Anime Spotlight: Sword Art Online II

Sword Art Online II is an anime based on a light novel series written by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by abec. The anime is produced by A-1 Pictures and is directed by Tomohiko Ito. The series aired on Japanese television from July 5-December 20, 2014. As of this writing, Aniplex of America holds the North American license for Sword Art Online II.

Kirito has returned to the real world to resume a normal life with his friends, but he’s called upon to help in a virtual reality game known as Gun Gale Online when a string of deaths occurs in connection with it. Kirito meets a player known as Sinon, and the two of them end up going up against “Death Gun,” the player behind the mysterious deaths. What the two of them discover is both shocking and terrifying.

Shino Asada, who goes by Sinon in Gun Gale Online, has issues to deal with, due to shooting and killing someone as a child when she and her mother had been at the post office at the time a criminal was holding it up for money. Since then, she suffers from PTSD and becomes violently ill whenever she sees a gun. Shino’s friend Kyoji Shinkawa was the one who convinced her to get involved with the game as a kind of immersion therapy.

After this storyline is resolved, Sword Art Online II sees Kirito and some of his friends learning about a legendary item being discovered in Alfheim Online, and they go on a quest to try to get it. But as they go on their quest, they discover there’s more at stake than just locating the item. There is the potential for the world of Alfheim Online to be destroyed.

The final story arc in the series sees Asuna’s mother trying to force her to leave the school she’s attending with Kirito, study under a tutor, and apply to an oriented high school. Asuna, of course, wants nothing to do with this, but her mother doesn’t seem to want to listen. Meanwhile, Asuna hears about a mysterious player in Alfheim Online who is taking on challengers. Asuna takes on this player, who turns out to be a girl named Yuuki. Even though Asuna doesn’t defeat Yuuki, the other girl is so impressed by Asuna’s skills that she asks Asuna to join her guild, the Sleeping Knights. This guild wants to defeat the Next Floor Boss with just one party to etch their names on the Monument of Swordsmen before disbanding their guild. Asuna works with them, and with some help from Kirito, they achieve their goal. But Asuna discovers there’s more to Yuuki and the other members of the guild than she realized.

Admittedly, the second and third episodes of Sword Art Online II can feel a little on the slow side, since they focus on the new game and on new character Sion. However, these episodes are needed to establish both Gun Gale Online and Sion’s character. Without getting the backstory for Sion that early on, it would be harder for the audience to understand why she acts the way she does. But once you make it past Episode Three, the remainder of the arc is interesting to watch. Episodes 13 and 14 are very dramatic and full of tension, especially with the revelation of who “Death Gun” is and the aftermath of learning this individual’s identity. I admit that I nearly cried at the end of Episode 14.

There is an Episode 14.5 that is titled “Debriefing.” It’s a recap episode that shows events that happened over the course of the first 14 episodes, and it’s narrated by Sion. Unfortunately, the way the recap was done it became rather jumpy as it went along. And to be honest, I didn’t understand the point of this clip show episode, because the audience had just made it through the previous 14 episodes. In addition, this recap really had nothing to do with leading into the next story arc.

The next arc in Sword Art Online II was rather short, and it was more on the lighthearted side than the Gun Gale Online story had been. While the potential for the destruction of an entire virtual world is a very serious thing, the story was told in such a way that the tone of these episodes didn’t have the same kind of tension that the first arc had. After watching Sword Art Online II, I’m glad this more lighthearted story was here to bridge the other two story arcs.

The final arc of Sword Art Online II is very deceptive at first. Even though Asuna is having her issues with her mother and starting to question her abilities as a gamer, what we see happening in-game seems to be rather normal. But after Asuna becomes involved with the Sleeping Knights and learns the truth about Yuuki and the other members, this storyline quickly becomes very serious and very emotional. I learned the hard way that when you watch Sword Art Online II, you don’t want to see the last three episodes all in one sitting due to how serious and how emotional they are. Seeing all three of them in one night ended up being an emotionally draining experience and I was crying at the end of Episode 24. These three episodes are good episodes, but it’s just a little much to watch all of them in one shot.

I give some serious props to the author of the light novels that served as the source material for Sword Art Online II, due to the inclusion of such elements as PTSD and having a character battling a serious and terminal disease. Characters’ emotional and physical states, along with the idea of immersion therapy with the virtual games, were a running theme in this series.

Sword Art Online II is a very worthy addition to the Sword Art Online anime. Even though the series can be a little slow to get going right at first, I believe that it has the potential to appeal to viewers who watched and enjoyed the first Sword Art Online series.

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