「夜空の剣」 (Yozora no Ken)
“The Night-Sky Blade”

For me, this was the best episode of Sword Art Online ever. Primarily, it is the culmination of Kirito’s development as a character – from loner to Black Swordsman to Aincrad’s champion to desperately restoring his beloved to VRMMO murder detective to protector of the Underworld. And to see him stand up to the greatest threat he’s ever faced, one in which he was outmatched, made for the most epic fight the series has seen. Maybe not in terms of visual spectacle. Even now, it’s extremely difficult to top Gleameyes. But for the sheer semantic and emotional value across the board – facing his own doubts and trauma against an emotional psychopath yet overcoming them with assistance from that fragment of Eugeo, who served as a guardian spirit throughout the encounter – it truly expresses Reki Kawahara’s message. That the human soul requires both connections with others and sheer willpower to see things through. And that even if our loved ones are dead, they will always live on inside of our hearts.

Subtilizer looked like he’d almost manipulated Kirito’s soul to the collapsing point once again. But Eugeo’s voice echoes out – reminding Kirito that he’s the swordsman. And that snaps Kirito back to reality, ready for action. However, even after landing a clean blow impaling Subtilizer through the stomach, the psychopath laughs off the damage and after seeing how Kirito manipulates the fabric of reality, transforms into an angel of darkness. Assuming that this is a result of Incarnation – which is a reflection of a user’s internal reality (to draw an analogy to the RailDex universe), it goes to demonstrate how unhinged Gabriel Miller is. This is like the manifestation of a fiend in Shin Sekai Yori – mentally ill Cantus users who are able to project their distortion onto the outside world to induce chaos and carnage. And it conveys Subtilizer’s twisted insanity combined with an unstable god complex. Kirito gives out a look of despair – losing hope he can buy time for Alice and Asuna – before getting his shit kicked in.

When all hope looked lost for Kirito, Eugeo returns once more – reminding Kirito about all the loved ones he’s fighting for. And in the critical moment, Kirito activates his Starburst Stream combo. Only the final attack comes short as Subtilizer interrupts the combo by cutting off Kirito’s left arm – leaving him open to a direct strike. However, Eugeo’s spirit picks up the blade and blocks Subtilizer’s killing blow, giving Kirito an opportunity to end the fight once and for all. Which he does by activating his trump card – the Night Sky Blade. That Release Recollection was like Goku’s Spirit Bomb. Where Kirito harvests the prayers and hopes of every denizen in the Underworld, alongside every star in the sky, fighting for their sake to end the ultimate evil that threatens them.

At the end of the day, I can’t even be mad at this Deus Ex Machina, even though I skeptically anticipated this outcome. It wasn’t really Kirito vs Subtilizer. And Kirito was completely outmatched for the most part. It was Kirito, the spirit of Eugeo, his loved ones, and the rest of the Underworldians vs Subtilizer. A man who has loved and lost with many connections, against an isolated shell of a person who has never suffered and is incapable of comprehending love. And Kirito comes out victorious for now – pending on Subtilizer’s status (which we do not know about at this point in time). But unfortunately, it comes at a cost. Kirito might have saved Alice and the Underworld. However, he fails to make it out in time before the acceleration kicks in – dooming him to 200 lonely years in the Underworld. When he put on a brave face and started listing off his reasons for being optimistic, it was too insincere for Kirito. I knew it was all a facade. And one that crumbled straight away, as he collapses to the ground sobbing, consumed by grief at the 200 years of loneliness ahead. Seeing such a strong character break down like that really hurt. Only Asuna walks out of the World’s End Altar. She could never leave Kirito behind and elected to stick around just in case he didn’t make it out. So hey, 200 years with your waifu/husbando isn’t really a bad thing.

Finally, I want to apologise – words fail to express just how beautiful and incredible this episode truly was. It was like watching visual poetry unfolding on the screen. No question, it is the crowning jewel of Reki Kawahara’s achievements. At least for now. And I hope that it might go down in history like the Sunflower fields from Clannad After Story, Homura’s attempts to challenge fate in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Gon’s grief and anger towards Neferpitou in Hunter x Hunter, The Banquet of Kings from Fate/Zero, Re Zero when Subaru becomes completely broken and Shun slowly losing control over his cantus in Shin Sekai Yori. Feel free to disagree. I know many people doubt Sword Art Online. But for me, this episode truly belongs in the pantheon of anime’s hall of fame.

Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. As always, thanks for reading this post. See you next week – as we are left to wonder what’s going to happen inside the Ocean Turtle – considering the Japanese are still trying to hold out against a hostile American task force.

25 Comments

  1. Visually I thought this episode was stunning but it didn’t really have as much of a lasting impact on me and left me a little confused with all the developments. Namely, why was Gabriel so strong, what was that final form he turned into and how did Kirito power up?

    Just felt like it really ignored a lot of the world building elements which it spent many seasons building up. Can any LN readers help me out here?

    Kenny
    1. If we interpret Incarnation as being the power of imagination, combined with willpower, Gabriel is so powerful because his god complex is projected onto reality.

      Kirito doesn’t have a god complex. But he’s spent a lifetime in the Underworld and understands the intricacies of the Incarnation system best. Think of it as someone who’s practiced a lot of swimming vs someone who’s never practiced swimming, but is a natural at it.

      As for how Kirito was able to take out Gabriel, the Night Sky Sword was made from the Great Cedar Tree – which spent two centuries absorbing light from the Underworld’s sun to grow and become huge. Light/life resources are the source of the tree’s energy, and therefore the Night Sky Blade’s power. In the ultimate moment, it absorbs all the light from the setting sun, stars in the Underworld’s sky as well as the hopes and prayers of every Underworld denizen. It was basically Goku’s spirit bomb or Simon’s Giga Drill Break but SAO version ft. Kirito.

    2. I felt the same way. It feels like the whole War of Underworld part 2 was nothing but complete nonsensical ass pulls. The villains and Kirito have no business being as powerful as they are other than for the sake of creating a worthwhile battle scene. I’ve read criticisms about the show’s poor writing before but I never really found it to be as awful as they claimed it to be. I found it entertaining, the characters are likable and I didn’t have any problems with the rape scenes that a lot of people seem to have issues with. But this season.. with these last few episodes in particular, I was just rolling my eyes at the sheer absurdity of all the recent developments in the story.

      ThreeDawns
        1. Right?! Before he went into his vegatable state, Kirito and Eugeo barely came out on top against the Integrity Knights and Quinella one on one. So how is he suddenly so godly after waking up and able to instantly take out all the enemies all the Integrity Knights with their combined strength are having trouble with? How are those swords that they had for the past 3 cours of the Alicization arc suddenly these swords of legend that can do absolutely amazing feats when previously they could not? Its absolute nonsense. I don’t mind Kirito being an overpower MC, but it needs to fit in the context of the story and what was established so far in the world and not come out of left field.

          ThreeDawns
          1. Um your answer to why he is overpowered is in there: He beat Quinella the Administrator of the Underworld, She even says in the episode here as a vision “show me what you have inherited from me”

            Bill
          2. When was that even established outside of this episode in that one throw away line? Kirito never killed Quinella to gain any sort of stat increase, her death was caused by Chudelkin while she tried to escape to the real world. Sure, its somewhat of an explanation but its not one that makes much sense from the already established context of the story. Which is why this is such nonsense.

            ThreeDawns
          3. ThreeDawns and Lyfe are right but it’s even worse than that.

            Didn’t Quinella spend all of eternity trying to build up the Knights and do other stuff (like cruelly suppressing the knights’ memories, abducting and executing villagers for a finger’s width of an infraction, corrupting Yanai in the real world) just so she could hold off the darksiders? The fear was always that it would be touch and go? That was the whole story for a while. Suddenly, Kirito has the power to wipe the floor with absolutely everybody except Gabe (who he can still defeat but it takes him three minutes because we need to leave some drama for next week). This is like a triple axel in figure skating except this was a triple ass pull.

            In most stories when a character can steal other people’s abilities, it’s usually a monstrous power (like Sylar in Heroes, or Saiba in this season’s Shokugeki no Souma) and the character becomes an enemy to be feared. In this anime, it isn’t even worth noting. Well of course Kirito gets everyone’s abilities. What else would you expect? And of course, he gets Eugeo’s as well.

            And while it’s a separate issue, this episode made the whole season-long comatose thing even sillier and less meaningful.

            Mockman
  2. In the novel Gabriel Miller didn’t plan to give Alice’s fluctlight to the NSA:

    Gabriel Miller directed a fleeting glimpse towards the figures of «Radiant Medium» Alice and another girl climbing the pure white sky staircase, approximating that there were five minutes left before both of them reached the system console.
    In that case, there was no time to engage this unanticipated hindrance. Immediately disabling him and making haste towards the floating island seemed a logical decision. But Gabriel felt slightly interested in this new enemy, so he stayed hovering where he was.
    At first glance, he looked to be just a typical child.
    He now felt no sense of intimidation at all, compared to the earlier battle against that veteran swordsman that had ended in mutual destruction. In all likelihood, he was like «Sinon»: a VRMMO player allied with RATH, but judging from the pressure he was giving off, he probably fared even worse than her.
    But the sight of this teen transforming the hem of his coat into wings and his ability to manipulate multiple types of magic at the same time changed his mind somewhat. He felt that his opponent was highly familiar with this world.

    After securing Alice and taking the STL technology with him to an uninvolved country, there was still his mission of constructing a virtual world for him and him only, where every nook and cranny was to his liking. Plundering that youth’s manipulation techniques in advance did not seem a bad idea to complete that mission efficiently.

    To do that, first he must destroy that imagination shell.

    Gabriel smiled thinly, and addressed the boy in black with Japanese:

    “You have three minutes. Do your best to entertain me.”

    “… How generous.”

    l.kostas
  3. “For me, this was the best episode of Sword Art Online ever”.
    Funny because I was waiting for the article to say that this was “the worst episode of SAO ever”.
    Everything seemed out of place.
    The final fight was a mix of Gurren Lagan and Dragon Ball, both totally out of place here.
    The fight had no pathos at all.
    Eugeo popping out every time Kirito needed a hand.
    Really terrible for me, this is not the SAO I know and love, the last few episodes went downhill and judging from the comments around, most are disappointed.

    Chris
    1. My friend accused me of being a Eugeo simp. So I won’t deny I’m probably biased here. But I guess I just love the entire message of Alicization. That if AI ever comes around the corner, they could very well be a lot more human than we expect – e.g. they can also have the capacity to love, hate, suffer and feel elation.

      As for the Underworld, if I understand it correctly, the reality is constructed from a collective dream of its inhabitants. So if one person imagines hard enough, he can create a reality that overrides and overwrites the collective dream. Think of Incarnation as a lucid dream – a dream where the dreamer can manipulate and alter the layout of the dream through the sheer power of their imagination/willpower. We actually see this happen quite a bit throughout the earlier parts of the series – like Kirito overwriting the common sense that a certain type of flower couldn’t grow in the Norlangarth empire. Or Bercoulli’s trick where he reimagines the position of a sword, makes that reimagination a reality – thus misleading his opponents.

      Additionally, as I’ve said, it’s not like Kirito had OP hacks abilities and ran amok on the villains. Subtilizer had it too and could arguably wield Incarnation far better than Kirito could – because he’s not going to have subconscious inhibitions that would cause him to hesitate thanks to his god complex and psychopathy. Yet Kirito was able to overcome him in a fairly symbolic way, that is logically consistent with the story that has been told thus far.

      I’m not familiar with the source material, but this is what I’ve extrapolated from watching Alicization. If a light novel reader could step in and provide better insight, that would be appreciated.

      1. Yes, I read about the incarnation system and understood how it works, but still I think it’s a stupid premise.
        Don’t get me wrong, I liked the season, I didn’t like the last couple of episodes because everything seemed so random.
        Also the whole premise of gods/admin account being possibly weaker than somebody is simply stupid.
        Imagine needing to check what’s happening in the world and being unable to do so anymore because there is someone who unlocked the incarnation system full potential and as soon as you login he kill you…

        Chris
  4. There’s literally just one chapter left of this arc in the Underworld and the remaining episodes will cover the epilogue chapters. I would say 2 and a bit episodes of real world and a bit in the Underworld are left.

    Shame they cut out the kiss at the end and some Gabriel stuff but oh well.

    Lyfe
  5. I didn’t feel too much while watching this, except for some mild irritation. Everybody had to be subdued to provide a contrast for Kirito. Maybe that extended to me.

    I didn’t like the misuse of music as Gabe finally introduced himself to Kirito. The villain shouldn’t get the hero’s musical theme. Weirder still to have the chanting chorus pipe up just before Gabe paused to check out Asuna’s and Alice’s ascent.

    FWIW, I think the worst sound effect of the year (decade?) is what accompanies Asuna’s wacky stone building magic. It looks awful (her expression), it sounds awful and the sound is disconnected from everything we see. I can’t help but think they stole it from Freezing’s Nova but then half-assed it as they couldn’t be bothered to synchronize it with anything visual. Their creativity is drained.

    Visually, this was kind of a kitchen sink affair. Every visual effect was used including the sink and it drained a lot of the energy from the battle. Incoherent, heavy-handed, poorly envisioned, this episode is a case of more is less but it’s been that way all season pretty much.

    For me, this was the one good visual effect, when Asuna’s tear-laden sparkly star hit Kirito and seemed to combine with the other incoming sparkles. It looked like they combined fireworks with flames and it came out well for about fifteen seconds. Other than that, I thought the overall power-up sequences were a poor imitation of Sabre’s heavy blow against Caster’s monster during the river battle in Zero (including visuals, set-up, music and emotional impact).

    https://randomc.net/image/Sword%20Art%20Online/Sword%20Art%20Online%20Alicization%20WoU%20-%2020%20-%20Large%2022.jpg

    After all this time (nigh on 100 episodes), Klein and Agil can’t even stand shoulder to shoulder in the series’ penultimate moment — even when it’s all about togetherness.

    Alice, who has been a pretty good character for the most part, just sounded silly while babbling about her ephemerally real emotions.

    Was the pig here crying from happiness upon hearing Leafa call him Onii-chan?

    https://randomc.net/image/Sword%20Art%20Online/Sword%20Art%20Online%20Alicization%20WoU%20-%2020%20-%20Large%2014.jpg

    Finally, Asuna shows why she’s the one true waifu. I’d wondered whether I’d missed seeing her get logged out even though I was looking for it as I couldn’t imagine her abandoning him. Good for her.

    Mockman
  6. I really liked this episode, but man, I get so tired of Asuna being sidelined in this series. It throws you off because they become a power couple in the first series and then constantly he pseudo collects waifus but has a one true love or what the fuck ever. The author doesn’t know how to write them together so constantly rewrites the same scenario. And Alicization does it waaaaaaay too long. It just got so tedious and boring. This series feels like a story written per word… meaning it is twice as long as it should be.

    I don’t particularly like Alice, and so I guess that made it worse. I did like the rest of the harem as much as it annoyed me that the author abandoned their ship (but didn’t at the same time).

    And again the payoff is they get together in the end, blah blah blah. They need to handcuff their hands together or something. They seem to have a hard time keeping up with eachother for more than a few months. And no, the 200 years epilogue together that will probably be condensed in a flashback doesn’t count.

    Amanda
    1. I honestly wonder why you’re still watching. I dropped it after seeing the ridiculousness of Gabriel’s backstory in episode 4, now just content looking at the screenshots, and when any of them pique my interest, read the episode reviews and comments. 😛

      Magnus Tancred
    2. Whatever flaws the author has at writing new scenarios, at least when he rinses and repeats, the female characters are sometimes appealing. Contrast that with the male characters in the show (and I’m not even talking about the in-game villains, or hopeless degenerates like Yanai, that the show finds).

      The only other male in Suguha’s life is Recon. In Sinon’s, it was Shinkawa. Didn’t he tell her that she promised that if he waited for her, she’d come to him, and so he waited… until the BoB ended (literally, and only that long because she had to log out). Who writes this stuff? Asuna of course, and with her parents’ blessings — while she was in a coma — had Sugou. Again, who writes this stuff? Lisbeth doesn’t get to know a male.

      Kirito can’t help but serve as catnip to these young women. Meanwhile, I guess someone feels guilty and thus compelled to give them all screen time.

      Mockman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *