Kirit’s life becomes even more enmeshed in the online world.
What They Say:
A year has passed since SAO was cleared. Summoned by Seijirou Kikuoka of the Virtual Division at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Kazuto (Kirito) learns of a series of bizarre murders linked to the popular VR game, Gun Gale Online (GGO). After being shot in-game by a player calling himself Death Gun, two prominent GGO players have mysteriously turned up dead in the real world. As Kazuto logs into GGO and starts investigating the mystery, he meets a female sniper named Sinon who wields a Hecate II rifle. Is she friend or foe? Kirito enters the virtual world once more for an all new adventure!
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 twenty-four episode series is spread out over seven discs as it moves between three to four episodes each as it binds together for arcs. 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. The detail is well handled with crisp lines where appropriate and no problems such as line noise or break up 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 looks quite good as we get a thick heavy chipboard box that holds the three cases inside. The front cover gives us a couple of our characters with the GOO logo to the right that gives it a very technical look that works well even with the more naturalistic colors with the green/grey. The back cover goes brighter with a focus on a different world and characters with more colorful designs themselves but also more obvious natural signs to it. It’s a nice contrast between the two game worlds without being incredibly blunt about it. The set comes with a sheet on the back that breaks down the premises, lists out the on-disc extras, and talks up the packaging itself. The set has a mini pin-up poster with some good artwork focusing on the main cast but mostly Asuna while the opposite side has the packaging covers from the original Japanese run.
The cases within the box are done with the clear types instead of blue and that works to its advantage. Each of them uses some of the really great Japanese artwork that’s got a lot of lighter colors to it with white backgrounds so that it wraps around to the back but also looks good on the front since there are no logos to be had htere. It’s got a really nice illustration feeling for a lot of it and there’s an interesting mix of simplicity and really nice colors that are a draw. The back covers all break down what discs are inside with what episodes while the reverse sides are all just flat gold for a background piece behind the discs.
Spread across the run, we get some solid extras for this series as we saw on the previous releases. The clean versions of the opening and closing sequences are here along with the respective web previews for the episodes. We also get a few 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 full run of the Sword Art Offline II piece 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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The popularity of the first season of Sword Art Online was something that could have just been left to the books and manga but it instead opted to keep trying to raise its game with the anime. That first season lead to a special, this second season, an anime feature film and the current two-season/four-cour project that’s underway. There aren’t a lot of projects that can really run with that and have the source material to pull it off with some spinoff material as well. I came into the first season just watching it without revieiwng it (though I eventually did) and it was a series that I won’t call the series a guilty pleasure. I do recognize its faults, but it’s a show that I just have a blast watching and simply enjoy for what it presents and the polished nature of it all. The second season takes all of that happened with its open expansion and attempts to really build on it
This series is one that’s broken up a bit in what it adapts several arcs, with the first fourteen episodes covering the fifth and sixth light novels known as the Phantom Bullet arc. What we get here is that it’s been a year since the end of events in Aincrad and the original game and the world has grown more populous in terms of the number of games like it out there thanks to the seed that Kirito launched. He’s continuing to readjust to the real world, going through the schooling and other parts of his life that others in the game in similar situations had to deal with, but he’s also bonded well with friends and family and he’s very close to Asuna, who is relegated to a minor role in this part of the show. We do see some simple dating material and just time spent together, as well as with their friends and family in the other game from the Extended Edition special, so there’s a good sense of continuity about it all and that time has passed without much in the way of real events going on to worry about.
All of that changes for Kirito with the arrival of Kikuoka back in his life. This ministry official is the one that walked him through events in the Extended Edition and got his life back on track to some degree, but he took a real interest in Kirito because he understood what happened in there. Kirito is pegged as a kind of super player in a way, though it’s not really quantified, but there’s a natural talent and gift that he has when it comes to these games. That’s what let him survive so well in Aincrad and to do what was needed in the other game to rescue Asuna. I don’t feel that it’s overplayed since he tends to be rather self deprecating about it and it’s not the real focus other than to show that he’s a step ahead and above everyone else. With events in another game called Gun Gale Online now bubbling to the surface, or at least the ministry’s view, Kikuoka has come to try and get Kirito to do a little bit of detective work for him.
What we discover is that within this game that’s played in numerous settings but with guns is that a man known as Death Gun has seemingly figured out a way to kill players in it in really creative ways with his gun. It’s not something that the general public knows nor those in the game, but the discovery of connected events has the ministry wanting to find out the reality of it – and likely the viability of using it as well as a weapon themselves. Death Gun has supposedly been involved in a few targeted killings and it’s noteworthy because this particular game is all about drawing in real pros to it because there’s a currency conversion factor to the real world, making it so that people can earn a real living by playing it. Kirito’s really not interested in dealing with any of this, but the hooks are there and he’s drawn in. And that forces him to convert his character for awhile and leave his friends, Asuna and Sugu in order to do it.
There are a few interesting aspects to this that unfolds along the way. The first is that in this game, his character gets a little more female looking as his hair is longer and his body shape changes slightly. The amusing part is that he gets hit on, looking at and gazed at a lot, which he finds really disconcerting. It only happens at first though so it’s not looking to make a statement about it, but it’s a welcome acknowledgment at least. The other is that as Kirito gets involved in trying to gain Death Gun’s attention, he starts to think back to his own time in Aincrad and what he did there. There’s a key moment where he realizes there may be some continuity to events there, but it’s the sudden reminder that he killed people for real in that game that comes back to haunt him. It’s done well with the emotion and tone of it and it helps to remind why Kirito plays the game as he does. Or rather, hasn’t truly played in awhile and has been goofing off with his friends. The only problem with this reminder is that it should have come sooner considering the news of what Death Gun is doing and his own experiences in the virtual world where all these people were trapped.
Because the series has largely exiled the familiar cast from the first season outside of a few really nicely done scenes here, Kirito gets to spend time with a new character. This comes in the form of Sinon, a rising ace of a sniper with some real tactical skill and understanding of the mechanics of the game. She provides the help to him in terms of understanding the game and how it works, though she only does this at first because she thinks Kirito’s a girl. Sinon’s story, or rather her real world person of Asada, is one that really works beautifully here in a tragic sense. Her motivation for playing the game comes from a real tragedy in the real world and she uses the game to try and conquer those issues with guns, violence and the impact it had on her life. We see her struggle within the game from time to time about it in these early episodes, but it’s also laid bare in the real world in both flashbacks and exchanges with her friend and others from her school that know her and torment her over it. There’s a lot of good things to explore with this and bringing up the topic of real world gun violence and what it impacts alongside a virtual game that basically glorifies guns helps to provide some weight to it.
After the fantasy worlds that we’ve had, I really do like that we get a very different world here. As Sinon says at one point, it’s a grimy and oil scented world where it’s dank and overcast. It’s a striking contrast to Aincrad and one that I really like seeing like that. Kirito obviously gets to master parts of the world easily when it comes to combat, localizing his skill set, but the visual design of it and the change-up from straightforward fantasy to any number of varied locations for fights to happen works well. Admittedly, I cringed a bit when the Bullet of Bullets 3 tournament came to the forefront, but it’s now a show trying to be a tournament show, but rather use it in brief overall to raise Kirito’s stature and, in the end, bring a new level to his relationship with Sinon. The use of these areas helps to push the story forward in a really good way overall.
The opening storyline 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.
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.
With the final arc of the series we get back to an area that’s been underserved. 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 a Viking send off 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 as a franchise has its detractors and its die-hard fans and I totally get that. There are plenty of flaws but there are a lot of things where it does it really right. The second series didn’t hold up as strong for me as the first as that was more cohesive and had a simpler goal to deal with. With this set, I do continue to really like the cast, the settings, and what it does with everyone in expanding everything with the new games/worlds that exist because of the actions taken in the first series. The multiple arcs covered in this set give us a good bit of variety to work with overall and it unfolds pretty well, though with the way the characters are moved about it can cause some frustrations. I think the quality of the production itself is just as strong as the first and Aniplex’s release of it here in a big complete set is absolutely welcome. It’s done up well with a clean encode, a good dub, some solid extras, and a great looking package that utilizes a lot of Japanese artwork. It paves the way for more to come and I’m excited for that as well..
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Special Animation “Sword Art Offline II,” Japanese Audio Commentary, Textless Openings, Textless Closings, 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: September 24th, 2019
Running Time: 590 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.