What They Say:
Hearing rumors about an undefeated player known as Zekken, Asuna decides to mount a challenge. Zekken has been seeking opponents to duel for an ultra-fast 11-hit combo original sword skill. Not a single challenger has been successful so far. Asuna comes very close and is barely defeated. To her surprise, Zekken asks Asuna to join the guild called Sleeping Knights. What is Zekken’s real intention?
Contains episodes 18-24, plus bonus SAO Radio -USA- CD #2, 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 seven episodes in this set are spread across two discs with three on the first and four on the second. 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 Zekken symbol I believe done up 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, focusing on Asuna and her new friends, 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 whole thing just looks so visually striking that I love it. 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 main cast that populates this event in a posing mode that’s a bit busy with the background elements and the color. The soundtrack cover goes a little more colorful and traditional Asuna and Yuuki in swordplay mode against the white background broken up with purple streaks. 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 plus an illustration style one. 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 had early on, this one goes for a light touch with the character artwork from the case that has Yuuki and Asuna together. While their posing is a bit awkward, particularly Yuuki, it does have its appeal with the color tone and being set against the soft white background and tied to the purple of the navigation itself. 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 several 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 second season of Sword Art Online draws to a close with this release as we get the final seven episodes. Aniplex’s release of the season works in that it broke out the arcs well enough and while that has its pluses and minuses to it, I’ll admit that when it comes to this storyline it definitely helps to slice it out and take it as its own work. Part of what I always find interesting in looking at shows is how the viewers background can really change your perception of a show. I doubt that I’d be looking at this the same way I would have when I was in my twenties. That’s not a right/wrong thing, just a way we perceive things. As a parent, I found myself really invested in the three character storylines that run through this with Asuna as the central focus.
Asuna hasn’t fared too well this season for the most part and while I really liked her and Kirito’s relationship in the first season, I was glad to see that they didn’t really make that a big focus here. There’s no jealousies, concerns or other problematic material. When they’re together, they have fun and enjoy each other – real and virtual world alike. They’re both struggling with things that happened in SAO and ALO and it’s best to not discount the kind of impact those events would truly have, especially in the recovery phase when you realize everything you knew was two years out of date and all the people you were friends with, even superficially, are very different people now. So that the two of them and others have bonded in the way they have is fairly standard survivors material, just not made blunt and constant as it’s not meant to be the focus. But it is a layer of what’s going on and important to consider.
With the arc title of Mother’s Rosario, the show puts Asuna in a place where she ends up through a little nudging from Kirito to take on a character named Zekken in battle. Zekken has quite a reputation and Kirito is looking to get a feel for her through Asuna because she represents a different kind of deep dive player, something that he’s turning his focus on as he’s discovering his path for technology and psychology in a sense. That plays in the background to give Kirito some growth and he makes welcome contributions along the way, but this is fully Asuna’s story. When she faces off against Zekken, the two of them have quite the fun and engaging battle – one that Asuna loses but ends up making a friend with. As it turns out, Zekken is actually a young woman named Yuuki Konno who has been looking for a special player to help her.
She and a group of five others are known as the Sleepless Knights and they’re looking to clear a level in the New Aincrad levels that have opened up. The group is breaking up in the spring, giving clue that they may be school students who will be going separate ways, and this is their chance to do something big and memorable before it all ends. With Asuna understanding the importance of friends, having had none for so long, she dives deep with them on this journey and really becomes good friends with them in game and works with them to achieve their goal. It’s one that helps her along the way as well as the other subplots play out. It serves well, in a general sense, to provide the action component for the arc and I thoroughly enjoyed that part of it because the visual design and choreography of the series continually wins me over.
What makes all of this more profound, and spoiler heavy, is when Asuna learns who Yuuki is in real life. Yuuki’s avoidance of her after winning the prize is something that really gets to her as she thought she made a good friend and that leads her to discovering that Yuuki is actually in a hospital. It’s a disquieting bit overall as it delves into the fact that Yuuki was born with HIV and struggled until things went horribly wrong in the fourth grade. At that point she ended up in an experimental full sensory virtual gear piece which numbers the pain of her body but allows her to do things in the gaming worlds. There’s a lot of tragedy in Yuuki’s life that’s talked about and it all serves to really make you feel for her in a big way. And I found that it worked, far too well, with the way Asuna connects with her and the various aspects that unfolds. Part of that is my parental side of it as well, but it’s just so well played, not overly dramatic or overblown, that it seeps into you as each discovery is made.
The thing as a whole, especially built upon what Asuna and Yuuki get to do with each other in trying to find a way for Yuuki to live out her final days in a good way, well, it just put me into tears when I saw it unfold, both through the events themselves and those final moments in the virtual world. Simply, the way they paid their respects to her after all that had happened was similar to many fantasy style send offs in some ways, but it had the power of the virtual world alignments behind it and it was a fairly powerful sequence. For Yuuki and for Asuna, which just made it doubly so. Death scenes in general often aren’t done that well and tend to not resonate, particularly in anime for me since they’re really not done all that often anymore, but this one just worked because of how well everything was established.
The final aspect of this arc that worked well for me was the interaction between Asuna and her mother. We knew Asuna didn’t have a great home life, but things are now even more strained as she wants the world for her daughter and doesn’t believe the schooling she’s getting with the other survivors befits someone of her intelligence and status. It’s a familiar piece, particularly with her practically forcing Asuna to move to another school, but it works in some very good elements about the strain that exists between them that went to a whole other level after the SAO incident. What struck me the most, again as a parent, is just how disconnected she is from her daughter’s life and interests and belittles it all. It is a sadly all too common aspect of many parents, but it’s just heart wrenching in that she’s not able to take the problems she has and to try and understand her and work with her to find a path that can work so both are happy. They may not be able to be happy, but there’s no effort. Just blunt force in do this on her mother’s part. While it does end a little too tidy for my tastes, this subplot running through things is given greater importance and meaning when it runs in parallel to what we see with Yuuki and how tragic her family life was and how just the brief time Asuna spent with her ends up having such an impact on her own life and relationships. It’s good stuff and while not subtle it’s not overplayed either.
Sword Art Online has its detractors and its die-hard fans. It’s a show that I’ll fully admit I fanboy over to some degree because it hits a certain appeal factor that I don’t get elsewhere and it’s backed up with some great visuals. I continue to really like the cast, the settings, and what it does with everyone in expanding everything. This arc of the season is the one that, surprisingly, will likely be the most memorable for me simply because it was the strongest emotional storyline of the season. The first season had a lot riding on it with all the character deaths and the fear that was put into it, something that was definitely absent in this season. But in doing so, when real death does enter once again as it does here in this arc, it makes a profound impact. I’ve liked Asuna a lot over both seasons, but it’s this storyline that really cemented for me just how much. A solid season overall with a great ending arc.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Special Animation “Sword Art Offline II,” Japanese Audio Commentary, Textless Opening and 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: January 19th, 2016
Running Time: 175 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.