The first Sword Art Online show had started off as an all star but quickly turned into a trainwreck. This one doesn’t crash and burn in such a way, rather it suffers from a myriad of issues from the get go. The sequel just seemed to have lower standards across the board. I still can’t call the show good as a result, but we do get some nice fight scenes. This series has 3 arcs, but most of the review is spent on the first one, as it is the longest. Get ready folks because there’s a lot to bash here! That being said, this still manages to beat season 1!
Kirito doesn’t really want to go on dangerous virtual reality missions anymore. Why would he want to do this after nearly dying right? Well, things change when the government makes contact with him regarding two pieces of important intel. Someone has been terminating players in the new Gun Gale game. Kirito quickly reminds the agent that it’s impossible to injure a real person from a video game. The agent agrees, but he wants Kirito to investigate a little anyway. Kirito heads into the game and things get personal when he finds out that this “Death Gun” character may be a Sword Art Online survivor. Can Kirito really take this guy down or will his long break from playing shooters come back to haunt him? Granted, Kirito finds a beam sword, which greatly helps him in the battles.
Meanwhile, there’s a new character in the mix. Her name is Sinon and she intends to win the big gun contest so that she can get over her fear of those weapons. It’s an intriguing way to cure her fears although I do see the logic in it. Still, it’ll be very tough to win the contest when Death Gun and Kirito have also entered to complicate the situation rather dramatically. Kirito is and always will be known as the ultimate gamer so he’s not going to just let Sinon win when there’s still a job to do.
One gimmick that the anime decided to use for this arc was for Kirito to be in a feminine designed avatar. Another character makes it clear that it’s still a male one so that’s good for Kirito, but he still manages to look like Lucina and decides to mess with the other characters a bit. It’s rather unnecessary if you ask me and I missed his standard design. Kirito’s normal design is just so cool that you didn’t need to mess with it.
This does lead into the animation angle a little. The first show’s animation was top notch. Some of the best animation in the business and it was at a theatrical level. Every episode felt like a movie. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in this show. It looks good for the most part, but it never comes close to looking like the first show. It still keeps the theatrical feel to an extent, but there are episodes where the budget is noticeably low and the quality really falls. Most of the fight scenes aren’t very exciting and that’s why we always need Kirito to save us. If it’s an action scene from Sinon, you can expect the animation to not be all that great. The anime uses more shortcuts and simply feels a little more like a cash in sequel. It’s rather unfortunate.
As for the soundtrack, it gets completely lolstomped by the original. Disclaimer: it’s not a bad soundtrack. Sword Art Online II still does the world proud and I like the battle theme. It also reuses a lot of themes from the original to help itself out. That being said, you won’t be blown away like you were with the first show. It’s sad since more techno music would have been appropriate for this season, but we only got a few really good tunes. Again, that’s impressive for the average show, but it’s not enough to even come close to topping the original.
While this show doesn’t explode like arc 2 of the original, we get another similar villain. The show seems to be obsessed with this kind of plot. The heroine even gives up once again temporarily and while Asuna had no choice, but to stick around, this other character has no excuse for this brief hesitation and lack of will power. It’s pretty unacceptable. Moreover, the show also has more fanservice than the original. I won’t say that the original completely avoided this trap because it most certainly did not, but this show was more frequent with this issue. Sinon’s costume isn’t terrible and it’s certainly no Satana, but the camera always zooms in on inappropriate angles, which makes it bad.
I’ve always felt that the costume is not much of an issue. You can have a character with Power Girl’s costume and provided that the camera plays it straight and never focuses on the gap, then it’s basically fine. For example, Harribel’s costume never seemed all that bad. Kubo quickly made this an issue by having her super form make it worse, but in the manga there was never any attention drawn to it (Besides the cover) so it was easy to just ignore. The anime completely shuts down that escape option and it’s pretty disappointing. We’ve also got random scenes of Asuna in the bath and the show continues to show why the quality of the original arc will never return. It’s just another thorn in the show’s side.
Finally, before getting into the positives let’s tackle another negative. The show takes itself way too seriously this time around. As a result, the show makes Kirito, Sinon, and most of the characters look bad at different times. Gone are the days when Kirito was completely fearless and picking fights with anyone who crossed his path. He is petrified when Death Gun shows up and constantly freezes up during the series. He nearly cries during a few different moments and while he initially took the Sword Art Online experience pretty well, his personality regresses rather seriously in this title. The show is really trying to appear to be very deep and emtional when it really isn’t. One of the reasons why the original Sword Art Online was so great (Arc 1) was because it was very happy and chipper despite the stakes. The stakes were raised and things got serious in the climax, but it adapted accordingly. The whole plot with Death Gun just feels forced and rather out of place.
Likewise with Sinon. You could have whole episodes about her shaking in front of a gun and reminding us of her origin story. (Which honestly wasn’t even that traumatic considering that she saved everyone in the shop and became a bit of a hero. The whole thing was also super unrealistic since the mother didn’t appear to be pleased, but anyone would be glad to have their life spared and the villain defeated. Sinon should have been looked up to by the masses. It just didn’t make sense) Cut the drama Sword Art Online and let’s get back to what made the show good.
As for Sinon as a character, she was decent at first. It’s quite sad that one of her very first scenes involves a guy trying to hit on her, showing once again how sad this show has become. Still, in Gun Gale, she is a tough warrior who has a great reputation. She wants to destroy Kirito in the competition for betraying her trust and puts up a good effort, but I can’t stand her human form. It’s probably the worst from all of the Sword Art Online protagonists and it makes it very hard to root for her. It was simply too much of a contrast and is basically like Homura’s form from her origin days…if she had no character development and never gained any strength of self or conviction to make the hard calls. Sinon is decently good with a gun, but is virtually useless in close combat situations. There’s no way that she would have done very good had Kirito not been around.
As for Kirito, he’s still the epic character that we remember from the original show for the most part. He manages to drive something that is almost impossible to drive within seconds and constantly pulls off hype moments like nobody’s business. He even beats a speed challenge that had never been beaten in the history of the game. I feel like the author tried to make Kirito as extremely awesome as possible and it was definitely a good move on his part since that’s why I like Kirito. He’s basically the ultimate character and never loses. How can you not root for him? Well, there are actually a pair of reasons that I can think of.
For starters, he finally made the decision to have a girlfriend in the first show. You all know what I think of the many flawed romances in media, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that this is an okay decision. In that case, then he needs to make this clear to everyone, but when introducing Sinon to the gang, he referred to Asuna as being merely a friend. That’s just terrible writing and really seems out of character for Kirito now that he’s not a free agent. He should have stayed as a free agent, but since he didn’t, he’s got to play by some new rules now. Also, Kirito looks uncharacteristically weak during the final fight against Death Gun.
Due to the true identity of Death Gun, we learn that he’s actually pretty weak and that Kirito should own him rather easily. Instead, Kirito is actually getting wrecked in the close quarters fight. Gun vs Sword would be fine, but it’s a sword battle so Kirito should have the massive edge. The fight makes no sense and is just very frustrating as the writers clearly have no idea on how they should handle the show anymore. It all comes down to the author of course and I feel like he’s losing his grip on the show. Correction, he already lose his grip on Sword Art Online and I feel like the anime are going to continue to stay in the negative zone. It’s too bad since the show always has the potential to be an 8 or a 9, but it simply can’t live up to that.
For example, if we go to the pros for a second, let’s look at the technical merits of Sword Art Online. As I mentioned, the animation is still pretty good for the most part. The soundtrack is very good as well and the fight scenes are great. They pale next to the original SAO, but shine when compared to the average show. It still feels like a movie and Kirito makes for an amazing main character. However, the fanservice, repeat of the Fairy Dance Asuna plot, and the uncharacteristic moments from the main characters are what really hurts the show in the long run. It just can’t survive these negatives and I feel like the author will just keep on making these mistakes over and over again.
Aside from the main arc, there are two minis that are included. The first one is a quick mission in fairy world as the heroes try to get Kirito a new sword. The animation hits an all time low in this arc and there’s really no point to it. The heroes face some monsters and then they head home. It’s fun to see the whole team together again, but it also makes them all look a little bad as they have a tough time facing off against some monsters. Still, I’ll admit that it’s a little nostalgic and Kirito’s back to his real design so it wasn’t all bad. Klein also got a bigger role, but it’s not much of a role and he’s just around to make Kirito look good. He wasn’t needed as a result since Kirito always looks cool.
The final arc tries to be even sadder and more dramatic than the Death Gun arc and fails miserably. Asuna meets a new fighter named Yuuki, who is supposed to be the strongest swordfighter of all time. She even defeated Kirito. (lol) Asuna agrees to help Yuuki and her team beat a boss in the fairy/SAO merged game so that their names can be engraved for all of time, but will they be able to accomplish this before another team shows up? Well, this arc did have 1 really good moment. Kirito shows up to fend off dozens of teams of players and manages to slice apart a magic blast. That shouldn’t have been possible and led to a lot of hype moments for Kirito, which is always a blast. They hint that Kirito still lost in the end, but it was still a great entrance and probably the best cliffhanger in the entire show. It was an awesome moment. We also got some good fight scenes like Asuna vs Yuuki and Yuuki vs Kirito. I remember the fights only being all right in terms of animation, but it was still nice to see. There was just a lot of plot hax everywhere and I still don’t buy Kirito getting beat, but I’ll just mark it down as him deciding to hold back to spare Yuuki’s feelings. Yuuki was in a difficult position after all and Kirito’s a nice guy so letting himself be defeated is the least that he can do.
If the arc had been played straight with a lot of action and cool moments, it would have been great. Instead, we get some drama between Asuna and her mom as the subplot and the main plot is also bogged down by the drama. For Asuna and her mom’s plot, you could think of it as a classic case of being in a Star Wars discussion. (Epic way to drag the name into my review for more clickz) While everyone is debating whether or not Episode VII or Episode V should be known as the greatest in the series, you’re off to the side shaking your head since you know that Episode IV is the way to go. Why is this relevant? Well, Asuna and her mom are both wrong in their debates.
I was on the Mom’s side for part of it. I agree that Asuna clearly has no idea what she’s doing and she’ll probably regret not having any aspirations or deciding to play video games for so long while she’s abandoning her real world connections. Video games are clearly epic and should be played for at least 20 hours a day, but it starts to get in the way of the real world. Still, the mom decides to give her more arranged dates and has a very old school way of thinking which is completely outdated and makes her look bad. As for Asuna, she looks terrible in the debate the whole time since her answer to everything is that she’ll be okay as long as she’s with Kirito. It’s pretty naive and sad, but she’s right that being paired up with some random joe is even worse and marrying based on social standings is not the U.S. way unless you’re a celebrity. Still, in the end, it’s hard to be invested in the plot.
May as well put this out there now, Yuuki’s a better character than the rest of Kirito’s allies combined. Unlike Asuna who always wavers and went from being a strong female lead to a character who has literally switched game positions to be more of a healer, Sinon who used to be a strong female lead and then had a dose of the real world, Klein…who is Klein, etc; Yuuki’s a strong fighter who never gave that role up. Her abilities were at a high level and she was a determined character who could have easily been the lead heroine in another title. She has the right attitude when teaching Asuna that sometimes you have to fight back against the bullies instead of letting them step all over you and your politically correct demeanor. It’s a shame that due to circumstances she won’t be a main character. She was also needlessly cryptic about the whole thing, but I suppose that she still made a good decision. After all, otherwise she would have to have a long conversation filled with tears and drama from the other characters so maybe it was for the best. Of course, she didn’t count on genius level Kirito being able to track her down from anywhere on the planet. That’s Kirito for ya though.
This series of Sword Art Online may have been bad, but at least it was still epic. Arcs 2 and 3 weren’t, but they were basically the side show bonus stories in the anime as Gun Gale was the main focus. (Alllllll though, if the series had just been Arc 3 or Arc 2, maybe the show could have gotten a solid 6) The first arc still feels like a nice movie event despite it not being quite as professional as the original. It has sown the seeds for future arcs so I’m sure that this villain organization shall return soon. The laughing coffins (And their recycled flashback that appears maybe even a dozen times during the show) will be back and in full force. Hopefully they end up being good villains and hopefully Kirito isn’t depowered since he should wreck those guys with ease.
Overall, Sword Art Online II feels like a cheaper, cash in version of the original. However, it doesn’t tank quite as horribly as the first show so it still gets the better rating. It’s a bad anime in the end and can’t cross the halfway mark so I don’t recommend it. I’d sooner recommend Attack on Titan actually so if you want a more intense anime with the same English Dub voice actor for the main character, that’s the show to check out. Or Blue Exorcist as well. For Sword Art Online, I’d recommend just watching the first arc of the original show and then pushing the rest of the series to the side. It’s simply not worth the time and who knows how the next SAO show will turn out. It may just be on a downwards slope that will keep on sinking and sinking as time goes on. No matter what else happens though, the series will still have Kirito and that means that it always has a chance.