Our look at Sword Art Online continues! Man it has been a ride so far. We’ve discussed the first two seasons and the movie. I’ve given plenty of daily updates, and gushed about what is becoming a show that I’m really liking, far more than I expected.
Now we have reached the third season, and I’ve already completed the first quarter, and already it’s left with me for plenty of things to talk about. So after the cut, join me as I dive into the first part of the third season of Sword Art Online Alicization: Alicization Beginning.
One of the things I’ve discovered throughout watching this first quarter of Alicization is that I need to change up how I view Sword Art Online. Unlike the previous seasons where each arc was told in 12 episodes or less, Alicization is a 50 episode story, which means that instead of the lean and mean stories that SAO has told previously, instead we are getting a sprawling epic. Which is good because most of what I have watched so far has been nothing but establishment and prologue.
Now there is nothing wrong with that. The benefit of having such a bit episode count this time is that Alicization is able to take it’s time with the story. Instead of rushing through scenes, we instead get time to build up the world, the characters and the story. By the time the credits roll on that 13th episode, we know who the good guys are, the bad guys, their motives, and goals. We know about the world, how it works and just what Kirito is doing here and what he has to do to get out. That’s all great, but I can’t deny that there haven’t been some growing pains. If anything Alicization represents a major paradigm shift for Sword Art Online. Instead of the micro-style personal stories that had dominated the Fairy Dance, Phantom Bullet, Mother’s Rosario, and the second half of Aincrad, Kawahara seems to have returned to the macro epic style of story that he tried to do in the first part of Aincrad. Whether or not that works is yet to be determined.
Still though, the personal touches that dominated Kawahara’s previous work are still here. Most notably in Kirito who once again discovers a new angle to this character. He is a bit older now, and has a sense of maturity and calmness that wasn’t present in this previous outings. His conversations with Asuna at the start of the arc show a young man eager to start the next chapter of his life, a life he hopes to share with Asuna. No longer is he just a gamer, a shut-in NEET with no life beyond the virtual screen. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this, but comparing the Kirito of now, to the Kirito of those first few episodes of Aincrad is an almost night and day difference. His growth has been one of the best thing about SAO, and Alicization adds onto this by finally giving him something he’s always needed: A guy friend.
Eugeo, the nominal new lead of the series is a welcome addition to the story. Quiet, kind, and with a sense of justice, Eugeo gives the series not only its first second male lead, but an outlet for Kirito to be something no one might have expected or thought they wanted. While Alicization is still very much his story, and his struggle to free himself from this new world. Beginning and his friendship with Eugeo also allow Kirito to be a mentor, a brother, and have someone to talk to that isn’t a girl. As much as Asuna, Sinon, Suguha and the others are important, as much as their friendships, and Asuna’s love is a defining factor in his life, they can’t fill in for having a good, loyal and strong male friend. The brotherhood shared between Kirito and Eugeo, from the gentle teasing, to the way Kirito helps Eugeo step up to manhood is something that can only come from a male friendship, and after three seasons, I can’t believe just how great it was to finally see it. He is the Obi-Wan to Eugeo’s Anakin, the Batman to his Robin, and the elder senpai. This side of Kirito was something I never thought I needed, but now I know it was something I wanted.
In terms of the plot itself, Beginning also shows how the world of SAO is moving forward. Like I’ve said before, the events of Aincrad have had a ripple effect on every story arc since, but it is in Alicization where it seems to finally arrive. Aside from Kirito’s actions in Aincrad and Phantom Bullet being the direct result of his current state. The idea of Japan trying to create “bottom-up’ artificial intelligence, and created a world to nurture and raise those AI, before turning them loose in their own sandbox is something really interesting. As is the explanation of the villain of the arc Quinella, a rogue AI who discovered access to the source code and has been ruling over the world like a god. While it is all very macro view stuff, (and a departure from the personal stories of the previous) it does show once again that the SAO incident wasn’t just something people forgot, and it’s forever changed how people will view virtual reality in this world.
The Alicization Beginning Arc of Sword Art Online Alicization is all about that build up for the rest of the story. Slow in some places, and a little exposition heavy in others, it still remains an excellent entry into the SAO lexicon, and lays good groundwork for what seems to be a massive change-up in the way Sword Art Online is telling it stories. Whether that works or not remains to be seen, but Kawahara has entered this arc with more confidence, skill and ability that he ever did with Aincrad, and I have faith that he’ll able to pull off what he wasn’t able to do there. It’s a great start to what has been a great series, and I can’t wait to see where we go next. So with that, I hope you’ll come back next week as I dive into then second half of the season with Alicization Rising and Alicization Uniting!