We’re going back through the Looking Glass.
On a sunny summer day in a forest, a young boy named Eugeo (Brandon Winkler) hacks away at giant tree, the Gigas Cidar, with nothing but his axe, which he’s been at for a year since he was given the job, which has gone through six generations before him to get this far. His friend, Kirito (Bryce Papenbrook), stops by to help out with the efforts, but it’s not looking like they’ll be making much progress today. As they break for lunch, their other friend, Alice (Kayli Mills), also arrives after finishing her “sacred arts” class with some sandwiches. They check a digital window to see the “life” of the food before it spoils, just like how the tree has its own life that’s whittled down with each swing, but the food seems to last longer in winter because it’s cold, so the three kids try exploring a cave on the edge of their territory to look for some ice, inspired by an epic myth.
They enter the cave but fear leaving it on the wrong end, lest they violate the “Taboo Index” and incur the wrath of the “Integrity Knights”. Soon enough, they find some ice to take home, as well as coming across the skeleton of a dragon, which confuses them as that type is known to protect their home. Kirito also tries taking a sword nearby, the Blue Rose Sword from the myth, but it’s too heavy to carry. Leaving proves even harder as they end up taking the wrong path, coming just short of entering the “Dark Territory”. Above them, a battle between dragon riders rages, shocking Alice and making her trip. As she falls, her fingers graze the exit. Almost in reaction, a bald white head emerges from a portal to report her. The next day, Alice is taken by the Integrity Knights for her violation, for which she’ll be executed.
Kirito awakens in the real world as Kazuto Kirigaya. He’s been doing a part time job for a new company called “Rath” to help develop a “brain-machine” interface called a “soul translator” for a virtual world called “Underworld”, but all the memories he makes there are wiped whenever he logs out. He believes that this software can tap into the human soul, or “Fluctlight”. However, on the way home from chatting with friends, he’s attacked by a serial killer from a game he used to play.
That is a VERY truncated version of this double-length (45 minutes, as opposed to the usual 22-24) first episode. Readers who are familiar with Sword Art Online will know that I left a TON of details out, which is the unfortunate side effect of needing to keep these summaries within 400 or so words. Among those things left out are the fact that that serial killer at the end is part of a guild of murderers from an MMO that Kirito was held hostage in which he had to fight off with others, and now this one guy is the remnant of a group of serial killers that were killing people in a DIFFERENT MMO and…yeah, this is kind of the problem with jumping in at the third season of a show like this.
Luckily, that is not a problem for me, as I’ve been watching SAO since it first premiered in Summer of 2012, and since then, I’ve been on the emotional and critical roller coaster that many fans have been on with this show as each season and arc has come out. I liked the Aincrad (for the most part), hated Fairy Dance, am mixed on Phantom Bullet, alright with Calibur, liked Mother’s Risario, and am mostly okay with Ordinal Scale. In the past couple of years, thanks to a certain basement dwelling Youtuber, I’ve learned to critically examine SAO more closely and understand certain strengths and flaws it had that I didn’t notice before, so getting to make use of that acquired knowledge in these reviews is an interesting opportunity for me.
And really, if you know anime, who isn’t at least a little familiar with this show by now? It’s still one of the most popular anime of this decade, thanks in no small part to its visual polish and intriguing premise (at least in its first arc), which is extending into this new one. This story started with, as mentioned before, many of the characters being trapped in a virtual MMO wherein they had to fight to survive and dying in the game meant you died for real. Since surviving that ordeal, Kirito has oddly become fascinated with pursuing further research into VR games and worlds, which has led him to help Rath work on this “Underworld”. This is already setting itself apart from the previous arcs by introducing a world where, once inside, the people don’t know it’s virtual.
This is why I figured the most focus on this summary needed to go with the stuff in the first half, since that’s setting up things up for later while the other half is only an extended fight scene followed by lunch exposition (something this series is pretty notorious for, actually) about this new technology. Though what I didn’t point out about that scene is Kirito’s explanation about “souls in the cells in your brain which have light in them and so this uses your soul for the world” is just…bafflingly ridiculous. Then again, the movie that takes place before this had the main villain try to steal memories from people to make an AI into a copy of his dead daughter, so completely nonsensical pseudo-science is not really off the table in this series, I suppose.
As for the “soul translator” and Underworld, I have little doubt they are going to be revealed to be used for a nefarious purpose because almost every VR MMO in this series turns out to be that. What I’m unsure about are whether anyone else in this world is based on a real person like Kirito. Eugeo and Alice seem too “protagonist-y” to be just AI, especially with whatever is going on with Eugeo’s right eye in the first half. Speaking of Eugeo, how refreshing to get male character that isn’t either a villain or an ineffectual side character! Though Alice seems doomed to wind up in Kirito’s slowly growing stable of not-love interests while his wife (or at least fiance now?), Asuna will once again be playing from the sidelines in this story despite being just about as skilled as him in any game they play.
But that’s the first episode of our likely 50+ season, based on the light novel’s longest arc at 10 volumes, making this the longest season yet as well. What’s weird is that this isn’t even the only third season of an anime that is based on nearly a dozen books that I’m covering right now, but I imagine that this will at least look a hell of a lot better.