「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.