Sword Art Online: Alicization
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization ?
When deciding on a screenshot for this episode, I first considered going with a shot of Kirito and Eugeo squaring off, as their fight dominates the first half of the episode. I went with this one instead because while it doesn't come from a tense battle, this is the more meaningful and symbolic moment. The three protagonists all standing together with smiles on their faces is something that we haven't seen since episode one, and it represents the culmination of the Underworld story's original goal, even if the story as a whole is still building toward the mid-arc climax. This shot is the series' “Avengers Assemble” moment, and it will only become more meaningful as the rest of the series plays out.
Getting to that point first requires waging the inevitable fight between Kirito and Eugeo, which in a cynical sense has probably been preordained ever since Kirito re-befriended Eugeo on his return to Underworld back in episode two. Perhaps not coincidentally, their duel is also the best action scene of this series to date, with more sustained motion than anything that has come before. Kirito comments that he had imagined Eugeo eventually surpassing him in swordplay, and Eugeo shows that he's easily Kirito's equal at this point; he even stops the moves that Kirito hadn't yet showed him from the “Aincard style.” Granted, Kirito may have been holding back because he was still trying to convince Eugeo, and his efforts do seem to have paid off, but even going all-out, I think Kirito would have been hard-pressed if he hadn't been able to get through to his friend. Eugeo's little plan to make it look like he was still under Administrator's control and get close enough to use the dagger might have worked, had it not been for her protection. It's too bad for her that there's at least one sword in this scenario that isn't actually made of steel.
Of course, things are hardly going to be that simple. The disgusting little creep Chudelkin is still around, and he shows at the end of the episode that he's capable of more than just parlor tricks. We still don't have any idea what Administrator can actually do in a fight yet; she fought with swords against Cardinal in one flashback, but certainly she has other tricks up her sleeve. Or perhaps that's not the best metaphor to use in this case, given that she spends the bulk of her appearance in this episode covered by nothing but strategically-placed strands of hair, and she doesn't seem fazed in the slightest by it. It's a hefty dose of fanservice, to be sure, and the anime version doesn't make it quite as clear that her clothing was destroyed by the discharge that threw Eugeo backward, but it speaks to her character that Administrator sees everyone else as so far beneath her that being seen naked is merely trivial. Then again, we are talking about a Reki Kawahara story here, so I doubt the nudity was intended to be that deep.
Regardless, this episode covers more territory than I would have expected – a full 75 pages, more than 1/3 of novel 14 – so now I'm left wondering how three more episodes could be filled with what's left, especially given a couple of tidbits that are left out. Either 23 will be the last episode (which would make sense, since there was an unplanned recap episode) or else some extra material may be involved. The adaptation team hasn't messed up in any major way since adding that scene with Asuna virtually talking to the others from the Turtle, so I'm willing to presume that they will manage the rest of the series' run just fine. Overall, this episode is a strong set-up for the finale, even if Alice is relegated to not doing much, and I suspect that she'll be making up for that in the near future.
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