Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld
Episodes 1-3

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld ?

Though Kirito is the overall main protagonist of the SAO franchise, the franchise has shown on two occasions – the “Mother's Rosario” arc of Sword Art Online II and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – that it can function just fine when others are allowed to take the lead for prolonged periods. The second half of the Alicization arc, which is aptly being subtitled War of Underworld, is the third point in the animated side of the franchise where this happens. Kirito is still present, but his catatonic state has reduced him to being a motivational element rather than an actively-involved character. Since Eugeo is dead and Asuna isn't in Underworld (yet), that means it's Alice's time to take the lead.

As expected, Alice proves well-capable of doing so in the first episode and a half. Her situation is a compelling one, as she has been forced to reevaluate literally everything she knew and believed in and is now struggling to find new purpose in a world where she doesn't fit in well; she's far beyond being the village girl she started out as, and is not accepted there by any but her younger sister, but her absolute devotion to her purpose as an Integrity Knight has also been shattered – and because faith directly correlates to power in Underworld, that also makes her weaker, even though her stats are still far beyond human norm. She finds her new resolve in her decision to protect what Eugeo and Kirito had sought to protect, with the scenes where she reveals her identity as an Integrity Knight to the villagers and then eschews the covering over the eye she lost (and has since replaced) being the early feel-good moments of the series. She is going to be a force and will to be reckoned with as the story progresses, one that I suspect even a certain other swordswoman and the villain will have a difficult time with.

The rest of episode 2 and most of episode 3 shift away from Alice as they instead look at events on the outside. The second part of episode 2 explains the circumstances that were happening on the Ocean Turtle when Kirito contacted them at the end of the first part and what's happened in the immediate aftermath, but really that and its continuation in episode 3 is all a set-up for one of this part's defining developments: Asuna entering Underworld to revive Kirito and take on his mission. Though Asuna is only 18 and a civilian, she's still unquestionably the best choice for the duty; she has a stronger vested interest than anyone else and more experience in a virtual environment than anyone else, so this is actually a logical move. Sadly, we probably won't get to see her make her grand entrance until around episode 10 (I'm betting on it being the final scene of episode 10, in fact) if the story continues to pace the way it has so far in adapting the source material.

The bulk of episode 3 shifts to the opposing point of view. Here the chief villain of this part, Gabriel Miller, is finally formally introduced and revealed to be both the CEO of a defense company and the blond-haired guy directing things way back in the GGO scene of part 1 episode 1; in fact, a truncated version of that earlier scene is exactly replayed here. Later in the episode a flashback in Sinon's dream, to when she was taken out in the last BoB tourney in GGO (an event she described in brief in part 1 episode 1), indicates that Gabriel is also Subtilizer, a multi-time winner of the BoB tourney. This establishes his creds as a fearsome foe who will eventually have to be dealt with, especially since the end of the episode indicates that he's popping into Underworld as the Dark Territory's long-absent Emperor Vecta. It also establishes some ironic connections back to the beginning of the arc and explains much better the bigger purpose for adding the anime-original GGO scene back then. What the production team hasn't shown so far about him is rather curious; the 15th novel (which begins the War of Underworld arc) opened with an extended description of his backstory, but so far that's being skipped. The main impacts of that so far are that anime-only viewers will have no explanation for who the girl who appears to him as he dives is and what significance she holds, but since that was included I have to think his backstory will surface at some later point. Hence for now I'm not going to discuss his underlying nature and motivations further.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of episode 3 is where it goes at the end, with a perspective shift to a knight of the Dark Territory which provides a few surprises. An earlier scene in the episode revealed that even the goblins weren't just NPC constructions but actual Fluctlights themselves, and this Dark Knight Commander Vixur gives every indication of not only being a person but not an evil one, either. He actually wants peace with the Human Territories and, now that the pontifex is gone, thinks he might be able to negotiate with Bercoulli to achieve it. He even proposes to his hot girlfriend/subordinate, too! (Lipia is not shown in the illustrations in the original novel, so the anime's character designers outdid themselves in not only making her gorgeous but also making her purple armor work.) Gabriel appearing as Vecta is obviously going to put a major wrench in one or both plans, but this is one of the rare times that the franchise has put a sympathetic face on a probable adversary. This also marks the first time that a scene has been set fully within Dark Territory, and all signs at the end of the episode (including the next episodes title: “Dark Territory”) are pointing to a lot more of that being on the agenda.

So far the series has adapted roughly the first half of novel 15, and once again the adaptation choices mostly seem to be wise ones. The scene where Yui addresses the supporting characters in Alfheim is new, but even it is setting up further for what I'm guess will be the final scene of this cour. The visuals and especially sound effects and musical score are still pretty sharp (the scene where Alice's dragon breaths on the goblins is a particular highlight). The scene of Sinon getting killed in GGO is a strangulation graphic enough to be disturbing, though more in an edgy way than a problematic way. Overall, these three episodes are more set-up for the big battles to come than a main event, and they do their job well.


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

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