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Sword Art Online II: Part 1 UK Blu-ray Anime Review

8 min read

SAOII-collector-part1_2DThe return of a fan favourite series, which continues to mix comedy, action and surprisingly dark tones introducing new characters and reminding us of the ones we remember…

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 who 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:
Set up in Stereo 2.0 in both Japanese and English instead of a 5.1 release is still an acceptable quality but a bit of tinkering of the volume was needed to make it of an acceptable quality, though there weren’t any issues in terms of the sound being out on sync with the subtitles or the video.

Video:
Video is set in full screen format for this review – standard ratio settings, no issues with syncing in with the sound or with the video quality – there was no shading with pausing for example, and the combination of hand drawn and computer generated animation does project flawlessly onto the screen. There were no issues of slowdown, and the variation of colour from the gritty sci-fi/steampunk atmosphere of GGO to the brief returns of Alfheim Online games of fairies and foliage, there is a good mix where there was nothing noticeable in terms of video quality being flawed.

Menu:
As only one disc, the menu is standard and very basic – it has an image of feminine style Kirito in a gunslinger mode running across the field (still image) on a white background – episode select of 1-7 is on the screen so no menu episode select or play all function (if you select episode 1 it is basically play all), set up and extras. No issues with selections and time delays from your selection, or returning to the main menu, just pretty basic.

Extras:
The only extra in this release is the textless opening.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sword Art Online was one of those series that a lot of people enjoyed, and I was one of them – I thought the initial arc was stronger than the second half (though the conclusion was worth it) but overall, it was one of those series I liked, though maybe not put on such a high pedestal that others did. With Anime Limited starting to come through with a lot of licences as a true alternative to Manga Entertainment, the UK market seems to have got through a sullen period of anime releases and now getting a lot more variety, and the sequel to SaO is a rare thing as these are one disc releases with 7 episodes in this case, with special collectable editions, which sadly I didn’t get as a test disc but the show itself – is the sequel a worthy successor?

Set a year after SaO, we have a new game called Gun Gale Online (GGO) which is amazingly competitive because real money is involved. The first major scene we see is a top player being streamed online, and we cut to a man with something or is called ‘Death Gun’ and shoots at the video screen…which somehow seems to kill the player. Cut to Kazuto (Kirito) meeting up with Seijiro as his work with SAO means he is still a high authority investigating anything risky. The avatar was indeed found dead, and this wasn’t the first time this has happened. Whilst Kazuto is doubtful, Seijiro asks him to become Kirito and enter GGO in case this becomes a similar situation to the deaths in SAO. He considers his decision whilst still very much dating Asuna, and then we cut to a new character named Sinon, a female sniper in GGO. We get a brief history of her skills as a sniper before we cut to a GGO ambush. After a struggle against a bodyguard named Behemoth, she manages to defeat him – and then the next episode shows the real life girl, Shino – who is actually afraid of guns from a reaction when three girls try to bully her, but she is saved by her friend Shinkawa.

We see Shino’s reason for gun fear, that as a child, she managed to shoot a robber who nearly killed her mother, and the flashback of her killing the robber is still in her mind with her fear of firearms. Shinkawa basically introduced GGO as a way of therapy for this. Kazuto meanwhile talks to Asuna about going into GGO which she seems to be OK with, whilst he logs in with help from an old nurse friend Natsuki, with Death Gun elsewhere looking at Sinon….as a victim…or something else?

Kirito enters GGO with a very feminine look, which is both amusing and causes initial problems (female players tend to be rare so…) – whilst trying to figure out how to find Death Gun, he bumps in Sinon who despite the cold sniper like attitude in her battle, is quit friendly with Kirito…thinking he is a girl. (Yep, this won’t end badly…) She helps him look into getting weaponry and armour, but with little cash, Kirito plays a game to try and make some money from a very difficult AI to avoid bullets – however because no-one has ever won the money keeps building up. So Kirito, his skills carried over from SaO, is able to win the game, and purchase some better weaponry. To Sinon’s surprise, he picks a Photon Sword, rare because GGO is more about guns, but with Kirito’s sword skills from previous games, it makes sense along with a gun. They rush over to sign for a tournament called BoB which Kirito suspects Death Gun will be at, where Kirito has to reveal his gender when Sinon and Kirito are changing…cue embarrassment and a bit of rage. But after a convincing prelim win, Death Gun goes up to him recognising the name Kirito and wondering if he was the Kirito from SAO…whilst Kirito recognises a mark based from a SAO guild known as Laughing Coffin, who were very ruthless…

The set up is straightforward as Sinon and Kirito do make it to the finals, as Sinon recognises they are similar, yet frustrated as Kirito defeats her, setting up a rivalry. Also with Shinkawa being there, and there is definitely a hint of jealousy between him and Kirito, combined with a real life hug there does seem to be more complications…the set up of the BoB tournament where Kirito and Sinon may fight again, whilst Kirito is worried about the Laughing Coffin insignia (he had killed two of them personally in SAO) and Asuna, the return of Suguha, Klein, Yui, Lisbeth, Silica in Alfheim ready to watch the tournament, the grand stage is set…

Sword Art Online is one of those series which has a set up, whilst done before in shows like .hack and Log Horizon, seems to just have a good appeal. Real life into RPGs, yet with proper risk, character development, and some good action. Sword Art Online II is definitely getting its training wheels off, but the start is definitely hopeful. The previous shows definitely had some dark plots (the killing of real life characters, creepy characters with issues to say the least) – immediately the character of Sinon throws us into a deep back-story, a girl who has gun issues from something as a child, uses the game to try and get rid of that fear, making her one of the best players in GGO. In real life however, Shino is still terribly afraid, which leads to people trying to take advantage of that fear. This definitely sets up a coming of age story for her, especially with an immediate rivalry with this new ace Kirito, who she certainly doesn’t hate – which leads to a potential triangle as Shinkawa, who introduced her to GGO, doesn’t seem to like the fact Shino/Sinon is talking about this newcomer…he gives a few glimpses here and there that may suggest he isn’t all he seems so…

Kirito himself has gone through a transformation…literally with his feminine style avatar. However, the character is now established, skilled and has influence. He does feel at the moment like the invincible protagonist which does lower this a little because the fights are pretty predictable. Whilst it isn’t impossible to watch this without SAO first, it is pretty much needed just for a lot of the back-story which gets to this point. That said, the relationship between Sinon and Kirito could potentially be interesting, depending on what happens in the tournament.

The one disappointment is the fact that a lot of the characters we met and mostly loved are pretty much put to the side. This is understandable because this is a new story and Kirito was asked on his own, but the fact that Asuna only has a few scenes is particularly vexing as a year has passed and you want to see how their relationship has been developed, but whilst it is clear they are still truly in love, there are only a few conversations. Kirito clearly worries about telling Asuna his decision to go to GGO, but there is really no conversation or aftermath, just acceptance. Quite a few people were annoyed that Asuna was basically a damsel in distress character in the second half of SAO considering how much of a badass she was for the first half, and whilst the scenes in Alfheim suggest she is back to that nature, we don’t see any action from her, or indeed any of the Alfheim gang. Hopefully that will be rectified in due course, but for the moment, it is a good job Sinon is an interesting character to play off Kirito.

The last thing will mention is the villain. Death Gun is definitely mysterious, and his motives aren’t completely obvious yet aside from killing top GGO players. Whilst there isn’t enough to see him and make him interesting, the mystique is definitely there and am sure this will be developed throughout the series. There is just enough to realise there is a plot going through this aside from Sinon and Kirito fighting. It feels that the show is just warming up, and everything will suddenly get more interesting in the 2nd release, so definitely worth it to continue SAO II.

Summary:
Sword Art Online II continues where the original left off, with a few changes, both better and worse. Fans of Asuna will be disappointed, but the new female lead is a more than welcome replacement in Sinon. Her back-story is already being looked into and hopes to come of age, whilst Kirito – a bit of an invincible protagonist – at least plays off her well enough, and the action/fight scenes are great to watch. There is enough intrigue and mystery about the villain, the scenarios and the potential to continue watching, so for now, I’d say enjoy the ride.

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: C-

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: September 21st, 2015
MSRP: £19.99
Running Time: 175 minutes

Review Equipment:
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System. (Disc 2 reviewed on PC with VLC Player)Packaging Gallery:

Screenshots:

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