Since its original publication in 2009 and, even more, from its animated adaptation in 2012, Sword Art Online, a series of Light Novel written by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by abec, has met with huge international success but, at the same time, has attracted of himself many criticisms and perplexities, basing the success of his first eight volumes, re-proposed in an animated version from "Sword Art Online" and "Sword Art Online II", on the topics dealt with and their relevance, contrasted by a screenplay not always taken care of, an inconsistent rhythm and sometimes caricatured characters.
Announced in 2017 at the end of the feature film Sword Art Online - The Movie: Ordinal Scale, Sword Art Online: Project Alicization is proposed with the aim of adapting, in the course of 50 episodes, the last 9 volumes of the series involving the narrative arc called, in fact, Alicization, starting from October 6th.
With twice the length of a regular episode, Project Alicization catapults us from the first moment into the new virtual environment that will involve one of the main narratives of this series and, in a few seconds, the protagonist Kirito is introduced, virtual avatar of the young Kazuto Kirigaya, in the form of a child intent on observing one of his peers, whom we will soon discover to be called Eugeo, struggling with the felling of a large cedar.
We quickly discover that the two have been assigned work in progress for generations, an occasion on which we are introduced to some rules and notions of this world: both boys have traditionally received a task to be carried out for the village community to which they belong and that will continue to be done for several generations to come.
Alice, childhood friend of the two boys, struggling with the study of the Sacred Arts, a ritual form of magic. This conversation makes it easy to understand that the protagonist is not, this time, in a VRMMORPG as in the past but in a type of virtual simulation of a different nature compared to the worlds of Aincrad, Alfheim and the post-apocalyptic earth of Gun Gale Online.
The conversation of the two young people is interrupted by Alice, their childhood friend, who as usual brought them a hearty lunch with which to refresh themselves after the hard work done, an occasion on which we discover that the newcomer is a scholar of the Sacred Arts, a form of ritual magic from this world, and that the preservation of food during the hot seasons is a problem for the village, which is why Kirito offers a trip to the mountains which, according to an ancient legend, contains large quantities of ice for because of the low temperatures of their caves.
After a bit of hesitation on the part of Eugeo, who does not want to violate the rules of the village or the much more important Index of Taboos, which prohibits crossing the borders of the Human Empire, the three leave for the adventure, also giving us a taste of what the Sacred Arts can do (and those who have some notion of computer science will grasp the nature of these rituals immediately), completing their goal almost to perfection unless, once they reach the depth of the cave, they lose their orientation finding himself unable to find his way back.
Following one of the tunnels, the three end up on the border between the Human Empire and the Dark Territory, a ground that none of the three must absolutely step on, giving us the opportunity to observe the drastic difference in the setting and the arduous dangers that the Dark Territory conceals, presented to us through a ruthless fight between two knights riding their respective dragons.
After this incident, promptly detected and brought to the attention of the authorities, the three return to the village and apparently, serenely separate, although there is no lack of a dark sense of restlessness, represented by Eugeo's agitated and troubled sleep.
The following day, exactly as at the beginning of the episode, we see Kirito and Eugeo grappling with the cedar that they must contribute to breaking down, when the two are interrupted by the arrival of the familiar figure of a knight and his dragon: Alice will have to answer of what happened the day before, in front of the impotence of the whole village and, above all, of his two friends.
At the end of this sequence, we see Kazuto waking up abruptly in a well-equipped room, upset but, at the same time, confused, ending this first half of the episode.
The second half features more familiar tones and settings: we see Sinon, avatar of Asada Shino, supporting character of the Phantom Bullet narrative arc which occupied half of the previous season, intent on facing a group of Player Killer players in Gun Gale Online, helped from the rest of the protagonists of the series: Klein, Lisbeth and Silica aboard an armored vehicle give her support while Asuna and Kirito deal with open-faced enemies, armed with Photonic Sword.
After an exciting sequence of action, however, the clash ends with the fleeing enemy group, followed by an exhibition sequence aimed at introducing the premises that will carry forward the next episodes.
We therefore discover that the players just faced are a mysterious group of Player Killers with a perfect series of victories, apparently able to contrast any conventional strategy, which is why Sinon thought of approaching their tactics in an unorthodox way.
This event will then connect to his proposal to Kirito and Asuna to participate in the fifth edition of the Bullet of Bullets, the most important Gun Gale Online competition, also hinting at the events of the second season, thus discovering that although the Shinkawa brothers, proponents of several murders under Sterben's avatar with which they discovered the private information of their targets, have been successfully brought to justice a third accomplice is still in circulation. The discussion then moves on to Kazuto's new part-time job, which according to the two girls seems to have made him lose weight. So let's find out some more details about what we saw in the first part of the episode: Kazuto's job is to test the Soul Translator, a new FullDive device that uses a new technology to connect the user to a virtual simulation called Underworld.
Instead of connecting the brain, however, through an explanation of a technical nature, the Fluctlight is introduced which, according to the theories, would represent human consciousness (or the soul, depending on the interpretation). The particular function of the machine would reside precisely in the Fluctlight, as as hypothetically would happen in a dream in the consciousness a process of time dilation takes place for which a session that in the virtual environment lasts several days, in reality lasts only a few hours. This phenomenon is called Fluctlight Acceleration. However, due to how the process works, Kazuto has no recollection of what he saw virtually during the three-day test.
At the end of the conversation Kazuto and Asuna leave the club and, following a conversation regarding their future as a couple, they are joined by an individual, identified as Johnny Black, the third accomplice of Death Gun. The episode ends leaving the fate of the protagonist in suspense, showing us what will be the opening sequence of the anime accompanied by the notes of ADAMAS, of LiSA.
The first episode of Sword Art Online: Project Alicization seems to want to overturn all the cards put on the table from previous seasons, introducing three narrative ramifications that will proceed in parallel in Underworld, during the Bullet of Bullets and in the real world.
The unknown nature of the experiment concerning the Soul Translator, alone, would suffice to have potentially more ideas than previously shown, but the addition of a virtual simulation apparently completely separate from the real world in terms of those who live inside it, the characters who are part of it and the desire to stage events disconnected from what happened in Aincrad (something that cannot be said for the Fairy Dance, Phantom Bullet, Mother Rosario or Ordinal Scale bows) further enriches the potential of what this season of Sword Art Online can offer. There is no lack of feeling that there is still much to tell about this new world, the technology behind it and the dynamics between Alice, Eugeo and Kirito, and even for the readers of the Light Novel there seems to be some news, given the desire since this episode of reconnecting and involving Ordinal Scale events.
The anonymous and little characterized artistic direction as regards the characters has been definitively abandoned, now referring more to the style of abec as it was for the feature film that preceded this adaptation and all, accompanied by an almost cinematic quality of animation, a spectacular visual both panoramic and in the most excited scenes, a variety of colors and atmospheres and a soundtrack worthy of the visual sector, give the impression that Project Alicization wants to be the beating heart of the entire serial project of Kawahara.
It is true that the studio responsible for the adaptation, A-1 Pictures, is no stranger to focusing a large part of its budget on the high quality of the first episodes of its series, which is why it is hoped that, in the face of 50 episodes, perfectly capable of filling the rhythmic gaps of its predecessors, the technical quality does not drop excessively.
With a substantial slice of narrative exposure and several events whose consequences will be quite predictable, the episode in question will not immediately change the minds of the detractors of the series, but it is undeniable that these 45 minutes of introduction are above the expectations of the most skeptical in the comparisons of Sword Art Online, and it is possible that, at the very least, they are able to whet their curiosity about the direction taken by the story.
Below you will find the summary of the second episode.