Sword Art Online: Alicization
Episodes 1-2

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Sword Art Online: Alicization ?

Unlike with most series that I've reviewed for daily streaming, I have actually read the source material for this story. I am current with the English releases of the novels (the 6th of 10 novels is in my reading queue right now), so you can expect running anime-to-novel comparisons for most or all of this series. In the interest of avoiding spoilers for anime-only fans, I will restrict commentary to what's currently going on in the story, except for the occasional "this will be expanded on later" comment. Also, for the sake of clarity, I will be referring to Kazuto as Kirito when talking about what he's doing in Underworld, but refer to him as Kazuto otherwise.

The double-length first episode was the prologue for Alicization, so episode 2 is where the main story actually begins. Episode 1 laid enough groundwork about what Kazuto has been doing lately to come to a reasonable conclusion about what probably happened to him after his real-world encounter with Johnny Black. For whatever reason, he was plugged into the STL system, presumably because it's functioning as some sort of life support. Assuming that's the case, it remains unclear why he's not able to contact Kikuoka or whoever else is directly controlling the system from the outside. Previous comments about memory-wipes and time acceleration within the system may be affecting this, or perhaps there's just no mechanical way to directly interface with Underworld from the outside in real time. Whatever the case may be, Kazuto is clearly stuck in Underworld for the time being, and given the length of this arc, he will be for quite some time.

The Underworld setting quickly becomes an intriguing mix of game mechanics and daily life in a fantasy setting. Further references get thrown out about the mysterious Taboo Index that seems to govern everything, and details like Callings suggest that Underworld is a highly regimented world. Even so, the people don't act like normal NPCs and seem to have full autonomy within the constraints of the Taboo Index. Game elements are still present in the form of the System Call windows and the way the sturdiness of objects is numerically indexed, but how deep that system goes is unclear at this point. Kazuto also seems to be able to access his Aincrad Sword Skills, though the reasons why remain unclear once again.

In a story sense, Eugeo is clearly a grown-up version of the boy he knew but can't remember from his earlier time in Underworld, but what has become of Alice in the intervening six years, since she never returned to the village? The promo art and opener for this arc make it clear that she's still alive, providing even spoiler-level hints of what's happened to her, but anime-only fans shouldn't expect to find out what those images mean for probably at least a dozen episodes. You can probably expect an even longer wait for a reveal about the nearly-naked woman in the episode's final shot too. Even by SAO's normal standards for storytelling, this will be a slow-paced arc, so get comfortable for the ride.

Fortunately, the story gives fans a fair amount to appreciate. On top of the bevy of mysteries at hand and all of the tantalizing tidbits thrown out in the strong opener, the relationship forming between Kirito and Eugeo already shows great promise. In all his adventures up to this point, Kazuto/Kirito has mostly been surrounded by girls, so he hasn't had a close male friend prior to Eugeo – and no, Klein doesn't count. Watching how this develops and what effect that might have on a boy who's practically had to be forced into socializing should be interesting, and how the anime version handles this element could be the biggest key to the success of this arc. The technical merits so far also look promising, and the series sports strong songs and visuals for both its opener and closer.

So far, this anime adaptation is following the source material relatively closely. Episode 1 almost exactly conformed to the prologue chapters (except for cutting the cliffhanger off earlier, probably to save for later), while this episode covers chapters 1 and 2 and part of 3, although the scene where Kirito discovers that his Sword Skills work is from content that will probably be covered in one of the next two episodes. The content being cut is mostly just Kazuto's more detailed ruminations on his situation, which wouldn't have translated well into anime form. Overall, I am quite pleased with how this adaptation is starting out, and it gives me hope that the anime version may smooth over some upcoming rough spots.

Rating: B+

Sword Art Online: Alicization is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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