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Sword Art Online II Set 4 Limited Edition UK Blu-ray Anime Review

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Sword Art Online II Episode 19*deep breath*

YUKI!! <3 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, will Asuna succeed where so many have failed?

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 of 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 animation really comes into its own with…certain sad scenes *sob* so 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, however, there is special edition packaging in the Blu-Ray set.

As only one disc, the menu is standard and very basic – the menu shows stills of the show flowing throughout whilst the opening plays (a lot of Blu-Rays show clips – this is just stills) in the background – episode select of 20-24 is on the screen so no menu episode select or play all function (if you select episode 20 it basically plays all), set up and extras. No issues with selections and time delays from your selection, or returning to the main menu, just pretty basic.

We get the standard extras of the clean opening and two endings, and the original web previews which are pretty much the new episode previews which aren’t on the episodes surprisingly.

The big and very fun extra is what is known as Sword Art OFFLINE – there are two episodes (Part 8 and Part 9) which are very fun omake-like segments of what is going on during the episodes and the world they are in. It is initially hosted by Asuna as an announcer (the first one has her talk about her in-game nickname, Berserk Healer, something she isn’t happy about) and then we do a three way commentary with Asuna, Kirito, and Yuuki, with a couple of information segments hosted by Yui, and a Q&A by Yuuki. These range to Asuna wanting to change her nickname – with Yuuki giving her nice names, and Kirito giving her…not so nice ones, with a lot of comedy in between (poor Kirito suffers a lot as they joke he has no friends, combined with the relationship between Yuuki and Asuna being romantic two-girl friendship, he really suffers ^^) – even characters who aren’t in it much make him suffer (Sinon) but we do get information about certain scenes, reminders of other characters (Klein, you are in big trouble…) but it is mostly comedy (Asuna’s excellent cooking is offset by the ingredients she uses, Asuna’s mom e-mails them when they talk how scary she is, Yui getting upset when they forget to add her to the team, etc) – and trust me, after watching this disc, you will need the laughs…

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sword Art Online has been a crazy rollercoaster in terms of arcs and the quality of the arcs. Some have been superb, and some have been…well not so. Part of the reason is usually because of the characters – when the focus has been on certain ones (Suguha) and off others (Asuna) it sometimes suffers. One of my biggest issues has always been Kirito is usually always the hero even when paired with the interesting characters (like Sinon) and he overshadows everything, and because whilst he can be interesting, at times he feels very generic and you wish something or someone else could take over.

This arc? It’s like they listened to my moans, made me so happy…and then crushed me like a paper cup. And in a good way. How is that possible?

Enter Yuuki.

Sword Art Online II Episode 20The arc started in the previous disc and we met the Absolute Sword/Zekken, who is named Yuuki, and it was Asuna, not Kirito, who she takes a firm interest in (which she does actually explain later in the episodes why she wasn’t interested in Kirito as a partner despite his strength, it is actually smart and rather sad foreshadowing of what we later learn of Yuuki), Yuuki takes Asuna to her group, the Sleeping Knights – all of them are not heavily focused but there is enough of them to make them enjoyable (Siune, in particular, gets enough development that she becomes quite an important character by the end) with their quirks and energy – Yuuki basically asks Asuna to become the last member of their party so they can try and defeat the next Floor Boss with just one party – something that is usually needed for a group of several parties. Asuna is surprised why they want to do this but Siune and Yuuki basically explain they want their name to be immortalized on the Monument of Swordsmen, as gaming immortality, as they say, they need to do it before spring, as they are ‘going to be separated’.

Cut to Yuuki looking nervously at her cup of tea, and the hint is there, there is something more to this and they don’t want to tell Asuna – this plays a big part of this arc and it is only going to be worse…

Asuna becomes the star this arc, not just with her part with the Sleeping Knights (and her adorable friendship with Yuuki, seriously, it is so sweet) but the fact she has clashes with her mother, who is a non-gamer, wants her in a new school away from Kazuto, basically everything she doesn’t want – Asuna is upset but Yuuki later is the one that tells her to go for it and be strong, something she later will do in the real and gaming world. For now, she hides her weakness from Kazuto/Kirito and joins the Sleeping Knights where they sense a few people hiding in the shadows – they seem to leave the guys alone but Asuna realizes after they are defeated by the boss that they were just there to spy on them so others can claim it. However, knowing they need a lot of people, they immediately rush back before the spies can bring all their reserves. They appear to be too late and after refusing to let them try again, Yuuki decides to take it into her own hands. She kicks a whole lot of butt, but then reinforcements come in. But they also have a special reinforcement…Kirito.

Sword Art Online II Episode 21This marks the only time I liked that Kirito was the savior because he is NOT the central focus. He basically holds back the reinforcement army so the guys can go face the boss as Kirito knows this is important to Asuna, and the Sleeping Knights get their glory and celebrate in Asuna’s in-game cabin. Two things happen of significance – 1) Yuuki accidentally calls Asuna sister twice and 2) Asuna asks to join the Sleeping Knights – which brings unpleasant reactions for the rest. At first, Asuna thinks it is because of her but it clearly isn’t…and when the sis thing is brought up after taking a picture of the monument with their names on, Yuuki suddenly begins to cry and then logs out. And 3 days later, no-one knows what has happened so Asuna speaks to Siune…

And basically this is where I pretty much sobbed like a baby for a bit – this episode was close to the level of Clannad for me (and the final episode as well) – obviously major spoilers ahead but it is hard to talk about it without the big reveal – basically the reason why the Sleeping Knights had to try and get their names immortalized before spring is because all the members of the group have some sort of illness or disease, and they feel they won’t live till then. And poor Yuuki (also her real name) is the worst of all – a sufferer of AIDS to the point that Kazuto finds out where she is and some technology being used of the FullDive nature. Asuna meets Yuuki’s doctor who explains how the device can be used in medical care – we learn of Yuuki’s history, her family (including her elder sister and how she reminded her of Asuna) how she contracted the disease and…

…um, sorry, tearing up again…

…basically Yuuki has been there for 3 years and never returned to the real world, hence ALO is somewhere where she could live. It leads to one of the saddest and heart-warming moments when Asuna and Yuuki have a heart to heart – and then Yuuki expresses her wish to go back to school. Asuna then has a plan…

Thanks to Kazuto, Asuna is able to use a communication probe attached to her shoulder so Yuuki can go with her to school, take part in the lectures and make friends. She also sees her old home and how her family reminds Asuna she needs to be forceful with her mother, leading to another tearjerker/heart-warming moment when Asuna asks her mother to log into ALO and she sees the visions of her parent’s home similar to what just happened with Yuuki. Asuna reveals her desires here which actually allow her mother to support her, in a rare bonding moment between the two.

Sword Art Online II Episode 24But from that, leads to the biggest tearjerker of all.

It was inevitable but you really hoped it wasn’t, but Asuna gets a message saying Yuuki is dying – she rushes over to the hospital, holds her hand and for one last time they return to the virtual world. In quite possibly my favourite moment of the entire series (and one of my favourite in modern anime), they return to the battle scene where Asuna was recruited, Yuuki gives Asuna her unique sword skill, the members of the Sleeping Knights, Kirito’s group and about a 1000 other players including ones she had faced in the boss battle all arrive to pay their respects for the greatest player ever lived who took everything cheerily, always smiled despite her situation, and kicked butt like no other (there is an actual battle in the previous episode which answers the question who would win between Kirito and Yuuki – Yuuki wins on health but if there had been more time it is suggested Kirito may win…). If that wasn’t enough, we get Yuuki’s real funeral where Asuna meets An Shiun, the real life persona of Siune, who actually is improving health wise (almost as a gift from Yuuki) and how the technology is helping other patients now – with the final reveal that the designs were from the doctor Rinko…who previously took care of Akihko Kayaba, SAO’s creator.

Cliffhanger for the sequel.

Well, you can probably tell from this review that this arc is one of my favorites. It is only 5 episodes long (6 if you include the previous arc) but it got everything nearly perfect. The focus isn’t on Kirito at all (he is barely in it and only does one saving moment, and even then it immediately cuts to the Sleeping Knights kicking butt) and finally brings Asuna back into the fray. It also focuses on pretty much all of Asuna’s positive points (her cheery side and strategic mind – her skills and tactics in the boss fight are what drives them through) combined with some good character development in terms of her issues with her mother. People are afraid to tell their loved ones what they want when it isn’t what they want, and with some encouragement from Yuuki she manages to get through to her mother (in her own way) which allows her to finally be with Kazuto, albeit still needing to study hard but at least she has a bit more freedom.

And it isn’t like Kirito is forgotten – he actually has his moments helping Asuna but not in the same way as the end of Season 1 – he stops some reinforcements, he helps with the technology to get Yuuki into school, and he learns that the tech is Akihaba’s setting up some of his own ambitions and ideas, and of course setting up nicely for a sequel. It is a shame most of the cast are pretty much relegated to the side (the lack of Sinon, in particular, was disappointing considering how important she was in the first half) but to be fair, there was a very good reason for this.

Because Yuuki. I rarely do meme like sayings, but let’s face it. Yuuki is love. Yuuki is life.

Sword Art Online II Episode 19

She is only in 6 episodes and may have become one of my favorite characters of all time. She could have easily fallen into a Mary Sue type character that everyone loves…and everyone DOES love her, but it isn’t just generic storytelling – her personality combined with a kick ass style makes her popular on the game boards and with her crew, but her tragic illness, back-story and will to survive to be with her friends, makes her even more likeable – especially as you know it isn’t going to end well, and you will yourself and try to pray that it will be like your typical series that they do get better…and kudos to Sword Art Online to not go through that route. SAO has done dark stuff before but usually, they felt a bit tacked on – this was different. It was told well (despite the short time this arc is they actually give the back-story a lot of development, even the nervous looks in the party when talking about why they have to do the boss battle before spring or why Asuna can’t join them gives you the edge that something is up) and built up that you knew it was inevitable, whilst putting him some nice moments before it hits you like a pick-up truck.

And yes, it was one of the saddest things in anime when a character that is only in for a short time makes THAT much of an impact on you. She is fun, witty, tough in the online world, but it is the person she wanted to be and never got the chance to because of the AIDS virus. Because of her, technology has evolved to help others, yet she is always in the mind of the players and doctors who knew her, hence her huge impact on the series for me. The relationship between Asuna and Yuuki was just…let’s just say I had trouble remembering despite 40+ episodes that the main couple was Kirito and Asuna, because Yuuki and Asuna had such a great relationship it was borderline romantic.

In terms of the actual story, it is a different arc and probably in terms of plot development and battles, not so high on the SAO meter. In terms of character development, pushing something potentially for the future of the series, and creating a wonderful character you won’t forget ever, this is my favorite arc of SAO and when the inevitable sequel happens, it is going to be INCREDIBLY tough to beat it…

And now I need a hanky…

In Summary:
SAO: Part 4 should be called SAO: The Yuuki-Show, and in the most positive way you could. It is all about Yuuki and Asuna, and whilst it could have been overloading, it instead tells Yuuki’s story in both the fun times (wanting to go to school, beating the boss, having food at Asuna’s cabin) and the sad ones (the reality of her real life, her back-story, and of course, the finale), making you fall in love with the character even more. Asuna also benefits as we see what she was originally capable of after several seasons being used mostly as a damsel in distress or just Kirito’s love interest and because Kirito isn’t so heavily involved it makes the story so much better and more touching focusing on Asuna and Yuuki. The lack of other characters is a little off (especially Sinon) but Yuuki makes up for that in spades. Best SAO arc so far.

Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Special Animation – Sword Art Offline II – Parts 8 and 9, Original Web Previews, Textless Opening, Textless Closings

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

Released By: Anime Ltd
Release Date: June 27th, 2016
MSRP: £19.99
Running Time: 288 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

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

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