat, as was seeing Asuna and Kirito's GGO avatar teaming up. That bonus GGO scene also provides a bit of extra foreshadowing for developments that might be relevant down the road. Other than that and the Ordinal Scale reference, the first episode follows the two Prologue parts and most of the first Interlude chapters of novel 9 faithfully, with only a few trivial details and bit of even more technical exposition on the STL system being trimmed.
Technical merits are equal to or perhaps slightly improved from Sword Art Online II, which means that the series still looks good but isn't quite a top-of-the-line effort. Still, it looks plenty good enough to satisfy established fans. For newcomers, the second half of this episode is where you're most likely to be lost, but that should be much less of an issue going forward. Overall the episode gets the arc off to a slow but generally effective start.
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