Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld
Episode 11

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld ?

Up until this point the timing and progression of the adaptation of Reki Kawahara's source novels has been mostly predictable. The adaptation decisions made this episode are the first place in quite a while where I've been fully surprised by how the anime's staff chose to handle things. And yet, in a dramatic sense, the choices made here are logical ones that don't hurt the story one bit.

For those who have not been following the novels, novel 16 actually ends on Yui's declaration that the rest of Kirito and Asuna's cadre will have to convert their accounts into Underworld in order to help out. That felt like a plenty dramatic enough moment on its own to warrant ending an episode (or even a season) on, but here that happens at around the 15:30 mark. What follows, with Lisbeth attempting to convince the other Japanese players and then the arrival of the American avatars in Underworld, are the opening scenes of novel 17. While that felt more like a good place to start an episode, the writing here sets things up so that flows naturally out of Yui bringing up the potential problems with the scenario. I also can't deny that the scene with the Americans appearing in a flash of red light is a suitably dramatic cliffhanger.

Adaptation considerations aside, there's plenty enough going on here worth comment. Alice's early comment about Kirito looking better because he slept with “four beauties” provides the one note of levity before the rope-spanning by the dark knights and pugilists comes into play. Iskahn is understandably upset about the extreme non-battle-related risk this endeavor entails, to the point that the ominous red glow in his right eye suggests that we might see big changes from him later on. Dark Worlders may not be able to defy Vecta, but this callous disregard is going to come back to bite Vecta at some point. The situation is especially bad for them because of what Renly can do with his weapon as far as cutting the ropes are concerned. But the human forces are also in a spot worse than even Asuna realizes because of the downward adjustment in the time dilation of the setting, which allows for the Americans hoodwinked into thinking this is a beta test to get involved in time for them to have an impact. On the plus side, that also allows the Japanese players to get involved – if Lizbeth can convince them.

This part of the story is also significant because of the kinds of outside tensions it starts to introduce. It sets the story more firmly in a Japan-vs.-America mode than it was before, though the Japanese players are at least aware that the Americans have been duped. Lizbeth's plea to the assembled Japanese players also reveals some tensions that exist within the VRMMO community concerning the SAO survivors. Some regard them as elitists within the community, and it's not hard to understand why. Lizbeth's explanation about how they are regarded on the outside is an eye-opener; much of that is to be expected but has not even been much implied before, much less addressed directly.

The episode is also notable for the opportunities it allows a couple of underused characters. Yui gets her most shining moment in the spotlight at least since Ordinal Scale and perhaps even since her feature episodes in the first SAO series. Lizbeth also gets her most brightly-shining moment maybe since her feature episode in the first series. She has the hardest of sells to make to the assembled Japanese players, given the potential risks and costs involved with what she's asking for, but she also powerfully makes the point that this is not just about their pride but their very identity as VR gamers. Yui's speech before that is no less impassioned and highlights better than ever before why Alice is special: she is the culmination and perhaps ultimate goal not just of what Rath is doing but of Kayaba's SEED (and perhaps all of the VR experience) in general.

Overall, this episode represents the biggest turning point for the series since the defeat of the Pontifex. Whereas before the events of Underworld had remained mostly self-contained despite the outside interference, that will no longer be true. This brings the promise of lots more dramatic battles and, perhaps, an exploration of how VR mindset is going to mix with Underworld reality.

As a final follow-up thought, who the hell is that standing in the tunnel at the end of Lizbeth's plea, wearing a smirk and accompanied by what looks to be a white-haired navigation pixie? (See bonus screen shot at left.) This character is also briefly shown at the 19:21-23 mark with what looks like an extra-long ponytail and something crescent-shaped on the left shoulder. I thought I knew this franchise well but have no reasonable idea about who this could be, so I'd welcome speculation or an ID in forums.

Rating:

Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld is currently streaming on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and HIDIVE.


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