Sword Art Online: Alicization – Episode 1 “Underworld”

The long-anticipated return of sci-fi/VR adventure anime Sword Art Online‘s English dub has arrived. The adaptation of Reki Kawahara’s widely acclaimed light novel series continues into its third season, beginning the Alicization story arc. It’s the longest arc of the novels so far and the show will run for a whopping four cours (a “cour” generally runs for 12-13 episodes, meaning the arc is likely to span around 50 episodes), beginning with the hour-long premiere titled “Underworld”.

Part 1

The episode begins with protagonist Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya in a mysterious virtual world, where, despite only appearing to be 11-12 years old, it’s clear he has been for a long time. He and his “childhood friends” Eugeo and Alice (voiced in English by Brandon Winckler and Kayli Mills respectively) perform their daily duties in a small, rural northern town. Eugeo and Kirito spend their days trying to cut down a gargantuan tree called the Gigas Cedar with a basic axe, while Alice studies magical abilities called Sacred Arts and regularly makes lunch for the three of them. This opening establishes the bonds formed by Kirito’s long-term stay in this world, as he and Eugeo wrestle on the ground like brothers and make fun quips with the adorable, too-pure-for-this-world Alice.

Alice, Kirito and Eugeo make a surprising discovery inside the northern cave. (Photo courtesy of A-1 Pictures.)

The fun comes to a heartbreaking end, however, when the trio travels to a northern cave in search of ice to help keep their food colder and fresher in the future. (Importantly, this was Kirito’s idea, showing his influence in that the AI Eugeo and Alice decided to go with him despite their slight concern.) Although successful in their mission, they get lost in the cave and accidentally exit to the other side of the world known as the Dark Territory. As they watch a dragon-riding protector of the realm called an Integrity Knight battle a monster high in the sky, Alice accidentally slips and her fingertips brush the ground of the Dark Territory.

We learn that the Underworld operates on a strict set of laws and regulations called the Taboo Index, and even the slightest indiscretion results in severe punishment. The day after the trio return from the cave to their hometown, an Integrity Knight arrives and promptly places Alice under arrest before taking her away. Everyone in this world – Kirito aside – is an AI, bound to the Underworld’s law and incapable of fighting back against it. Alice’s own father doesn’t hesitate to hand her over to the Integrity Knight, and while Kirito screams at Eugeo to grab Alice and run, Eugeo struggles but is incapable of performing a forbidden action on his own.

And thus ends the first half of “Underworld” as Kirito awakens back in the real world.

Part 2

After the whole gang engages in a quick battle in Gun Gale Online – in which their direct opponents mysteriously flee after a short time – Sinon, Kirito and Asuna meet at Agil’s restaurant the next day for a chat. Kirito explains that he is helping test some new VR tech from a mysterious developer named Rath, a member of whom is none other than the seemingly-sketchy-yet-seemingly-decent Seijirou Kikuoka of the Japanese SDF. However, Kirito has no memory of his dives after he wakes up, and also does not know what Rath’s ultimate goal is in creating the Underworld.

Rath seems at least somewhat untrustworthy, as we can assume they’re lying on one important point: when asked how long he spends in the Underworld at a time, Kirito is unsure but assumes that it could be days, or even weeks. However, the exceptionally strong bonds Kirito formed with Eugeo and Alice suggest that, incredibly, he somehow spent years in the Underworld. How this will be explained remains to be seen, but it’s clear Rath has something bigger than VR gaming in mind with this technology.

Kirito discusses his work with Rath and explains the Soul Translator tech to Asuna and Sinon. (Photo courtesy of A-1 Pictures.)

Kirito also reveals that the machine he’s been using is called the Soul Translator, or STL. It connects to a part of the brain called the “Fluctlight”, aka the place where Rath believes the human soul resides. Mercifully, Kirito’s explanation of the tech’s function is streamlined (in the novel, it’s nearly 50 pages of neurological jargon and quantum mechanics theory), though I’m sure we’ll learn more about it in the coming episodes.

Finally, as Asuna and Kirito part ways with Sinon and head home, they are suddenly encountered by none other than Johnny Black – a member of Laughing Coffin from the Aincrad arc as well as an accomplice in the Death Gun plot – who attacks Kirito with a deadly poison syringe. Kirito pushes Asuna away and stabs Black in the thigh with the sharp end of his umbrella. Both weapons hit their target, and the premiere ends with Kirito unconscious on the ground.

Summary

The Alicization premiere does an excellent job laying the groundwork from the novel while teasing many questions and suspicions along with a cliffhanger ending. Plenty of time is allotted to establish Kirito’s friendship with Eugeo and Alice, and Brandon Winckler and Kayli Mills are both welcome additions to the English cast. Mills in particular shines as young Alice and I look forward to hearing their voices when the two characters are older. The parts of the Underworld we get to see are fascinating, in many ways a throwback rural culture devoid of any technology in the characters’ everyday lives.

The script is another high point, with the aforementioned fluctlight and STL explanations cut down and easier to understand than in the novel. SAO has struggled at times with episodes that rely too heavily on explanation dialogue, but the balance is handled well in “Underworld”. Alice and Eugeo’s characters are also well-established, their conversations and activities making them completely indiscernible as AI fluctlights until the moment when Alice is arrested. Eugeo cannot even make an attempt to save her despite Kirito’s persistent screams and struggles, giving us an idea of the type of world and set of laws that Rath has created.

Is Kirito’s condition fatal after being poisoned? Will Eugeo attempt to rescue Alice? And when Kirito and Eugeo inevitably meet again, will Kirito’s memory somehow be triggered? What is Rath, exactly, and what do they hope to accomplish with the Soul Translator? So many questions, answers (hopefully) coming soon. Until next time!

Sword Art Online: Alicization is currently airing in North America every Saturday at 12:30 am EST/11:30 pm CST on Toonami.  

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Author: Joe Ballard View all posts by

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