Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld ?
So I was a bit off on the bet that I made back during the first episode review for this season. Things moved a bit faster overall than I had expected, and so Asuna appears in Underworld for the first time at the very end of this episode rather than episode 10. We knew from the early stages that she was going to get a super-account, and now we find out which one it was: Stacia, Goddess of Creation. That seems fitting for a lot of reasons. The way she uses her terrain-altering ability also perfectly conforms to the way it was described in the novels, hence giving the strong impression of it being a power well beyond just normal magic use.
As much as Asuna's arrival is a long-anticipated moment, the primary focus of this episode is instead the neatest conflict in this part of the story in the novels: the confrontation between the Integrity Knight Sheyta and Pugilists Guild leader Iskahn. Silent types are so common in anime that they are a trope unto themselves, but Sheyta is far enough away from the norm that she doesn't well fit the stereotype. Though she has appeared in previous episodes, she gets her first dialog here, in the process giving the impression that she might not be completely mentally there; she is, in many respects, an unglamorous version of DanMachi's Aiz Wallenstein. The way she moves her eyes before speaking, and the attention given to animating that, is an interesting effect. The flashback to when she gets her hair-thin sword from the Pontifex clarifies that she's not absentminded per se, just so fully obsessed with cutting things that she's unable to contemplate much else, including taking insults from Iskahn for what they are. (The one funny moment in the episode is her reaction to being called “sleepy.”) What better match-up could there be for her than an individual whose pride is founded on his body being so tough that it cannot be cut by a blade?
In utter contrast to Sheyta, Iskahn is a delightfully bright and expressive individual, one whose (at times literally) burning passion and enthusiasm are on display for all to see. The way he embodies the pugilist mindset isn't explored as much here as in the novels, but he still gives a good representation of what pugilists are in this setting. He, too, feels a bit different than your normal passionate action figure, and that helps make for a thoroughly enjoyable showdown between the two. Despite their utterly different backgrounds and paths to being here, they are very much of the same spirit in their obsessions, and they both seem to recognize that. Their conflict is also a visual highlight in many respects; one of my favorite visuals of the season so far is the shot of Sheyta stretching out her long, thin body in preparation for an all-out against Iskahn. Between the shot angle, the color use, and the way Sheyta's body is posed, I have rarely seen so definitive a depiction of a person becoming a figurative blade. The way Sheyta tore into the other pugilists prior to that was also no joke. Between their depictions and their attitudes presented here, I can easily see both characters getting some outsized attention in the wake of this episode.
Then there's also Vassago finally going into action, with his own sneak attack on the supply caravan while an ambush was being set up by Renly. How he and his men got enough ahead of the defenders to even get to the camp, when the rest of the army is far behind, is not at all explained here, and that is the episode's one significant flaw. Seeing Ronie being able to stand up against him and even throw off his sneak attack was practically a cheer out loud moment, even if she couldn't hold out for long. The bigger twist is that, as he plummets to his presumed death, he recognizes Asuna from SAO. That means that he's not only an SAO survivor; based on his attitude and comments, he's most likely a former member of Laughing Coffin as well. Even if this action puts him out of Underworld for the moment, we certainly haven't seen the last of him.
With Asuna now on the scene and Alice converging in that direction, next episode should be quite lively indeed. That also likely means that episode 11 will be the last episode for this cour; 67 pages of novel 16 are left to adapt at this point, the series has been averaging adapting 40-45 pages an episode so far, and the end of novel 16 is the perfect seasonal break point. I feel like the remaining content could probably be finished in an episode and a half, so I am curious to see whether they will stretch things out a bit or try to pull off the difficult task of crunching that all down into one episode and ending the cour on episode 10 instead. Frankly, I'm hoping for the former.
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