A good start gets way better as the first arc concludes with some great character development between Asuna and Kirito, and ends perfectly setting up a new arc ready for the taking.
What They Say :
It’s been 2 years since the players of Sword Art Online have been trapped in this life-or-death adventure. As Kirito and Asuna get closer, Asuna starts to want distance from the Knights of the Blood, but her wish does not come easy. Kirito challenges Heathcliff to a duel to win Asuna’s freedom but is no match for him and Kirito ends up joining the Knights of the Blood himself. The Assault Team launches an attack on the 75th floor boss, but they find the Skull Reaper to be an extremely tough foe! Meanwhile, Kirito begins to feel suspicious of Heathcliff’s actions…
Set in 2.0 Stereo in both English and Japanese, the release is kind of disappointing in today’s climate especially considering the setting of the show would have really benefited a Dolby Surround release. No issue in terms of the sound quality as it is still clear and understandable in both languages, but I had to increase my default settings so it was clear for me. No issues regarding delays to lip flaps or transition to subtitles. Video wise was mostly fine – set in full screen format, however in episodes 12 and 13 I experienced slowdown at various points during these episodes which I am hoping was only due to the test disc release (episode 14 or the extras I watched after had no such issues) and not in the official release. Colours were clear, and no issues in terms of video to audio but concerns if this hasn’t been checked.
Menu is really nice looking, it flows into the main menu and when you select a sub menu the screen melts and refigures itself very quickly making it quite a smooth and stylish looking menu with easy accessibility. In the bottom right there is a triangle which shows scenes from the show on a black background with Asuna and Kirito looking strong together on the left, with the selections of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Extras on the top right. No problems selection wise from the show or from the menu, gets extra points for style though.
We get a couple of extras for this release – the standard clean opening and ending is always nice to see but the main extra are the ‘Webclips’. These are almost like radio talk show segments hosted by Asuna and Kirito, where they recap the episodes briefly, have segments with other members of the cast, some FAQ like information from various characters, etc.
It is very tongue in cheek and whilst the FAQ sections with Yui and Heathcliff are informative, the show itself is mostly quite comical. They do show scenes from the episodes with a brief discussion about them, but usually it derails to comments and mock taking out of the cast, whether it is Kirito getting called out for being combat excessive, how clichéd the villain would have been if they went with the original idea of being a giant monster, Heathcliff being obsessed with ramen, how annoyed Asuna and Kirito were when they had to go back to battle, and Klein’s life counseling sessions…when he probably needs the counseling the most.
And then they all get fired to set up the next arc. Silly stuff.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sword Art Online started with a lot of promise which suffered a little because of the episodic nature with a bit of rushing. In the second DVD 2 years have passed so whilst little time has passed in terms of the episodes, plenty has passed in their world, and things become more compact and interesting as the game looks set to be passed. But the key thing is the relationship that started 2 years ago as gamers, fellow fighters, becomes friends, more than friends and a partnership that seems to be surprisingly heartwarming and deep.
It actually starts off innocently enough, and showcases the idea of an anime based on humans in an RPG – Kirito finds a rare meat known as a Ragout Rabbit…but his cooking skills in terms of ‘leveling’ them up is pretty poor. Fortunately as he tries to sell the meat instead, Asuna wanders in and because her cooking skills are to quote her ‘maxed out’ she agrees to cook it for him as long as she can have some, as it is a rare S class meat. We see her cook (she touches the meat and vegetables with utensils and it turns into immediately prepared – wish it was that convenient) – it leads to a discussion about how people have got accustomed to living in the world of Aincrad, yet Asuna and Kirito still want to clear the game. A creepy ‘bodyguard’ of Asuna’s doesn’t trust Kirito, but after getting his butt handed to him, that appears to be the end of it…
Facing a boss battle, the two team up with an old friend in Klein and his group, but when a group known as the Army attempt to take on the boss themselves, Kirito willingly lets them have information despite Asuna’s protests – and when the boss is far stronger than expected, he realizes they could all die here, seeing two of the people he actually cares about still alive, he forces himself to use a hidden skill (alluded to in the previous disc the fact that his smith made a sword for him yet we never seen him use it) allows him to use two powerful swords at once. His victory causes two things. 1) Asuna becoming closer to him as she splits from her party to be with him and 2) is almost reversed immediately when the commander of the strongest guild in the game, the Knights Of The Blood Oath, Heathcliff, challenges Kirito to a duel where if Kirito wins Asuna joins him, but if Kirito loses, he joins the guild. In a surprise, Kirito does lose (which does set up the twist finale) but it allows him and Asuna to become closer, as he reveals his reasoning’s for not joining guilds as Asuna realizes his past when he could have warned his own guild about his level. Unfortunately, the bodyguard from earlier Kuradeel turned out to be an assassin for a murderer’s guild, and tricks Kirito and another guard to be paralyzed, but Asuna manages to save Kirito in time. She nearly gets killed though because of devious methods, but Kirito kills him, where the two finally realize how close they are. The two actually kiss and even seem to marry and elope temporarily, to see if living in Aincrad instead of leveling up is actually preferable…
What happens next is the two are on vacation, and having a fun time just being themselves in the countryside, when we encounter a lost girl in the forest and because she doesn’t have a cursor over her, they assume she is a glitch – but when they bring her home, she has a name which is all she can remember named Yui. She sees Asuna and Kirito as her mother and father, which leads to some really sweet moments as the three together seems at least like a temporary family. However, when trying to find Yui’s family, something mysterious happens to Yui as whilst they try to help some players regarding the Army from earlier who are trying to abuse their power, they come across a boss that is way too powerful for them. Yui manages to intercept and delete the boss, and she is shown as a glitch in the game known as an Immortal Object. She regains her memories and explains she is an AI counselor who monitored the players’ mental state, but was disallowed from interacting with the powers, watching them deteriorate. However, seeing Kirito and Asuna made her realize hope is not lost, but because of her activity she is to be deleted from the game. Kirito however saves her data in a console unit Yui gave to him and turns her into a game item, almost certainly to play a factor later on.
The conclusion to the disc (and indeed the arc) though comes when Asuna and Kirito have to return to the battle line in the 75th floor, taking on a skeletal boss of immense power. From this battle, we see the care that Asuna and Kirito have…and the true big boss emerges. Heathcliff is in fact Akihiko Kayaba himself, the creator of the game, and Kirito discovers this in a similar way how he discovered why Yui was a glitch. Kayaba basically challenges Kirito to a duel (his earlier duel showcasing why Kayaba was an invincible character but he does make himself mortal in his fight) is a showcase of the show’s animation, and surprising drama when Asuna apparently dies during the fight. It leads to the arc’s conclusion when the game is ‘cleared’ but Kirito, Asuna and Kayaba apparently die. However at the end of the episode after a tender moment when Asuna and Kirito reveal their real names, the real Kirito awakens in the real world, weak, near dead…but now desperate to search for the real Asuna…
The interest of this release was to primarily focus on the Asuna/Kirito relationship which comes leaps and bounds. There are two trains of thought here – the first is that it may seem like it is too rushed, with 2 years of time frame already passed after just 7 episodes, and I would be lying if I didn’t think like that. There was a lot of time gone and we don’t know much about how well their friendship escalated over that time, it literally jumped from getting a new sword smith and a new weapon to 2 years later. On the other hand, it does account for just how well the Asuna/Kirito relationship fits. Whilst we didn’t see it develop, we know it has so whilst the rushed marriage seems at first off-putting, it makes sense within the timeframe. And it doesn’t help that Kirito and Asuna do gel together extremely well – this was definitely showcased in the first disc, despite their sporadic get togethers. I think the strength of this arc really is up to the viewer if you feel the relationship between Kirito and Asuna you feel it too rushed or is actually well developed. Personally, I believe in the latter and is one of my favourite pairs that have come up in my reviews in quite a while. Asuna in particular grows as a character as we get to see the depths of her personality, especially with her motherly instinct with Yui, whilst Kirito delves more to her and of course showcases his true badass persona.
The concept of Yui as their ‘daughter’ again despite maybe a little rushed is definitely something that suggests a future look into. And it is rather sweet how it works, and how she (and later Heathcliff) are revealed to be ‘bugs’ in the game, it is definitely worked well into the world they are in – and also heart wrenching both when she is taken away because she has developed emotions to two particular gamers, as well as how Asuna and Kirito’s attempt to enjoy life outside of battle is sadly interrupted. There is half an episode dedicated to just them trying to capture a legendary fish which is both hilarious and heartwarming seeing Kirito help the villagers try to hook the big one…and then Asuna just casually taking it out.
The negatives are as mentioned if you feel the relationship between Asuna and Kirito is rushed, or simply not fond of the relationship in general it could be one to miss, and also the fact a lot of the things from the first disc (like the blacksmith) aren’t really mentioned outside of Kirito talking about his past when he got involved with guilds with Asuna. However, in terms of advancing the story along, this arc really concludes well – it is able to span a good length of time over 7 episodes, and yet whilst it does feel a little rushed it does make sense in the span of the world, and also how well the two main protagonists come together. Getting some old friends back (especially Klein) was a bonus, they still use a lot of the game terminology (I loved how ‘simple’ the cooking looked in the game world) and how excited Kirito got in cooking a rare item, and the finale which leaves a horrid cliffhanger, which makes you ask where does it go from there?
Let’s hope it goes well from there.
Sword Art Online Disc 2 gets a big boost by focusing on our two leads, as their relationship blossoms from friends, trust to romance and close companionship. Whilst it may feel a little rushed, it is still a great romance told as both Kirito and Asuna develop from portrayed loners to best of friends and lovers. The twists at the end both in the Online world and its conclusion suggest there is far more trouble on the way for Kirito and it will be intriguing to see how the series goes from here. For now, this is a worthy stop point and recommended.
Content Grade: B+
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: January 27th, 2014
Running Time: 175 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.