Sword Art Online: Alicization
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 23 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization ?
I had expressed some concerns about how the timing of these final few episodes would play out, but it looks like I was worried for nothing. By merely allowing the key scenes to play out fully, the series has chewed up an entire episode on a chunk of story that only covers one segment of a bigger battle – in other words, SAO took a page from Dragon Ball Z's playbook. Normally I would consider that a negative, but in this case it works okay.
I say “okay” because the episode still has a sense of stretching things out. In particular, the scenes where Administrator is taking her time killing Cardinal could have been done much more succinctly. We didn't need her display of sadism to know that Administrator is evil; she had already proven that by using people from the memories of the Integrity Knights in order to power her Sword Golem. That scene's slower pacing does at least allow Eugeo to collect his thoughts enough to realize what he can do, taking his training about becoming one with his sword as literally as possible by having Cardinal use her dying strength to fuse him into a weapon with the Blue Rose Sword. This leads to a fight scene where a flying sword defeats the Sword Golem before going after Administrator herself.
This was not at all the twist that I was expecting when I first read the source material, and after seeing it in anime form I'm still not sure how I feel about it. In retrospect, the series has been setting up a transformation like this for quite some time, but there's one aspect missing from the anime version compared to the book. The source novel much more heavily stressed (to an almost irritating degree) Eugeo's devastating regrets, both about being powerless to stop Alice from being taken when they were kids and about being turned against Kirito and Alice by Administrator. Those feelings shaped his decision in this climax, while the anime version mostly portrays this as just the best trick he could come up with at the time. It's possible that some of this will come up in retrospect for the final episode, but the drama feels weaker for not having more firmly established that up front.
The fight ultimately coming down to one-on-one combat between Kirito and Administrator is perhaps the most predictable aspect of this whole series. It's the classic scenario where the other cast members help out by covering for the protagonist and removing obstacles until he has gathered his will for the final fight, but I did like how Kirito collected himself in time to prevent a repeat of what happened to Asuna at the end of SAO's very first arc. (As to why Alice didn't just use her sword, the source novel makes it a little clearer that she expended it deflecting Administrator's previous attacks. Besides, she wouldn't have given Kirito the sharp reminder of Asuna had the Osmanthus Blade been usable.) The action scenes leading up to this moment were also hardy trivial, with the musical score, animation, and especially sound effects all working together to turn in effectively dramatic scenes. The detail work on the dome of the room is also impressive, especially given that only portions of the whole scene are seen in backgrounds at various points. And of course there's plenty of fanservice; I think this series may be setting a record for continuous nudity by one character, and while the camera doesn't overtly dwell on that, it never lets viewers forget that Administrator is depending on her hair to stay barely covered either.
All of this sets the series up well for the finale of its first act. Where could the story possibly go next for another two cours, now that Administrator's role in things is set to conclude? The series has already provided some vague hints about this, but anime-only viewers will have a dramatically more definitive picture of its future direction by the end of next episode.
Sword Art Online: Alicization is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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