What They Say:
News is spreading among the players of ALO that the legendary Holy Sword Excalibur has been discovered. This was actually the very sword that Kirito and Leafa found in the underground realm of Jotunheim several months ago when they saved Tonky. Hearing the news, they decide to acquire Excalibur before the other players. Summoning Asuna, Klein, Sinon, and the others, they set off for the dungeon in Jotunheim for an exciting new mission!
Contains episodes 15-17 plus original soundtrack CD volume 2, a 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 three episodes in this set are naturally kept to one disc. 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 previous sets 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 white look that has on the back panel has the Excalibur sword in gold foil that really stands out well. The front panel goes for a look at the arc in detail here with the range of characters involved and it has a distinctive look with the thinness of the characters yet it has its own feel about it that just grabs you as well. It’s done with a softer set of colors made all the more striking by the whites and blues in the background. 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 disc of the series and the other the bonus CD. The cover artwork for the main show gives us an appealing image that has the core group together hanging out in the forest with all of them showing off their personalities well while not going with traditional/standard anime character designs or coloring. The soundtrack cover goes a little more colorful and traditional with the core group of this arc spread out cross it with some darker colors used to it that give it a bit more weight. The series back cover provides a look at the weapons used by the group here for their adventure set against a white background which comes across looking neat while the soundtrack mostly just breaks down all the tracks…
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 main disc 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.
After the darker couple of volumes we’ve had so far, this one goes for a light touch with an illustration style approach for the character artwork. With a white and gray hex background, that blends nicely into the character artwork along the right of the main group as they all hang out on or alongside a tree. It has a lot of cool spring colors that gives it some nice pop without being vibrant or overdone. 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 opening and ending sequences are here along with the respective web previews for the episodes. We also get a new commentary track 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.
The structure of the releases here continues to be an understandable sore point with many fans in that we get discs that are broken up by arcs when most of us just want half season or full season sets depending on the episode count. It’s definitely problematic for many, but I also do admit to finding that just focusing on certain arcs like this helps to remind why each individual piece is important in itself as well as to the whole. This set brings us just three episodes (and a reduced price) while still playing to the high quality in terms of presentation and packaging. It’s essentially a side story yet it’s one that I find utterly charming and quite reminiscent of the things from the first series that made me fall in love with it.
After all the events from the Phantom Bullet arc, everyone takes the opportunity to reconnect and just have fun going on an adventure in ALO. It’s important to remember how big of a deal this still is for Kirito as when we first met him he was that solo player, leveling away, and not really making any friends outside of a minor thing with Klein. But after being forced into it, he’s grown into this virtual and real world family that has sprung up which includes his sister. So when they discover that a special quest has opened up in the game that they have the ability to get to through a little luck, they all head off to partake in it. This brings us the familiar group from the end of SAO but also brings in Sinon, which is a nice touch in expanding the family overall. Sadly, outside of a couple of minor moments of being helpful and cool, she doesn’t get to do much here in terms of blending into the family. She’s simply there though the same can be said about a couple of the supporting members here.
With it focusing on the attempt to gain the Excalibur sword, which has its own significant going back to SAO, what we’re treated to is a really fun romp through Jotunheim in order to get it. This means dealing with a number of opponents that are very much a part of this map with Frost Giants and the like, but it just has fun with the Norse mythology in general. I’ve largely forgotten all the things I learned over the years until something like a show or a movie triggers it back, so it was fun to go through this incarnation of it, especially having been aligned more with the Marvel Comics version through the movies the last few years. These are ideas and characters that have seen adaptation into anime before, but here we go for a straightforward RPG approach that fits the Sword Art Online model perfectly. There are challenges, there are villains, and there are traps.
The appeal of it all, amid just seeing these characters engaged in a quest for fun that doesn’t involve copious amounts of laughter or general silliness, is the execution of it. A lot of the draw for the first series was the fantasy elements being so beautifully animated with both backgrounds and action sequences. That’s essentially continuing on here, and much needed after the bleak and depressing GGO world with its gunmetal and smell that it gave off in its look. It was wonderfully animated and design, but there’s a different kind of appealing richness and design here simply because it’s not the norm whereas GGO is. So getting to see Kirito doing his badass work with his blades, the team supporting and taking the lead in cycles, and some of the camaraderie and humor that comes with it simply means it all clicks perfectly within the framework of an enjoyable quest of grand scale yet still personal.
Sword Art Online II takes a detour here with a much needed post-arc break with something fun. There are neat little moments as we see more AI coming into the worlds and the nod to the fact that virtual worlds can really self-destruct based on the way that the core SAO game was written, which was used to create all these other worlds. The storyline here really does just boil down to being a fun piece of work that’s really well animated and simply enjoyable to watch with the cast assembled. It may not be deep, but it takes us back to the original arc in a way that the ALO and GGO world’s haven’t been able to and that’s just welcome to have a taste of. Aniplex, of course, continues to put out a strong looking release from top to bottom and in terms of presentation and quality it’s top notch once again.
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: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: November 17th, 2015
Running Time: 75 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.