Sword Art Online: Alicization - 1.08 Swordsman's Pride

Following up from the previous episode, Swordsman's Pride opens with Kirito about to take place in a duel with Volo Levantein, a top-tier student. A large portion of this episode follows up on a concept Kirito discovered in the Underworld: your imagination can turn thoughts into reality. This skill can be utilized to make a swordsman incredibly powerful in combat; for example if one imagines power flowing into their sword, it will happen.

Using his mentor's advice, Kirito uses this skill to tap into the power of the Gigas Cedar (which the sword is made of) and holds his own in the duel (though it technically ends in a draw as it is interrupted by a teacher before either can strike a blow). The show is trying really hard to avoid the "overpowered Kirito" trope that has prevailed in past seasons, but they're still pretty close to the line in my opinion. Despite what Kirito says, I still feel that he could easily dominate a fight if he really wanted to.

This episode is also important because it's the first time we see the effect being trapped in virtual reality is having on Kirito. After a bed of flowers he's been tending are brutally destroyed by two snobby trainees, Kirito breaks down in tears and his inner thoughts reveal that he'd strongly identified with these flowers, as they're not native to the region, much like himself. The strain of not knowing whether he'll ever get back to the real world has finally broken through in the form of tears. Given that Kirito's already experienced two years in the Underworld, I was curious to see what his state of mind would be on being separated from his family and friends (particularly Asuna) for so long, and it's a relief to see he hasn't forgotten about the real world in the slightest and is still working towards a means of getting back.

There's also a curious thing that happens in the flower garden: Kirito hears a female voice instructing him on how to transfer life energy from the other plants to save his flowers. Initially I thought it might be the same voice Kirito heard in Departure, but after going back to watch that episode, I realized they're different voices, which means there are now two people mentally communicating with Kirito. The plot is definitely thickening, slowly but surely. Since Kirito is the only real human (that we know of anyways) in the Underworld, it makes sense that some of the A.I. inhabitants have taken notice of him.

By the end of the episode, Kirito and Eugeo have both been promoted to "Elite Disciple" status and now have their own students to mentor. Eugeo reminds Kirito that by advancing, they're one step closer to possibly locating Alice somewhere in the Central Axiom Church. It will be interesting to see where Kirito and Eugeo go from here in the next episode, Nobleman's Responsiblities. Given the accelerated flow of time in the Underworld, another time jump is likely (and will probably be a regular occurrence throughout the series). I'm glad the show has finally moved away from exposition-heavy episodes.

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