「アリス」 (Arisu)

Explaining my stance on Incarnation

The other day, in the context of last week’s reader responses, I debated at length with my girlfriend about the merits and demerits of Sword Art Online Alicization. Specifically the Incarnation system. And it really allowed me to give it some thought – why I don’t take issue with what could be construed as poor writing that’s all too convenient. For a rationalist, I can understand the aversion to Incarnation. As a concept, it defies set rules and conventions. There’s no real world equivalent of human willpower and imagination directly influencing or affecting the way in which established computer coding or rules operate. Let alone outright breaking them. However, I’ll confess to never being much of a rationalist/objectivist/etc. Though I like to think myself of being a pragmatic hedonist, truthfully, I’m a hopeless romanticist at heart. Even though there are reasons to lament, I remain steadfast in my belief towards humanity. Especially the human condition – and our capacity to continually achieve progress and break through boundaries.

If we’re accepting the premise of Alicization, that human souls can be translated to a virtual plane, and vice versa for artificial intelligence that have gained sentience, then what’s so far-fetched about abilities and powers embedded into a virtual world, that’s intended to be wielded through willpower and imagination? If humans can have lucid dreams and do anything in said lucid dreams – conditionally based upon the strength of their willpower and imagination – then what’s the issue with being able to lucid dream in a game setting that’s designed to let you do so? Sure, they could have explained it better. But I don’t have any issues giving A-1 Pictures a pass here and don’t necessarily think they’ve done a poor job, since they worked to heavily imply the underlying mechanics of Incarnation throughout Alicization’s run – and the point of Incarnation is that it’s an esoteric concept which is not well understood by inhabitants or Rath scientists. Additionally, for anyone’s that’s seen Accel World and knows that it’s set in the same universe as Sword Art Online (only a few decades later), it’s pretty clear that Incarnation is the precursor to Brain Burst. So it’s logically consistent as far as the Kawaharaverse is concerned.

Implications of Artificial Intelligence with Sentience

No matter, I’ve digressed from actually discussing about this episode – which served as an excellent way to wind down from the explosive climax that preceded it, giving viewers a chance to have our cathartic moment. People can criticise Kawahara all they like – myself included. I certainly raised my eyebrow when a not so robot looking robot that looked exactly like Underworld Alice walked onto the stage. But I really admire the themes and discussions he’s conceptualised through the course of writing Sword Art Online. And it’s very obvious so much thought has gone into them when it comes to Alicization’s questions about how a human soul can be defined (Tamashi no iro wa?) as well as this episode’s approach to the ethical discussion surrounding AI. It will be a slow and gradual process, as Kikuoka points out. And it’s out of their control to protect the Underworldians – since they’re so dependent on humans. And the reporters at the press conference definitely had a sinister and corporate bend to their questions. But I like to think that humanity is better than that. Not to mention robo Kayaba and 200 Year Kirito’s fluctlight can combine for an unexpected yet highly anticipated crossover to defend the virtual planes from real world interests that threaten it. So I guess that’s what the next arc of Sword Art Online will be about – which will set us up nicely for a future season.

Remembering Eugeo

Finally, it hurt so good when Kirito returned home and collapsed onto his bed sobbing – grieving heavily for Eugeo. Thinking about it, since he’s had 200 years of memories wiped, Eugeo literally died 1-2 weeks ago. I’m not surprised that his grief is so fresh – particularly if we consider his guilt. I’ll never forget the way I broke down crying when my classmate died a few years ago – let alone a best friend who Kirito had life and death adventures with across 3 years. And when we’ve had similar moments like Sachi and the Black Cats, Yuuki and the Sleeping Knights, we have to take our hats off to Reki Kawahara and recognise his talent for writing such meaningful and emotionally impacting characters, as well as the relatable ways in which his protagonists handle loss. It’s easily the thing I respect the most about his writing abilities that truly makes him stand out as special, and I hope we get to see more of it in future arcs of Sword Art Online.

Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. As always, thanks for reading this post and see you next week to find out the meaning behind Alice’s foreboding words and why Rinko gives Kirito a call the following morning.


  1. my problem with the system isn’t in the fact that it exists at all but how it got bastardized in season 2. it took *effort* for Kirito to use it briefly at the end of season one, even after being aware of it and acknowledging its potential. but now in season 2, suddenly, the scale of its power goes bar beyond what Kirito was even capable of, and still only usable by a select group. three of them (PoH, Sub, Ordinal guy) not even supposed to be aware of it and yet casually do it. PoH and Sub’s use of it is ridiculously overpowered for no reason. how do you even “imagine” those powers.

    why can no one in Underworld do this at anywhere near the same power or consistency? most of them know and live with this knowledge and are used to a world where imagination is king.

    then there’s Kirito’s upgrade for no real reason. he also starts flying with no help then later decides to incarnate wings.

    and lastly, why are the bad guys *so much better with it*. PoH trivially beats up on *everyone*. just because he chose to imagine a weapon capable of drawing in all the life energy? what excuse does Sub have? he was beating back Kirito without that.

    1. Simple. The Underworldians are not fully developed consciences. And we did see the Administrator/Cardinal/Bercoulli utilise the system to its potential. You think Bercoulli happened to have the power to alter reality and slash through time? Yeah… So it’s not just a case of Kirito being OP. He figured it out and learned it from observing others who could use it too.

      The system also has drawbacks. Say I don’t believe my kung fu skills can beat karate – and this is a popular consensus – then I’d end up subconsciously weakening myself through incarnation – which happened with Kirito’s sword mentor Senpai who didn’t believe her sword style was strong enough to defeat the No.1 guy. Only she saw Kirito beat that guy, realised if she could beat Kirito in training there was no reason she couldn’t beat the No.1 guy, and overcame the mental block Incarnation that was weakening her to claim No.1 before she graduated. Kirito also damaged his own soul through Incarnation due to the intense guilt he felt after Eugeo’s death and almost committed suicide through Incarnation. Also when Gabriel Miller was dragged down to hell that was how he always imagined the afterlife to be, which manifested into reality. These two instances are examples of negative manifestations of Incarnation. So it’s established that Incarnation is pretty much a double edged sword.

      Additionally the abilities Sinon/Suguha/Asuna utilised are also forms of Incarnation. In fact, any magic or supernatural physical ability in the Underworld we’ve seen so far is Incarnation (eg Sheyta’s ability to cut anything and Iskhan’s indestructible fists). It’s not only three people who can use it. More like, everyone can use it but some use it better than others.

      And perhaps I haven’t explained willpower and imagination well enough. Say I imagine myself to be a god. Deep inside, subconsciously, I know I’m not a God so the incarnation would not manifest me as a god.

      A psychopath like PoH who truly sees himself as this hate filled demon (reinforced by how his real life name means demon and mother called him demon throughout his childhood) who reaps Asians to satisfy his hatred would manifest themselves as a demon who reaps Asian lives to sate his hate filled cleaver. A psychopath like Subtilizer has a god complex and truly believes himself to be a God above all others who can manipulate their souls (he believed the Vesta account’s god powers to be his own) – which manifested as this dark angel of emptiness sucking the essence out of everything. Both of these people don’t have subconscious inhibitions that ground them in reality. They are psychopathic and somewhat delusional/insane – which allows them to transcend what should be a subconscious limit with regards to Incarnation.

      When the Underworld became exposed to external threat, Kirito‘s truly believed in himself as the protector of the Underworld – and that willpower/imagination of his Aincrad form as the player who defeated Heathcliff gave him the point of reference to manifest as the protector of the Underworld which we saw. He has been a top player in many VRMMOs, so it’s not difficult for him to truthfully imagine himself at his peak level in another VRMMO – and translate that across to the Underworld via Incarnation. But he can’t truthfully imagine himself to actually be a god or angel. He’s rational enough to know he’s actually a god deep inside – which is why he can’t power up to the level Subtilizer can.

      Long explanation. But I hope you understand better and that it makes more sense.

      1. Very well said , I never had a problem with what people were calling “asspulls” and why is Kirito OP or why if Kirito is OP why is this guy even more OP.
        Also don’t forget after Kirito beat Quinella the Administrator he gained her authority level and maybe even above it.

      2. I meant more the ones on a higher scale for incarnations. most of season 1 was self empowerment and all in all affecting just themselves. season 2 goes far beyond that extremely quickly. there’s also should be a difference between people that are aware of it and knowingly/consciously using it vs three people that had no knowledge or awareness that it is even possible using it to max effect casually without a blink of an eye. (also wtf is Sub’s stingray)

        Sheyta/Bercouli and any other knights’ abilities are just as much if not mostly their sword’s features. or at least, they have that as a tool and/or crutch and is still assisted/empowered by the system so I would put them as separate

        by the same token, Asuna/Suguha/Sinon’s abilities are explictly explained to be part of the accounts’ abilities, not their own. so you can’t compare these the same

        I can’t fully accept your argument for Kirito when comparing season 1 and 2, especially with the very sudden and very sharp increase in ability *right* after waking up. PoH and Subtilizer and their psychosis, fine, but it’s still *very* aggravatingly lopsided in benefit even so. however, I have to put my foot down when it crosses over into the real world. the light cluster effects are bad enough. however, PoH being able to brainwash thousands across the Internet and through a device that shouldn’t be fully capable of processing such things? no. just. no.

        worse than the imbalance though is how it puts into light the good guy’s powerlessness. in part their actual combat is weaker. but far worse is emotionally. Suguha was the only one able to stand her ground (even literally stomping on it to stand). Sinon had to be given a pep boost twice! *Asuna* had to be thrice!! and she still lost! and fell to her knees every time. they’ve gone through so much and yet they’re so emotionally vulnerable. not even a simple struggle, but outright giving up.

    1. 1. A shame to make a vessel for a consciousness that has the power to love someone deeply and then not give her the bits to actualise it.
      2. Probably, given that the scientists and Alice herself regards her as human. so Kirito better not be putting his plug in her socket
      3. Now there’s the question. Assuming they aren’t going to pull some sort of Plastic Memories bs on us then it ought to pretty much unlimited because even if that robobody of hers wears out, they can transfer the lightcube to another one. We know they can even erase memories to stop fluctlights filling up, and I guess they could even transfer her fluctlight to another lightcube. But would that actually be _her_ or would it be just a copy? It’s the Star Trek transporter dilemma all over again.

      1. > Kirito better not put his plug in her socket


        As always Angelus, you raise a very good point about the questions surrounding Fluctlights and its conceptual implementation within SAO’s established universe. From what I gather, 200+ year old Kirito is an anomaly for fluctlights and cloning an ordinary fluctlight commonly results in a collapse in terms of what’s been established so far. I would imagine that fluctlights would have a natural lifespan – their limit in terms of what they can retain. Which still looks to be significantly longer than the natural human lifespan.

        1. it’s an interesting question, really. unless I forgot, we’re not quite sure (or rather never told), what was happening to Quinella when she was reaching her limit. does she start overriding old memories? does she just not retain anything past a certain amount of time? worst case, the fluctlight would implode, best case is either of the previous two scenarios. just as bad would be not outright implosion, but just freeze.

          this is jut the practical use limit though and doesn’t inherently shed any light on Angelus’s initial query. we don’t know how fluctlights keep themselves together and if it has a practical half life or stability. probably something we could only speculate because I doubt the author’s going to delve into this

          1. Been a long time since I read the relevant part of the LN, but it covers this very topic.. Quinella spent most of her time sleeping to avoid taking in new sensory information + pruning/purging irrelevant stuff.. same idea for why the older Integrity Knights had to be periodically reset.

            Some points of confusion in this last arc are due to what they trimmed out earlier.. can’t comment on current events haven’t read the LNs since vol 14/15 or so? :\

      2. Maybe the author has issues with female purity. I get the impression that this is not uncommon in this world. Make an android body that’s sexless and the problem is solved — pure, unsulliable love.

        As to Kirito’s prospective actions with Alice, I guess only Asuna’s interpretation matters.

        Regarding memories, I think all these stories overcomplicate this. Humanity already has a mechanism for dealing with it. We forget stuff. Unimportant stuff we forget quickly. Important stuff we forget slowly. Traumatic stuff we never forget. If these creations are as advanced as they’re supposed to be, this isn’t a problem (unless it’s needed for plot, like that execrable Plastic show, or Index).

      3. The Alicization arc sort of just ends with the web novel, like the author was happy with how things ended up and was like “hey I’m done”. I’m not sure if the series will go beyond Unital Ring but as said before, there’s plenty of opportunity for the author to go into all of the points raised about robots, a.i and things like that in future arcs. Whether or not he does is another question. Obviously he’s going to keep doing games & virtual worlds because thats his thing, and that helps with merch too.

  2. The question that those reporters should have done is ‘Why create those Ai in the first place if they don’t want to use them as a labor force?’
    Those robotics bodies are not cheap and I doubt that a company would make them for free, The lady was talking that they in the future could live with us, work with us, even marry. And nobody was pointing us that there coild be serious problems with that, after all what company wouldn’t want to hire these AI if they do the work better than the humans? I can almost see the Gattaca future.

    1. space exploration would definite benefit from Alice.
      1. Radiation is no longer a concern.
      2.Does not need food and water. Just power.
      3. Probably won’t get bored on a 10 year trip to Pluto.
      4. Could survive in the vacuum of space.

  3. To the LN readers I have some questions.
    -Was the 200 years part also skipped in the novel, maybe to be discussed later, or it was skipped in the anime only?
    -The next arc introduced here, with Kirito and Kayaba meeting is Unital Ring or another minor arc?

      1. The answer to these questions don’t necessarily need to spoil anything.
        How does knowing if the next arc is unital ring spoil it?
        Same for the first question, I just want to know if they skipped that part or not.

    1. Moon Cradle is literally just what happens in the Underworld while Kirito and Asuna are stuck inside. But keep your expectations low because it kinda sucks. Nothing really meaningful happens, but if you want to see characters you know and love that are alive still such as Ronye who still has her Kirito crush then you may like. It should be covered in a movie imo.

      Unital Ring is basically every game in the SAO universe merged into one. Characters such as Alice take part too.

  4. So the next arc is gonna about about ….. robots. I guess that’s the next logical step. Cyborgs with human brains or souls isn’t anything new in anime, so it will be interesting to see how SAO will tackle it.

    1. No, imagine something super spoilerific which causes all the games to merge into one singular mysterious game with peoples levels reverted to base stats but retaining their key skills. Now imagine some implications attached to the game.

      1. I also think Unital Ring will be confirmed as the final arc of Sword Art Online. It certainly has that final vibe. I honestly can’t imagine where the author could go after doing Underworld -> Unital Ring. Just what the heck can top these two virtual worlds lol.

          1. Suppose that would be the final destination of Unital Ring to finish out SAO. I.e a definitive lead into Accel World beyond the side story/cross-over type stuff thats out there.

            Not very well versed in Accel lore beyond the anime and LN spoilers extending a bit past the anime however.

          1. You mean Moon Cradle right? Unital Ring will be another longish Sword Art Online story which will get the series treatment when A1 Pictures are ready to do so. Probably 2022? The novels are coming out at a decent pace. We’ve got three story and one side volume so far with the arc itself ongoing for four total.


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