|Overall||Art||Animation||Character Design||Music||Series Story||Episode Story||Reviewer|
Sword Art Online II
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(All episodes watched):
The first episode of SAO II does just what it needs to do, i.e, explain the new problem for Kirito: He's been recruited to serve as a sort of virtual private eye to investigate a pair of murders which seem to have been committed in virtual reality (even though that ought to be impossible, what with all the new safeguards and all). The goal is to not just find the killer but figure out how the crime was committed in the first place. This won't be happening in a sword and sorcery or fantasy video game, but in a shoot-em-up gunplay one (that change pleases me). Also, we get an idea of how things are going between Kirito and Asuna, and what he aspires to in the real world. These things are kind of interesting even though they won't play much of a part in the main story. The mission itself doesn't begin until episode two, but I think it's safe to say that pretty much every fan of the original SAO who watches this opening episode will sign on for the duration of this sequel.
The story gets off to sort of a slow start, but only because we are introduced to a new character, female protagonist Sinon--first in Gun Gale Online, then in the real world. The details of how Kirito will be monitored while 'playing' were kind of neat. In episode three the two meet within the game--for some reason Kirito has been given a feminine avatar, and he keeps his true gender a secret. He chooses a sword as his main weapon even here, a Star Wars-like lightsaber to be exact, which is partly cool and partly ridiculous. Part of the old 'swords are the ultimate weapon, not guns or atomic bombs' theme in anime, I guess. This isn't pure guns and ammo, there are also blasters and laser weapons of a sort, and shields to defend against them. Somehow a person can 'see' the trajectory that approaching bullets will take, which makes it possible to dodge them--right. I found myself hoping the fighting would remain plausible. There was no sign of the killer yet, but so far this had been an amusing and interesting story.
A connection between this virtual world and the original SAO one is revealed in episode four. A disturbing event which supposedly happened back in SAO (but is being revealed to us for the first time here--I think) suggests the possible origins of the killer, 'Death Gun'. I had mixed feelings about this; the link between the two series was intriguing, since it expanded the evidence we have to draw on as we try to figure out who Death Gun is and why he's doing what he does. But the crimes he seems to be responsible for, and the secret society he may have once belonged to, seem to have been tacked-on to the plot in a sort of hasty manner. I guess I kind of worried that Death Gun would just be explained as an evil, evil person who kills for killing's sake, and wouldn't be given an interesting motivation. But if that were so, why had he only killed two people so far?
Kirito and Sinon team up to hunt Death Gun. I couldn't help wondering if they know that they can only kill his avatar (and make him lose the game), while they are liable to be killed in the real world if something goes wrong--right? It's unclear exactly what they hope to achieve, or even if it is really possible. Maybe they are trying to save the lives of other players that DG is going after. I was dismayed by the sudden and total collapse of Sinon's fighting spirit in episode ten, apparently due to her having a flashback to the incident in which she killed a real-world man in self-defense. It didn't make sense; this is still just an online game, and she can't kill the real-world Death Gun, can she? Perhaps the problem was that there wasn't enough foreshadowing--we didn't get enough hints that the incident was still weighing heavily on her. Or maybe that would be obvious to someone who grew up in Japan, but not to an American. This traumatic event has been mentioned, once or twice, but far more time has been devoted to demonstrations of her awesome skill as a sniper who readily takes out avatars left and right. And all of a sudden we are told that this prowess was just a way of hiding from the past--I don't get it. What's more, she makes an unrealistically swift recovery from this loss of heart, which only made it seem even more lame.
Well, I had assumed that SAO II was a one-season show and episode 13 would mark the climax and conclusion, but no, that wasn't so. The episode marked only the conclusion of the first of two arcs. This semi-conclusion was OK but not great; why didn't Death Gun's real world accomplices, who are presumably lurking right alongside Sinon's bed or nearby, attack immediately once they realize that their plan has gone awry? The OP sequence sort of gave away what was going to happen long ago. In general, I was kind of underwhelmed by the Death Gun mystery and it's solution; it turned out to be a fairly low-tech thing rather than something amazing that could only happen in a futuristic digital world. But I did like the way Kirito and Sinon ended the online game. Episode 14 is kind of a wrap-up of the first arc.
In episode 15 the arc for the second half of SAO II is revealed--Kirito, Asuna, Sinon and four others return to Alfheim, the fairy-world MMORPG, on a quest to find the mystical sword Excaliber. They notice a couple odd things about their quest, but so far there's no solid evidence of any sort of malfunction or malevolence withing the computer program. This turns out to be a sort of mini-arc in which we take a break from the main plot; it was kind of fresh and interesting. The conclusion of the first arc had seemed rather incomplete to me, and had left me certain that at least one perpetrator was still at large and would surely show up again during this new arc to create mayhem and threaten Kirito and his friends. But that didn't happen; the Death Gun arc was in fact completely finished. Perhaps as a result of this misunderstanding, I was continually looking for clues about something that wasn't going to happen during the second half, and consequently wasn't able to enjoy the actual story as well as I might have.
Afterwards, I was mildly surprised when the story moves back to Aincrad--that MMORPG is still running, and still updating, after the debacle several years ago? And people are still willing to play it? Apparently so. I figured that maybe here's where the remaining Death Gun conspirator will be found--or, more likely, he will find Kirito. Another thing I wasn't expecting was Asuna teaming up with an all-new team of players, the "Sleeping Knights". Kirito plays a supporting role but this is more about her adventures in this virtual world while she's having trouble with her parents in the real one. There's clearly something funny about the Sleeping Knights which they can't bring themselves to tell Asuna, even though they appreciate the help and friendship she has brought them. My guess was that maybe they are Non-Player Characters (NPCs). I haven't got much to say here, since I had gone off on a thoroughly wrong track throughout most of this arc. The Sleeping Knights' tragic secret is revealed at the end, and many people apparently found it highly moving, but perhaps since I hadn't been following the story properly I didn't find it to be all that brilliant. Looking back, SAO II in general strikes me as a somewhat confusing story in which the short-term enjoyment that I got out of it was greater than that which came from trying to make sense of the long-term plot. Perhaps the sum was less than the total of the parts. Of course, I seriously misunderstood it. One thing that seems certain is that the SAO saga as a whole is nowhere near completion even after two six-month series.
Last updated Saturday, March 14 2015. Created Monday, July 07 2014.