Link start! Sword Art Online holds a special place in my heart as the first anime I reviewed for YouthfulLaughter. I had originally reviewed SAO in preparation for SAO II, but it took a while to actually watch SAO II. SAO II improves on SAO in most ways imaginable. It takes an enjoyable, yet shallow series and breathes life into its world and characters. If you’re a fan of SAO at all, SAO II is definitely worth your time. If you have no interest in SAO, SAO II might change your mind. Though. MIGHT is the operative word here.
Gun Gale Online, or GGO, is the first arc of Sword Art Online II. I believe GGO is a solid two steps forward for the series. First, GGO introduces a great new character, Sinon, who brings a couple of things to SAO. She becomes a lot like Asuna was in Aincrad, a strong female heroine that meshes well with the protagonist, Kirito. More importantly, this new character brings a lot of baggage; her back story is full of trauma. While it’s somewhat of a cheap way to do it, her background adds dimension to her character in a series not known for its character development. The writing also attempts to give character to the one-dimensional “cool guy” that is Kirito. His past from Sword Art Online comes back to haunt him as he struggles to cope with the guilt of having murdered people in that game. It’s an interesting take but short-lived. Hopefully, attempts at making Kirito an actual character rather than a male power-fantasy are revisited.
The action definitely takes a hit in GGO, as action sequences are repeated numerous times and fights are short and uninteresting. Watching Kirito slice high-velocity bullets and winning a ranged battle with a sword is cool the first time around, but it gets old pretty fast. We know Kirito is going to win, but the way he does so is boring as he simply brute-forces his way to victory. There’s no cunning strategies or cool tactics, he just charges in and slices people.
In short, GGO is the first attempt at molding SAO from a gaming action anime to a more drama oriented one, and it does a pretty good job.
The calm before the storm, the Caliber Arc is only a couple episodes long. Kirito returns to Alfheim Online and goes on a quest to obtain the legendary sword, Excalibur. This part is the most game-like part of Sword Art Online yet, as it’s essentially Kirito and his friends playing ALO. It’s a refreshing palette cleanser after the drama of GGO, but it’s cursory and unimportant. The most important thing this arc does is solidify Sinon as part of the gang.
To be frank, Mother’s Rosario annoyed me at first. Here I wanted to watch Sword Art Online because I wanted to see action, maximum shonen animes. Instead, the arc starts off with in real life at home drama with Asuna. If the Mother’s Rosario arc continued to focus on this, it would have been half of what it actually became. However, a saving grace elevated this arc to legendary levels, Yuuki.
Konno Yuuki is also known as Zekkan, the Absolute Sword. A PVP master who has never lost a match (even against Kirito, the overpowered black swordsman protagonist). It is her that sets the stage for Mother’s Rosario and introduces Asuna to her guild, the Sleeping Knights.
Unfortunately, a lot of Mother’s Rosario cannot be discussed without spoiling a lot of things. In short, by removing Kirito from the headlight and giving him cameo appearances, Sword Art Online kind of makes him cool again. Honestly, I was kind of sick of Kirito for a while. Taking him out of the equation was a nice breather.
Don’t get me wrong, however. The usual action of Sword Art Online is here. I say it’s a little better than Gun Gale Online’s action scenes, but they are unfortunately brief. I can definitely tell Sword Art Online is changing as a series, and I think it’s a good thing. Because we see less of Kirito, he honestly seems cooler than usual; we had too much of him for a while now so we were too used him. In addition, since we see more of other characters like Asuna, they have a chance to flourish as their own respective characters, not just a part of Kirito’s harem.
Furthermore, unlike other arcs, Mother’s Rosario transitions in between the real world and the virtual world. Whereas Gun Gale Online was a step towards a drama-genre, Mother’s Rosario immerses itself in it. Tensions run high. Heart strings are pulled. And character relationship development is at an all time high. It’s been a while since I shed tears because of an anime, and Sword Art Online is the last anime I would have expected to cry about characters.
From what it seems, Sword Art Online is going to be with us for still quite a while. With more chapters in the original light novel to cover, Sword Art Online III is probably going to be a thing. From what I’ve seen in season 2, Sword Art Online as a whole seems to be taking a direction I whole-heartedly enjoy. I guess I can’t just think of Sword Art Online as a “fun dumb anime to watch whenever” anymore. Not after Mother’s Rosario at least. By the way “Mother’s Rosario” is an actual entity and I literally screamed when it was revealed what the title item was.
Call me crazy, but whereas I enjoyed season 1, season 2 is what makes me a SAO fan. The writing improves drastically as the series evolves far outside its original genre.
It took me far too long to write this review, I’ll be honest. But Sword Art Online II deserves a spot on my list of favorite series now. Alright, season 3, don’t disappoint me.