Just as this entire season opened up with a “Wait a minute, what the fuck?!” kind of moment back in October, this week’s episode ended with the same such question. In the final moments of the last episode, Kirito shouts the magic words we’ve waited to hear: Enhance Armament.
As it turns out, his skill is a black, tendril-like, Getsuga Tenshou (from Bleach). His sword skill, built out of the memories and tree branch of the Gigas Cedar, naturally resembles tree roots. Clashing with Fanatio’s light, it basically wrecks her. You know, because trees absorb light and do photosynthesis. She crashes the ceiling and lands back on the ground, bleeding heavily from a huge hole in her stomach. As Eugeo and Kirito attempt to heal her wounds, Kirito then resolves to use one of Cardinal’s daggers to save her life. It shows that Kirito wants to protect everyone, and save anyone given the opportunity, despite Fanatio being his enemy at the time. This bewilders Eugeo. Cardinal agrees to take her into her care, and the two thus continue their climb, running into a girl operating an elevator.
This girl, called The Operator, needs to be talked about. If we can recall from the beginning of the season, Eugeo is given a calling of woodcutter. Two thousand strikes, day after day, with the blissful thought of being able to live out his last days in retirement. He had friends, he had days off, he had fun. This poor girl, on the other hand, has had her body’s life frozen for the last one hundred and seven years, and has been given the task of operating this elevator. She has had to operate this elevator for over a century and has forgotten her own name. She looks like a young girl, but her soul has aged, and she thus loses some of her own memories and emotions, forever forced to zombie through this task as a slave to Quinella. In a society of perfect individuals who would never break the rules, this sounds tantamount to torture. Kirito and Eugeo pose the question about what she would do once the church has fallen, and she replies that she wishes to soar the skies freely on her platform. The anime did a pretty soul-crushing job at giving this girl zero emotions.
Finally, after arriving on the 80thfloor, we see Kirito and Eugeo having a conversation, in which Kirito holds back on telling Eugeo the truth about what would happen after they defeated Quinella. It’s a significant moment for the two close friends. They arrive on the Cloudtop Garden, and it’s quite beautiful. We see a single tree on top of the hill, and resting in its shade is Alice. She immediately notices but wants to take her time, allowing the tree to bask in the glow of the sunlight. After a bit of planning between the two, they rush at Alice, who places her hand on the tree and transforms it into her sword, which implies that her weapon is already under the Perfect Weapon Control Art.
Alice’s weapon is legitimately scary. Calling back to Bleach’s Byakuya Kuchiki and his Senbonzakura Kageyoshi, she can disperse her weapon into petals that can cut through anything. Instead of being pink, though, they’re golden. Kirito is incredibly formal about this and apologizes for not displaying the extent of his strength. Thus the sword fighting begins, but it is entirely one-sided as Alice completely overpowers him, forcing him back into a corner with a few strikes. It’s not even close. Alice’s Osmanthus Sword (Fragrant Olive Sword) completely overpowers Kirito’s weapon, by virtue of it being the first existence in Underworld, with the Central Cathedral being built on where the tree stood. The weapon is by virtue stronger than Kirito because it is an immortal object against an ancient tree. The clashes from these two swords, in terms of sound effects, is phenomenal. It actually is breathtaking because it sounds so realistic. The lighting, the shadows on Alice’s face, the animation is incredible. As Alice moves to deliver her final blow, Kirito barely grazes it with his sword, dropping it and pinning Alice, who for the first time delivers a surprised expression. As the two are pinned down, Eugeo activates his Perfect Weapon Control Art and attempts to freeze her.
Here is Eugeo’s struggle. This is the girl he desperately wants to rescue. As Alice questions him before the fight, she asks why he and Kirito are disturbing the Human Empire. Poor Eugeo, he is unable to vocalize his desires to rescue Alice. He lets out an audible moan when he runs into her, and you can see him grab his chest as he walks towards her. This is the girl he’s played with as a child, and it’s also the same girl who slapped him in the face with her sword. This is the girl that he became a criminal for. When he pauses after activating his skill, he’s still unable to jump right away and seize on the chance, not that it mattered anyway since Alice cut right through the ice a few seconds later.
Compared to Eldrie, Deusolbert, and Fanatio, these two are quite literally screwed. Alice is in an entire class of her own, and watching them both get pushed back as hard as they did without so much as scratching Alice made for a very nice change of pace. Alice tries to strike Kirito again, but he activates his skill and targets the blade before it could reform. The two attacks lead to a huge explosion which manages to damage the wall. The walls of this cathedral are made of a material that has an insanely high durability level, and the force of these two weapons clashing blew a massive hole in it. In a slow-motion sequence, we see Kirito and Alice being blown out of the building, and the wall slowly reforms itself with Eugeo running towards it in despair. The episode ends with Eugeo screaming the names of Kirito and Alice.
This is such a pivotal, turning moment because it marks the last time Kirito and Eugeo will be seen together for quite some time. From the light novel perspective, nobody saw this event happening as Volume 12 ended right here, and nobody knew what would happen next. It’s quite the cliffhanger to end on, and I do not blame the anime watchers for being incredibly peeved about the sequence. Eugeo is now on his own and has to continue the quest. I actually would recommend reading the pages from Volume 12 that correspond to this episode, because the way that the sequence is worded, it just showcases the absolute despair that happens. It adds a different angle to the fight that is expanded upon with internal dialogue. If you thought this was as crazy as it gets, it only gets better from here.