What They Say:
On a hot summer day, Kazuto (Kirito) takes Suguha (Leafa) to his school, to meet Asuna, Keiko (Silica) and Rika (Lisbeth). Their mission: teach Suguha how to swim. Kazuto, however, has a prior commitment to see Seijiro Kikuoka, an officer with the Virtual Reality Section of the Department of General Affairs. Kikuoka wants to go over Kazuto’s recollection of his time in SAO and ALO, to resolve some unanswered questions.
Later in ALO, Kirito and the girls (along with Klein and Agil), embark on an underwater quest to show Yui her very first whale. But the deeper down they go, the more mysterious the quest becomes…
The audio presentation here is one that has both language tracks that also corrects one of the biggest missteps of the TV series releases. 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 now thankfully done in the same way rather than using the lossy DVD level Dolby Digital codec. Getting the English mix uncompressed helps to bring that out in a better way with more clarity and overall warmth to it. 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 2013, the transfer for this special is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Airing as a New Years Eve special, it’s a one hundred minute single feature special with only one disc. 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 release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray case inside a slipcover that holds it and the pack-in extras. The slipcase mirrors the disc artwork itself and definitely works well as we get a front cover that sells the real appeal of the special – all the girls in swimsuits. There’s a good bit of fanservice in here throughout and capitalizing on it for the packaging makes sense. The back cover goes with just more sun and sand to carry the theme while the obi wraparound on it provides the details of the show and what’s included in the package. The Blu-ray case itself also has artwork on the reverse side as it presents a look at the island from the show through an aerial perspective. The pack-in extras are good here as we get a full color booklet that has some interview material from the character designer, a look at those designs themselves and a good look at some of the new background designs as well. The other item included here is a double sided poster where one side uses the front cover artwork with a different background piece to it that lets them all stand out even more while the reverse side gives us the four main girls together in the ALFheim game in a grassy field that’s just beautiful.
Is anyone surprised that the main design for the menu here is to use the character artwork from the front cover? Good, because that’s what it is. It naturally has an even more vibrant feeling than the cover and the cutout nature of it lets it stand out all the more. The logo is kept simple along the middle 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 Sword Art Offline special is the big piece as it runs about thirteen minutes and provides a good look at what happened and the usual banter between the characters. In addition to that we get a look at the next season of the series with the brief promo that came out when the special originally aired.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When Sword Art Online was first broadcast, I ended up skipping on the show as the general idea of it was something that didn’t just grab me since the whole trapped in video game things wasn’t compelling. One of our other reviewers tackled the show on a weekly basis for the first twelve and just couldn’t hack it as it was completely not their thing. So I ended up marathoning the first twelve episodes in order to catch up so I could take over the simulcast reviews. And to my surprise, going through it over the course of a day, I fell in love with it. Hard. Though the second half of the series didn’t win me over as much as the first half – in simulcast form at least – it was definitely enjoyable and I thoroughly loved revisiting it all on Blu-ray, which is also where I found the ALfheim Online arc to work a lot better for me in what it explored. So when the Extra Edition special was announced I was pretty interested in seeing what it was all about since it was a return to characters that I really liked.
What originally surprised me was that while I expected a thirty minute special and we instead got a hundred minute feature. Considering the series came out a few years ago, doing this as a recap of sorts with new material mixed in, and serving as a way to get people in the mood again ahead of the then new season, it was a smart move. Taking place in the summer after the events of the first series, it has us following the group in the school that is acclimating and catching up with their studies after the two years they spent in the game. This is one of the off days though and Kirito has come to the school with Sugu as she’s meeting up with a few of his friends that survived the game such as Asuna, Silica and Lis. They’re all helping Sugu learn how to swim since she never did learn and they have a quest coming up in ALO that requires them to swim.
That sets for a good bit of fanservice to be sure with the girls all in very different swimsuits and obviously body types and personalities that will lead to viewers enjoying the experience. This is spread throughout the first eighty minutes or so of the episode as one of the things that separates the recap side of the series. The other thing that separates it is a nicely done in-show kind of approach for covering the recap material. And that’s having one of the Ministry officials coming to talk to Kirito in order to get a bit more of an understanding what happened in the game during those two years. It’s expected that a lot of people are shutting up, a lot of people are being oblique in what they say and others are simply lying to protect themselves. Interestingly, all the Ministry has is the in-game data that says who was where and when, but little in terms of the “story” that happened between the players. Kirito’s position is unique because of what he did so gaining more understanding is definitely important.
Kirito’s story is one that certainly covers different parts of the game in a very limited way and for those that are quite well versed in the show, she certainly makes some interesting omissions along the, especially when it comes to Kayaba. His tale covers a good bit of the general concepts of the game, but it’s not all told from his perspective which helps to change it up a bit. While he tells his tale for the official recording, the girls out in the school pool talk with each other about their own initial meetings with Kirito since it’s something that Sugu wants to know about. They all have very different meetings with him and there are a few fun connections, though the one that I like the most (outside of Asuna since I’m a huge Asuna fan) is with Sugu since the second half of the series was her working through her issues with their relationship from when they were younger, the truth behind the family and how she was letting him go and moving on to someone else, not realizing that it was actually Kirito all along. It’s a fun little tragedy that was all tied up in rescuing Asuna that left us with a Kirito that was singly focused and didn’t get dragged down into much, allowing Sugu to really cope and work through it herself.
While I can certainly understand why the recap aspect of this will bother a lot of people, I really enjoyed it overall. For me, it was just fun to revisit it with the new material spread across it that was relaxed, mellow and fanservice filled. But it also all leads to the new segment at the end, which runs about twenty minutes or so, similar to the length of a normal episode, wherein we get to see all the main characters get together in ALO for a mission that’s designed to show Yui something that she’s never seen before. This is a very fun thing in that it shows that Kirito, Asuna and the others from SAO can manage to get back into the game and enjoy it even after their experiences and to reinforce the bonds that are there between all of them, such as Agil, Klein and more. And it gives us our first real time with Asuna in ALO, which is different from her SAO avatar being stuck in there. She’s still the same but the interactions with the other women is definitely very fun to watch and the mission overall allows us to see the kind of party that really clicks well here and is simply fun.
And that’s what Sword Art Extra Edition was for me. Fun. And a fun that lead to the announcement of a new series that takes us down the path of a couple more of the light novels. Sword Art Online was a show I didn’t expect to like but it’s become one that I will be a fanboy about it because it ticks all the right boxes for me in how it comes across. The concept of time moving forward in the original game, relationships formed within it that have real world consequences and the fallout from it all as it moved forward. Beautiful animation, great character designs and engaging and interesting worlds that I would love to play in myself, and I say that as someone who used to be a GM in an expansive text-only multiplayer RPG game back in the 90’s when it was all dialup. Sword Art Online Extra Edition does recap pretty well here and slides in more than enough fresh animation, fanservice and a full story at the end to tie it all together. Definitely more than I expected and exactly what I wanted and it has me jazzed to sink my teeth into the next series when that arrives on home video, since it’ll likely get just as good a treatment as this in the areas that count.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Special Animation: Sword Art Offline (subtitled only), Sword Art Online II Trailer
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: December 23rd, 2014
Running Time: 100 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.