Sword Art Online: Alicization
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization ?
With episode 5, the series makes a much-needed transition back to the physical world to show what happened in the wake of Johnny Black's attack from the end of episode one. This episode doesn't quite explain why Kazuto is in Underworld, but it does set up most of the context necessary for that explanation next week. Still, as setup episodes go, this is a quite effective one that ties in some threads from various other parts of the franchise.
This episode corresponds exactly to the first 37 pages of novel 10, though it's the least direct adaptation so far. While some scenes are copied practically word-for-word from the source material, others are new. The most significant thing dropped is a more detailed commentary on AIs and how Yui carries out her searches, but I thought that bogged the story down when I was reading the novel, so it's not missed here. I was also pleased by how this version keeps the supporting cast more involved, such as with Klein driving Asuna and Suguha around during the investigation. The most significant addition is that various characters are shown using the Augma devices from Ordinal Scale so they can interact with Yui on location in the physical world. It's a slick way to integrate the movie content without disrupting the original story at all. Another addition is the opening scene that specifically links the incident with Johnny Black back to the raid on Laughing Coffin in Aincrad, as shown in the GGO arc. It's an example of a scene that works better in animated form than it might have worked in print, making for a sharp inclusion.
From a pure storytelling perspective, the most significant moment is the formal introduction of Rinko Kojiro, the coworker/lover of Akihiko Kayaba who was mentioned briefly in the epilogue of the Mother's Rosario arc as the person who had passed on the designs for the Medicuboid from Kayaba. She's a crucial link in the overall story, and not just because she provides the means for a disguised Asuna to sneak onto Rath's Ocean Turtle. (The “rath” creature from the poem “Jabberwocky” has been described as both a turtle and a pig, hence the significance of Rinko's observation about what the Ocean Turtle looks like. In other words, it's another overt reference to Alice in Wonderland.) A picture of her provides another link to Ordinal Scale, and her flashback scene to her time with Kayaba also provides some of the keenest insight yet into what Kayaba may have been trying to accomplish with the game Sword Art Online. Kayaba indicated at the end of the very first arc that Aincrad was based on a childhood dream, but this flashback scene clarifies that he never got to finish that dream and find out what was at the top. That raises the tantalizing suggestion that Kayaba's participation in the game as Heathcliff was more about trying to complete his childhood dream than just wanting to monitor the game's progress from the inside. It also adds new meaning to his plan to make himself the final boss on floor 100.
But, again, her introduction and the discovery process are all setup for next episode's reveal about Kazuto's status. Certain assumptions can be made from the doctor's concern that Kazuto could have suffered brain damage after his heart was stopped for five minutes, but the how and why will have to wait for the next episode. Asuna also deserves some props for being able to pull off the deception even with the technical assist, including some remarkably good English. The attention to detail on clothing designs is another high point, as the avatars in the opening scene in ALO were clearly updated and various characters were wearing outfits in the physical world that I don't think we've seen before; the cat heads on Suguha's outfit were an interesting detail. The one technical downside is that the CG rendition of the helicopter was a bit too artificial. The return of some of the franchise's core musical themes and the scene where Yui encourages Asuna to follow in Kazuto's footsteps were also nice touches, as was the symbolic scene where a strand of Rinko's hair slides out from being tucked behind her ear – the same kind of strand that Kayaba had brushed back in a tender moment in the flashback. It's a simple scene that's nonetheless loaded with meaning.
As both setup for what's to come and an effective adaptation of the source material, this episode warrants a high score.
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