Otaku USA Magazine
Sword Art Online II brings a redemptive arc home to Blu-ray

Sword Art Online is one of those series that’s been difficult to escape over the years, regardless of whether you actually watched it or not. I’ll admit I managed to avoid it for a while—even playing the Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment game on PS Vita before seeing a single episode—but one can only live on second-hand opinions for so long. It’s had its ups (the first 15 or so episodes), its downs (the miserable treatment of Asuna and the not-quite-but-still-gross sister love in the Aincrad arc), and plenty of in-betweens, but paying a personal visit to the world of Sword Art Online makes it easier to see why it’s been such a huge, enduring hit.

With the worlds of Sword Art Online and ALfheim Online taking over for the first 25 episodes, our attention turns to the gun-toting multiplayer action of Gun Gale Online in Sword Art Online II. Established fans have likely been riding the SAOII train since its July 2014 debut, but now it’s available in some handsome, deluxe Blu-ray box sets from Aniplex USA. If the character turns, or even just the overall design of ALfheim, pushed you away from the first series, consider this season a precision-aimed attempt to win you back.


While nothing could ever make our characters forget the horrific reality that was the first Sword Art Online massacre—with thousands dead as a result of one man’s insane virtual experiment, let’s call ‘em like we see ‘em—Sword Art Online II acts as something of a fresh start for both the cast and the audience. Yes, Kirito, Asuna, and the rest of their friends are still playing FullDive virtual reality MMOs, because some habits are hell to break, but they’re all rehabilitating in their own way at a school reserved for survivors of SAO. Thus, Kirito and Asuna can live happily ever after, while everyone else cringes at their wanton tendencies toward PDA on school grounds.

Things have changed, though. Asuna is still physically and mentally reeling from the torture she was subjected to in ALfheim Online. She basically served as someone’s love puppet while her body wasted away in a hospital, biding time until said sicko was finally able to marry her non-consenting vessel or finish developing the brain-augmenting tech that could convince her that she was actually enjoying all this. You know, whichever came first. While our group recuperates in more forgiving virtual worlds, countless other games—including some with various levels of shadiness behind them—have popped up as a result of the Seed planted at the end of the first season.

One such world is Gun Gale Online, a competitive multiplayer shooter with a currency system that converts to big bucks in the real world. Not only is this not entirely deemed ethical right from the get-go, but it makes competition even fiercer in the game’s major Bullet of Bullets tournament. It also could be one of the reasons that a mysterious, skull-masked player named Death Gun is going around dealing out sentences via very real murders. Yep, just when you thought the death games were over in the world of Sword Art Online, a new one rears its ugly head. Death Gun’s rampage is in its early stages, but is incredibly serious nonetheless. Players first take notice when he head-shots a top player by blasting a television displaying his interview … only this bullet actually manages to hit its target right through the screen. While the kill was committed in-game, a real-life corpse was discovered days later, with the time of death lining up perfectly with Death Gun’s killer shot.

With Kirito already having participated in an investigation into the Sword Art Online murders—he was the player who won the death game and liberated its surviving players, after all—he is naturally the one chosen to dive into the dusty-gray world of Gun Gale Online. Though he’s 99% sure it’s impossible for these in-game and real-world murders to be connected, especially in the manner described, it’s that 1% of lingering doubt that pushes him once more back into the fray of high-stakes gaming.

Kirito is, of course, still the ultimate male gamer power fantasy in Sword Art Online II. Over the course of the series he’s managed to get the girl, save the world, lose the girl, get the girl again, have every single other girl he comes across become attracted or attached to him in some form, including his sister, and so on.

When he does exhibit some kind of glaring flaw, it’s usually for the greater good. The earliest this happens is in the first series, when he acts cocky and dismissive of everyone around him. He’s a beta player and a cheater … a beater! He digs the term and the disdain, but only because he doesn’t want anyone else to get hurt because of his actions. Even his flaws are righteous! Women want to be with him, including his sort-of-sister; men want to be him, unless they’re totally jealous.

Fellow player Sinon’s thought upon her first defeat at Kirito’s hand says it all: “So powerful … This power of his is above and beyond the level of a VR game.” Yet still, there’s no reason he couldn’t have been the one in that big bird cage in the second arc.

Balancing things out in Sword Art Online II is the aforementioned Sinon, the hot-shot sniper who initially helps introduce Kirito to the world of Gun Gale Online because she mistakes his feminine avatar for the real deal. Once she finds out that he’s really a dude, she immediately regrets taking him shopping for equipment and letting her guard down. Sinon’s backstory—which involves a past tragedy that causes cripplingly traumatic reactions to the very notion of guns—is one of the best aspects of SAOII’s early episodes. It’s an example of how good Sword Art Online can be, and one of the first returns to form in this season that separates it from the narrative elements that lead it astray.

Since Kirito is an amazing player who can pick up pretty much any virtual game in a matter of minutes, it isn’t long before Death Gun takes notice. There’s a deeper connection, however, that links him to one of the survivors of SAO. Sword Art Online II begs the question: who is this mysterious villain, and what is the player-killing clan known as Laughing Coffin doing in Gun Gale Online? If your first guess is “killing players,” ding-ding! But the real conundrum is how these in-game deaths are becoming real-life homicides and, to bring us full circle, what it all has to do with Kirito.

Back to Reality

Sword Art Online isn’t Brainscan and Death Gun is no Trickster, but despite its ups and downs, it ends up being one of the more interesting “the game is actually real” stories out there, especially in anime. That’s important to note because there are a ton of these, and if you’re already a fan of this one then Aniplex’s pricy Limited Edition Blu-ray sets are worth grabbing. In addition to the physical extras—soundtrack, deluxe booklet, collectible Weiss Schwarz cards, and postcards—the sets pack in some nice on-disc bonuses. The audio commentary with some of the cast and staff is entertaining, providing a little insight into production and making the whole thing seem like it was really fun to create.

In a perfect world, Sword Art Online would have ended beautifully with Kirito limping out of that hospital at the end of the first arc, weakly calling out to Asuna. Since that’s not possible, though, Sword Art Online II will do nicely as amends for the episodes that followed.