Sword Art Online II is Really Good So Far

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When Sword Art Online aired two years ago it left me disappointed and frustrated. As I’ve written before, the idea of focusing a story around video games and virtual reality is one that has fascinated me for a long time. Instead of using that idea to its strength, it merely seemed like an afterthought in Sword Art Online.

In episode after episode the game rules were smashed into an unrecognizable mess, making it feel less like a game world and more as a self-fulfilling fantasy world where anything could happen if it meant to spur our hero Kirito. Furthermore, the world was never very carefully crafted and the story felt haphazardly put together – jumping from side story to side story with no tangible relation to the overarching plot – along with characters with paper-thin personalities. It felt like the author Kawahara Reki never actually had played video games.

As such, the second season comes a bit of a surprise. After four enjoyable episodes in a row, I must admit that I really like Sword Art Online II at the moment. It has everything the previous season lacked so far and more. You can clearly see how Kawahara Reki has grown as a writer over the course of the series. In fact, you could already see part of his growth during the first season, as the second arc called “Alfheim Online” – despite the poorly laid out story progression and resolution – featured actual character development in the form of Kirito’s cousin Suguha.

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With Sword Art Online II there is a sense of self-confidence and self-awareness lingering after each episode.

The first episode serves more or less as an introduction episode, re-introducing us to the setting and the characters while hinting at what’s to come. Within the first few seconds we are shown Gun Gale Online, the game the second season will take place in, and an in-game debate regarding what seems to be a balance patch and how it will affect the upcoming tournament “Bullet of Bullets”.

Already here we can spot the growth, as the players are discussing matters in a smug manner while touching upon the technicalities and reaching the obvious conclusion: patches change things, deal with it. Add the fact that the debate viewers feel tricked for putting their stats into the wrong fields and you have a moment which feels awfully true to reality.

Another notable moment in the same episode is when Kirito discusses an in-game murder with his “employer” Seijirou at a well-renowned café. Throughout this really serious discussion about murdering players inside games there are some ladies in the background sporadically observing the two in dismay, giving some much-needed distance and perspective to a seemingly ridiculous topic including words such as “Death Gun”.

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What’s more, Kirito is actually quite uncomfortable during his meeting with Seijirou; everything from being called his in-game nickname “Kirito” rather than his real name, having to choose order from an expensive menu to being allowed to order another cake if he doesn’t barge out and leave. Not to mention how he is noticeably bothered by the idea of involving himself in this, as it all boils down to “Go get shot, Kirito” in his perspective.

The whole scene displays another side of Kirito we never really saw in the first season. It’s used to belittle Kirito as a character and show how even he can be a tad bit immature at times. Compare this to the first season where he was nearly perfect and did the correct thing in every possible situation to trigger some sort of reaction beneficial to him (for example, nibbling on Suguha’s fingers – while also showcasing his immaturity – was used to create a love interest rather than seeing his childishness).

This sort of change in writing is also very prominent in the following episodes. Especially the second, ditching Kirito altogether for a new character known in-game as Sinon, effortlessly fleshed out the whole world of Gun Gale Online in what on the surface is only an ambush. To make it even better it does all this subtly, putting the world-building into the dialogue and actual gunfights instead of info dumping in an unnatural manner.

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Sword Art Online II is so far the complete opposite of the first season. The world is carefully crafted and there are clear rules to follow, with the characters forcing themselves to adapt to the world rather than the opposite. The story may be simple, but it’s built up slowly and it took whole four episodes before Kirito even ventured into the game!

As for the characters, Sinon has her own backstory while Kirito is constantly being made fun of due to his own “perfectness”. Even what could possibly be the villain already has an actual motive as opposed to the previous season where they had literally none.

It’s entirely possible Sword Art Online II will end up bad, or at best a decent action series, despite of this. It still has the occasional questionable moments, such as a misused pseudo-philosophical chat about the difference between reality and games – one that in theory could be interesting – or unnecessary perverted titillation. Yet, everything else appeals to me.

I really like Sword Art Online II so far. Nothing will change that.

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17 thoughts on “Sword Art Online II is Really Good So Far

  1. Skullcruncher says:

    I totally agree with you! The first season of SAO felt rushed and would of benefitted greatly from a slower pacing. I’m so glad that SAO 2 is fixing all the issues I had with the first season. I hope they can keep this up.

    • jjpavo says:

      SAO I had unbearably slow pacing. Whole episodes in both halves could have been taken out and nothing of value would have been lost due to those episodes having no relevance to the overall plot or anyone’s character arc.

      • Marow says:

        One thing doesn’t really exclude the other, does it? Lots of irrelevant things during the Aincrad arc, but it doesn’t change the fact the pacing was all over the place. From one episode to another they had progressed to the end of the game, then all of a sudden there was love and so on.

    • Marow says:

      It seems like they managed to keep it up… for most part! The story became kinda lacklustre towards the end, it I found it to be an alright action story. This new arc doesn’t seem to be as good so far, though…

  2. Kai says:

    I haven’t started watching SAO 2 yet, but I think I will like it, because of… traps.

  3. Yo! Goku says:

    I agree with you in the sense of SAO did feel rushed. They should have spent more time developing the characters so we the audience could build a rapport with them. Awesome concept and I have always dreamed of a VRMMORPG. In my personal opinion I am not too much of a fan of GGO. True the story and characters are more developed, but its not to interesting. I will watch it because the overall story is cool. I just don’t really care for a girl with a gun phobia and Kirito’s femine look. Those aren’t my reasons for not being that captivated but it sure does add to my reasonings.

    • Marow says:

      I see. And agree, SAO should’ve taken its time. It’s especially weird considering how the author is currently rewriting parts of the first arc, meaning it’ll be meatier than before. Perhaps this will make it better?

  4. Yuki Yashiro says:

    The animation for SAO is quite amazing considering that a lot of work has to be done due to the places changing quite often. Though some of the character’s faces looks similar, their character designs are develop nicely but a bit more should be given to develop the back story of the characters. The scenery there is just amazing. I even used it as one of the models for my oil pastel painting.

  5. Roh says:

    Thanks for the post. I like your work.
    I think that SAO had huge potential to be like 9+/10 , the second half turned out mediocre and riddled with plot holes. It’s barely 7/10 for me.
    I also felt Kirito was quite immature in SAO , trying to be a “loner” , righteous and trying to do everything himself. Anyone with any RPG experience can say , how “Loner” profile is not helpful to level up.
    However , If this show is better than the last one with lesser flaws, I can give it a shot.
    I hope that the story has more depth than just crazy romance.

    • Marow says:

      Thanks!

      I’ve finished the Gun Gale Online arc now and it’s honestly alright. The final few episodes dragged and didn’t add much to the narrative – it was just meaningless repeating of what we already knew – and the climax reeked of what made the Alfheim Online arc bad, but overall it’s a decent story. If you just want to see that Sword Art Online actually can evolve I recommend it.

  6. WatchBetterAnime says:

    SAO is good? Ok that’s all what i need to read to never read something here again. Your Previews are a Joke, so back to Zaku.

    • Marow says:

      I dislike season one, but I quite liked the first half of the second season. Haven’t seen the other half yet, however. I don’t exactly see why this would be an issue.

  7. […] so much even a competent visual production cannot save it. Jump forward to two years later and I really dug what Sword Art Online II had to offer. It was a complete opposite from before and here we are […]

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s retarted that Kirito uses a sword I. GGO I mean it’s a “gun” game!!!

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