Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld
Episode 4

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld ?

The SAO franchise has had no shortage of amoral or even outright obnoxiously evil bastards populating the ranks of its antagonists, but none of Akihito Kayaba, Noboyuki Sugou, the pontifex, Death Gun, or those two awful nobles from the Academy scenes are quite the outright monster that Gabriel Miller is. Given the horrors and death that the others have inflicted, that's quite the accomplishment.

What arguably makes Gabriel even scarier than the others is that he's so utterly dispassionate most of the time; we don't see him leering over the act of violating or killing his victims. That's also probably going to prevent him from being the lightning rod for criticism that some of the other antagonists have been, but he may be the truest psychopath of the lot. Exactly how deep that goes is shocking at first, though there are warning signs from the first moment he contemplates the location of the soul as a child. Still, preparing to squish a bug's head is nothing compared to stabbing your childhood friend through the ear with what looks like an ice pick in an effort to see her soul. (For anime-only viewers, the source novel goes into much more detail about how he was able to get away with this.) The euphoric reaction he has to his perception of making contact with her soul is merely the first indicator of just how dangerous an opponent he's going to be. Just as importantly, the childhood friend in question is the girl he saw last episode while diving; that she seemed to be smiling at him is a golden example of how utterly twisted his mind is. That she was called Alicia, and was shown reading Alice in Wonderland , is a bit heavy-handed on the coincidences, but between that, his quest for souls, and his orgasmic reaction to offing the assassination-minded Lipia and encountering her fleeting soul, his real intentions for this mission – and why he went along with the NSA guys – is much clearer and more disturbing. He has no intention of handing Alice over; he want her for himself for reasons that have nothing to do with her controlling drones or such, and he's willing to slaughter any number of human souls just to satisfy his personal desires.

Gabriel's development as a character was not the only interesting thing going on in this episode. It also formally introduces the other nine commanders of the Dark Territory beyond Vixur, though a couple of them don't live very long, and fleshes out Vixur's motives more. He's a decent guy at heart (or at the very least has much more peaceful motives), so it's a shame that he has to exit the stage so early. Still, he goes out with one hell of a display about the ultimate extent of the Incarnation power inherent in the way Underworld works, but in the process also discovers what may be Gabriel's most potent power in this setting: the endless void that is his own soul. In other words, a potent imagination is the most dangerous weapon of all in Underworld. We've seen that be a key element in earlier battles, and there's no reason to doubt that it will continue to play a major role in this part.

As flashy as Vixur's transformation was, the technical effort here shows one weak point in its reuse of certain crowd scenes. Someone in the design team also has an odd sense of humor in designing some of the background characters; one of the assassins in the audience room scene is shown on a couple of occasions having the anime-classic swirled glasses, for instance. Other depictions worked much better, such as the orc leader Lilpilin, who is described in the novel as being the most handsome of all orcs, and the animators actually make that convincing with his character design. Dark Mage guild leader Dee Eye Ell also makes quite the impression with her provocative outfit, which is a reasonable interpretation of what the source material describes for her. (And yes, I keep thinking that there has to be some hidden meaning to her name being DIL, but none of the common things that those letters could be an acronym for much fit her character or the situation.) And while there's little for action in this episode, it doesn't pull punches much on its two murder scenes. The first half of this arc was more graphic than previous SAO content, and based on what we've been shown in this episode, we may not have seen anything yet.

Although this episode was pretty good as a stand-alone, I am giving it a notch higher grade than normal because I honestly can't see how the adaptation of this part of the story could be done better. It takes the content from the 15th novel's opening scene, which had so far been entirely skipped over, and seamlessly melds it into later scenes while also trimming the fat all around. The little details cut out in the process ultimately aren't that important to the overall story and (except maybe for how Gabriel wasn't locked up for a child) are unlikely to be missed by anime-only crowds. If only all adaptations could get this strong a treatment. . .


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

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