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Sword Art Online II Set 1 Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

12 min read

Sword Art Online II UK HeaderEvery time he thinks he’s out, they keep pulling him back in.

What They Say:
A year has passed since SAO was cleared. Summoned by Seijirou Kikuoka of the Virtual Division at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Kazuto (Kirito) learns of a series of bizarre murders linked to the popular VR game, Gun Gale Online (GGO). After being shot in-game by a player calling himself Death Gun, two prominent GGO players have mysteriously turned up dead in the real world. As Kazuto logs into GGO and starts investigating the mystery, he meets a girl sniper named Sinon wA year has passed since SAO was cleared. Summoned by Seijirou Kikuoka of the Virtual Division at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Kazuto (Kirito) learns of a series of bizarre murders linked to the popular VR game, Gun Gale Online (GGO). After being shot in-game by a player calling himself Death Gun, two prominent GGO players have mysteriously turned up dead in the real world.

As Kazuto logs into GGO and starts investigating the mystery, he meets a girl sniper named Sinon who wields a Hecate II rifle. Is she friend or foe? Kirito enters the virtual world once more for an all new adventure!ho wields a Hecate II rifle. Is she friend or foe? Kirito enters the virtual world once more for an all new adventure!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation here is one that has both language tracks and it’s definitely a big step up over how the first season was presented. 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.

Video:
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The seven episodes in this set are spread across two discs in a three/four format. Animated by A1 Pictures, the show has a gorgeous look that’s of a different nature than before as it spends its time in darker worlds and the real world a lot more. 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 of visiting ALFheim Online. 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.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is done up in limited edition form that really hits well as it has a certain simple sleek classiness about it. The heavy chipboard box is done up in a flat black look that has on the back panel has one of the sniper rifles in silver that really stands out well. The main panel makes out well by the flat approach as well as we get Kirito and Sinon together here in a slick form with lots of deep rich blues and other shades to draw it together and to let their faces stand out a bit. The wraparound on the box breaks down what’s included and the technical specs as well for the release. Inside the box, we get the two clear Blu-ray cases where one holds the two discs of the series and the other the soundtrack CD. The cover artwork for the main show gives us Sinon and Kirito doing the fist-bump thing with bullets flowing all around them. Set against a white background with some black and grey gears working along, it definitely has a lot of pop to it without being overdone or too vibrant. The soundtrack cover goes a little more colorful with the pair in more vibrant colors standing out in action poses while the gears are changed to targeting sights. The series back cover provides a look at the gun from the back of the box once more while breaking out the episode by title and number whereas the soundtrack breaks down the 37 tracks that are included with it set against some Sinon pencil artwork. Each case has artwork on the reverse side of a different setting within the game.

There’re a few pack-ins included with the release as well. First, there’s a new Weib Schwarz English edition trading card that uses the artwork from the Blu-ray series cover. It also serves to advertise the game with some promotional paperwork alongside it. We also get a beautiful high quality booklet that breaks down the episodes that we get here with shots from the show and deeper looks at it all, which is followed up by some character model breakdowns and a look at the backgrounds and other aspects of the world. There’s also a new set of postcards included with this release where we get the two that replicates the case artwork. I’d have liked more, but these are solid pieces I’ll be putting together in a frame eventually.

Menu:
The menu design for this series keeps things simple and in a way works a darker angle that’s pretty appropriate for the Phantom Bullet arc. With a matrix-y background of blacks and greens with some symbolism to it, the foreground uses the character artwork of Kirito and Sinon doing the fist-bump along the right in a bright and colorful way that stands out more than the case artwork. The logo is kept to the left of them in a small and clean form while the navigation is kept to the lower left corner, opting to use the same hex-style design as we had before. It’s done up with some vibrant “computer” greens to tie it in thematically and it manages to work well enough while not standing out. It’s a clean looking and functional menu with just enough to draw you in and set the tone.

Extras:
The on disc extras we get for this series are certainly familiar enough but also quite welcome. The clean version of the opening sequence is here along with the respective web previews for the epsiodes. We also get a pair of commentary tracks from the Japanese side once again as the staff and cast talk about the production in a rather engaging way. We also get the next round of the Sword Art Offline II piece which is basically a lot of mini/SD character fun that’s modeled on the radio/web show design that lets the characters be plenty silly amid the serious storylines.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the success of the original series and then the New Year’s special, it was no surprise at the end of it that a new season was announced. As the light novels continue to sell well and a lot of merchandise money to be made out there as well as games and more, promoting it all through the anime was essentially a given. I came into the first season just watching it and not writing about it for the first half and was quite the fan of it. Taking over the reviewing of it in the second half, it just cemented my enjoyment of it. I won’t call the series a guilty pleasure, and I do recognize its faults, but it’s a show that I just have a blast watching and simply enjoy for what it presents and the polished nature of it all. I ended up not catching the second season due to time constraints, so dipping into the series with the Blu-ray release as my first exposure worked well as marathoning definitely helps.

This series is one that’s broken up a bit in what it adapts as the first fourteen episodes covers the fifth and sixth light novels known as the Phantom Bullet arc. What we get here is that it’s been a year since the end of events in Aincrad and the original game and the world has grown more populous in terms of the number of games like it out there thanks to the seed that Kirito launched. He’s continuing to readjust to the real world, going through the schooling and other parts of his life that others in the game in similar situations had to deal with, but he’s also bonded well with friends and family and he’s very close to Asuna, who is relegated to a minor role in this part of the show. We do see some simple dating material and just time spent together, as well as with their friends and family in the other game from the Extended Edition special, so there’s a good sense of continuity about it all and that time has passed without much in the way of real events going on to worry about.

All of that changes for Kirito with the arrival of Kikuoka back in his life. This ministry official is the one that walked him through events in the Extended Edition and got his life back on track to some degree, but he took a real interest in Kirito because he understood what happened in there. Kirito is pegged as a kind of super player in a way, though it’s not really quantified, but there’s a natural talent and gift that he has when it comes to these games. That’s what let him survive so well in Aincrad and to do what was needed in the other game to rescue Asuna. I don’t feel that it’s overplayed since he tends to be rather self deprecating about it and it’s not the real focus other than to show that he’s a step ahead and above everyone else. With events in another game called Gun Gale Online now bubbling to the surface, or at least the ministry’s view, Kikuoka has come to try and get Kirito to do a little bit of detective work for him.

What we discover is that within this game that’s played in numerous settings but with guns is that a man known as Death Gun has seemingly figured out a way to kill players in it in really creative ways with his gun. It’s not something that the general public knows nor those in the game, but the discovery of connected events has the ministry wanting to find out the reality of it – and likely the viability of using it as well as a weapon themselves. Death Gun has supposedly been involved in a few targeted killings and it’s noteworthy because this particular game is all about drawing in real pros to it because there’s a currency conversion factor to the real world, making it so that people can earn a real living by playing it. Kirito’s really not interested in dealing with any of this, but the hooks are there and he’s drawn in. And that forces him to convert his character for awhile and leave his friends, Asuna and Sugu in order to do it.

There are a few interesting aspects to this that unfolds along the way. The first is that in this game, his character gets a little more female looking as his hair is longer and his body shape changes slightly. The amusing part is that he gets hit on, looking at and gazed at a lot, which he finds really disconcerting. It only happens at first though so it’s not looking to make a statement about it, but it’s a welcome acknowledgement at least. The other is that as Kirito gets involved in trying to gain Death Gun’s attention, he starts to think back to his own time in Aincrad and what he did there. There’s a key moment where he realizes there may be some continuity to events there, but it’s the sudden reminder that he killed people for real in that game that comes back to haunt him. It’s done well with the emotion and tone of it and it helps to remind why Kirito plays the game as he does. Or rather, hasn’t truly played in awhile and has been goofing off with his friends. The only problem with this reminder is that it should have come sooner considering the news of what Death Gun is doing and his own experiences in the virtual world where all these people were trapped.

Because the series has largely exiled the familiar cast from the first season outside of a few really nicely done scenes here, Kirito gets to spend time with a new character. This comes in the form of Sinon, a rising ace of a sniper with some real tactical skill and understanding of the mechanics of the game. She provides the help to him in terms of understanding the game and how it works, though she only does this at first because she thinks Kirito’s a girl. Sinon’s story, or rather her real world person of Asada, is one that really works beautifully here in a tragic sense. Her motivation for playing the game comes from a real tragedy in the real world and she uses the game to try and conquer those issues with guns, violence and the impact it had on her life. We see her struggle within the game from time to time about it in these early episodes, but it’s also laid bare in the real world in both flashbacks and exchanges with her friend and others from her school that know her and torment her over it. There’s a lot of good things to explore with this and bringing up the topic of real world gun violence and what it impacts alongside a virtual game that basically glorifies guns helps to provide some weight to it.

After the fantasy worlds that we’ve had, I really do like that we get a very different world here. As Sinon says at one point, it’s a grimy and oil scented world where it’s dank and overcast. It’s a striking contrast to Aincrad and one that I really like seeing like that. Kirito obviously gets to master parts of the world easily when it comes to combat, localizing his skill set, but the visual design of it and the change-up from straightforward fantasy to any number of varied locations for fights to happen works well. Admittedly, I cringed a bit when the Bullet of Bullets 3 tournament came to the forefront, but it’s now a show trying to be a tournament show, but rather use it in brief overall to raise Kirito’s stature and, in the end, bring a new level to his relationship with Sinon. The use of these areas helps to push the story forward in a really good way overall.

In Summary:
A lot of series have a significant slump in their sophomore season and I was expecting that with Sword Art Online II. More so from the fans simply because it wasn’t going to replicate what came before, which many often want. With the first half of the first arc, we get introduced to the GGO world in good fashion and the reason for Kirito being there in the manner that he is. There’s some good twists brought into it with who may be responsible for this new form of violence, if it’s true, and that provides a good bridge to the past but also an avenue to the future. I also really liked Sinon and what they brought to the table for her character, motivation and the way she plays the game. Wrap it all up in a beautifully animated show and then put it into a top notch limited edition box design and this is a big winner for fans of the show that want it to be treated as something more than just another series released. I’m very excited to see what comes next.

Features:
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Special Animation “Sword Art Offline II,” Japanese Audio Commentary, Textless Opening (Phantom Bullet), Original Web Previews

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: June 30th, 2015
MSRP: $114.98
Running Time: 175 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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