When did the first anime adaptation come out? 2012? Christ, kids can literally say that they grew up with this show.
— I don’t even know what this third season is going to be about. With the second season, you kinda got the gist from the name alone. Gun Gale Online = gonna play some dumb MMO about guns. But Alicization? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
— At the moment, Kirito’s a kid, and he and his best friend are busy trying to cut down a tree. Well, it figures that a new arc would start with a whole new game. What’s peculiar, however, is that this Kirito doesn’t seem to have any knowledge about his real world self.
— Eventually, we are introduced to Alice, who will probably be one of the main characters for this arc.
— Needless to say, all of the old faces — other than Kirito, of course — are nowhere to be found. Where’s Asuna? Where’s Leafa? Where’s Sinon? Where’s Klein? We’ll just have to sit tight, I guess. They’ll eventually show up, but Kirito always gains a new set of friends at the start of every story.
— Look, if past behavior is indicative of future behavior, then I have no reason to believe that generic anime waifu no. 29472 won’t also fall heads over heels in love with Kirito. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed to happen, but the odds are good.
— This is so exciting. Talking about preventing food spoilage really gets me going.
— Let’s go get ice so we can keep our food cold. Quest get!
— But wait, we can’t violate the Taboo Index! What’s the Taboo Index? A bunch of rules that you must never ever break. Or else what?
— What’s readily apparent is that Kirito is the trouble-maker. Kirito is the one who comes with the idea to go fetch ice. Basically, he’s a bad influence on these kids. Alice goes along with it, and Eugeo is too much of a wimp to prevent his friends from sticking their heads where they don’t belong.
— We’re going through the motions of getting to know everyone, learning about the new world, learning about its laws and customs, blah blah blah. This is just so slow and boring. Couldn’t this wait? SAO II at least had the courtesy to open with someone dying. Despite being a side story, even SAO Alternative gave us action. Meanwhile, I’m watching a trio of kids walking along a peaceful stream, trying their best to disguise the story’s weak attempts at world-building as small talk. Yawn. We’re already nine minutes into the episode!
— Wait a minute, this episode is 48 minutes long?! Goddamn, they must really think they have an important story to tell.
— The kids eventually stumble upon the skeleton of a dead dragon. Which is bad, apparently. ‘Cause the dragon protects humanity or something. After milling around for a while — and playing with a sword that’s far too heavy for them to carry out — the kids finally fill up their basket full of ice and are ready to head home. Unfortunately, they seem to have picked the wrong path out and are thus greeted with this desolate landscape. Apparently, you have a tiny patch of habitable land surrounded by a ring of mountains. Then after walking a tiny bit through a cave, you’ll end up in the lazily-named “Dark Territory.”
— Honestly, I’m just waiting for something — anything — to happen. When shows decide to open with a double-length episode, you rarely ever get twice as much excitement. Instead, the pacing is simply left out to die. I’m fifteen minutes into this episode, and so far, all I’ve seen is some tree-cutting, a picnic, boring chatter about world-building, and exploring a boring cave. Fantastic.
— Finally, some action… kinda. We get dragon-on-dragon action that doesn’t really last very long nor look all that impressive. Y’know, I’d watch an anime adaptation of Drakengard. Too bad SAO ain’t Drakengard. Not even close.
— Oh no, Alice crossed over into… the DARK TERRITORY… which is clearly delineated by the differently-colored soil! Nice!
— And just like that, a report is made about Alice breaking the rules. She’ll be punished later, which is a bit weird. This is a game, right? So… why not just warp her away now? They have the ability to do so, right? I mean, the weird bald dude literally tore a whole through the fabric of the game’s reality in order to “write” Alice up. Why even bother wasting time? Ah well…
— We immediately jump right back to the kids returning to the village. I guess they had no trouble finding their way back home.
— The next morning, we see Kirito hacking away at that tree again. *whistles*
— Suddenly, an Integrity Knight shows up to the village to take Alice away. She’ll be questioned and eventually executed, he says. All for sticking her fingers where the sun don’t shine. Tsk tsk. Kids never learn.
— Tying a little girl up like this seems a bit much.
— So of course, Kirito won’t stand for this, but it’s not like there’s anything they can do anyway. One look from the Integrity Knight is enough to send Kirito flying. Mr. Badass Hero from the first two seasons will have to climb back up from the very bottom.
— Kirito begs Eugeo to help, but the latter looks like he’s literally prevented from breaking the rules. His whole body shudders at the thought of disobeying even if it would mean saving their friend. Odd.
— And just like that, Kirito wakes up back in the real world. Huh.
— So in the second half of this extra long episode, we see all of the old characters. Sinon, Klein, I forget this chick’s name, blah blah blah. They’re all side waifus. Yes, even Klein. And of course, our couple of the century. They’re all still friends, they’re all still playing shitty VRMMOs.
— Man, these guys love bullet-on-bullet action.
— So Kirito’s gang is up against a bunch of PKers, which is common in MMOs. Nothing to be concerned about here… or is there?! DUN DUN DUN, DEATH GUN IS BACK. Oy vey.
— But really, we’re still setting the stage, so there’s not much to talk about yet. Honestly, this episode has been pretty boring.
— Well, it’s about to get a whole lot more boring, ’cause here comes the goddamn exposition. First, Sinon invites Kirito and Asuna to participate in the next BoB tournament, but we’re not really here for that. No one cares about that anymore. GGO is so last year. After they get that out of the way, we finally find out what Kirito has been up to. Well, he’s been doing a lot of part-time work lately, which is tiring him out. Good thing his side waifus are always there to prop him up.
— Quick side note: Sinon is not so scared of guns anymore. Great. Exposure therapy works… kinda. Also, she tells us that her almost rapist is doing okay. We care about the bad guy because…?
— When Asuna shows up, she whips out some sort of health monitor. She can literally track her boyfriend’s vital signs. Yeesh, talk about a lack of privacy. I also can’t wait to see her worriedly stare at her phone as he nears death at some point. You know it’s coming.
— In any case, Kirito tells us all about what he’s been doing. Kinda. The problem is that he doesn’t really quite know what he’s been doing. He’s helping a mysterious company — aren’t they always mysterious? — test out new VR technology, but he’s not allowed to remember anything that he experiences within this new VR world (dubbed “Underworld” because, like Alice, it is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s novel).
— Then he starts getting into something about souls and clusters of lights. Something about a certain photon existing in our brain cells, and when it forms a cluster with other photons, this makes up our goddamn soul. What apparently makes this experimental technology special is that it connects directly to your soul. All of the other devices sent data to your brain in order to make you experience a virtual world. But this is sending data to your soul. As a result, you’re getting mnemonic visuals. You’re feeling memories instead of just seeing a fake image. Even Mr. “Expert in VRMMO” is like, “Golly, this sure looks real!” Yeah, all this pseudo-science sounds batshit crazy to me too.
— I’ll be honest — as soon as Kirito even said the word soul, I wrote the concept off completely. Maybe back in 2014, when I was full of pep and spirit (lolsoul), I would’ve written another thousand words on all the exposition that our hero is spewing at us here — maybe even sprinkle in some talk about mind-body dualism — but I literally don’t care anymore.
— What is somewhat interesting is that time passes at a different rate in Underworld. Kirito’s part-time job only took three days, but from what we saw in the first half of the episode, it sure seemed like he was there for an entire childhood. But what was he there for? Just to test new technology? That seems too simple.
— And even though he’s not supposed to remember anything during his time in Underworld, the first mention of the name Alice is enough to make the guy pause and wonder. Welp.
— After everyone leaves at the end of the day, Kirito confesses to Asuna that he wants to go to America. Why? Because the cutting edge of VR whatever is over there, and he wants to see where it all goes. But of course, he can’t live without her, so he wants her to follow him. Asuna readily accepts, which isn’t a surprise. Since she’s already in this deep, she may as well go all the way. This is as close as a marriage proposal as you’re gonna get… until the actual marriage proposal if this damn franchise will ever end.
— Kirito sounds like he’s done with the experiment. Well, he can’t be. He’s gotta go save Alice! Still, he was referred to the job by that government guy from the previous season, so it must be an experiment for the government. Probably military bullshit. When in doubt, just tie it all back to the military-industrial complex.
— Anyways, the two kids kiss, there’s a mysterious shadow when a car passes by, blah blah blah. Wait, what? Mysterious shadow?
— The two continue to talk some more. Something about Heathcliff. We can never forget about that guy, sadly. Hell, Asuna still refers to him as Commander.
— All of a sudden, this baddie approaches Kirito and Asuna, and he reveals himself to be the last surviving member of that stupid PK group back in SAO. God, don’t these losers have anything better to do?
— Better yet, he has a syringe full of dangerous stuff. It’s probably the bad stuff from SAO II, but hey, it’s been four years. You can’t expect me to remember what the syringe is filled with.
— Of course, Kirito pushes Asuna to safety and takes the syringe right to the chest. And with that, our episode ends on a cliffhanger. Seems fitting enough.
— So… lemme guess. Kirito’s gonna be almost dead, right? So they’ll have to hook him up to the experiment to keep him alive, huh? I mean, I have no goddamn clue how that’ll work, but probably souls or some shit. We probably gotta protect his soul from dying, so let’s stick him in the VR world!
— But still, if this is an experiment, are there other people in the experiment with him? That wouldn’t make much logistical sense, would it? I mean, the village in Underworld was full of people. I have to imagine that there are even bigger cities in there. I can’t imagine all of those people actually being based on someone who is hooked up to a machine in the real world. I thus wonder if Eugeo and Alice are even real. Or are they just AI with such realistic clusters of photons that they seem as though they have souls. But then if we accept the idea that human consciousness can even be created and quantified, then I guess they are as real as you or me!
— Whatever. There’s nothing here that is as bad as the original series at its worst, but give it some time. Just give it some time. The bigger problem is that this episode was just super boring. Terrible pacing and way too much exposition in the second half.