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.
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.
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.
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.*