You give a kid an inch and they think they’re a ruler.
Cardinal continues her story, explaining that, after obtaining eternal youth, Quinella found her mental space for memories beginning to run out. So, she brought in a random girl to basically use as USB drive to continue holding memories for her through an act known as the “Synthesis Ritual”. What she didn’t count on was the Cardinal System she’d previous absorbed using that chance to take control of the girl’s body for itself in order to fight back and escape. This became Cardinal as she is now, which then retreated into the Great Library and began her 200 years of planning to retaliate. But Quinella had her own plans, using the Synthesis Ritual to create the first Integrity Knight, Bercouli Synthesis One, whose adventures would be the basis for legends that would inspire Kirito, Eugeo, and Alice to venture into the caves in the first episode.
With this growing fighting force, Cardinal had no way of making a direct attack against Quinella again without help. But instead of mind-controlling strong fighters like her “sister”, she sent woodland critters in search of potential allies to help her…and all she got was Kirito and Eugeo. She also took the time to contemplate the true purpose of Underworld, which she deduced was simply Rath’s testing ground for fluctlights that work well under certain stress parameters, which will ultimately be tested through a planned invasion by the monsters of the Dark Territory. An invasion that Quinella has no chance of stopping with her current forces. But the only thing Cardinal cares about is regaining control and then deleting all of Underworld to spite Rath…though she’ll spare a few of Kirito’s favorites if he wants. She’d also like a hug.
Kirito agrees to help, but he’s also going to try and find a way to save the world from deletion. He explains the situation to Eugeo as Cardinal being the previous Pointifex who Quinella usurped, which is technically true! She informs them on how to undo the Synthesis Ritual by removing the “Piety Module” (the purple triangle in their foreheads), which blocks each Knights’ memories, as well as retrieving memory fragments that Quinella has taken. She also gives them daggers that will make them vulnerable to whatever Cardinal wants to do to them, ideally meant to be used on Quinella and Alice. She then sends them back to the cathedral to begin the mission.
This week’s episode comes with a lot of important knowledge for both the audience and the characters to learn about, but just like last week, I take issue with how that information is expressed. Basically, the entire episode is Kirito sitting down to listen to a bunch of stuff, then walking over to Eugeo so that both of them can stand and listen to more stuff. Again, this is important stuff to learn and I’m glad I know it now, but it felt less like a story and more like a lecture. You could argue that this is meant to be a “breather episode” between the action-heavy moments of the series and to set things up for the next section, but I don’t think we’ve had much in the way of action that would warrant this kind of break.
I also still feel pretty much nothing in regards to Quinella, as I feel I must reiterate that she still feels so disconnected emotionally from what’s going on, despite her massive hand in shaping things as they are. She’s pretty much just selfish and evil without a trace of anything humanizing, and that was before she lost her physical humanity to become one with the Cardinal System. As such, I can’t say I’m particularly anticipating any future battles she might have with Cardinal or Kirito because she feels so flat as a character. In comparison, the inevitable showdown that will have to come when they face Alice feels like it has a lot more going for it.
Meanwhile, Cardinal at least has her moment of just wanting a dang hug after 200 years (and how could you not hug a face that adorable), but also has her complicated mindset of needing to destroy the world to save it. This shows she might not necessarily be “good”, but she’s the best bet Kirito has at finding his way home. Kind of a shame she never managed to find ANY other comrades for him or Eugeo to meet, but it’s not a huge deal. I’d also like to see if she gets the chance to actually speak to Rath and give them what for, though I might be getting my hopes too high for that.
SO, now that we’ve entered Volume 12, the next few episodes will be a boss rush to get to the top of the tower, which means meeting more Integrity Knights and SAO getting back to what it does best: flashy action scenes. Till next time!