Sword Art Online is, in case some of you out there don’t know, one of history’s most popular Anime series. Now even though my words may seem a touch on the exaggerated side, go to any single pop culture-related event and you’ll see that what I’m saying is entirely accurate. In fact, if you have access to a time machine, how about you head back to each and every pop culture convention from 2012 onwards, only then will you truly understand the might of the Sword Art Online fandom.
The Anime adaptation, released in 2012, breathed new life into the light novels that preceded it, with hardcore fans going back and actually reading over the same events of which they’ve just watched. Alongside it’s very own manga series and a bunch of new light novel continuations of the story, the series gave birth to a handful of video game titles that attempted to recreate the world of an MMORPG, much like in the series…without making the games MMORPGs.
I’m having quite a hard time writing this review already because I know, for an absolute fact, that I’m essentially walking into the proverbial valley of death…willingly. Anyone that has read my work on this site, listened to the bi-monthly podcast, or spoken to me in person will know that I’m not at all a fan of Sword Art Online, but in a professional capacity I feel as though I judge it unbiasedly. Though I think I need to reassure you, the reader, before moving on because, bias or otherwise…I believe Sword Art Online II to be unnecessary as a continuation to a story that had already come to a necessary end.
For reference, you may want to check out my review of said first series by clicking here and, as always, I’m very much open to discussion especially when it comes to topics and series’ such as this, so please don’t be too shy to use the comments section to share your opinion. Everyone is welcome, even those of you have have some less-than-positive comments for yours truly.
A year has passed since SAO was cleared. Summoned by Seijirou Kikuoka of the Virtual Division at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Kazuto (Kirito) learns of a series of bizarre murders linked to the popular VR game, Gun Gale Online (GGO). After being shot in-game by a player calling himself Death Gun, two prominent GGO players have mysteriously turned up dead in the real world. As Kazuto logs in GGO and starts investigating the mystery, he meets a girl sniper named Sinon who wields a Hecate II rifle. Is she friend or foe? Kirito enters the virtual world once more for an all new adventure! – Madman Entertainment
An Anime series shouldn’t just rely on a good story. In fact; nothing of note should solely rely on JUST a good story. When watching an Anime, reading a Manga, or playing a video game, story is great…but it is the characters you relate to more than anything else. It is those characters that bring you closer into the story, one simply cannot work without the other.
Sword Art Online II has a basic but genuinely interesting story: There’s a rogue gunman on the loose who can kill people in reality when he kills their in-game avatar. Kirito is sent in to stop him. Simple stuff. Now what should have been built up on top of that basic story is a character cast of interesting personalities, each fighting for or against the same thing. To a certain degree, the first series of Sword Art Online did this well…but not Sword Art Online II.
Watching through the first seven episodes of the season, I came to hate Kirito more than I ever have before. It seems as though this character both very much remembers the events of Sword Art Online yet simultaneously has forgotten everything that went on during his time in the game. When commissioned to embark on this life-threatening mission, Kirito constantly explains to other characters, and therefor the audience, that it is impossible to be killed outside of a video game after being killing within one.
This is then followed up by an episode dedicated to his memory of the events of Sword Art Online (the first season) wherein which he mourns the lives of those he killed out of sheer necessity. As if the episode had never taken place, he’ll then go on to disbelieve in the life-ending powers of Death Gun, detailing once again the impossibilities of a simultaneous game/reality death.
This, dear reader, is called character inconsistency, and it ruins stories. What makes it worse is that, apart from Sinon, Kirito is really the only character we’re forced to focus on, which means for seven episodes I had to sit through these same ridiculous contradictions countless times.
As mentioned, backing up Kirito is that of a new character named Sinon (that’s her screen name) who happens to have quite a tragic backstory. Blatantly relating to guns, this backstory sees a young Shino Asada (Sinon) having to shoot a man in the process of armed robbery. This, as you could probably imagine, really took a toll on Shino’s mental health.
Early in the first seven episodes we, the audience, are made to believe that this girls firearm-related post traumatic stress disorder will be miraculously cured thanks to her efforts in the virtual reality world of Gun Gale Online. While she’s able to wield her .50 calibre anti-materiel sniper rifle in-game, eviscerating opponents from both afar and up close (not the way a sniper rifle should be used), in reality she is paralysed by the simple thought of having to touch a firearm.
Now, I don’t know much about the effects of tragic events on individuals who aren’t myself but I lost my father many years ago and I can say for certain that the way to get over his passing is not by hooking myself into a wildly realistic virtual reality console and reliving his death each and every day. I understand that exposure therapy does indeed exist, but the distance between Shino and Sinon is just far too wide to be anything close to believable. Things just do not work that way, and I believe even the wildest of Anime stories absolutely needs to have at least one foot in reality.
The series, being animated by A-1 Pictures, looks great. This is possibly the one aspect of Sword Art Online that I absolutely love. Despite the story of an Anime, even one as infuriating as this, I can’t help but appreciate such high quality animation.
Sword Art Online II, from the seven episodes present in part one, doesn’t feature too much action, in fact, I really expected there to be a little more, but when high-octane combat scenes come around, what we’re subjected to is nothing less than animation brilliance, which is what we’ve come to expect from A-1 Picture and, while the treatment of their employees is something I can never be alright with, there’s no denying that the results of hours upon hours of hard labour really pays off.
Seeing as I’m going to be reviewing the Sword Art Online II releases to come, I do hope that the level of physical conflict in the series goes way up. I’m not sure I could sit through dry and unnecessary dialogue without being rewarded by an incredibly well-animated firefight ending in what can only be described as an explosive fatality, just like that of Kirito’s first battle in the new series. As it turns out…sword does beat gun. Big time.
Backing up the fantastic animation is that of the series’ soundtrack which is good for what it is. It does nothing out of the ordinary, with simply rock fusion tracks that match up well with the series’ overall tone. While I prefer a more hard-hitting soundtrack featuring some instantly memorable tunes alongside something that perhaps breaks the mould, I can’t exactly say any soundtrack that doesn’t fit that description is a bad one, just one I wont be remembering for more than a couple of days.
The real focus, for me, was on Sword Art Online II’s Englsih dub track which was mediocre at best. I’ve heard these particular voice actors and actresses in many other series’ and the way they perform outside of Sword Art Online is wonderful, but for some reason most dialogue pieces in this series fall way too flat for my liking.
The interactions between longtime partners Kirito and Asuna are laughable, and the way our “hero” holds himself while talking with Sinon or, in fact, any other female character is embarrassing. The only worthwhile performance throughout part one of the series is that of Death Gun’s who’s vocal grittiness brought a real air of intensity to the character, but then again…that was very much aided by robot effects layered on top of the artists voice.
Sword Art Online II is, to put it simply; a damn mess. It features characters that, despite going through so much in their young lives, feature two-dimensional personalities that show no sign of growth or evolution much like that of a regular human being. As I mentioned in great detail above; the inconsistencies in Sword Art Online II are striking, and embarrassing.
Really the only enjoyable aspect of Sword Art Online II, at this point in time, is the quality of animation A-1 Pictures are known for. Apart from that, I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in this part one release of what will surely be a four part series. I hate being overly negative. I feel as though there’s a lot of good in this world and we should be out looking for it rather than focusing on the bad, but when it comes to things like this, my ability to overlook certain things is simply not powerful enough.
Chances are, if you enjoyed the first season of Sword Art Online, you’re very much going to enjoy this season, and really that’s all that matters because it’s a series for specific people, and those specific people (you know who you are) will absolutely adore Sword Art Online II. Unfortunately, I did not.
If this sounds like a series you’d be into then you can purchase your very own copy at Madman Entertainment’s online store: Click Here