What They Say:
Kirito is now certain that Death Gun is also a survivor of SAO. And to make things worse, he is most likely an ex-member of the murder guild, Laughing Coffin. As the final tournament of Bullet of Bullets begins, Kirito and Sinon agree to join forces until they identify which player is Death Gun. Through the battles, Sinon learns that Kirito also suffers from traumatic memories from the past. But as Sinon sees Kirito trying to overcome them, she too tries to be strong. As BoB reaches its last stage, Kirito suspects that Death Gun may have one or more accomplices in the real world, and they may be targeting Shino Asada as their next target!
Contains episodes 8-14 and episode 14.5, plus a bonus SAO Radio -USA- CD, a 24-page deluxe booklet, a postcard set, and an exclusive Weiss Schwarz collectible PR Card.
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.
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 eight episodes in this set are spread across two discs in a four/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.
The packaging for this release is done up the same as the first set with the 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 Death Gun front and center while ringed behind him are an array of other GGO players that he gets to go up against in the BoB. It’s dark, dangerous and really sets a fantastic tone here with what it does. 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 bonus CD that has the two parts of the SAO Radio USA conversations. The cover artwork for the main show gives us a very serious Kirito close-up with his plasma sword out, which gives it a really interesting purple hue. 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 core trio of this arc spread out cross it with some great soft palette colors used to it that makes it feel a bit more artsy. The series back cover provides a look at Death Gun with a close-up while breaking down what’s on the bonus CD..
There’s 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 bonus CD 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. I love the silver background pages just in how sleek it all looks. 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.
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 different pieces of character artwork, unrelated to the packaging as well, across both volumes that has some good sharpness to them that stands out against the background. 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.
The on disc extras we get for this series are certainly familiar enough but also quite welcome. The clean version of the ending sequence is here along with the respective web previews for the epsiodes. We also get a trio 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 pieces, 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.
With the original Sword Art Online series being something that I’m pretty much nearly fanboying over, I’ve been pretty keen on getting into the sequel series. While I skipped out on the simulcast as I found that the property works best for me in larger chunks, I really got into the changes to the show with the first set that came out a few months ago. The property is one that while it does play to certain ideas on a regular basis, it’s also one that changes things up in locales. They could easily have gone with a reinvented SAO world to play in and stuck to the fantasy side. Or they could have easily just stuck to ALO for this series and had more adventures in there and just grew the cast in that form. But the shift to the GGO world, abandoning the fantasy elements and going with weapons – on top of mostly ejecting the main cast for the moment, well, I didn’t quite expect that.
The opening set did a lot to establish this world and what’s going on with it while also paring down the focus to Kirito and the new character of Sinon. This is a dangerous gamble to make in a series because while you may keep the other characters around in a very reduced role it’s something that can turn away a number of viewers. The Asuna fans certainly aren’t pleased by her being cast off for most of this season and given very little to do. And as much as I like Asuna as a character – and particularly her relationship with Kirito, I have to admit that I’m glad she and Yui were given a backseat position for a bit here after being such a focus. The truth of the matter is that while Kirito could achieve some of what he needs to with her in terms of his own healing and issues, she wouldn’t be able to really do it in full like Sinon is able to. Though the focus is on the whole Death Gun storyline, the truth of it is that it’s wrapping up one of the more critical character pieces from the SAO storyline and doing it through the use of Sinon. While also giving us a character in Sinon that we can really connect with and in turn understand why she needs Kirito and vice versa. Particularly since it’s easy to view Sinon as just another member of Kirito’s little harem of friends that are girls.
Because of the structure of this arc, the seven main episodes here are largely comprised of action and strategy pieces. It blends in a lot of good character material and commentary along the way, but the bulk of it is all about the Bullet of Bullets competition that gets underway early on here. That focus would normally be a mixed bag, especially since it’s largely seven episodes focused on one match that in game-time runs about two to three hours as the characters pick each other off across as a rather interesting range of locales within one overall setting. Where we only really known Kirito and Sinon though, this helps to avoid delving into character stories for the others out there. We know these two, we know that she’s going to try and take him out after he sorta fooled her about his gender, and we know that they’re going to work together along the way at some point because of the larger threat that he’s going to have to clue her in about. It’s all easily read early on and it does play by the structure well and as you expect.
But it plays out in a rather exciting way since Death Gun, as he gets into the thick of things after a bit, has a certain malevolent presence that really does click. There are tricks to what he’s doing that makes it seem like he’s greater than the game in some ways and that adds a level of fear for the other players as they do begin to wonder about the whole getting killed in real life thing. But just watching it as the event turns into a fight between him and our two leads manages to really work very well because the human nature of Kirito and Sinon comes across wonderfully. We really don’t know much about Death Gun until everything is over and done with, so the focus is on these two instead. And each of them brings different demons to the table that Death Gun by his very existence is able to tap into, even without realizing what it is he’s doing because more than half of his reason is that he’s just nuts.
For Kirito, it’s delving into his time in SAO with the subjugation event that was done to put an end to Laughing Coffin. That was a difficult aspect of that storyline in general because of the nature of the game and the true death that existed there. Kirito killed only three people there and there were legitimate reasons for it, even knowing the end fate of them – if it was to be believed considering they didn’t truly know while in-game. But Kirito compartmentalized all of that because the goal was surviving and getting out of the game as well as eventually protecting his family that he gained in the game. Now, with Death Gun being a member of that Red Group and finding him here, it brings to the forefront the reality of what he did and how it continues to haunt him. It forces him to face his actions and what he’s done. While it may skim it to some degree, there are some very human moments for him throughout this even as he again compartmentalizes in order to protect Sinon from the true threat Death Gun represents.
Sinon’s story is one that can make or break the series for some viewers. Bringing on a new lead character, even just for an arc (a fourteen episode arc no less) is a dicey proposition if the background and story doesn’t click. Her background is one that I do like as it offers up something different for her motivations while also playing to how Kirito is in simply wanting to get stronger, though more so for her to survive her trauma. As it takes shape where she and Kirito share a kind of survivor’s remorse element, there are divergences but also the simplicity of Kirito being able to understand her. While I’m not particularly fond of the story device of her freezing up mid-fight and unable to fire because of the trauma, it is at least understandable to a degree. This allows for some real connection to happen between her and Kirito while they hide out for a bit and recover before the final fight. Sinon’s story is told well as a whole and that we get some really good closure in the real world is the icing on the cake. Kirito needs more of that real world closure, but with the scale of SAO and those he interacted with there, it’s still surprising that he knows as many as he does in real life now.
The eight episodes of this set tell a pretty good tale when you get down to it, though the last episode here is the 14.5 episode that’s essentially a recap episode with little/no new footage. I was very curious as to how GGO would play out after SAO and ALO and I came away from it really interested and really curious to see how others from the previous games might act within it. Shifting the focus to just Kirito and Sinon manages to be surprisingly cathartic though with what it’s really after here, providing some wonderful closure to events in Aincrad and allowing both characters to move forward in new ways. I’m naturally hopeful that the group grows here with Sinon and that we get more time with the others involved in the next arc as I really enjoy the cast as a whole, regardless of what world they interact in. This set just works really well for me and the first half of this season as a whole clicks in a great way with what they’re trying to accomplish. I need a new series for this every year.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Special Animation “Sword Art Offline II,” Japanese Audio Commentary, Textless Ending, Original Web Previews
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: September 22nd, 2015
Running Time: 200 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.