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Sword Art Online II: Part 1 UK DVD Anime Review

10 min read

Sword Art Online II UK DVD CoverConsidering how popular the series is, it does surprise you with how dark the themes and turns it takes….

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 in both Japanese with subs and English dub.

The Review:
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 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 the old SAO crew in their fairy-esque forms, there is a good mix where there was nothing noticeable in terms of video quality being flawed.

There was no packaging for this test release.

As only one disc, the menu is standard and very basic – it has an image of feminine style Kirito screaming like he is rushing across the ground (still image) on a dark background – an episode select of 8-14 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.

The only extras are a clean ending, but also episode 14.5 which is basically a recap episode of the first 14 episodes but narrated by Sinon – nothing major, just from her point of view compared to mostly Kiritos throughout the season.

However, if you purchase the Blu-Ray edition, there is a collector’s booklet and cover.

Sword Art Online II UK Packaging
Blu-ray edition packaging

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The way these releases are coming harkens to when I first got into anime and it was a few episodes to a disc. With the special editions on the Blu-Ray being something unique for Anime Ltd, it is an interesting risk playing this way, albeit one with a series which is quite well known and popular. The end of what is essentially the first arc of these season has some familiarity to it but the new character replacing Asuna is a worthwhile addition, in some cases perhaps a better character than her as well, giving it a new feel despite a lot of non-surprises via Kirito this season.

With the BoB tournament starting, the key plot is figuring out who Death Gun is, but the underlying nature is how Sinon and Kirito are going to handle it – Sinon still has some issues with Kirito, but those are more of annoyance than mistrust, and this comes into play after a player is mysteriously ‘disconnected’ to the Death Gun player in similar circumstances. Kirito watches and waits, but when he realises that there are deaths happening in unison, he goes all out with Sinons’ help. With knowledge Death Gun is someone from back in SAO in the Laughing Coffin group (and the series of episodes does go in decent length/flashback material showcasing Kirito’s history with them), Kirito slowly begins to explain his history of who he is/was throughout, combined with Sinon recognising the gun Death Gun uses to kill his victims as the same one she used when she killed the robber back when she was a kid.

The two work together, and in a well animated chase sequence, Kirito helps her pull the trigger to temporarily disable Death Gun and the two hide, and confess they have both killed in the past – Sinon with her child trauma whilst Kirito being part of the SAO situation and killing players in the game equalled to death in real life. The differences between the two (Sinon having the weight of killing in a society that loathes guns seeing her as an outcast despite saving lives, Kirito does accept the weight of them more to atone for his actions). Kirito however works out that this is different to SAO and the deaths of the players have to be done by someone in real life…bringing the scary notion that someone is in Sinons’ apartment ready to kill her considering he used the real life gun on her yet the game gun on Kirito – this pretty much gives the viewer a strong hunch on one person involved with Death Gun given the hints of a particular character in the previous arc, but with other characters also getting killed, there are multiple people involved with this plot. This also ties in with ALO with Asuna’s group watching and realising something is wrong, so Asuna and Yui do a bit of research of their own….

It leads to the battle between Death Gun and Kirito/Sinon, and Kirito figuring out who he is – a minor weak point is the person who is Death Gun is no-one hugely memorable from the previous series, if it wasn’t for the flashbacks you wouldn’t remember him – it is more the aftermath which is the big thing, with Sinon/Kirito working together to defeat Death Gun, and the two reveal their real names with promises to meet each other. This then becomes quite a big thing when Shino returns to the real world, and a certain someone coincidentally visits her and becomes quite creepy with advances towards her…

The reveal wasn’t that much of a surprise that Kyoji was someone involved with Death Gun, and the fact it kind of repeats the previous arc in Season 1 with Alfheim and someone trying to sexually assault someone, believing them they are theirs, and of course, Kazuto comes in to save the day just about – it did feel a bit like replaying the old storyline. Granted, the dark twist is now more expected with SAO, but it still was obvious once we learned how the people in real life were dying. However, the aftermath is at least very good with Shino looking set to continue to be part of Kazuto’s life and group. Whilst still afraid of guns, she is able to fight back against her tormentors from previously, and Kazuto brings her along first to find out more about the other Death Gun conspirators, and then introduces her to Asuna, suggesting she is the next member of their group. The nicest thing is the reveal that one of the post office workers who were pregnant when Shino shot the robber, also visits her and thanks her for saving her life – with the focus that Shino can now move on with her life, and lessen her fears a little.

Sword Art Online was one of those series that I heard a lot of hubbub about but never felt I’d be as into it – when watching it, it was good but perhaps not as big a pedestal as others. This was due to perhaps a combination of the lead characters, whilst enjoyable, felt too much in god mode or the much weaker second half which had less engaging characters and a formerly strong heroine turning into a damsel in distress. SAO II however seems to be heading in a much stronger direction – mainly due to how good Sinon/Shino is as a female protagonist.

Whilst Asuna was a good character, she didn’t have as many issues in comparison to Sinon (at least until when she was unconscious in the SAO world and the whole creepy fiancé deal) in the start of her respective arc. Sinon displays some great back-story where she is traumatized by a legit fear (guns) combined the fact she is in a country where being taught guns are bad and people wielding them are bad no matter what the circumstance – combined being a young girl actually killing someone and her thoughts are completely understandable. Yet despite this, she is still a tough character who meeting Kirito – whilst again Kirito seems too strong, she is an accepting partner in crime, and is ultimately the key that helps Kirito defeat Death Gun. Like Asuna, she has a lot of fun moments with Kirito both as a deadpan snarker and someone who wonders how she puts up with him, combined with the fact Kirito is very feminine looking and is easily mistaken for a girl – Sinon jokes that it might stop people flirting with her if they hang out together and seem like a couple – however the interesting part is that they work together without actually doing anything hinting at romance – the dreaded potential love triangle never rears its head, even when Shino is introduced to Asuna later. Whether Shino knew or not isn’t really said, but Kirito is obviously faithful, and the two have one of the better platonic relationships of boy/girl have seen in a while.

Sinon also has a good resolution – the hints of one of her friends being behind Death Gun, whilst obvious and downright creepy when we get to the near assault scene (and granted, was a bit too coincidental especially with Kazuto getting there), the resolution of her still being a nice girl yet whilst not completely free from her fear, is able to handle it against her former bullies. Whilst the near rape scene seemed like a strong retread of last season and she seemed a bit too forgiving of her attacker especially as he could have killed her, the end with her joining Kazuto/Kirito’s team definitely suggests she will be involved for the second half, and her joining Asuna is definitely going to be interesting. The weak parts are definitely the retread with Kazuto seemingly saving the day (albeit Shino definitely helps) both in real life, and in the game, but for the most part, the main strong point is Shino’s development from her fear of guns, with the perfect endings when the mother and daughter thank her for saving their lives.

The only other real weak thing I gathered from this was ironically, Death Gun himself. Not so much Death Gun as a villain, as he was genuinely chilling – the idea of someone able to kill someone in a game that they die in real life is terrifying, and the way it is broken down on how it was done is actually pretty good – it was more that the reveal of who he was is very anti-climatic, as in no-one knew who he was, so therefore was no huge twist. It was established it was someone of a particular group in SAO, and because there were quite a few minions, none of them held any significance as a character compared to Hayato from the first season, so it didn’t really hold anything big. The fights with Death Gun on the other hand were excellent, recapturing a lot of the tension and intelligence the first season battles did, but with a bit more with the steampunk theme – the motorcycle rides, the various fighters used (as brief as he was and just there to showcase Death Guns MO, Pale Rider was quite unique) and the gunplay, which was something new albeit with Kirito still keeping his sword just to keep in more comfortable, was a very different take to the online universe compared to the fantasy and fairy elements of the previous season.

What this also does well is sets up nicely for the second half. I mentioned that Shino/Kazuto are very platonic, but with her now meeting Asuna, will this cause any problems in their relationship? Also Shino isn’t completely cured so to speak of her fears, but I am sure the new group can help her out of her fears – are they going into new games? What is the new arc gonna do? There’s a lot of questions to ask, and very few answers, but at the very least, it has set up nicely with this character joining the group, and I am looking forward to see what comes about.

In Summary:
SAO: Season 2 has one particular good thing about it making it a worthy sequel – a memorable character in Shino/Sinon. Strong, yet weak – daring yet agitated, snarky yet shy, she goes through a whole range of words, emotions and feelings yet comes out swimming and despite a few retreads and clichés, she and Kazuto do good in this arc. Some tender moments, great battles and animation, an emotional rollercoaster, Sword Art Online II is setting up for a magical team of awesome – however considering the second half of the previous season was considerably weaker, I still hold some weary thoughts. For now though, very recommended.

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

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: December 28th, 2015
MSRP: £19.99
Running Time: 200 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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