The entire season I was on guard hoping that the rumors I heard about Alicization would truly have it be (quite literally) the redemption arc that the series needed. The moment I let my guard down, the moment I do, that’s when I’m reminded “Oh right, this is SAO” and it fucks up again. Come on, why is this the thing you’re consistent about?
Following the events of Mother’s Rosario, Alicization takes a different turn to seasons prior where this time, Kazuto finds himself helping out with a research project involving ‘Fluctlights’, artificial human souls that were created via digital means. After an extremely unfortunate incident (that really shouldn’t have happened), Kazuto is put on life support and is thrown into a new VR world called the ‘Underworld’, where he alongside a Fluctlight in the system named Eugeo hope to rescue a girl from their past named Alice who was taken away by the powers that be that govern the Underworld.
First and foremost, the story of Alicization’s first half spans the entirety of the series’s runtime, being given ample runtime to fill in the cracks and let the story mature and progress at its own pace. Because of this, any previous problems with the series rushing are pretty much mute since so much of the Underworld and how this VR reality is run is explained and talked about with great detail. In a sense, Alicization doesn’t really feel like SAO because so many of its narrative elements are given time to mature, the massive power fantasy with its protagonist is muted down to be almost equal with his cohorts, asspulls are saved only for the end (I’ll get to that one…), and the rules of the world are so grounded and consistent that I found myself consistently accepting what was going on and actually was very intrigued by what would happen next given the fact that the build up of the entire series was so well done and reminded me of when I was super engrossed in the series watching Season 1 for the first time.
However nothing good can last forever, and the unfortunate reality that this was still part of the SAO series reared its ugly head and put all of the work and effort to make the story not terrible into the trash because fuck you. Both the ending and final encounter with the antagonist of the series are AWFUL. It feels like Kawahara Reki just didn’t know what to fucking do to cap off this first half so they just went “GIANT SWORDS” and called it a day and capped everything off with a massive cliffhanger in order to ensure people will continue watching despite the fact that’s just a nail in the coffin for me to expect the worst to come given how confusing and messy the ending is. I am genuinely disappointed (and sad) about how this section of Alicization ended because they had something REALLY good. For once the story didn’t fuck itself so hard, characters were interesting, and the world was really cool, but NO, you can’t go one fucking section of this story without throwing caution to the wind and do not just one stupid thing, but multiple in quick succession because sure, why not I guess.
Kazuto (because I hate calling him Kirito) is probably the most not protagonist protagonist he’s been since Mother’s Rosario. While he largely still doesn’t seem to possess any noticeable character traits for himself beyond being the ‘amazing protagonist’ that reaches for the goal at hand while caring for his friends (you know, generic shit), it’d be wrong for me to say that he doesn’t at least improve as a character. Since the series this time doesn’t put him on a massive pedestal where he’s the virtual gaming god that literally hacks the system and gathers bitches from all four corners of the VR world, what we get is a more subdued and supportive version of him where he’s more trying to back those around him and let their character shine through his help. It’s a nice change of pace because it gave a chance for everyone around him to shine while keeping him relevant enough for his presence to matter. To me, this is the right balance for him.
Next is Eugeo, Kazuto’s partner this time around and probably the most conflicting character the series has made thus far. A largely timid boy who looks up to Kazuto for strength and guidance, what annoys me about Eugeo is how he doesn’t for the most part have agency of his actions, relying so much on Kazuto and Alice for any ‘approval’ of his actions. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have some spectacular moments to himself. With all of the stupid things he does in this series, he conversely has a number of really choice character moments that balance out this weird dichotomy that the series is trying to achieve with him. I’m not particularly a fan of how they ended up doing his character, (especially given that clusterfuck of an ending), but in the long run it’s at least something worth noting.
Then there’s Alice, the sort of ‘endgoal’ girl that makes up the motivation for our protagonists’ actions. If you ask me, there’s nothing bad with Alice’s character. Though she has arguably the least amount of screentime of the three protagonists, she by far has the most impactful use of her appearances due to the whole ‘knight rebellion’ thing she has going on, especially when everything she’s doing is in response to how everything in the Underworld works/is run. It’s a culmination of everything that the worldbuilding/series has done up this point with the setting, and that to me is probably the best thing this season has done in terms of good character.
Real world people hardly matter beyond exposition, so bye Asuna and your dwindling relevance in this story. To make up for that, the residents of the Underworld take on a medieval/European aesthetic with everything from farmers, to knights, to the oppressive church that governs over everything using both faith and an ironclad law to make sure the populace obeys the rules lest they get whisked away in chains. Aside from the Pontifex who is an interesting mix of sociopathic tendencies and god complex (with really shitty plans and a disappointing end), the cast largely falls on continuously building on the world by adding characters like snobby nobles, sword senpais, the blacksmith, knights without their memory, and whatever else you can throw in to make the overall world and narrative that much more interesting since they all culminate into Alice’s character and the protagonists’ motivations, which work towards the series’ favor.
Pretty sure A-1’s budget for the year was spent on this show. Alicization is undoubtedly beautiful, taking the quality and art of what the production studio achieved in Ordinal Scale and turning THAT into the anime adaptation. Flashy effects, fluid animation, gorgeous art, beautiful scenery, and little to no consistency errors, I could go on and on about just how good the art for Alicization is. Hell, even the CG doesn’t even look that bad. I mean it’s noticeable, but the shading and modeling of the damned things look like they fit with the show.
One point of questioning I have for abec and by extension the art team at A-1 is why the Pontifex is like…always naked. Like that’s a nice dress, why’d you basically dissolve it and make her fight the protags with nothing but her birthday suit? Like I get she’s mentally insane with dwindling RAM space, but my god, is fanservice really the only reason why this is a consistent thing for the last what, 6 episodes?
If I had to choose a favorite, I’d say that LiSa’s “ADAMAS” is my favorite of the two OPs. ASCA’s “RESISTER” is good and all, but you can’t go wrong with another song made by the woman who made Crossing Field one of the most recognizable songs in the span of modern anime. Both of these song are extremely high energy and give off that fantasy feel, but I just personally think that ADAMAS, with the drop that it has is just superior. That being said, they’re both great songs, and I’m glad that the new tracks for SAO keep the same quality as the others before it. In contrast, both Eir Aoi’s “Iris” and ReoNa’s “forget-me-not” follow the typical SAO song scheme of being more muted and less energy than their OP counterparts. I prefer forget-me-not to Iris personally, but I find them less memorable by comparison. (Also Yuki Kajiura comes back to compose the OST and oh my god Sacred Swords is a good remix.)
For all the crap that I really want to give for SAO fucking itself over again with such a shitty ending to this first half of Alicization, I can’t deny that this is DEFINITELY a step up from what we ended up getting from GGO (which yes, is the last time that Kazuto was properly in the spotlight). Everything from the pacing, the characters, and the overall writing made it feel worth it to say that I’m watching SAO again unironically.
Eugeo might not be as good as a coinciding protagonist that I initially wanted him to be, but Alice more than enough picked up his slack and became so much better than I expected for being the character that was supposed to first be the ‘damsel in distress’. That being said, the ending is still stupid and I seriously have no idea what the fuck they were thinking when they ultimately unveiled everything because all the build up got torn right the fuck down, why is there giant swords, what’s the motivation for sacrificing yourself, the Pontifex’s plan is stupid, I don’t care if you’re voiced by the Maaya Sakamoto, this is on par with the stupid shit that happened in Fairy dance.
While bracing for disappointment is ultimately what I have to say about Alicization (Part 1 apparently) in the end, I’d be remised if I didn’t once again comment on just how good the build up is this time, especially in comparison to the rest of the series since it felt like the season this time had the time to really make the story happen instead of just let the plot run by. I just hope that by the time Alicization 2 comes around, we get an apology for this climax. Cause man, that was bad.