by AJ Adejare
Months after the events of Sword Art Online and rescuing Asuna from Alfheim Online, Kirito is coming back to a normal life. He still enjoys playing Alfheim and his budding relationship with Asuna. However, in the background some mysterious deaths keep happening in a new Virtual MMMO called Gun Gala Online. An avatar by the name Death Gun declares a person’s death by shooting them, only for the person to die in real life, just like in Sword Art Online. Tasked with taking on the challenge by the Japanese government, Kirito must work to find out who’s behind these incidents and put a stop to it.
Sword Art Online has a serviceable plot. The series stays true to its about Kirito’s quest to beat the games he entries. As we see him get deeper into the games, things aren’t as they seem and we’re treated to Kirito doing work to resolve these happenings. However, there are some issues in the story that hinder it from being better. Its disappointed they went with route of obsessive boy and assault. While people may shrug it off, it almost feels like a scarily depressing trope for SAO in that, if a girl is a strong warrior, they will, almost in all instances get depowered for no reason and face a sense of assault. In this case, Sinon’s friend, takes up the role of the assaulter. The nuance for assault feels left out of the cold as they pursed this particular story aspect and in it, hurts the overall story integrity.
The plot, with these caveats are still interesting. Learning the ins and out of Gun Gala seems well worth investing as they make the mechanics feel interesting. Having Kirito advance through the series with the occasional hijinx proves as solid entertainment. We also get to learn more of the roles of characters past and present as the story progresses satisfying most Sword Art Online fans. With that said, as with past parts of the series, the story will not break new ground, but its not meant to, it’s about the characters. In that regards, SAO II delivers with the introduction of Sinon.
Sinon’s character arc proves one of the best aspects of Sword Art Online to date. Forced into having to kill a robber for her protection put Asada Shino in a traumatic state. She loses friends but gains bullies. She becomes distraught at the thought of seeing any sight of a gun real or fake, at least in the real world. On Gun Gala Online she escapes these trauma as Sinon, the best sniper around. There can be lots of analysis coming from her through all aspects and yet, from a standpoint of plot she makes a strong case as to how SAO II can develop characters. Her coming to her own is amazing as we start seeing a person work through her trauma and overcome her fears to become a better person. We see her work through he trauma by playing the game and even attempting to look at guns. As the story progresses, she becomes more confident to take on these emotional obsticals. When Death Gun shows the Type 54 “Black Star” she becomes paralyzed by her fear, but with Kirito’s help she overcomes these fears to help out in taking out Death Gun. The small glitch of her needing rescuing in the end does hurt a bit but not enough to truly determent her growth. It all caps off for her in the end as she learns to come to peace with her actions and her reward for doing so. This arc proves more interesting than the game itself and even Kirito’s development.
Unfortunately, Kirito’s development pales in comparison. In an opportunity time to characterize Kirito and make him more human, he seems anything but. Learning about Kirito’s killing shocks people, the the portrayal still makes him come off as perfect. He did kill for self defense, but his suppression and occasional pangs don’t do much to give a sense of survivors’ guild, the complete opposite of Sinon. Maybe that’s why when the story focuses more of Kirito, you get a sense of him being a blander James Bond, but when it drifts away from him, it becomes a more gripping tale.
Another issue is the handling of past characters. It’s a shame that while Kirito is going to help out with the Gun Gala Online situation, everyone else shifts to a minor support role. It seems almost counter intuitive for Kirito to not use them to help out and yet that’s how a lot of the story played out. It covered a lot of the contrivances that make the plot progress, but at the same time, its noticeable and hampers the development of characters as well.
The action on the other hand is where SAO does well. From the sword fighting, to the gun play, a lot of the action feels great throughout this series. Even the CG for the bullets feels smooth when done in the series. The fight scenes feel like a septal where each blow means something to the other opponent most of the time. A great addition to the series, strategy seemed to improve the action and make the movements of Kirito more deliberate and in turn exciting.
While the voice acting for the series maintained its excellence. Michelle Ruff in particular did a spectacular job. She breathed life into Sinon, making her story feel more personal and intimate. While people may feel skeptical of the voice itself at first, the adjustment is quick and decidedly cemented for Ruff’s Sinon. Another great tibit was the reveal of Death Gun. In the Japanese audio, they held back the reveal of Death Gun until later, and they followed the same aspect to the letter. The voice actor for Death Gun, Ben Diskin, did a great job of making him mysterious as well as haunting. At times there was a sense of dread and fear whenever you heard Diskin‘s Death Gun appear.
Sword Art Online II is almost there for anime works in terms of fulfilling its potential. With interesting female lead in Sinon as well as the voice acting, it will keep people that are interesting in seeing a decent plot watching and entertained for the bit. It still needs to make Kirito develop and make him human, and needs to break away from just standard male fantasy fullness to make it better. But, from the past season, it made strides in improving a lot of issues that plagued it in the second half of season one. SAO II needs to level up a bit before truly hitting its story and character stride, but it did well in taking down a boss with some spare health. That’s Kirito’s battle style, that’s the story’s style and we can’t help but applaud for how it handled itself.
English Audio: 7.5 / 10