What They Say:
Although Kirito cleared SAO and returned to his real life, his adventure was far from over. Asuna is in a coma in the hospital, and Nobuyuki Sugou of RECTO, the company that took over SAO’s property, is trying to get married to her!
Hearing that Asuna has been spotted in the virtual game Alfheim Online (ALO), Kirito decides to dive into the virtual world once again. With the help of Leafa, Kirito rushes to the World Tree where Asuna is supposedly imprisoned.
The audio presentation here is one that has both language tracks but they’re not created equal unfortunately. The original Japanese language track is done in the uncompressed PCM format so we get the stereo mix in a very strong and clear manner here that sounds great and definitely conveys some solid warmth and overall forward soundstage directionality and depth. The English mix is stereo as well, but it’s encoded with the lossy Dolby Digital codec at 640kbps, which is certainly above the max that DVD can do, but it’s not what you expect from a Blu-ray release. It’s certainly a serviceable mix and it gets the job done and a lot of people will be hard pressed to find a difference, but it’s the kind of choice that for marketing reasons alone seems like a bad one to make. The mix does the same work as the Japanese mix and the dub is solid itself and both tracks come across clean and clear and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The five episodes in this collection are spread across two discs with two on the first and three on the second and extras mixed across both of them. Animated by A1 Pictures, the show has a gorgeous look that wowed me during the simulcast and it only looks ever so much better here. Colors are rich throughout with a solid and deep palette that’s used whether it’s the dark night scenes or interiors as well as the lush exteriors. Detail is well handled with crisp lines where appropriate and no problems such as line noise or breakup along it. The transfer here captures the source material in a way where there’s nothing to really find fault with during regular playback and it just allowed me to be sucked into this fully realized world in an engaging way.
The packaging for this limited edition release is really very good and definitely has a particular feel about it. The heavy chipboard box uses a different kind of soft wrap paper around it that gives it a great texture that shows through with the artwork. The front of the box has a very good image to it as we get the four primary characters of the arc, three in solid poses while Asuna is caught up in a lot of chains in the background, showing off some amusing skin, that all sets the tone right. The sky blues and the smiles are appealing but it keeps just a touch of seriousness too. The back of the box under the glued on insert is kept simple with some nice edging to it and Kirito’s sword through the center in the same blue foil line work. Inside the box we get a number of things, including two clear Blu-ray cases. The set includes a sealed one-sheet from Bushiroad that has a special edition Sword Art card (which will never be used by me!) as well as a great five card postcard set made from a solid glossy stock that’s really appealing. We also get an illustration booklet that’s fairly short overall but has some great full color images from the limited edition Japanese releases as well as magazine spreads. It’s very heavily focused on Leafa with the pairings but she comes across very well here and Asuna has some solid entries as well.
The two clear Blu-ray cases are nicely laid out where each case has a good cover showing off the The Blu-ray disc case has a good pairing of Kirito and Suguha together, entwined with each other in a fun and appropriate way, with some nice colors to the background with greens, reds and whites to highlight the character artwork. The back cover for it gives us some material from within the show as we get Leafa, Yui and Kirito together with a lot of white background and some great colors with some beautiful greens done here. The second case is for the second soundtrack which has a striking cover for just a background as it shows off the great tree combined with the clouds that’s definitely beautiful. With such a blend of whites and blues, it’s a rich piece that looks great. THe back cover is simple as it has a breakdown of the tracks by number and title for the soundtrack. Each case has some very welcome background pieces to it in full color showing off a couple of locales for Alfheim Online.
The menu design for this release is quite nicely done as it has the logo moving through the background with a dark look to it that works nicely in blending it in. The foreground brings in different character combinations for each volume with the first one giving us the expected and welcome Kirito and Asuna combination. The logo is kept simple along the top with the Japanese and English versions of it and the movement throughout the menu sets the tone right. Navigation along the bottom feels “Japanese traditional” in a way where it’s just straight linework boxes with black and blue with white text that makes it easy to read and navigate. Submenus load quickly and easily and languages can be configured how you want with subtitles and subtitles+text available.
The extras for this release are really good and have a lot of fun associated with them. The standards are certainly here as we get the clean ending for the first season and the web previews for the upcoming episodes. The Sword Art Offline specials are here and they run about eleven minutes each and provide comical recaps of events in the series itself as a news program of sorts. There are also commentary tracks by the original Japanese team, both cast and creators, which are fun to listen/read as they talk about their time on the show, the relationships of the characters and the settings. They are similar to most other commentaries of course in that there’s a lot of fluff, but having the leads for some of it really helps to make it fun.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sword Art Online won me over handily with its first season with what it did in those fourteen episodes, but it also surprised me a great deal as it brought the SAO experience to a close so quickly. That little twist won me over all the more since it brought the heroes to face their opponent in a surprising location and put a lot on the line. But it also dealt with the fallout pretty well since most everyone that survived woke up and started to recover, but we saw the damage that was done as well as the fact that several hundred people didn’t make it out. Those ended up still stuck in some in-between state, comatose, with no idea of how to bring them out or if there’s anything truly going on in the inside for them anymore. While that would be a problem enough, we get the additional emotional aspect that Asuna was one of those that didn’t wake, making for a really difficult time for Kirito.
This set starts to explore some of that across the five episodes here and it’s definitely intriguing to see with what Kirito has to deal with. He’s gone through his recovery time and has done rehab in the gym to build back his muscle strength and he’s also given the Ministry officials a lot of information about what went on in there at the end in exchange for knowledge of who Asuna is and where she is. He’s spent the time since then visiting her in hopes that she’ll awaken and he’s even managed to make a mild connection with her father, who himself is a powerful company man. What’s changed for Kirito though is when he ends up meeting a rising star within the company that is working close with Asuna’s father named Sugou. He’s long been promised to Asuna, but he also knows that should it be formalized, she’d reject it and him. So he’s taking advantage of the situation to get into the family proper through her father directly since they can sort of marry in this state but there’s more to it than that. And to shock Kirito even more, as we see Sugou has a cruel streak, he lets him know it’s happening in a week and Kirito had best not come around anymore.
Kirito’s life is difficult here, but he’s managed to find a bit of a solid grounding back at home with his sister, who we get clarified is actually a cousin as Kirito was adopted into the family at an early age because of issues with his parents. The two haven’t always had it easy with each other since Kirito had left the kendo side and Suguha had to pick it up, but as he’s come back into her life after being out of it in the game for two years, they’ve both grown and changed and are a lot more understanding of each other. He’s far more of a proper older brother, but she also realizes that are other changes within him, especially the profound sadness that she knows is related to Asuna and the life that he had there. It’s plainly obvious that Suguha has an interest in Kirito, a really deep caring, and seeing him like this just pains her all the more even if she hopes for her own kind of happiness with him. There may be an awkward side to their relationship, but both are far different people than we knew from the start of the series.
Where Kirito’s life takes a drastic turn is when he’s clue in to something from a friend from SAO that provides him with a picture of what appears to be Asuna in a large cage set in the sky along a tree. This comes from a game similar to SAO called Alfheim Online, which was basically one of the companies that took over the SAO server maintenance after the original company was sued into the ground. The code was taken and made into a new game without the problems but also with some great expansions since one of the key aspects is that people can fly. ALO has grown well and has a lot of fans, which Suguha is as she plays a popular and strong character there named Leafa. Not surprisingly, she keeps all of this from Kirito since he has his own issues with gaming like this after SAO, and that makes it easy to suspend disbelief in issues when Kirito ends up joining the game to find Asuna, knowing that she must be trapped there, and ends up working with Leafa to achieve that end. It’s an easy connection between the two, with his past skill and some things he’s picked up in ALO (like Yui!) that allows the two of them to move quick and fast since he has just a matter of days to rescue her.
The arc does sidetrack along the way when you consider the time involved, but some of it can be attributed to Kirito just trying to understand the mechanics of the game. And there are times where it doesn’t seem like he has the proper intensity and emotion to really push forward no matter the cost, but again, there’s that sense that he understands that within this game he doesn’t have the advantages he had in SAO. The exploration of ALO is definitely interesting since it has its own quirks and design that are far different than SAO and we also see the larger plans working within it that Sugou has orchestrated in order to achieve the very base goal of a lot of money and the acquisition of Asuna as simply something to possess. Sugou has about the same meaning as the villain from the first season of the series, though there’s a lot more hands on aspects to him here and a more personal connection that allows it to connect better in this regard.
After the first season finished out in simulcast form. I had no idea where it was going to go now that Sword Art itself was done and over with. What they end up doing with it is definitely interesting as we see the fallout from what happened with those that woke and those that didn’t, but also some of the family side for Kirito and the emotional weight he’s now carrying with Asuna. It may shift into the Alfheim Online aspect a bit quickly and this world isn’t as fully realized as SAO was, but that isn’t the point. Here, it’s about learning the differences in the games and seeing the first stages of the full on pursuit and rescue of Asuna. The show hasn’t changed in its visual quality in the slightest and the result is that we get a great looking show here in a strong package with a lot to offer, though not without its faults. The series is one that has left a very positive and big impression on me and revisiting again in this form is simply wonderful.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Second Season Textless Opening, Audio Commentary by Creators and Japanese Cast, Special Animation “Sword Art Offline,” Original Web Previews
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A- (Japanese) B- (English)
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: October 15th, 2013
Running Time: 175 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.