The Fall 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Sword Art Online: Alicization War Of Underworld
How would you rate episode 1 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld ?
Community score: 4.4
What is this?
Time has passed since Kirito defeated the pontifex. While Bercoulli seeks to rebuild and bolster the defenses of the human lands in anticipation of an assault by the forces of darkness (whom he is sure will mobilize once they learn of the pontifex's demise), Alice fears for the catatonic Kirito's safety and so relocates to a cabin near Rulid. She may not be accepted in the village, but at least she's near her sister Selka as she looks after Kirito. Though she feels that she cannot swing her sword anymore except to cut down trees, an attack on Rulid may force her to act anyway. Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld is based on a light novel series and streams on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and HIDIVE at 12:30 p.m. EDT on Saturdays.
How was the first episode?
After taking two seasons off, the adaptation of SAO's Alicization arc now continues as it delves into the second half of the massive arc, which constitutes an adaptation of novels 15-18. Even though the basic flavor of the franchise is present, this is (for the next cour at least) going to be a very different series than it was in the first half, or really, in any previous installment. That's because, for better or worse, Kirito is no longer the focal point character. For the moment that duty instead falls to Alice.
To be sure, Kirito is still present and having a big impact on things. After all, even though he's so out of it that he can't vocalize beyond the occasional gasp, he is still the motivation for most of what happens in this first episode. (Notably, Crunchyroll is listing this as “War of the Underworld” episode 1, while HIDIVE lists it as season 2 episode 1 and Funimation lists it as episode 25.) While Alice doesn't exactly show that she's in love with Kirito, she clearly feels a great bond and strong responsibility towards him, even more so because she know that she's the only person who fully understands exactly what Kirito did for this world and how much it cost him.
The way that this and other factors isolate Alice from everyone except Selka and her dragon is the foundation of Alice's character in this part of the story, and the anime adaptation does a superb job of capturing that – possibly even better than the source material. This is not the bold and proud Integrity Knight that we saw in the latter stages of the first half, but rather merely a girl who is trying to live, just as Kirito and Eugeo had hoped for her, but also seeking something new to believe in. That she has not taken care of her right eye, even though she undoubtedly has the power to do so, is also a detail laden with potential meaning. A form of self-punishment perhaps, or maybe a reminder that she had broken free of the systems control? A bit of both, I think. Regardless, even though Alice was great with her shining pride, showing this aspect of her provides a lot more depth to her characterization. It also shows that she is as capable as Asuna is of carrying the story in Kirito's comparative absence.
The adaptation choices made here are also interesting. Director Manabu Ono and his staff decided to skip the first chapter of novel 15 and instead start this part of the arc at the point where Alice becomes the focus. This was absolutely the correct decision, as it maintains a firm connection to what happened before and allows for the firm reestablishment of the arc's namesake character. The title of the next episode indicate that the story will continue into the raid on Rulid, so presumably it will come back and pick up the content that was skipped over (which introduces this part of the arc's main villain) at a later point; with 23 episodes to adapt just four novels, I can't see the series skipping content sufficient to constitute most of an episode on its own. There are a couple of other adjustments on minor details, including playing out one scene that was summarized in the novel, but the only change of any significance is an omission that Alice was planning to relocate after Eldrie's visit, and in the grand scheme of thing that's still a negligible change.
The technical merits seem to be on the same level as the first half, including an amazing cabin design for Alice and Kirito's dwelling, some vibrant color work on the autumnal trees, and effective musical choices. Together they do an excellent job at conveying the various emotions present here: warmth, fear, frustration, and melancholy. Overall, this is a strong establishment episode for the next part of the story and about the best adaptation that could be hoped for of the relevant source material.
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