Sword Art Online: Alicization
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization ?
Episode 6 is the remarkably early “big reveal” episode, where we get an explanation for what Rath is really up to and how Kazuto fits into that picture. As such, there's not much action or real tension this week, but thanks to good pacing and some wise directorial choices, the big info dump is much less cumbersome and more involving than it could have been. I was worried about how this part would play out, since this is one of the driest points in the source material early on, but once again, this adaptation is exceeding my expectations.
This episode covers pages 38-85 of the 10th novel, completing Chapter 2 of the story. As with previous content, it skims over a lot of technical details, although the discussion about top-down vs. bottom-up AIs that was skipped before is brought back here, which had to be explained for Rath's goals to make any sense. Asuna's conversation with the other girls in ALO is new material, presumably a means to keep other cast members slightly more involved, but it doesn't disrupt the flow of the story, so it's not a problem. Condensing all of the technical details makes Rath's scheme more palatable to digest, allowing the episode to reach the perfect stopping point without feeling too stretched or too shortened.
As for the actual story content, the mysteries that stand out are why Underworld exists in the first place, what the whole point to the STL interface is, and why it's so important for Kazuto specifically to be involved. The most obvious answer for that last question is because Kazuto has had the lengthy time in a VR system needed to make long-term participation in the setting work. (The novels offer a more detailed description, but the logic behind it is easy enough to deduce.) Kazuto was brought here because the STL machine's manipulation of fluctlights can actually compensate for the brain damage he suffered from the few minutes of oxygen deprivation he suffered, but that doesn't explain why Underworld exists in the first place. The simple version? It's a simulator to generate “bottom-up” AIs, which are grown organically by learning things as they age rather than being installed with knowledge up front. That theoretically eliminates one of the biggest technical problems with traditional AIs—the inability to handle something they haven't learned. The practical reason for doing this is to develop AIs capable of controlling combat vehicles, hence replacing the need for human soldiers to fight and die.
Entities like Eugeo come from using the STL to replicate the fluctlight (soul) of a baby, which is a fairly heady concept that raises some significant ethical issues. We also learn that Alice's action of putting her hand across the boundary in episode one was monumental because it represented exactly what Kikuoka and his crew had been looking for: an AI capable of stepping beyond the Taboo Index, making them capable of acting as capable soldiers. The conversation between Kikuoka, Higa, Rinko, and Asuna also fills in another previously-skipped tidbit, that the name of the project to develop AI soldiers has the acronym ALICE, so the “Alicization” in the title refers to the effort to develop the AIs in general. Frankly, the name similarity strikes me (and SAO's characters) as too convenient, so I wouldn't be surprised if the late stages of the story ultimately reveal that it's more than just a coincidence.
The nurse who attended Kazuto during the GGO incident also reappears, but the juicier scene is Rinko's talk with Asuna afterwards. It's a conversation that needed to happen, and it's not at all hard to understand that Rinko would dread this, because she was essentially an enabler for Kayaba. She essentially explains how she ended up in a relationship with Kayaba and raises the interesting point that she did intend to kill Kayaba at one point, but when push came to shove she couldn't do it. The parallels this has to the inability of AIs in Underworld to break the Taboo Index are probably intentional, but besides that, killing someone, much less someone you love, should be hard. Asuna not holding anything against her is also understandable, since the whole incident did bring her and Kazuto together. None of that nor learning that Kayaba was socially reclusive before Rinko came along washes away the dark stain of what happened, and I've never thought that SAO was trying to redeem Kayaba or make him come across as sympathetic. Rather, these flashbacks seem to suggest an emotional detachment that probably contributed to his heinous decision to force others to join him on his quest to complete his childhood dream.
The only other interesting visual detail in this episode is the focus on Asuna's ring, which marks yet another small tie-in to Ordinal Scale. Anyway, this marks the end of the real-world interlude. The story will move back to Underworld for at least the next couple of episodes, but now with a fuller sense of what's really going on.
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