Monday, January 5, 2015

Sword Art Online II

Despite the name, Sword Art Online II is the second season of Sword Art Online from 2012.  Covering volumes 5, 6, 7 and part of 8 of the light novel series of the same name, which are the Phantom Bullet, Calibur and Mother's Rosario arcs.  Sword Art Online II has 24 episodes along with an extra recap episode after the first arc (i.e. clip show which reuses clips from previous episodes, narrated by Sinon).  Be warned that there will be some minor spoilers in the paragraphs ahead so stp reading if you don't want to be spoiled.  The first 14 episodes is the Phantom Bullet story arc.

After saving Asuna from Alfheim Online (ALO) and settling down with normal life, they continue to visit the virtual world with the friends they have made.  One year has passed since the Sword Art Online (SAO) incident and the government agent has approached Kirito for some help.  In one of the more population virtual MMOs, called Gun Gale Online (GGO), a player by the name of DeathGUn apparently has the ability to shoot another player, thereby killing them in real life.  Kirito is asked if he could go in and help track down the culprit.  Ignoring the fact that it's fairly improbable that Kirito is the only one able to find out the true identity of Death Gun, this is a decent premise.

In a 180 degree turn from SAO and ALO, GGO is set in a realistic setting (think post-apocalyptic world with dark colors) with a focus on guns.  Player vs. player is encouraged and is the aim of the game, it's a completely different style to before.  Kirito transfers to the new game and one of the better things is that instead of forcing Kirito to play as a new character and grind for skills, there is a "transfer" function which allows Kirito to transfer his high leveled character from ALO to GGO.

The transfer of stats makes it more realistic considering that Kirito unmasks the killer in such a short time (within days actually) and that Kirito fights some formidable enemies.  A new main character is introduced by the name of Sinon, who specializes in sniping.  She is pretty cool and is haunted by her past.  That said, she is affected so much by the past that it affects her actions at times.  Of course, through meeting Kirito, that rift is healed.  Needless to say she is also obligated to fall for Kirito.

The pacing for the most part is solid although too much reflection of characters happen, stalling the plot.  You are entranced by the identity of Death Gun and how he manages the feat of killing players in real life.  Once again, it brings to attention the potential dangers of virtual reality technology that needs to be overcome.  It was noticeable that there are less epic fights between Kirito and his enemies this time around.  It's also tougher to make good hand to hand combat (which Kirito excels at) when everyone is using guns.  Kirito cheats in this aspect when he ends up wielding a gun anyway as well as a gun.

There are still some good showdowns but nothing extraordinary and the final fight in the arc against Death Gun isn't as cool as it should have been.  It was over way too quickly but we do learn why the arc is called Phantom Bullet.  The next three episodes then cover Calibur, which follows Kirito and gang (including Sinon) on a New ALO quest to obtain the legendary sword Excalibur.  While it doesn't add anything to the mythos of the world, it was a good change of pace to watch something that doesn't have a huge stake.

It's more like a typical day in which the characters participate in a quest to earn some good equipment.  Returning to sword fighting makes for some better fight scenes, however, there seemed to be scenes occurring often where we are obliged to watch every single party member (numbering seven) executing their Sword Skill.  The last seven episodes cover the Mother's Rosario arc.  It's hard to tell what the story was going from looking at the just the name.  Without spoiling it too much, this was one of the really sad stories that rival the emotional impact that the Sachi arc had.

Still set in New ALO, Kirito and the gang have their adventures as per normal when it comes to Asuna's attention of a new player who's been asking for duels with strong players.  This new player goes by the name of Zekken ("Absolute Sword").  Initially curious as to what their motive could be, Asuna decides to duel Zekken.  Not that she has a chance of winning anyway considering that many strong players, including Kirito, had dueled against Zekken and lost.  The resulting duel between Asuna and Zekken turned out to be the best battle scene in the whole season.

Mother's Rosario really stars Asuna as the lead character as through Zekken, she fights her own battle against her mother, who wants her to transfer to a better school (and find a more suitable partner other than Kirito).  It's surprising to find that what started out as just another lighthearted adventure turn into such a serious and thought-provoking story.  It touches more deeply into the theme of virtual reality and other potential benefits such as for medical uses.

Zekken's ending was sad but can go into the cheesy side considering the huge send off Zekken gets (makes it a tiny bit harder to believe, I think if it was just the two parties, it would have been more meaningful).  It's also surprising to find that there are players that are even better than Kirito.  With the actual ending of Sword Art Online II, the last few episodes takes place in actual reality.  I didn't like it when Akihiko Kayaba is thrown into the mix again as it felt that it had tainted the sad event.

Sword Art Online II reuses music from the first season, as you would expect but the best tracks are the ones where it remixes the original tracks.  The various remixes of Swordland are awesome and manages to make it even more epic than the original, enhancing the battle scenes.  These battle themes end up being more prominent after the GGO arc and they are used to great effect.

Overall, Sword Art Online II has some great stories and is every bit, if not more, enjoyable than the first season of Sword Art Online.  While there is a bit too much talking and reminiscing without advancing the plot in the first 14 episodes, the stories told were engrossing.  Gun Gale Online was a dramatic change and having a more serious tone compared to what came previously (as well as dialing down the weirder stuff present in the first season's ALO arc).  Calibur was a fun adventure providing a nice change of pace and Mother's Rosario arc was fulfilling.  While the amount of fan service might have increased, Sword Art Online II is a good anime and worthwhile to watch.  Being at 24 episodes helps in providing a quicker pace.  Honestly, I hope they don't wait for another two years before adapting the next few light novels into Season 3!


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