Sword Art Online II: What the first season wasn’t

Yes, I admit that I am late to the review-hype bandwagon. This was a Summer-Fall 2014 anime though I did take longer than that to finish it; also by taking breaks in the middle since I was watching it only as a continuation for the first season, which I felt was too overhyped. I was also curious – was the same formula going to be repeated, given the wildly popular first season? I figured that it wouldn’t be a real waste of time just to try and see how everything went, and true enough, I am glad to have stuck to the end in time to see the multifarious faces of the world of Sword Art Online.

Story:

Why is Klein still obsessed with 2D girls when he could have the pick of the 3D ones? … oh wait, they kind of belong to Kirito.

The first arc of the story kicks off in in the form of an online MMORPG, Gun Gale Online, set in a world unfamiliar to the fantasy themed Alfheim Online featuring swords and sorcery. GGO is, in contrast, a dark and gritty urban world where the primary mode of weaponry is the use of guns. As Kirito seeks to help the Ministry of Internal Affairs crack the case of the mysterious Death Gun who could apparently, murder the person behind the avatar at the same time he kills off the avatar in the game, his unwieldy maneuvering of this foreign land catches the eye of Sinon, a girl skilled at sniping. Together, they not only help to solve this mystery and apprehend the perpetrator of this serial virtual killing phenomenon, but they also discover the true meaning of strength along the way. In the next mini-arc, we return to the colourful world of Alfheim Online, where Kirito and friends (I really mean harem + the one odd guy Klein) seek out the sword of Excalibur, one of the most powerful weapons in the game. The catch is, the consequences behind the failing said quest could potentially drastically change the fate of Alfheim Online, serving as a motivating factor for Kirito’s team to acquire it with proper means and ‘save the world’ at the same time. Lastly, we finally have the Mother Rosario’s arc, primarily focusing on Asuna for once and her confrontation with her family as she befriends a girl, Yuuki, said to be the strongest (beating even Kirito!) swords(wo)man in Alfheim Online.

Thoughts:

Dem feels.

While I liked the world-building, adventure style of the first season, what particularly stood out to me here is the more in-depth exploration of themes of the impacts, both positive and negative, of technology on our lives. The blurring of lines between the virtual world and reality is a very real issue with the advancement of technology, though arguably still not commonplace currently. We have Sinon, a girl trying to ‘cure’ her past traumas where the sight of a gun has her breaking down and going into a nervous fit by turning to the online world. The realisation of how negative experiences, contrary to holding you back, has the potential to propel you forward, as in the case of both Kirito and Sinon, is also portrayed here. The philosophy that virtual reality is a mere extension of one’s own personality, making online experiences as real as real-life experiences, resounds throughout the series, especially with the beautiful, heart-wrenching tale of friendship between Asuna and Yuuki.

I am personally a big fan of the much toned down pacing. This is so even in the first arc where most viewers were still unable to view SAOII as a standalone and distinct work from the first season. For me, the fact that so little material was stretched out over thirteen episodes did give us time for much needed character development and exploration of the theme of overcoming one’s past. Precious moments like these were rushed out and, I daresay, were sought to be mitigated by the overpowering focus on romance that got the fans going in the first arc of the first season. Moreover, it was entirely unhelpful when the second arc negated all that carefully built up portrayal of Asuna.

Thankfully, the Mother Rosario’s arc restored my faith in the franchise by fleshing her out and letting us get to know the Asuna I know most people adored in season one arc one. I admit that I was never a huge fan of the Kirito x Asuna pairing for reasons unbeknownst to me (I just liked Sachi more >.< ). But. We got to see Asuna taking charge and leading a group for once instead of the damsel in distress role which she had been delegated to for the previous x number of arcs. We saw her confront her unsupportive family and fight for what she wants. Our heartstrings tugged at seeing her bond with a new group of friends and how that revelation of genuine and heartfelt friendship tied in with her personal struggles, enabling her to gain the strength to speak out and tell her mother what she really needs. Kudos also goes to avoiding the gradually tiresome, age old formula of Kirito as the main spotlight who saves yet another girl in distress so that he could add her to his growing harem. 

Conclusion:

There are of course, those who still insist that season 1 was a better season if only because of we got to see Kirito improving his abilities by leaps and bounds, overpowering his enemies, the blossoming romance between Kirito and Asuna, or even by the more detailed exploration of the vibrant and lush worlds of Sword Art and Alfheim Online. However, what season 1 lacked, Season 2 did indeed take care on improving, doing all this without really compromising the gorgeous world-building (I mean, we did have that Exaclibur arc after all). Still, I do strongly believe that it still boils down to personal preferences and what one seeks in his/her viewing experience, with lovers of the adrenaline rush of good visuals and living in a close-to-reality virtual MMORPG world preferring the first season, as opposed to those that prioritise pacing and character development who would find the second season more to their liking. I am an advocate for the second camp, though.

So, which season do you guys prefer? Please feel free to leave your thoughts!

*All images belong to their respective owners and do not belong to me.*

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19 thoughts on “Sword Art Online II: What the first season wasn’t

  1. Good overview. The second season did a solid job with its individual arcs, the Rosario arc being a highlight. The problem was the lack transition between them. It made the preceding events feel insignificant and made the overall season feel a little choppy. In all, the season was alright for SAO standards. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You make a good point! 🙂 I agree that there is definitely arguably close to no transition here between the arcs, so the story didn’t feel as ‘natural’ a series of progression as compared to season 1. Nevertheless, to me, the pros still outweighed the cons 🙂

      Thank you for commenting and reading! 😀

      Like

  2. I actually enjoyed both seasons but like you I liked that the 2nd season had more character development and we got to see more of Asuna. The only thing I didn’t like about season 2 was the Excalibur arc. I know people say that it should be there to slow it down before jumping into the Mother Rosario arc but I guess it because 1st arc was what I assumed the entire series was going to be. Now the Mother Rosario arc though really pulled at my heart strings and by the end I couldn’t hold back the tears and ended up crying. Also the music didn’t help haha. But awesome review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like to think of SAO in general as a series of arcs rather than as 2 individual seasons or works. I’ll admit, I enjoyed SAO one a lot – way more than I should have. But was it overhyped? Ridiculously so. The second set of stories brought so much more to the already-colorful palate of gaming anime, but it presented itself in a less bragging tone. Rather than focusing all of our energy on Kirito, pairing him with all the ladies, then dropping them behind, SAO II spoils each of the characters in their own unique ways. In this sequel of SAO arcs, it didn’t feel like a one night stand. Excellent review! It’s awesome to see another big fan of II!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true! I understand though, everyone has encountered certain anime series where we can’t explain why we enjoy it so much than we would have thought from an objective point of view; the converse applies as well 🙂

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting 😀 its great to see somebody think the same way as well 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Tbh, S2 is seriously overhyped. GGO is pretty awesome as GUNZZZZZZ, excellent graphics. Excalibur arc is totally pointless and Mother Rosario is pretty nice but the feels is like half the power of S1. But if they will to animate Alicization, I would love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Exaclibur arc perhaps was more of a throwback to the s1 MMORPG feel because it was more of an in-game story. Mother Rosario is definitely more nuanced, the feels from it are quite different from those you’d get from s1 I would say 🙂
      I don’t know what Alicization is about, but I think there’s likely to be a season 3, hopefully anyway. :3

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think the Excalibur arc was meant to bring back the MMORPG feel of season 1; perhaps to cater to the fans who were probably thrown off by how different s2 is from s1. Hence it felt a little out of place, and yes, could technically be considered as ‘filler’ sandwiched between the more substantive arcs of GGO and Mother Rosario.
      Yep Sinon is one of my favourite characters too here! 🙂

      Like

  5. I’m a big fan of SAO in general, and Asuna very quickly became my favourite female character in the series (when I watched the first season). I loved her for being a female who can rely on herself, letting the male do very little if anything at all and this at the right time, for being proud and strong – both physically and emotionally – , for knowing how to deal and cope with obstacles…that was in the first season. I hate what they made out of her in the second one. They ruined my image of her. She remains one of my favourite anime females nonetheless, but I wish they hadn’t done that to her. I also didn’t like how ‘disconnected’ the whole second season felt….I still like SAO (and this includes both seasons) but the second season didn’t impress me that much. I did like Sinon, though, quite a bit 😀

    Thank you for a great post! I enjoyed reading your points and opinions! (◍•ᴗ•◍)❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought they really relegated Asuna to the role of a damsel in distress merely waiting to be rescued in the second half of season 1. Of course in the first part of s2 she wasn’t really doing much either, just praying for Kirito … which was why I wasn’t particularly impressed until Mother’s Rosario. I like Sinon too 🙂
      Thank you for the compliment and for commenting! Glad you enjoyed it 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, true that…I’d forgotten about her in the first season, good point there! However, she gets points for trying to escape, under the circumstances, I think she did what she could about her situation.

        And you’re welcome! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Im glad I came across this review of SAO season II for it has lent me a sound interpretation of its development. I was really digging the GGO arc since it managed to bring back the whole life-or-death situation, and that adds much weight to the series I think. But I got kinda turned of by the Excalibur arc, not because of the material per se, but because I couldn’t see what it was meant to accomplish, especially after the dramatic GGO ending. It wasn’t terrible, cause I kinda go for that swords-and-dungeons stuff, but, as you guys have been saying, it just felt sorta disconnected. And what happened to Sinon after that? She kinda just became the supporting sniper girl?
    Nevertheless, the Mother Rosario arc was indeed heavy, and I enjoyed seeing how the writers placed such emotion and depth into the the concept of “gaming” and how important it is/was to some people.
    Seeing Asuna take center stage again was exciting as well, for she is such a boss that I grew tired of seeing her on the sidelines. Don’t get me wrong, Kirito is my boy, but I like seeing the duo shine together, complimenting each other’s strengths like they did in the first arc of season I, for that is what made me fall for the show in the first place.

    I appreciate the space to talk about such a controversial yet adored show,
    Great review,
    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this series 🙂 There wasn’t any arc that was totally useless, though admittedly Excalibur really felt out of place. That could have been improved on relatively easily (by coming up with a transition of sorts) and there wouldn’t have been too many gripes about it. I also disliked the way Sinon got relegated to the sidelines, as if that was the formula that SAOII had to follow despite the fact that she had been given a substantial amount of character development that could afford to break out of that formula. Though, thankfully we can sort of reserve that conclusion about the series as a whole due to Mother Rosario and how the series managed to prove that it can be so much better than following that generic formula. I am glad you found a place to talk about this, and thank you for your insightful comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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