Sword Art Online: Alicization - 1.16 The Osmanthus Knight
While not quite as good as last week's episode, The Osmanthus Knight does a satisfactory job of continuing Kirito and Eugeo's journey to the top of the Cathedral. The episode begins with the end of Kirito's fight against Lady Fanatio (which he predictably wins) followed by his efforts to save the Integrity Knight's life.
Throughout each season of Sword Art Online, Kirito has consistently shown mercy to his opponents/enemies (with a few exceptions over the years), a trait that could easily get him killed in the Underworld (as not everyone is inclined to be merciful). Case in point: Kirito saves Fanatio by pricking her with a special dagger that was meant to be used on Quinella. So while Kirito did the right thing by saving Fanatio, he has also hampered his quest by losing a weapon that might have been useful when they reach the top of the Cathedral.
One part of the episode I have a big problem with is when Kirito and Eugeo find a lift that takes them to the 80th floor. When Cardinal started the pair on this journey to the top of the Cathedral, I imagined that it would be a long, hard-fought battle on each and every floor. And yet, in seemingly no time at all, our heroes are only twenty floors from the top. It all feels too easy, though given how the episode ends it could be the writers were trying to lure us into a false sense of confidence regarding Kirito and Eugeo's journey.
One thing I have to mention is the lift operator that Kirito and Eugeo meet. Though she looks young, the pair are shocked to learn that she's been running this lift for over a hundred years and knows no life other than this. Like Linel and Fizel in last week's episode, the Operator is yet another example of Quinella's cruelty towards her subjects. She sees nothing wrong with sentencing this girl to what is essentially mindless slavery. It's one more reason why Kirito and Eugeo need to remove Quinella from power.
In the gardens on the 80th floor, Kirito and Eugeo come face to face with Alice once again. The pair strategize a plan to take her down so Eugeo can neutralize her with his own dagger, but it quickly becomes apparent that Alice is far more powerful. When Kirito challenges Alice to a duel, I expected the fight to be at least equal but to my surprise Kirito is completely outmatched and on the defensive, something I've never seen before (even in his season one fight against Heathcliff he could hold his own). It is unnerving to see Kirito struggle during a fight as it doesn't happen very often (though I am happy they're staying away from the 'invincible hero' trope that tends to follow Kirito around).
The ending of the episode shocked me to the core. At the climax of the fight, Kirito is forcibly holding Alice to give Eugeo a chance to use his dagger. But before Eugeo can get there, the wall gives way and both Alice and Kirito are blasted out of the Cathedral! Even worse, the wall seals back up, leaving Eugeo alone on the 80th floor while Kirito and Alice are...somewhere. I'm sure they're not dead (since the main character can't die) but I am very curious to see the explanation for how Alice and Kirito survive.
Some final thoughts on this episode:
I'd forgotten that Eugeo doesn't know that Cardinal wants to destroy the Underworld once Quinella is removed from power. Even though Kirito promises to explain later, now that they're separated, I could see Eugeo learning of this from a third party which could create serious problems in the future.
Also, I can't help but notice that Alice's sword bears a striking resemblance to Exaclibur, a sword first seen in season two and acquired by Kirito during the Calibur Arc. It could just be a coincidence, but considering the Underworld is built on a system that includes Cardinal (which ran the other VR worlds), I think there could be something more to it.
I'm curious to see how Eugeo fares on his own now that Kirito isn't around to back him up. All in all, this was a good episode and I'm excited to see how the story continues from here.