Unsure if the conclusion can be completely satisfying but some harsh words, a fantastic hero moment and some great battles at least make the finale of SAO quite enjoyable.
What They Say :
Kirito and Leafa have finally reached Central Arun, the largest city in Alfheim by the foot of the World Tree. Kirito is determined to face the dangers of the Grand Quest to rescue Asuna. With the support of the Sylphs and the Cat Sídhes, Kirito will face the dangerous Grand Quest. Will Kirito save Asuna in time or will he be crushed by Oberon’s evil plans?!
Set in 2.0 Stereo in both English and Japanese, this has been the same in all the releases and am still a bit disappointed by it, as had to adjust my settings to make sure I could enjoy the sound better in terms of the music and effects. No issue in terms of the sound quality as it is still clear and understandable in both languages and no issues regarding delays to lip flaps or transition to subtitles. Video wise was fine, no issues compared to some of the previous releases, animation is clear, no pause issues with the picture format, set in widescreen with a 16:9 – 1.78:1 ratio. Overall, very clear and listenable, just wish a series like this would have definitely benefits with a 5.1 upgrade.
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…unfortunately it is pretty much the same set menu for all 4 releases so whilst still nice to look at, would have been a bit more interesting with different characters that became more important like Suguha/Leafa.
Sadly for the final release there wasn’t much of extras which is a shame considering the previous releases had some really good ones. For the final release, all we have are web clips of episodes 21-24 (glorified trailers for each episode but with Kirito explaining the plot) and the clean opening and endings.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sword Art Online has been an interesting series in terms of focusing on taking someone into an online world, and making it real – and the second half is almost a repeat of that, with replacing the main heroine with a new one and bringing a new villain. It did feel like a rehash but enough things were done to still make it interesting, albeit some of the changes may have not been for the better. However, it did lead to one true fantastic moment at least and at the very least it made the show quite memorable.
We start with Kirito and Leafa interrupting a potential war between the Salamander group that attacked Kirito when he first debutted in the world, and the Sylphs/Cait Siths, with Leafa being part of the Slyphs. Kirito does a job in pretending to be an ambassador due to him being a neutral party as a Spriggan, which leads to a battle between him and the Salamanders’ general Eugene. In an impressive battle sequence, Kirito overcomes Eugenes’ better weapon with some unique tricks and skills, and defeats him. With revelations about a traitor trying to stir trouble in the races, a truce is made which does become important later in the last few episodes when Kirito gives the Sylph/Cait Sith group quite a bit of money…
The main issue however is rescuing Asuna, who after discovering the code to escape in the last disc is thwarted when she tried to log out in an uncomfortable scene which reflects a later scene (which does lead to this arcs defining moment though) – meanwhile Kazuto and Suguha visit the unconscious Asuna in the real world as Suguha begins to realize that Kazuto is in love with her. This reaches major levels when in the online world Kirito and Yui feels her presence and disregard Leafa for a moment as he goes and rushes into a huge flock of enemies defending the world tree. Despite his best efforts he is defeated, but fortunately Leafa enters to save his life force and revive – it is here as Kirito mentions Asuna’s name that Leafa (Suguha) realized Kirito and Kazuto are the same person, and that she was falling in love with Kirito online just as she did fall for Kazuto in the real world. Added to the knowledge that the two are not siblings and both of them were aware, this causes some drama and angst for both of them, mostly from Suguhas’ side.
It doesn’t however last too long thanks to a nice little scene when one of Leafa’s partners Recon who obviously had a crush on her before she met Kirito tries (and fails) to confess to her, which cheers her up and she manages to reconcile with Kirito after a brief battle between the two when both were intending to throw the fight. The three of them together go for another attempt to take out the guardians of the World Tree, and despite a heroic sacrifice by Recon to cause an opening, there are too many fighters in their way. Fortunately, because of the first episode of the disc, they get some much needed assistance from the Sylphs and Cait Siths which Leafa stays to help, leaving Kirito and Yui alone to find Asuna.
This is what leads to an episode which I am conflicted with – mainly for what it leads to, and the aftermath. Basically Asuna and Kirito do reunite, but a new magic that Oberon made for the new patch of the game is ‘tested’ to stop Kirito. Oberon basically returns to taunt Kirito whilst basically molesting Asuna in front of him, and practically attempting to rape her (along with insinuating he was going to rape her coma induced body in the real world) – the way it shows is very humiliating and disgusting, and fortunately it does lead to Kirito getting some help in the voice of Heathcliff returning (though it does feel a bit contrived) to actually get up from the magic and basically put the smug Oberon in his place, removing all pain sensors and with the rules back in SAO favour, Kirito pulls one hell of a beating in his place which is immensely satisfying. Asuna and Kirito reunite as Heathcliff reappears once more to give Kirito an item (known as the Seed) as a preparation for the final episode…
The final episode does tie up a few ends – Oberon’s real life persona Sugou tries to kill Kirito in real life, but Kirito stops him and despite feeling Sugou should die lets him life. This leads to his arrest, and the apparent destructions of the online RPG business. However, despite that they cannot keep away from it and Kirito’s item given was a chance to spread it and reinstate it. There is a party when all the SAO members awake, they go to a special school for rehabilitation, and it ends when Suguha who feels left out during a party for everyone getting together in real life, seem needed as Kirito intends to start again in this new world that others have created…
I do have some issues with this disc in regards to how the story is played out. I was never a fan of Asuna being reduced to a damsel in distress role, and the way she is portrayed in this arc despite her attempted escape really puts her in the idea that her badassery in the first arc was just an afterthought. The attempted rape scene is very disturbing to watch and whilst it makes it much better when Kirito kicks Oberons’ butt, it really feels this arc missed something. It didn’t help when they pretty much tried to tell the same story as the first arc with a different heroine and a much viler villain, but there wasn’t any stand out relationship moments bar the one between Suguha and Kirito.
Which is another problem. Suguha, unlike other people, I actually didn’t mind that much (I think because I watched it mostly in English, I avoided her apparent tics she uses with Kirito which annoyed people) but she really didn’t add too much except to add a bit of drama in terms of being in love with Kirito/Kazuto. It didn’t last long though and just got a bit of a call back in the final episode. The issue is that whilst Leafa was actually quite fun and had different attributes and skills to Asuna, her only real development was the same as Asuna’s (the female fighter/lead, falls in love with the male lead, etc) except she didn’t have a say in the decisive battle, and didn’t win over Kirito/Kazuto as Asuna was still true to his heart. So it felt like a re-hash of the first arc, just with a less interesting character.
Lastly, the ending felt very cliffhangerish with suggestions of a sequel (there are more light novels that could be animated) being rather loosely left open yet felt like a conclusion as well. It didn’t really end in a way that people could be happy with, and didn’t really suggest too much that would write a sequel if you didn’t know there were future stories. It really felt it could have ended stronger with or without the knowledge of future installments.
That said though, there was still quite a lot of stuff to enjoy. I liked how they used the other races as a deus ex machine in the future episode as that was told well despite it looking like filler at first. Kirito actually stood out quite well here with his bluff as a Spriggan ambassador and managed to dictate the battle quite well despite numerous disadvantages. Despite the rehash, Leafa and via extent Suguha, I did feel sympathy for when it was confirmed they weren’t blood related as she never actually gets upset at Asuna but does feel rather left out, which despite my comments on the ending, I am glad she is recognized as a character that is part of the team. Yui didn’t really do much though, as much as an exposition character should, though her brief moment reuniting with her ‘mommy’ Asuna was really sweet.
As mentioned, despite how very uncomfortable the scenes between Oberon and Asuna was, it did allow one of the best scenes of the series come about with some great music and total put down via Kirito to Oberon, and the subsequent aftermath that happened in the last episode between Kazuto and Sugou. It did feel that it was tacked on how Kirito won with the return of the main villain from the first arc, but seeing his ‘kill or not kill’ scene with all the rotten stuff Oberon/Sugou has done put Kirito/Kazuto’s psyche on trial, and his choice was a tough, but right one.
I really wish we had more with the other characters that appeared in the last episode – the return of some old friends from the first arc like Klein, and the real life personas of the Sylphs/Cait Siths that helped Kirito and Leafa, it was a nice set up which hopefully if there is a sequel will get more development.
SAO has been an interesting ride which I put in the good lot of series, but not great. It is a popular show and has a lot of fans, and I overall did enjoy it. I can’t say I put it on the same pedestal as some people, as there are a lot of issues which hampered it, but overall it was a good show, with some interesting characters, a great premise and scenario, and could be goofy and fun at one point, and powerful and dark another. Whilst not perfect, it is definitely worth a watch.
Sword Art Online, whilst its conclusion is a bit hit or miss, the way it gets there is definitely interesting. There are some very uncomfortable moments but if you can get through them, you get to enjoy the aftermath that the villain succumbs to. A great example of good animation and music combined with epic fighting and victory means that Sword Art Online is definitely worth a shot overall. There are a number of flaws in this second arc compared to the first, but overall it is still worth checking out.
Content Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: March 31st, 2014
Running Time: 150 minutes
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.