Sword Art Online: Alicization - 2.05 The Night Before Battle
After going through a bit of a setback with Dark Territory, Sword Art Online: Alicization managed to rebound with its newest episode The Night Before Battle. As the episode title implies, the story is set on the eve of battle between the Human Empire and the Dark Territory, with the Eastern Gate separating the two sides ready to collapse at any time. The episode follows Alice as she helps the other Integrity Knights prepare for battle.
One of the great things about this episode is how time is taken to revisit various plot threads from the first season. For the most part, this consisted of various Integrity Knights coming up to Alice and expressing how their encounters with Kirito changed them for the better. One of the most touching moments saw Kirito reunited with the pages who served under him and Eugeo in season one; their actions saving them are the reason they were taken to the Cathedral by Alice, setting the fight against Administrator into motion. It feels like Alice's respect for Kirito rose even higher now that she knows why Kirito did what he did. Individually, these are all small moments, but taken together they reveal how big an effect Kirito had, even if he isn't currently aware of it.
And speaking of Kirito, I feel like this episode was dropping hints as to how Kirito might come back and be himself again. Bercouli revealed that Kirito can subconsciously protect himself from attack, meaning that on some level Kirito is aware of his surroundings, something that could come into play during the battle to come. Alice all but begs Kirito to come to her aid if she calls for him; this feels like a setup for Kirito's return.
While The Night Before Battle was a great improvement over last week, it wasn't perfect. One thing that bothers me is the absence of Asuka We know that she logged in about the same time as Gabriel and his associate, and that some time has passed since that happened. I would've thought that Asuna would've shown up before the battle to lend her support or at least make her presence known, but it never happened. Perhaps the writers are waiting to reveal Asuna during the upcoming battle.
The episode does an admirable job of laying out how the battle is going to begin. The setting is described, and the stakes are made clear. Whether or not this battle goes according to plan is a whole different argument, but at least we know what the Integrity Knights are hoping to have happen. Of course, there's one factor that none of them are aware of, and that's the fact that this battle is actually the start of the Final Load Test, the end stage of this entire Underworld experiment. It was a nice touch for those very words, "Final Load Test", to appear just as the Eastern Gate cracks and gives way. Of course the Underworld characters don't know what that means, but the audience does, and it's likely only a matter of time before the Underworld characters learn of the true peril they are in.
It was a great relief to watch The Night Before Battle, as the episode was proof that Sword Art Online: Alicization is still moving in the right direction, much more smoothly than the first season.