First Look: Sword Art Online III, Alicization

Lifesong:

Digital spirituality is a theme that’s had hints in past story arcs. This is the first time the show addresses the idea so directly. All the jargon Kirito was throwing around as he explained where soul lives in the human mind was a bit much. The system he’s been helping to test didn’t immediately click into place with the story like I felt it should, and I had a strong urge to pull out a book on neuroscience by the end of it all. I guess that’s that not an awful thing for an anime to accomplish, but it felt a bit weird. I don’t mind some technobabble, but I don’t know enough to appreciate it yet.

Child Kirito in Underworld was an interesting way to start the new season. I felt like it wasn’t a particularly good hook, but the end of the episode made up for that. I have a feeling I’ll be going back through the first 25 minutes of this episode in a few weeks. There were a dozen concepts thrown around. They seemed important, but didn’t connect to anything I’m aware of in the SAO universe. Once the story has started to develop a bit more and I understand what the Taboo Index is, I’ll want to look back. For now, I’ll be happy to know why Alice and Eugeo are important enough to warrant so much early attention.

I was a little put off by the way the show starts without giving context. A few hints at who Alice and Eugeo are or why I should care would have been awesome. Why do I need to care about them? Overall I still liked their story, I just found the introduction odd.

I loved the short GGO sequence that followed immediately after Kirito leaves Underworld and reunites with his friends; Lightsaber Asuna was looking badass in her GGO attire. The vehicular mini-gun seemed like a perfect fit for Silica. It was good fun to see this cast again and begin a new adventure with them, and nearly everyone got a chance to show up and contribute something here.

That ending… Kirito and Asuna are all having a sappy moment, talking about their future and American… Kirito is all excited about leaving Kayaba Akihiko’s influence on behind to focus on the future. BAMN, bad things. You’ll need to watch to know what those are. I guess the story wouldn’t be as interesting if that worked out too easily for them.

It was a bit of a rough start, but not an uninteresting one. I’m super exited to see where this story arc is going.

LB:

Without a single doubt in my mind, SAO III was my ‘go to’ this season. No matter what other dreck the season churned out, this was my golden, shining ray of hope. Something that I could undoubtedly look forward to. Well, the first episode is out. Does it live up to the lofty standards that I’ve come to hold for this series?

Starting things off, it should be noted that SAO III starts with a double-length premiere which begins with Kirito as a child in a strange fantasy village with two other young children. Over the course of the first half, these children face a big event which separates them in a very dramatic fashion. Flash forward to the present and we learn that Kirito is testing a new piece of full-dive equipment which stimulates a person’s soul (which apparently resides in little tubes inside someone’s brain).

This was not an easy episode to get into. I absolutely understand why they went with an hour-long premiere, there was just so much that had to be told right away and there was no way to do it in only 25 minutes. That said though, with absolutely zero context given for why we were seeing the events of the first half until late in the episode, there is going to be a lot of confusion from longtime fans who haven’t yet read the light novels. Then Kirito’s technical monologue about soul technology in the second half made my head hurt even more, which did this episode absolutely zero favors. I get that they were trying their best to cram in a lot of information that the audience needed to know right away but good gods, that speech absolutely killed me.

Additionally, it should be noted that this is not a season for newbies to try and jump into the middle of. All throughout the episode, the series references major events of the past two seasons and does absolutely nothing to remind viewers of what happened during those events, so if you’re not already up to date on SAO history and lore, you’re flying SOL.

That said though, there were still a ton of fantastic things in this episode that fans of the franchise will adore. Besides the story set up, there are a couple of fun action sequences that remind us that Kirito and Asuna are badasses who don’t take any crap from anyone. Specifically, I’m talking about Asuna in her GGO gear kicking ass with a laser sword to take out another group.

Overall, this is the same SAO that we’ve come to know and love. While the first episode gets off to a bit of a rocky start due to the sheer amount of exposition we’re forced to swallow, I have absolutely zero doubts that the next year is going to be completely and totally worth it.

Karen:

For a fan-favorite series, it’s kind of impressive that SAO would do something as potentially alienating to its fanbase as start out with a mysterious, half-hour-long sequence that does nothing but baffle everyone. Of course, this is the show that started out in season one by skipping two years of story continuity in Aincrad, with only the barest acknowledgement, so I really shouldn’t be surprised at this point. SAO takes a lot of risks that I still don’t feel like it gets proper credit for.

I was spoiled for this season, because I knew what was going to happen to Kirito at the beginning of this arc; I don’t know anything that happens afterward, but I knew that going in. So I spent this whole episode waiting for Kirito to get stabbed, and it kind of became this weird horror movie experience. It was actually a relief at the end of the episode when it finally happened, because then I could stop worrying about it.

This arc looks like it’ll be dealing with really huge themes, like the nature of the human soul and how far artificial intelligence can be pushed to resemble human intelligence. This is a good thing, because it’s really interesting territory for just about everyone (who isn’t interested in the future of AI?), but it’s also fraught with peril. I mean, do we really want SAO attempting to explain things like where the human soul exists in the body, and the nature of sentience, etc.? I mean, maybe Kirito is not the person I want exploring the subjects that humanity’s brightest minds have been grappling with for eons, you know? Maybe Kirito is not that guy.

Still, even if this storyline ultimately fails, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a really ambitious failure, and I can get behind that.

On a more casual note, it was nice to see the whole gang together again. Early on, the strength of SAO was in the setting, and the characters were kind of perfunctory, but I’ve grown fond of them over time. I don’t stay up at night wondering what Klein or Liz do during the day, but I still smile a little bit when both of them show up…not to mention Silica with a Jeep-mounted machine gun; that was inspired.

Asuna I do care about a little more, seeing how she’s grown over time, and seeing her in GGO wielding a sword was gratifying. I wonder: can Asuna perform Mother’s Rosario in GGO? I need to know the answer; SAO, please don’t make me wait on this. Mother’s Rosario can make me cry, and I need to know if I should have tissues handy during any future GGO sequences.

Another interesting note was how Agil was just hanging out unobtrusively in the background while Kirito gave his whole “Let me tell you how human souls work” speech. Bet you $10 that it’s going to end up being significant that Agil heard that conversation, and he’s going to use that info to end up saving everyone’s asses, since that’s what he does. Best coffee shop barista/ bartender ever.

I’m withholding judgement on the whole Alice-in-Wonderland theme until I have a better idea what they’re doing with it, but on the whole, I’m excited to see if this series can really do something with these high concept, unapologetically intellectual themes while doing them real justice. Oh, and I hope that Kirito gets better and stuff, if he dies that really messes up my headcanon for everything that’s supposed to happen later on in Accel World.

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