"With this I'm back in business, and my Hiatus is officially over."
Sword Art Online II is a story about the convergence of the virtual and real world, exploring and questioning our perceptions of current reality, of the meaning of life, of hope, of strength and of the courage to fight on! In my review of the first season of SAO, I stated that "Sword Art Online was the most argued show that exists and the most over hated anime of the recent decade." Considering what I've seen in this season now and the newest criticisms against it despite it correcting most of the weaknesses it had in it's Season 1, I still stand by what I said back then.
Much like it's Season 1, the story of SAO II is split up into separate arcs, each with a different tone and genre. These arcs are Phantom Bullet, Calibur, and Mother's Rosario. Two of the arcs continue the trend of showing how virtual reality affects reality, while the one in between is just a simple quest.
For the Phantom Bullet Arc, The story focused on perhaps the most controversial protagonist in all of anime, Kazuto Kirigaya, and a new character of this season, Shino Asada. It was about a year after the ALO incident and, yet again, another incident occurs that involves the virtual world that seems to affect the real world. This occurs in the new VRMMO called Gun Gale Online, an MMO created from The Seed mentioned in SAO S1.
Overall, GGO was a bit of a trade-off arc. On one hand, Kirito got more depth as a character and the story became pretty engaging with the logistics behind the GGO incident. But, On the other hand, the action got much more limited, some characters were STILL sidelined for the most part, and the episode before the ending of the arc came off as all kinds of disturbing. I've always loved SAO more for the story and characters, but a few of the final episodes of this arc left me with mixed feelings! That being said, it was engaging the whole way through, had much better character development, and was a HUGE step up from ALfheim.
For the Calibur Arc, I'll keep it short, it focused on the group of Kirito, Asuna, Klein, Lisbeth, Silica, Leafa, and Sinon on a quest to Jötunheimr. This arc wasn't nearly long enough to get me emotionally invested. But, It was nice seeing the other SAO survivors (Klein, Silica, Lisbeth specifically) get the spotlight for fighting, but, overall, the dungeon's setting was too bleak, and the story wasn't nearly as suspenseful as other Arc's.
For the Mother's Rosario Arc, it nearly matched up to the brilliance of Aincrad Arc. Asuna's character development was the main focus of this arc and just like Sinon in Gun Gale, another character was introduced in this arc, Yuuki Konno, a swords-woman that had earned the title of "Absolute Sword" for being the strongest player in ALfheim. It was pretty heartwarming with Yuuki and Asuna's interactions, but in the end it was unbearably tragic. But, The friendship formed between Yuuki and Asuna was beautiful. And, I won't spoil the ending, but it was very tragic and you'll most likely feel sad or relate to them if you have even a shred of empathy.
I loved how SAO II was more of a character-driven story. So, I have a lot to say on all the character and will start with Kirito. There was still growth to be had for him, he had to face his demons in the GGO arc and realize that the experiences he had in the original SAO are still with him. Everything did not simply end when that game was cleared. Those that survived still have their lives ahead of them and have to live with what they had to do during that difficult time. Also, There were novel reasons for a lot of what Kirito could do, but even still it felt a bit too much at times. Going into a gun based game like GGO I honestly wanted him to struggle way more than he did. There is a fine line between being too weak and too strong, but I do wish they found that line a bit more. But, Overall, Kirito is an interesting character to watch and one of the best protagonists.
Next up is, Asuna, while she had been weaker or relegated to the sidelines in previous arcs following the everyones' time in Aincrad, she is once again the center of the story with an interesting change story wise which gives her all the focus. Some show's can't let go off their protagonists for even a moment, but SAO II actually managed to do that. It wasn’t the longest arc, but this was a chance for Asuna to reclaim prominence. One of the most interesting facets of SAO initially was the exploration of the psychological effects on those stuck in the game, and Mother's Rosario Arc with Asuna continues this by exploring what those originally trapped in the game feel a significant amount of time later.
Also, We see Asuna struggling to balance her real life and her time in the online world which, despite having been escaped from earlier, she seems to continue to be drawn to. But the growth goes beyond that, and we see Asuna's life as the daughter of a wealthy family and all the expectations that go along with it. It's this development that really pushes the story forward during Mother's Rosario Arc.
Last up are the amazing new additions to the show, I'll start with Sinon, We get to meet her in a gun based MMO and she makes a strong impression from the start. But, it was her whole backstory that made me care more about her character. She really had gone through something traumatic and I could believe the struggles she was having dealing with it. How she tried to deal with her trauma wasn’t really rational, but I thought it was believable that you don’t always find the right solution to your problem right away. Sometimes you make some mistakes in trying to overcome something. I think she matched up well with Kirito since she had a strong personality. Though, even she did somewhat devolve into another background harem member once her story was told, but that story was a strong one in my view.
Now, Comes Yuuki or Zekken, she was probably the best character we got even if her arc was only 4 episodes long. Too much about this girl is filled with spoilers, but I can atleast say she was quite the strong character. So much of how she behaves is tied to her personal situation. This girl could very well be the strongest character in the series and has a pretty energetic personality to go along with that skill. The bond that developed between her and Asuna was something special. Both characters really had an impact on the other person’s life. There are just things that they would not have been able to accomplish by themselves that they could because of that friendship. In the end Yuuki was strong, fun, but also vulnerable. She never felt too perfect and her story had a realistic feel to it.
The animation and artwork was stellar yet again. A-1 Pictures returns to provide yet another visually solid-looking series. The character designs and world stand out as great as it can be expected. Also, during some of the early episodes, I was blown away at some of the details thrown in the world of GGO before it stepped into a more comfortable pacing in quality. SAO has been known for some emotionally charged battles that do well in conveying some intense moments, and they certainly repeat that here and there which remains solid throughout the series.
For the sound, the music was catchy and though I will say that SAO II had good music, the best moments really came when those initial SAO tracks were playing. Not really a knock against season 2, but when you have a really strong OST it is hard to surpass that. This season had a good variety in terms of settings so we got different kinds of action.
I'm a hardcore SAO fan and I really enjoyed it. I am actually glad that I decided to watch it. I got so many moments that were worth watching. If someone really enjoyed the first SAO season this will definitely live up to the expectations and is worth watching, you might not get the same enjoyment if you're looking for an action-oriented story though.
Overall, As most of the series, Sword Art Online II had its high and low notes. I’ll admit that the Excalibur quest & Mother Rosario's Arc started off a bit slow, but ended on a solid note for me. Normally, I wouldn’t care much for the characters, but spending the last few episodes fleshing out Yuuki and Asuna really drew a connection between these characters and myself. Aside from that, the music and animation were stellar yet again, and it was definitely a pleasure to watch. I would say it'd be a good idea to atleast give it a shot!
4 STAR ANIME.
"I feel like I need to say this before people comment. Please do not respond just to say that Sword Art Online is terrible or that because my opinion is different from yours that I am somehow 'misunderstanding' things. I am more than happy to discuss the positives and negatives with you, but I'm really not interested in arguing with people that haven't read the review. Thanks!"