SAO: Alicization Episode 9

SAO: Alicization Episode 9

Nobleman’s Responsibilities

Not much actually happened in this week’s episode of Sword Art Online: Alicization, and yet we were given a lot of information. So, I hope you’re ready for another episode of “DoubleSama unnecessarily breaks down the social structure of an anime civilization.”

But, before I actually get into the ins, outs, and theories of the Central City social structure, I think we first need to take a look at how Kirito has begun to affect those around him. Remember, the reason he’s in the Underworld to begin with is to influence and corrupt AI so that they learn to break rules.

It was previously stated that his influence on Alice is what caused her to go against the Taboo Index, but as I’ve already explained in a previous episode review, there’s no proof of this. As far as we saw, Kirito had no influence on Alice’s choices, and her crossing into the forbidden territory was an accident.

However, we’re now seeing some instances in which Kirito actually is having an influence on AI and potentially corrupting them in the way which the Underworld creators want.

Kirito goes on a rant about how sometimes there are unwritten rules which must be followed, and other times there are written rules which must be broken. To the people of the Underworld, this should sound like heresy against the Taboo Index, because that’s exactly what it is.

But, although Eugeo and his valet, Tiese Shtolienen, seem to be concerned about Kirito’s assertion, neither of them actually disagrees with him. Further, Kirito’s own valet, Ronie Arabel, verbally agrees with what he’s saying, showing that she’s likely been influenced by her time with him.

I think it’s fairly obvious that Alice is going to end up being the AI chosen by the Underworld creators as their “end result,” but from what we’ve seen in this episode, Ronie appears to be an even better candidate. Or at least she would be if the Underworld creators actually knew what they were talking about.

I don’t want to get into the issues with the Underworld AI farm again, so if you missed my discussion of that, then check out my review of SAO: Alicization Episode 6.

Stay Cool

Every week it seems we learn something new about the power system in the Underworld, and every week it makes less and less sense. Needless to say, this week was no exception.

In episode 8 we learned that unique skills and the sacred arts are directly linked to the power of imagination, and this week’s episode implies that weapon skills are no different. Through the power of imagination, one can apply a skill to their weapon, or theoretically any other gear item they have.

However, while these weapon skills are connected to the unique skills of their wielders, they aren’t exactly the same.

Let’s use Volo Levanteinn as an example. His unique skill allowed him to become more powerful by drawing blood from powerful opponents. This is skill is passed down through generations of his family, and stems from a belief that the skill is real.

His weapon skill, on the other hand, like all weapon skills we’ve been introduced to so far, simply makes his weapon “stronger.” It’s unclear in what way these weapons are “stronger,” but don’t worry about that, because we’ll never get a real explanation from Reki Kawahara anyway.

Like his unique skill, Volo’s weapon skill also comes from a particular family belief, in his case, the idea that he comes from a line of powerful swordsmen.

While Kirito’s unique skill comes from him believing himself to be the protagonist of the series, Eugeo doesn’t have a unique skill. Because of this, he becomes interested in weapon skills, but doesn’t know exactly what type of concept or belief to imbue his sword with.

In order to get an idea of how these weapon skills work, he challenges the number two seat, Humbert Zizek, to a duel with practice swords. Humbert’s weapon skill comes from the belief that he’s special due to his aristocratic upbringing and the idea that this puts him above everyone else.

Their match ends in a draw, which infuriates Humbert, who then takes his frustration out on his valet.

Sacred Arts Plot Hole

This point would have been more relevant as part of last week’s review, but I’ve only now actually noticed it.

As I mentioned earlier, we learned that the Sacred Arts are actually something anyone can use as long as they believe in themselves. However, in the first episode or so we learned that the Sacred Arts are really just uses of the command prompt.

Does this mean that any of the AI can access the command prompt simply by believing they can? If so, then that means there’s no restriction on the use of the command prompt whatsoever. Theoretically, any individual AI could “nuke” the Underworld by restoring the system to factory settings.

Deviant Orders

The latter half of the episode focuses on the aftermath from Eugeo’s duel with Humbert. As previously stated, Humbert begins to take his frustration out on his valet, a girl who happens to be the roommate of Eugeo’s valet, Tiese.

Humbert had forced the girl to strip and give him a massage while he took a bath each day. Although this technically doesn’t violate either the Taboo Index nor the academy rules, it’s clearly a form of sexual harassment and is therefore morally deviant.

Other than the fact that his actions are immoral, at first glance this doesn’t seem to be too big of a deal. But, as it’s pointed out, the fact that people like Humbert can even consider actions such as these suggest that they’re thinking of ways to get around the rules of the Taboo Index.

Humbert knows he can’t physically exact revenge on Eugeo, and so he devises a roundabout way to do it which doesn’t technically violate any rules.

Now, to us it may seem logical that if you’re forbidden from doing something, you simply find a way to do it that isn’t forbidden. However, as Eugeo points out, the Taboo Index not only polices actions, but thoughts as well. This means that the act of thinking up a way around the Taboo Index should be in itself a violation of the Taboo Index.

From this realization there are two primary conclusions. The first is that the Taboo Index doesn’t police the thoughts of the Underworld citizens, and therefore anyone can freely think, and the second is that the Taboo Index takes social status into consideration.

In reality, I believe a combination of these two conclusions is what’s in place. Kirito is considered a commoner in the Underworld, and yet he’s able to freely think, which implies the latter conclusion must be, in part, false. However, that doesn’t mean social status doesn’t play any role.

Underworld Social Stratification

As far as we know, there are eight different strata within the Underworld social hierarchy. At the bottom there are the commoners like Kirito and Eugeo, the middle six strata consist of the nobles classes, and the top is a governing body of some sort.

For now, we know little about this governing body other than the fact this seems to be where the Taboo Index originates from. The Taboo Index could itself make up this top strata, or it could consist of an individual ruler, or group of rulers, who first created the Taboo Index.

It also seems highly probable that the concept of Callings only applies to the commoner class. It’s supposedly nearly impossible for someone to complete their Calling, and so if nobles partook in them as well, it’s unlikely there would be so many attending Swordcraft Academy. Unless their Calling is that of a swordsman, of course.

The fact that Raios Antinous uses the concept of a Calling to insult Eugeo also implies that Callings are something specifically for commoners.

The six noble classes are themselves broken into two sections. Classes one through four are able to hold high positions such as governorships, while those in classes five and six are essentially just extremely wealthy commoners who work below the other nobles.

Humbert and Raios are both members of noble classes one through four (I forget if their specific class was stated), while Tiese, Ronie, and assumedly their classmate, belong to class six.

Tiese Shtolienen from the anime Sword Art Online: Alicization
Tiese Shtolienen

As I pointed out previously, Kirito, despite being a commoner, is able to have “deviant” thoughts when it comes to the Taboo Index and how it governs the lives of the Underworld citizens. This alone hints that the Taboo Index doesn’t actually police the thoughts of the people.

And, while this means social status doesn’t necessarily play a role in if or how judgement is passed down, it might imply that the upper classes have more knowledge of how the Taboo Index works. As Sir Francis Bacon once wrote, “Knowledge itself is power.”

The lower strata, specifically the commoners, believe that even thinking contrary to the teachings of the Taboo Index is illegal, and since they’re AI who follow the rules absolutely, they never question this belief. But, the nobles, specifically those higher up, seem to understand that thinking and doing are two separate things.

I wouldn’t say that the nobles are taught this concept, but the difference between them and the commoners probably stems from the commoners explicitly being given misinformation about the Taboo Index at the time of its inception. And, like I said, since they follow the rules absolutely, they’ve never questioned it since.

We can also assume that the rise of the Taboo Index and the rise of the social strata happened at roughly the same time. Because of this, the belief that the two are tied together is likely rooted within the minds of all the citizens below the uppermost, ruling class.

This means that commoners stay in their place because they believe they have no choice, and nobles look down on those beneath them because they believe they have some sort of divine right. From a psychological standpoint, this is exactly how social strata in our own world work and have worked.

Of course in the real world there are many other forces working to keep social strata together besides social belief, including but not limited to wealth, knowledge, and religion.

So, what does this all mean for the social structure of the Underworld? Those at the very top have the most information on the Taboo Index, and it therefore applies to them to a lesser degree. As you move down the social strata, the Taboo Index becomes more overbearing, but only because they believe that to be the case.

I’m sure we’ll learn more about the Taboo Index as the season progresses, but for now all I can say is that the entire social structure of the Underworld appears to be based on the belief in it, whether that belief is right or wrong.

Conclusion

I would continue on with the discussion of the Taboo Index, but I feel like I could write a whole post or series of posts just breaking it down and comparing it to our own world, so look forward to that in the future after we learn more about its origin.

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My review of the next episode is available here.

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