While it’s not the first isekai series in anime, it was the one that really sparked the current isekai genre as we know it today. Without the polarizing popularity of this show, we wouldn’t have had subsequent light novels get their anime adaptations. Yes… that means it’s time for us to take a look at the third season of Sword Art Online.
Need a refresher course? Okay…. Gogogogoogogogogogo….
Kirigaya Kazuto (Kirito) is a loner who wants to lose himself in VRMMORPG games. He beta tests and then plays a game called Sword Art Online. The creator of the game, Kayaba Akihiko, decides to trap everyone (including himself) in the game and turn their VR helmets into personal microwaves so if you die in the game… ZZZAP! Bye bye to your real life counterpart. Kirito overcomes all the odds, makes some friends who end up becoming recurring characters throughout the series and falls in love with a girl named Asuna whose real-life name is….. Asuna.
World is saved, players come out of their VR comas, Kirito returns to life… everything is great! Except Asuna never wakes up. Sugou Nobuyuki, chief of RECT, Inc… a company behind the AmuSphere, a much safer, non-microwavable VR headset, was pre-ordained to marry Asuka in real life and trapped her in another game called ALfheim Online. Kirito turns into a fairy, saves Asuna, and defeats Suguo in the game as he poses as Fairy King Oberon. On to season 2!
After the SAO incident, Kirito is asked to, once again, help in an investigation. People who die in the game Gun Gale Online are dying in real life. Kirito trades in his “sword” for a “sheath” (yes, that was a gender-swapping euphemism) and heads into the game to confront Death Gun who turns out to be a leftover from the SAO player killer guild Laughing Coffin. Kirito, once again, saves the day and Death Gun is arrested in real life but his accomplice escapes! Kirito celebrates by going to find the Excalibur sword in ALO, and then Asuna learns a new sword skill from a dying girl in a hospital!
Now, with everything settled, Kirito has a part-time job where he is testing a new type of dive technology that messes with your fluctlights… yeah, I don’t even, either. Essentially, you’re dreaming of a virtual world but not really dreaming but it makes your body feel more immersed or something like that. Kirito is invited to America to partake in more research. Asuna wants Kirito’s children and to go with him and Kirito agrees. Right when they’re about to have a tender moment, Death Gun’s accomplice appears out of nowhere and stabs Kirito with some Jamba juice. Kirito goes into a coma so the only logical thing to do is ship him off to a Metal Gear Solid 2-like Big Shell rig out in the middle of the ocean and throw him back into the virtual world he was testing to join his brand-new friends Eugeo and Alice on an adventure to overthrow the Pontifex and restore order to the world!
Got all that?
Great! Welcome to Season 3!
While I’m quite happy that Sword Art Online is back, I’m not too excited about this particular season. The beginning had a great balance between the VR world and the real world as Asuna somehow defies military-level security to get on board the RATH floating fortress in order to try and rescue Kirito and get him some proper medical care. While she’s there, she learns all about the world Kirito is in and then we head back to the VR part or the story and never look back for the rest of the season.
The VR portion of the story was touching but Kirito broke the fourth wall when confronting the Pontifex by telling her that no matter how powerful she is, she can be erased in the blink of an eye by the administrators in control of her world on the outside. This doesn’t even seem to phase the Pontifex in the least bit.
This is a prime example of something that has nagged me the entire time. Kirito is very self-aware that he’s in a virtual world. He knows that Eugeo and Alice are nothing more than highly advanced NPCs that are not being controlled by real people. Yet, he plays along with everything and stays within the system despite having full knowledge of everything. There are certain moments in the series that would make someone feel a ton of emotions had some of these people been real and yet, Kirito, fully aware that they are nothing more than data, fully experiences those emotions as if they were truly his friends from the real world.
I guess the lesson here is that every living thing, even if it’s data, should be cherished but is that taking things a bit too far? It kind of broke the suspension of disbelief in this series and, as such, made it rather difficult for me to really get attached to any of the characters. Plus, they never really explained the consequence of death in this world. Sure, anyone who dies is simply deleted and archived data, but what about Kirito? Does his advanced MRI machine turn into a super microwave if he dies in this world? They never really explained any of that. That means I didn’t feel any need to care if Kirito got fatally wounded. There were no rules or boundaries explained here at all.
To me, this just seemed like a lazy attempt to have Kirito inside, yet, another virtual world.
In Alicization, Kirito “grew up” in a village and befriended Eugeo and Alice. He’s fully absorbed in this world during his testing but once he enters a coma and gets reinserted, he is self-aware. This means we are back to having our super OP Kirito back. Nothing about him has really changed all that much, to be honest. Outside of being in a different world, he’s still Kirito from the first two seasons. If you hated him before, you’ll hate him now. Vice versa if you loved him as a character.
Eugeo… aka blonde Kirito… was a woodcutter charged with felling his village’s Giga Cider tree. With Kirito’s help, he completes his task. Inspired by Kirito, he takes up his next job as being a swordsman. Kirito teaches him the “Aincrad” style of fighting and the two head off to training academy where they both graduate. Eugeo and Kirito become best friends and Eugeo will follow him to the ends of the Earth. He has a pretty pacifist personality but he can fight when he needs to. He’s a softer, gentler version of Kirito but he has his brash moments when his back is pinned against the wall. All in all, he wasn’t a bad character but he didn’t really stand out as something special either.
Alice is their childhood friend and one day when they go to the End Mountains to find some ice to keep their lunch cold, they accidentally get lost and end up at the edge of the Dark Territory. Alice falls down and the tip of her index finger crosses the zone line and that’s enough to void the taboo index. An Integrity Knight comes and takes her away and that’s the last we see of her… until Kirito’s reinsertion where we learn she became an Integrity Knight herself with no memories of her past!
Alice was a pretty cool character. We needed a strong female lead for this season much like Asuna for Season 1 and Sinon for Season 2. Alice just happened to be it for Season 3 although with her being nothing more than data, don’t expect her to stick around if there’s a Season 4 of this series. She had a sweet personality as a little girl and once she stopped being brainwashed as a knight, she had a more stern, yet noble personality that you could get behind. She still wasn’t the best character but she served her purpose here for this season. Also, there’s a lot more to Alice than meets the eye but we won’t get into spoiler territory. You’ll have to watch it all to find out for yourself!
One of the two Pontifex in the world. She is the embodiment of the Cardinal system’s error-checking subprocess. She has the same power as the other Pontifex but she retreated when she couldn’t defeat her. She enlists Kirito and Eugeo as a means to stopping her. Cardinal is a very soft-spoken and direct individual who trusts in facts and knowledge more than instinct. Her wish is to see that integrity is restored to the world as the other Pontifex has gone mad over the years.
Also known as the Administrator, she is the main antagonist of the Alicization arc. She became the rule of the human world and the highest power of the Axiom Church. As she aged and neared Death, she cheated the system and reversed/extended her aging process. Her desire to control everything with absolution twisted her personality. Cardinal wants to stop her so that she can’t have her way and the Human World can return to being ruled justly. At the end of the series, something really odd happens that I don’t exactly know what to make of just now. I’ll let you guys watch and figure it out for yourself but apparently, she has a connection with the real world as well… which seems rather interesting. Not sure where Kawahara is going with this since I didn’t read the light novels. Guess we’ll find out in October when the second half of Season 3 airs.
Art, Animation, and Sound
Now we know why all other A-1 shows suffer in the animation department. They blow all of their budget on SAO! The show looked phenomenal even if some of the CG stuck out like a sore thumb. Meshing CG with non-CG artwork still hasn’t been perfected in the anime industry but they’re getting a bit closer with it. Very few studios can pull it off perfectly, though but one day we can dream, right? The animation during the fight scenes was very well done but the fights themselves were super short and/or didn’t feel as epic or meaningful like they did in past seasons. I really wish they paid more attention to the fights and made them feel truly epic.
Soundtrack-wise, it was stellar as always. What else would expect from a member of the holy trinity of anime music in Yuki Kajiura? We got the return of LiSA for the opening theme and ADAMAS is a complete banger tune. It’s a definite must-have!
My only complaint with the soundtrack was the sound effects. I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to have ear-splitting crackling every time a sword clashed or when a spell or similar effect went off. It was completely jarring to listen to and it really took me out of the action scenes. It’s like you turned the volume up too high on a song and you blew the speakers in your headphones. It was that bad kind of sound every time something happened in a battle. Just terrible.
Honestly, I want to love Sword Art Online but this season just wasn’t doing it for me. The original premise of the show was a good one and if the series ended at the end of the Aincrad arc, I would have been fine with it. Here, the story has changed over and over and over again while trying to remain on this single line tangent and it has gotten to the point where I feel it has lost its identity. I also can’t even understand why this series is called Sword Art Online when the actual Sword Art Online portion of the story ended so long ago. It really feels like Reki Kawahara intended for the series to end after Aincrad but was pressured into continuing forward so he just started rewriting the same story over and over again with a different premise all while keeping it under the same banner.
It makes me wonder if it would have been as successful if he wrote ALfheim Online, Gun Gale Online, and RATH as separate series with all-new characters rather than just have Kirito be the star of everything. It’s something to think about, you know?
I do want to see the second half of this series. The end made things interesting and brought a dynamic to this show that it was sorely missing from the very beginning: intrigue. It took a very long time to get there but hopefully it ends up all being worth it. Guess we will have to wait and see when it airs in October.
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Sword Art Online: Alicization
Sword Art Online: Alicization continues the story in another virtual world where Kirito is still as OP as ever. Join him as he looks to overthrow the Axiom church with his friends Eugeo and Alice.
Great art and animation
Story felt a bit non-believable and illogical at times
Horrid sound effects during fight scenes
Fights didn’t last as long as they should have
Takes a while to get any real intriguing situations in the story