The introduction of a new character and arc combined with a demotion of another character gives the arc a new direction, with some positives but overall not as initially interesting as the original arc.
What They Say :
Although Kirito cleared SAO and returned to his real life, his adventure was far from over. Kirito found that Asuna was in a coma in the hospital. Meanwhile, Nobuyuki Sugou of RECTO, the company that took over SAO property, tries to get married to Asuna while she is in a coma. Hearing that Asuna has been spotted in the virtual game called 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.
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. Colours were clear, and no issues in terms of video to audio on a 16:9 aspect ratio, no problems video wise with subtitles synching compared to the issues had with a few episodes on the previous release.
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, unfortunately it is basically the same menu design (and characters despite the change in arc) as before so whilst stylish, is basically recycled from the previous two discs.
After the humorous extras (and even a cliffhanger!) from the previous release, sad to say with this release there isn’t much in terms of extras. We have web trailers and web clips – which are basically glorified trailers – from episodes 1-5 on the trailers, and episodes 15-19 on the clips, and we also have the new clean opening and ending. I am unsure why this release got the trailers for the first 5 episodes instead of the first disc, but yes, it is quite disappointing though the clean opening/ending is always welcome.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I was warned about this arc being not so strong – after going through it, it certainly wasn’t as bad as was feared, though it certainly has its issues. The feeling of almost diving into a new series after just 14 episodes is a little strange and the fact that our two mains now are on different paths, and things have changed which are mostly not for the better, but not exactly horrible either for the most part.
Kirito (known in the real world as Kazuto) ever since waking up from the SAO experience, is now being looked after by her cousin, Suguha – yet Asuna hasn’t woke up from hers and Kirito has been visiting her. It turns out about 300 players have failed to wake up. Along with Asuna’s father, they visit Asuna but this time a new associate comes by the name of Sugou. At first he seems OK saying what a legend Kirito was in the game, but once they are along Sugou basically tells Kirito to stay away from Asuna as he is going to be adopted to Asuna’s family and will marry her…whilst she is in a coma because he believes it is his right as it is his company which is keeping Asuna alive. After saying for him to not come again, Kirito receives an e-mail from Agil’s real life persona Andrew Mills, who showcases a picture of a new game that has a familiar looking woman on the cover…
…the game is called Alfheim Online, a new game where the players get to feel like they are flying, and that the girl (obviously Asuna) is on the game’s world tree. Kirito returns to his gear and returns to the game word, picking a new race and realizing whilst his items are gone, most of his stats are returned, and most interestingly, Yui’s data is still in and she returns as a pixie style character as a companion. He (after some trouble with his flying) helps out a flying Sylph named Leafa in battle, and discovers via Leafa whilst characters can get killed, they aren’t like SAO whilst Leafa teaches him to fly. He learns that his race (Spriggan) isn’t seemingly useful in battle and the races can have issues with others – but we catch a shot of Asuna as a character named Titania in the World Tree…and is held captive by Sugou as a Fairy King named Oberon, threatening her memories with his technology unless she co-operates with the marriage…
The most interesting part of this arc is the fact that Leafa’s real life persona is in fact Suguha, Kirito/Kazuto’s cousin. She, along with a friend Nagata who plays her group buddy Recon, wanted to look into these games in what screwed up Kirito but actually began to enjoy them. It is clear Suguha is attracted to Kirito, both in game and also in real life. She leaves her group to join Kirito (not knowing he is her cousin). With new strategies in recovery, and using ‘in real life’ help from Nagata, they are able to decipher some of the issues with the World Tree (with Asuna also working on a plan of her own). A really cool moment in the last episode of the disc is when Kirito has to fight, and his race isn’t that useful, but thanks to Yui and Leafa he is able to use his illusion abilities to an actual useful fighting weapon, destroying an army that were hunting them down known as the Salamanders, however Kirito bribes one surviving one who tells them they were hired by the original group that attacked Leafa, and in fact a member of Leafa and Recon’s original group named Sigurd who wasn’t best pleased with Leafas’ ‘betrayal’ was in on the attack, but after his experience with SAO, Kirito decided to help Leafa in the impending attack…
In terms of what friends had told me, I went in this with an open mind and didn’t have as much of a problem as expected. The issue that people warned me was the character Suguha as a much worse version of Asuna. I won’t deny she is as good as Asuna, especially with her hero worship/love of Kazuto/Kirito (they are cousins, but again this is Japan) however my first impression of her isn’t that bad. She actually has a slight back-story in terms of how she wanted to know what caused Kazuto to become in his original state, but despite her fears actually enjoyed the game. She also seems to be intelligent in terms of knowing what to do in the game and helping Kirito in his early troubles, and even using her real life friend to learn what was going on in game when they died or paralyzed. She also has potential as a fighter being a kendo fighter (and better than Kirito at the moment) – the only issue is that in Japanese, she does do the ‘big brother’ thing a bit too much (the dub really tones this down making this potentially a better one to watch in English if that does get too annoying) but otherwise she was a much better character than I expected.
The one issue I did have more than Suguha though, was ironically with who she replaced. Asuna, currently is really been downgraded into damsel in distress, where considering how badass she was in the first arc, is a tad aggravating. Now granted, she is still in a coma, and we don’t know how she got involved in the new game (obviously something to do with Sugou, our new villain) but whilst it appears that she has a plan in mind, it does feel that she has really been reduced to nothing so far. It doesn’t help that Sugou is a really irritating villain, especially considering how mysterious and the reveal of the villain in the first two discs. He is very creepy, but more in a stalker annoying way with an army rather than legit a threat. He hasn’t done anything that makes him anything other than a poser – he’s declared himself a Fairy King, trapped Asuna in a cage, being untoward her in the game and in real life, and instead of threatening, he is just come across as someone who is a coward. This may change if he is legitimately threatening but at the moment with one disc left, it isn’t working.
I am pleasantly surprised with the return of Yui – there is definitely potential with her as she misses her ‘mommy’, happy and helping her ‘daddy’ and her role gives Kirito an edge to help out in the game. I like how they explained how the servers were the same between this and SAO so allowing Kirito to basically skip the leveling up and be as good as he was for the most part, but not invincible by removing some key skills and his items. There is potential especially as Asuna knows Kirito is alive and is working on getting out there, with Kirito on his way to meet at the world tree. There are some little loose ends as well with the treachery on Leafa’s old team which should come together so in terms of the story, it is actually getting together quite well.
I think SAO did well in terms of introducing Suguha, but maybe not so well in developing her in terms of her relationship with Kirito, as at the moment it is a little off, and not as good as how Asuna was introduced, but then again Kirito is in love with Asuna (and to Suguha’s credit, she knows this, and seems at the moment to be in favour of saving her without any jealousy hints). That combined with how downgraded Asuna has come and the villain not particular interesting, does make it seem a bit of a disappointing entry in the SAO releases. However it wasn’t as bad as I was concerned about, and in fact had some really good moments, battles wise it was good, Yui returning has great potential, and Suguha learns about the game and helping Kirito unaware that it is Kazuto has definitely story to work with. I hope it does tie in together in the final disc, and with a bit more a bang.
Sword Art Online goes into a new arc (and new game) which suffers a bit from the lack of Asuna/Kirito interaction and despite Suguha being a decent replacement, her issues combined with the fact Asuna has been reduced to damsel status and a really unlikeable and uninteresting villain make this much weaker in comparison to the previous disc in particular. However, it definitely has potential – betrayals, characters and travel all set up for a showdown at the World Tree, Asuna showing some smarts, Kirito’s adaptability, Suguha’s research and the return of Yui mean that the potential for this to finish well is there for all to see, let us hope it does.
Content Grade: B-
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Manga Entertainment
Release Date: 24th Feb 2014
Running Time: 125 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.