Sword Art Online was the first anime I ever reviewed on this blog. At the end of that review, I said that hopefully the second season would make up for the first’s shortcomings. Today, I’m going to revisit that world and review Sword Art Online II.
The Story: It’s been one year since Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya escaped the hell called Sword Art Online, a game in which avatar deaths translated to actual deaths, claiming the lives of thousands. Since then, other Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online (VRMMO) games have been appearing, some becoming quite lucrative, attracting pros and creating competitive tournaments. But for Kirito, he has tried to put the past behind him – until he is approached by Seijirou Kikouka, a member of Japan’s self defense force and the Sword Art Online Victim’s Rescue Force.
In the illustrious and competitive Gun Gale Online, rumors have been circulating about a man in a ragged black cloak calling himself “Death Gun.” His appearance in-game has coincided with actual deaths. And thus Kazuto must become Kirito once again and dive into the world of Gun Gale Online.
In my review of SAO, I criticized its lack of innovation; potentially interesting concepts were glossed over. I’m proud to say that SAO II, for the most part, fixes those issues. The first half is based on a really thought-provoking underlying concept, something that SAO never did well. The second half had a bit of a rough start, but ultimately ended well, shifting focus from one main character to another. Again, something new, and it worked very well; the end of SAO II was brilliant, though they did try to reshift focus to the original main at the end, which wasn’t the best move, but can be overlooked.
All things considered, SAO II‘s storytelling has been redone from season one, resulting in a much better plot.
The cast of characters hasn’t changed from SAO, with one exception. How they’re treated, however, is different. Despite previous main characters falling to secondary character status, the mains are what’s important here.
Kazuto “Kirito” Kirigaya: Kirito regains his title as main character for SAO II. For the first half. Many people have complained about his famous amounts of plot armor (that is, he can’t die for the sake of the plot), but I don’t see that as a problem towards his character. He’s featured for the first half, and is shunted aside in the second. This decision is actually a great choice, as Kirito mainly served in the first half to develop the other main character, and moving aside in the second allows yet another main character to develop.
Asuna Yuuki: I had my complaints about Asuna in SAO. She wasn’t a great character back then. But when this show happened, my respect for Asuna skyrocketed. She really needed this second season. Asuna’s the featured main in the second half of the show and she’s excellent. Normally, I’d have a problem with shifting the focus too fast or neglecting other characters like Shino (see below), but her development was so good that it erased those problems.
Shino’s the new kid on the block- the new main girl in the first half of the show. She’s also developed very nicely partly through Kirito, though not as well as Asuna was. I can’t say Shino was especially good, but she was a well-developed character in the first half, before falling into secondary character status in the second.
Final Verdict: I had high hopes for SAO II. And it delivered a much-more interesting and enjoyable piece of work. I wouldn’t say it redeemed the franchise, but I think that if you heard bad things about SAO, it’s now worth watching
Final Grade: B+/A-