Thanks to Asuna's intervention, the war seems to have temporarily slowed down its course, putting Vector's plan in serious difficulty.
Miller, however, has a plan that is being implemented through his allies in the real world, putting his trump cards at stake by throwing open the secret doors of Underworld.
War of Underworld, as well as the season that preceded it, had until now limited itself to adapting the volumes of the series in a rather linear way without altering the arrangement of the material except in some particular cases. Therefore, the choice to start the adaptation of Alicization Awakening, Volume 17, in this episode is surprising although it makes logical sense and does not damage the narrative.
Volume 16 ends with Yui who communicates to the rest of the party that their entry into Underworld will require the conversion of their accounts.
Including the implications of this information, the moment would have been dramatic enough to be the appropriate conclusion to this episode, leaving the introduction of Volume 17 at the end of this cour, while here it happens about halfway through the episode, going to extend the events going to Lizbeth's desperate attempt to convince the other Japanese players while the US avatars arrive in Underworld, an event that could have sanctioned the beginning of an episode in other situations.
The adaptation therefore chooses to set the events to flow spontaneously as Yui exposes the problems associated with entering Underworld, with the entry of the American players to act as the final cliffhanger.
Having said that, the episode leaves no little material to discuss: Alice's episode-beginning commentary on Kirito appearing slightly improved because she slept in the same room as four young women is the only light note of the entire episode, which immediately he returns to his raw events with the Dark Knights and the Boxers forced by their Emperor to try, clinging to ropes suspended in the void, to go beyond the chasm created by Asuna a couple of episodes before.
This order does not seem to be particularly appreciated by all Vector's warriors, and in particular we see Iskhan being rather troubled by the excessive risk and unrelated to the fervor of the battle that his men find themselves running, to the point of exhibiting an already known scarlet gleam in the right eye, sign of the activation of Code 871, the Seal of the Right Eye, implying a principle of rebellion against Vector.
The situation is in fact particularly dangerous not only for the act itself, in which an error or a gust of wind can cost countless lives, but also for the skills of the Integral Knights: Renly's ability would be enough to completely neutralize the two armed.
However, we quickly discover that an apparently favorable situation is about to be completely reversed when we learn that the Underworld time dilation has been brought back to 1 by Critter, one of Miller 's men.
This means that time in Underworld will now flow at the same rate as that of the real world, putting both Kikuoka and Higa under pressure, and unexpectedly Asuna and the Human Empire.
The mercenaries have in fact slowed down the passage of time of the virtual environment for the sole purpose of creating an access point that allows numerous US VRMMO players to enter Underworld as knights in the service of Vector with the belief of being in the beta test of a new survival game.
It is therefore fortunate that Yui has effectively monitored what is happening by bringing a positive note to this scenario: if accessing Underworld from outside of Ocean Turtle is possible, in fact, then it is also for Japanese users, as long as the party succeeds to convince them.
This part of the story becomes so significant not only for the risks implicit in the idea that a man like Gabriel Miller acquires an AI of the caliber of Alice, but also for all the tensions external to Underworld that have been introduced here.
First, the conflict between Japan and the US, already consolidated by the attack of the mercenaries on Ocean Turtle, intensifies (although it must be acknowledged that the Americans have been deceived in this scenario) and acts as the final battleground for this story , in a war that is virtually fought, but which has very few differences with an open-field war if not for its secret nature and for the unawareness of one of the two fronts of what is happening.
For the first time, all the tensions that exist towards the survivors of Sword Art Online are brought to the surface both in the community of VRMMO players and in society.
Much of what has been said, from their being viewed as elitists by other players to their being treated as potential criminals outside of virtual environments is understandable, but the consequences that Sword Art Online and Kayaba had never been implicated or directly mentioned before they had about boys and girls trapped in Aincrad castle.
The comparison between the players of ALO and the "SAO survivors" offers an opportunity for the least used characters in the series to shine: Yui represents the main heroine of this episode, being the main proponent of all the positive opportunities that the protagonists have available in history right now, managing to get into the spotlight more than it ever has before, even surpassing his dedicated episode in the first Sword Art Online series.
Likewise Lizbeth manages to earn her moment in her desperate appeal to Alfheim players, despite the potential risks in what she is asking them to do.
In fact, if at first glance the risk seems very low (after all they are still virtual avatars) in this situation, the episode does not spare itself from explaining what the dangers are actually involved beyond the potential loss of their data for those who choose to convert your avatar in Underworld.
The lack of a user interface, due to the non-playful nature of the virtual world, in fact means that it will be impossible to log out if not losing one's life, an act of difficult realization given the lack of pain inhibitors that not only protect the psyche of players in VRMMOs, but they also protect them from potential permanent physical consequences.
The irregular nature of accessing Underworld from Amusphere and the functioning of the virtual world also make it impossible to predict what effects what happens to avatars on players will have.
Lizbeth's position on the situation is therefore a must, as is Yui's, who better than ever before manages to underline the importance and what makes Alice special: she represents the climax and perhaps the ultimate goal is not only of what Rath is doing, but of the SEED of Kayaba, of all the VR experience in general and, therefore, of the players themselves, putting their identity as inhabitants of virtual reality at the center of what is questioned in this conflict.
On balance, despite external interference, Underworld had hitherto remained relatively contained as a scenario, limiting the risks and tensions in Kirito (what happens to the virtual entities of Underworld is, for the external world, relatively superfluous and devoid of consequences, after all), but this episode completely changes the cards on the table proving Alicization's major turning point.
The new implications promise a more dramatic subtext to future battles and, perhaps, a new starting point for reflection on how the perspective of the more "normal" VR players (intended as unrelated to Aincrad) will interact with the new reality of Underworld.
The next episode, "A ray of hope", will conclude the winter cour for War of Underworld and will bring with it a break pending the next block of episodes, which will be broadcast starting from spring 2020. It is therefore reasonable to expect a cliffhanger or, however, a dramatic note in conclusion to this part of the narrative.