WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld, Part 2.
What would Sword Art Online be without Asuna, the legendary Lighting Flash, joining Kirito’s side? In the latest season, Sword Art Online: War of Underworld, fans were relieved to see her retake her rightful place as a key player in the show’s main storyline. Once Asuna steps into the warring Underworld scene, she doesn’t disappoint as a fierce and fabulous force to be reckoned with.
Sword Art Online: War of Underworld is the second half of the anime’s massive Season 3 Alicization arc, in which the VR environment “Underworld” faces threatening forces from the Dark Territory. The season's conclusion brought Alice and the story out of the Underworld, but for much of Alicization, Asuna stands as an undervalued onlooker watching Kirito from the outside.
At the beginning of Sword Art Online: Alicization, Asuna plays the minor role of an undercover detective, tracking down Kirito’s location after he is poisoned and taken by Rath to receive treatment. Due to her savvy connections and a disguise, she finds him on the Ocean Turtle and even uses her wit to deduce the objective of Rath’s top-secret Project Alicization: to create AI murder machines. Asuna's take-charge attitude and quick aptitude truly come across as she gets up to speed, especially later in War of Underworld when the Ocean Turtle is invaded by forces attempting to steal Alice to use as a military weapon. However, the majority of this arc is spent in the Underworld with Kirito and Eugeo studying as swordsmen and eventually finding their childhood friend Alice, now a dragon-riding Integrity Knight.
With Asuna stuck in the real world, her natural brilliance in Sword Art Online is largely wasted, forcing fans to shift focus to new characters like Eugeo and Alice -- both of whom lack the powerful draw Asuna has. Each new SAO arc has a pattern of tacking on new characters to introduce plotlines, worlds, or games (or add to Kirito’s never-ending harem.) Yet Asuna has been a central character from the very beginning in Aincrad, acting as the perfect counterbalance and canon OTP for Kirito. Confident, poised and steadfast, her presence is integral to the Sword Art Online franchise, making her worthy of a leading role in the main story.
Asuna does snatch the main protagonist role from Kirito in SAO’s fourth arc, Mother’s Rosario, but this story was a mere seven episodes and serves as a side juncture in between the Phantom Bullet and Alicization arcs. Despite the small window and apparent disconnect to the main plot, Mother’s Rosario makes viewers fall more in love with Asuna. This arc explores the heartbreaking tale of the unbeatable dual-wielder Yuuki, whom Asuna befriends and learns from in ALO before the young girl passes away from AIDS. The story allows Asuna to branch out from her SAO friends in a profound way. It also shines a light on her complicated home life as her mother -- who disapproves of her gaming lifestyle -- tries to push her into an arranged marriage. However, as the Alicization arc picks up right afterward, this glimpse of Asuna’s life and backstory is cut short.
While Asuna is mostly vacant from Kirito’s story during Sword Art Online: Alicization, by the end Kirito’s fluctlight gets seriously damaged during the chaos ensuing on the Ocean Turtle. He’s rendered catatonic, thus physically forced to sit on the sidelines. This mishap, however, springs the opportunity for Alice and Asuna to take the stage as powerful fighters in Sword Art Online: War of Underworld. Asuna’s inclination to jump into the Underworld to save Kirito and retrieve Alice is a pinnacle moment in the series, reigniting the interest of fans desperately awaiting the OTP reunion. Though it’s not until the second phase of the season when Asuna finally appears in Underworld at the climax of the episode “Sword and Fist.”
Fans were impatient to see Asuna make her entrance in Underworld, but the payoff is worth the wait as she miraculously descends from the sky. As if she weren’t already goddess tier by skills and looks alone, Asuna logs in with the Admin account of the Goddess of Creation Stacia, believed by the world's inhabitants to be a legendary figure who aided in the Underworld's formation. Stacia’s story was actually fabricated by the Administrator and the Axiom Church, but her account still endows Asuna with marvelous power -- which she instantly demonstrates by ripping giant ravines in the earth, pulling in swarms of enemy soldiers. This gleaming move is impressive in more ways than one, also cutting off approaching forces from the Pugilists and Dark Knights.
Asuna’s epic moment allows her allies in the Underworld a moment to prepare their forces. During this time she also gets her long-awaited reunion with Kirito who, though catatonic, has a reaction to her voice and attempts to reach out to her. After briefly clashing swords with a jealous Alice, Asuna serves as an essential general and diplomat on the battlefield. She enlightens the Underworld's people about the real world and her intentions to escort Alice, the cultivated weapon, out of the VR environment. Her time in the limelight also lets her be the central character to unite the Underworld soldiers with her other friends like Agil, Lisbeth, Silica, and more real-worlders who join the fight as one.
The Lighting Flash's fight scenes are so striking that they easily rival Kirito, the infamous screen hog. As such a well-established character, giving Asuna more attention always seems to be the right move for Sword Art Online, even if that just means putting her side by side with the Black Swordsman himself. To see Asuna in glorious god mode, the complete Sword Art Online Season 3, including War of Underworld, is available to stream on Crunchyroll.