Sword Art Online: Alicization – Episode 12 “The Sage of the Library”

The harrowing story behind the creation of the Underworld and its people begins to take shape in “The Sage of the Library”.

Kirito’s priorities have been shifting since he first arrived in the Underworld following his real-world assault. At the start, his goal was simply to learn a bit about the world and why he was brought there, and figure out how to return to his family and friends in the real world. After learning of Alice’s arrest, he journeys south with Eugeo to get her back by infiltrating the Axiom Church – a move he believes will also allow him to contact a member of Rath on the outside. Now, after the horrifying events at the Academy and some new revelations this week, Kirito begins to understand just how wrong things have gone with the Taboo Index and the Underworld’s entire structure.

Having escaped their Axiom Church prison cell, Kirito and Eugeo face off against the integrity knight Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-One. Both Kirito and Eldrie underestimate each other at first, nearly fatally for the former. It’s a short clash partly notable for

Integrity Knight Eldrie Synthesis Thirty One battles Kirito until Eugeo triggers his lost memories, causing a severe internal struggle. (Photo courtesy of A-1 Pictures)

its gorgeous animation, taking place in a courtyard surrounded with a wide array of colorful flowers and bushes that provides a uniquely soothing contrast to the chaos of battle.

Just as Eldrie takes the upper hand, Eugeo suddenly remembers he has seen the integrity knight before. Eldrie “Woolsburg” was the winner of the most recent Empire Unification Tournament, and as Eugeo relays this information aloud, a triangular prism suddenly begins to jut out of the integrity knight’s head. The prism appears to block the integrity knight’s memories, as Eldrie believes he was “summoned from the heavens” only a month ago. But Eugeo recalling the tournament as well as his mother’s name causes a severe internal struggle for Eldrie, who seems on the verge of recovering his lost memories – until a second knight appears and shoots an arrow directly into Kirito’s left foot.

It’s a painful end to an intriguing development, which seems to confirm that integrity knights are indeed the people they seem to be, but have all memories of their past life blocked when they are brought to the Axiom Church. Despite all this, things get even weirder. As Kirito and Eugeo run from the newly arrived knight (yes, Kirito somehow runs full throttle despite taking an arrow to one foot), they escape through a suddenly-appearing door created by, wait for it, the cardinal system. Cardinal, born through the system Rath used to create the Underworld, has taken the form of a young human girl.

Cardinal, a literal AI manifestation of Rath’s cardinal system, explains the Underworld’s history to Kirito. (Photo courtesy of A-1 Pictures)

She leads Kirito and Eugeo into a mammoth-sized library filled with history books, including the story of how the Underworld was created. However, it turns out history has been changed by Cardinal’s “sister”, the supreme leader of the Underworld who calls herself Administrator.

To keep a long story short (the anime kept it mercifully shorter than the novel), Administrator grew up as a girl named Quinella, a descendant of one of the four creators of the Underworld (aka Rath employees). Quinella was well-loved and exceptionally talented with Sacred Arts, but she soon became too powerful and learned she could perform miracles…and evils. She conned the population into thinking she was a god, and eventually created the Axiom Church and wrote the Taboo Index.

This all seems like a basic enough “insanely powerful evil ruler” type villain, right? Here’s where it gets disturbing: Administrator, desperate to stop the natural aging process and preserve her youthful beauty for eternity, successfully hacked into the real-world system to make herself immortal. Think about that – an AI who became so independent and power-driven that she not only subverted Rath’s entire virtual world under her rule, but she also figured out how to prevent death.

A special shoutout must go to the performance of Maureen Price, who made her debut as the English voice of Administrator in this episode. Price captures the character brilliantly, her voice alternating between alluring and terrifying, and at one point a near-psychotic laugh drives home the point of how serious of a villain she is. I look forward to hearing more of her in future episodes.

It’s a great evolving storyline that showcases SAO at its best: the ability to make viewers consider the potential consequences of growing artificial intelligence, coupled with the fact that technology’s progress cannot be stopped, whether for better or worse. It is often written that AI will one day soon learn to think for itself and eventually become smarter than humans. We’ve already had instances where a project has been forced to shut down because an AI creation thought too independently and refused to obey orders. It’s a slippery slope and no one quite knows where it will lead.

Back to SAO, you wonder what these consequences will be for Rath when they eventually find out what all has transpired in their carefully crafted world. We know for sure at least one high-ranking Rath employee has dark intentions, having instilled his own greed and a lust for power into the first Underworld AIs, which eventually led to the Quinella/Administrator autocracy. Is there something in the library that will aid Kirito and Eugeo in their quest? Is Cardinal herself, as Administrator’s “sister”, the key to unlocking Alice and the other integrity knights’ lost memories?

The bigger picture of the Underworld is starting to emerge and we can likely expect more crucial revelations from Cardinal in episode 13.

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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