The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Sword Art Online II

Title: Sword Art Online II
Genre: Action
Company: A-1 Pictures
Format: 24 episodes
Dates: 5 Jul 2014 – 20 Dec 2014

Synopsis: Gun Gale Online (usually referred to as GGO) is perhaps the most popular VRMMO in near-future Japan. The game has a large professional scene, and players are generally very competitive. During an in-game interview with the top GGO player, a mysterious man fires his handgun at an in-game screen, somehow killing him in the physical plane. Kirigaya Kazuto, SAO survivor and seasoned gamer, is asked by Japanese law enforcement to create a GGO account and investigate the killing; he complies.

The Highlights
The cafe scenes: Extremely numerous, excessively long, and incredibly boring.
The female characters: Basically a club of young women who fell in love with Kirito and were entirely ignored, but continue to follow him around anyway.
The premise: A crime against the intellect of man.

There’s nothing duller than watching someone else’s power fantasy. Indeed there may be someone who enjoys watching a hilariously overpowered, absurdly bland teenager continuously impress everyone, pick up every woman he comes in contact with, and always save the day. That person is, however, not me nor anyone I know. Already embarrassing is that fact that after two full series, the teenager in question — Kirito — has had next to no development and has no depth of any kind. That alone is a disastrous mistake, but add in the progressively more imbecilic premises and plot twists, and a fairly useless cast of side characters, and your show is basically guaranteed to be a goddamn disaster. I mean to tell you that the premise of SAO II, of the Gun Gale Online arc specifically, is the single most diabolically doltish instance of poor writing and puerility I’ve ever seen.

What is this premise, you may ask? What could possibly be so offensive to the intellect? Well, you asked for it, so here goes: Rather than send an actual investigator, the Japanese government sends a teenager into the online virtual-reality game, Gun Gale Online, to investigate rumors that a man is killing people in real life from within the game. You didn’t misread that, just take a second to let it sink in. There are a vast myriad of things wrong with this, some minor, most major, and all obvious to an extent such that they need not be specified. With that said, let us proceed to the less obvious aspects of the series.

Yuki Kajiura‘s soundtrack, while somewhat decent (she seems incapable of making anything overtly terrible), is certainly near the bottom of the pile when it comes to her many works. In fact, Kajiura‘s near-perfect track record is somewhat spoiled by both SAO and SAO II. The animation is usually above average and looks fairly good, but like many shows SAO II seems to suffer from a mismanaged budget. Many of the scenes are incredibly still for very long periods of time; a not so subtle way of cutting costs. Chief among the issues this creates is a huge amount of info-dumping. There are several cafe scenes (one of the most basic filmographic no-noes) which consist solely of two or more characters spouting exposition for upwards of eight minutes. It’s incredibly boring and borderline insulting, as if to say the audience can’t comprehend a plot as simple and idiotic as this one. Maybe — and that’s a fairly large maybe — if the characters having these conversations were likable or interesting, these info-dumps would be at least somewhat excusable. That is, however, not the case in the slightest; the characters of SAO II are unbelievably dull and archetypal.

None of these flaws are the worst part of the show, however. Not the insulting amount of exposition, not the fairly mediocre soundtrack, not the awful characters, not even the premise in all its magnificent idiocy. The worst thing about SAO II is how it lies to the viewer, offering false promises, giving hope and then crushing it. I won’t give them away, so as not to spoil the show for any prospective viewers, but there are three points in the series where an interesting story could have been had. Points where, if the right thing had been done by the writer, some characters could have been very compelling, where the plot could have been made vastly more interesting. But the right thing was not done, and the characters remained as bland as the story. Outwardly SAO II is an insert-self-here power fantasy for the young and foolish, but at its heart it is a tragic tale of grand potential being smothered with a pillow and shot in the forehead by lack of effort, and blinding incompetence.

Be that as it may, the show isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen, not by a long shot. Many aspects were above average or merely mediocre, rather than aggressively terrible. There was admittedly some small entertainment value as well, but overall the show was exactly as I expected it to be; mundane, puerile, and doltish. I can perhaps recommend it to fans of the original Sword Art Online, but certainly not to anyone else.

The Rating: 4

Reviewed by: CNile

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