Sword Art Online: Alicization
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization ?
Psychological exploration has never been SAO's forté, as the franchise has had a poor tendency to either overplay its hand or not adequately support its ideas; sadly, this most recent installment has not improved much on that front. However, SAO has proven—as with the scene between Asuna and her mother in the next-to-last episode of SAO II—that it's occasionally capable of pulling off deeper emotional developments with greater success. While the content in this episode is not quite as compelling as that example, it nonetheless proves that SAO's moments of emotional depth are not a total fluke. This episode has no action elements beyond a brief flashback, and it focuses entirely on two conversations between two different sets of characters, but it's still one of the season's best to date.
What transpires in both the Alice-Kirito scene and the Administrator-Eugeo scene marks this episode as a definitive turning point on two fronts. In the former case, Kirito doesn't do much more than plainly lay out the truth to Alice, but that's also the optimal approach he could have taken. Someone as proud and stubborn as Alice Synthesis Thirty isn't going to be won over by sweet words or preying on her emotions; presenting the unvarnished truth that feeds into some of her own doubts and concerns is the ticket to appealing to her, and it ultimately works at least as well as Kirito could have hoped for. More stubborn people may be difficult to convince, but once you get through to them, their new loyalty will be fierce, which certainly looks to be the case with Alice. She walks into her rejection of Administrator knowing full well that her right eye is probably going to burst as her seal breaks, which makes her a force to be reckoned with.
This otherwise very talky scene works due to its strong execution. Characters are moving around just enough to avoid static shots of talking heads, and Alice's emotions and body language effectively portray her growing doubts. One great shot shows the stars from the night sky reflected in Alice's blue eye as she starts to tear up while thinking about a Selka she can't remember, and the way the moon symbolically dips in and out of the clouds is a neat touch too. The use of music also lightly reinforces that poignancy of the realization that the current Alice's personality might not exist anymore if her memories are restored, which combined with the voice that Eugeo hears later in the episode, further implies that the current Alice and Eugeo's Alice are wholly independent personalities. Anime has dealt with this kind of thing plenty of times before, but it's handled thoughtfully here rather than as just another trope.
Eugeo's encounter with Administrator also has all of the hallmarks of a typical “good guy gets seduced to the Dark Side” scene, and yet it plays out better in execution. The story has established well that Administrator is a wholly self-centered autocrat, with Kirito's speech to Alice further implying that the nobles' behavior back in the Academy is a product of Administrator letting them become indolent so that they don't rise to challenge her, and I think that's a fair assessment. However, I was mightily impressed by how convincingly soft the animation allows her to come across in her seduction of Eugeo. Yes, she's distorting his memories, feeding him lies, and preying on his own self-doubts about love, but everything about her appearance is comforting and inviting. It's not just about sex appeal when she strips down in front of him; she comes across as a safe person to cuddle with after a bad dream. The source material tried to convey this feeling, but it takes the visuals and the silky-smooth performance of long-time veteran Maaya Sakamoto for the impact to truly hit home. Even the camera scanning over her strategically covered naked body factors into this vibe, as we see Eugeo gradually being drawn into her web from his perspective. It's no wonder that Eugeo bought into this trick, even with the voices of young Alice and others trying to appeal to him. The flashes to the bird on the roof weren't meaningless, either; Cardinal mentioned that Alice's memory fragment is somewhere in Administrator's room, so that's almost certainly where it's located.
I found this part to drag in the source material, but kudos to the production team for working their magic in adaptation.
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