The Soul Translator is a state-of-the-art full-dive interface which interacts with the user's Fluctlight—the technological equivalent of a human soul—and fundamentally differs from the orthodox method of sending signals to the brain. The private institute Rath aims to perfect their creation by enlisting the aid of Sword Art Online survivor Kazuto Kirigaya. He works there as a part-time employee to test the system's capabilities in the Underworld: the fantastical realm generated by the Soul Translator. As per the confidentiality contract, any memories created by the machine in the virtual world are wiped upon returning to the real world. Kazuto can only vaguely recall a single name, Alice, which provokes a sense of unease when mentioned in reality. When Kazuto escorts Asuna Yuuki home one evening, they chance upon a familiar foe. Kazuto is mortally wounded in the ensuing fight and loses consciousness. When he comes to, he discovers that he has made a full-dive into the Underworld with seemingly no way to escape. He sets off on a quest, seeking a way back to the physical world once again. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
In a world where popular light novels gets anime, manga, games, and hell, even live action movies, there’s one title I’m sure no anime fan can ignore. Sword Art Online. Becoming ever more popular and entering a mainstream line of anime adaptations, the franchise has also no doubt sparked decent deal of controversy. But hey, controversy sometimes makes cash right?
It’s not rocket science to realize SAO would eventually get a continuation. It was just a matter of when and after 5 years since the second season, the time is now. Sword Art Online Alicization covers the light novels with an extended amount of material, much more than the previous season. It’s so much that in fact, a full 2-cour season of 24 episodes isn’t enough. Luckily, it has been confirmed the series would run more than that and given an additional season for its adaptation. However, the big question people should ask themselves if this is another SAO show to jump into or a cash grab at making more money.
Starting with the prologue, we get a double length episode to give a general background of the new season. Make no mistake though as Alicization is not going to spoonfeed viewers with recapping. The show assumes you are familiar with the first two shows so anyone hoping to watch this needs to have completed the first two seasons. Light novel adaptations tends to suffer a lot from adaptation standards but thankfully, Alicization manages to deliver a faithful start with its character cast and storytelling. Besides Kirito, we are introduced to Eugeo, a new character who serves as his partner and best friend in this arc. Similar to Kirito, he has a kind heart although lacks experience in the beginning compared to him. He also appears somewhat cowardly in the beginning as he is unable to prevent certain events from happening, in particular for failing to help his childhood friend Alice. It’s not until he meets Kirito that he develops a resolve and finds the courage to become a stronger person. That is to say, Alicization features a lot of character bonding especially in the first half of the show. Eugeo begins to grow out of his shell after training and becoming strong enough to fight as a warrior. It really shouldn’t take long to realize that he has great potential, perhaps even someday of surpassing Kirito himself. As for Kirito, his personality remain largely the same in this season. That is, he is a selfless person who isn’t afraid to help others in need. Kirito and Eugeo develops great respect for each other and the latter even finds his resolve. The two sometimes almost feel like brothers.
Outside of the duo, you may have noticed another prominent character being featured in the trailers or key visuals. Alice would be her name and she is Eugeo’s childhood friend. The show makes it clear that she is an important character from her introduction to later on in the story. Alicization also devotes time to developing her character after meeting Kirito. Despite having a rocky start, she develops respect and a growing trust for him. Now, people may have a curiousity if Alice become another ‘harem girl’ similar to some of the previous seasons. SAO is not a harem although it gives off a stench at times. Thankfully, there’s no need to worry. The closest that Alice seems to be with Kirito is when they are at the tower during one of the episodes and nothing more comes out of it. On the other hand, Kirito’s friends from the real world are still concerned about his well-being. In particular, Asuna searches for him through unorthodox methods while discovering some revelations about the technology in the real world. Remember, the world of SAO contains complex technology that defies the law of nature. I’m not even referring the VR system or robotics but rather the capability of influencing people’s lives. This extends to the virtual world where the Administrator managed to use system commands to reverse her own age. Sounds unbelievable, right?
As with previous seasons, Alicization can’t be complete without antagonists and conflicts. One of the major antagonist in the new season is the Administrator, Quinella and her Integrity Knights. She’s an important character as not only is she a threat to the main protagonists but also a catalyst for some of the key events in this season. This includes character manipulation that extends to our new characters such as Eugeo and Alice. I’m not going to lie though, one of the events in this show is rather disturbing to watch considering the way she manipulates others. (I’m looking at you, Eugeo) On even more disturbing matters, we even have characters that commits unforgiveable sins that pushes Eugeo to the edge. It’s the type of event that brings controversy out of its fullest. I’m not going to spoil it but when you get to that particular episode, you’ll feel disgusted too. It’s so disturbing that it even changes Eugeo’s views on the laws of their world and causes him to rebel. Quinella herself also demonstrates a God-like complex with her own dark motives. If I said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. She is detestable. I doubt anyone with a sane mind would find her character likable.
I can’t be the only one to notice that the animation quality improved more than the previous seasons, right? The Ufotable-like animation is used in parallel with the Sword Art Online movie, Ordinal Scale. Not only did the animation style improve, it also managed to craft an imaginative virtual world to it its fullest. The character designs are also featured in great details compared to previous seasons. In particular, Alice is important to note for her chivalrous look and golden armor. Character expressions are meaningful with an emphasis put on human emotions. Eugeo is a prominent example especially as his personality shifts from a weak survivor to a noble swordsman. While I’m not impressed by how antagonist are portrayed this season, they were able to deliver their dialogues straight with a degree of villainous expressions. Quinella is the biggest culprit with her manipulative personality. Her malevolence simply cannot be overlooked.
The SAO franchise is one of the longer light novel running adaptations that continues to build more into its universe. Truthfully and despite some of the controversy from the past seasons, this one managed to finally jump out of its rabbit hole and deliver what I wanted to see. With another season on the way, I cross my fingers that it will ride on this momentum.