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Old 2017-08-27, 02:19   Link #1
Impossibly Childlike
Join Date: Feb 2014
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Sword Art Online II

ĎRight here, I canít tell you what Iím thinking and what I feel. I want you to see my world!í

SAO was a one trick pony. Its death game premise burdened the already heavy task of climbing Castle Aincradís 100 floors. But the illusion of the unconquerable castle would often break, as the anime proper would skip floors at the storyís convenience. Halfway through, the show lost the sense of scale it needed to cover for what the characters lacked. In many ways, we saw their world, but not their feelings. SAO was a lukewarm experience.

Which makes me proud to say SAO II is actually quite good.

A year after the SAO incident, Kirito is assigned to investigate a series of real life deaths linked to the videogame Gun Gale Online, or GGO. By playing GGO, Kirito hopes to directly contact the prime suspect, Death Gun, and discover the truth behind these deaths. Let it be said now that, much like SAO, SAO II is more of an alternate world fantasy than a reflection of videogames. There are inconsistencies in the game mechanics abound that would make videogame purists cringe. Then again, if youíve seen the first season, thereís nothing here you havenít seen before.

Except for the things we havenít seen before. Itís a lot, and itís mostly for the better. The pacing is now steady and believable, instead of skipping multiple events at a time or spending a lot of time on one event. In turn, Death Gunís dominating presence in the GGO storyline is unmitigated, while the Motherís Rosario story arc is steeped in nostalgia. Unfortunately, the three episode mini saga of Excalibur is little more than SAO IIís last love letter to its harem fans without care for telling a good story. But the crack left by the Sword in the Stone is barely a dent to its characters.

And itís a good thing too, because what SAO II lacks in scale more than makes up for in its characters. Kirito especially has improved a lot. Gone are the days where his only real challenges were ones where strength alone wasnít enough. Now heís both Ďmentallyí examined and physically tested, especially during GGO. He is a much more rounded character for it, but unfortunately this character arc doesnít go the extra mile. The source of his inner anguish also feels like a rewrite of SAO.

Co starring with Kirito in GGO is Sinon. Her quiet casualness in real life masks a silent strength in the game, but thereís no moment where her real self and game self clash to make her feel like a different character. Itís two identities created by a single incident in her past, with the events of GGO bleeding them together and forcing her to confront her fears. It is a slow burning, punishing journey that thankfully does not fully solve her problems even at the end. The story recognizes how weakness needs to be overcome one small step at a time, and the time with Sinon is time well spent.

Unfortunately, Sinonís development isnít the only thing SAO II likes to show off. To be sure, the fight scenes and music are still as slick as they ever were (I freaking love Tomatsu Harukaís ĎCourageí), while the GGO setting is lively and distinct despite the brown and grey everywhere. From the shrub forest encroaching the river to the mesh of an abandoned metropolis and old west town, SAO II is the envy of first person shooter games everywhere. Itís just too bad the visuals also show off Sinonís backside a bit too much. Which is odd, because the last story arc, Motherís Rosario, doesnít have anything like this.

Well, whatever.

If the Alfheim story is what took away Asunaís integrity from the Aincrad arc, Motherís Rosario puts this woman back in form with a vengeance. Sheís faced with the reality of what two years lost means in real life, while forging the friendship of a lifetime with someone in the game world. Asuna doesnít develop in this story in the traditional sense, but she doesnít need to. Sheís smart enough to know why some people are acting the way they do with her, while her congeniality was always a part of her. What Asuna needed were characters to bounce off of, and the Motherís Rosario provides just that.

In particular are the two characters this story introduces. One is estranged to Asuna to play the role of antagonist but never a villain. She is frighteningly believable in what she says, and could definitely hit close to home for a lot of viewers. The other character is one half of the most believable relationship in the entire series. The development between them is silly, sweet, smooth, and not once does the feeling between Asuna and this new character ever feel romantic. Their relationship flawlessly glides across the tightrope called Ďintimately platonicí thatís so easy to fall off from.

Talk about refreshing.

On top of all the surface improvements from SAO, SAO II is thematically unified without being heavy handed. From Sinonís reason for playing GGO, to Death Gunís motive for terrorizing others, to anotherís gung-ho liveliness in the game, SAO II is more about the power of online identity than an alternate world fantasy adventure. For better or worse, people change who they are or show their true colors online. And SAO II builds this naturally to the point where the show never loses its narrative breath.

The mark of a good story is it wonít build itself around a theme, but that the theme builds itself around the story. For SAO II to understand this despite having blundered so much in its first season on top of its own improvements, honestly makes me wonder: is this seriously the same series that left me so conflicted? THIS is SAO?

And then I looked again.

This is SAO II.
Hellooo~Nobody thinks they're cuter than others
unless they're conceited
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Old 2017-08-30, 12:14   Link #2
Dragon King
Join Date: Jul 2014
Location: Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia
Age: 31
Have you read the LNs? If you haven't, please do. The translation is still ongoing despite the series being Licensed. It also goes past where the anime is (if Season 2 ends at Mother's Rosario (I've only watched Season 1, so I don't know)).

I'm glad that Season 2 is good, though. If it can make people like SAO more, that's great. But I really hope that people who haven't picked up the LN will do so. It's a waste to not read a good LN series.
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