Sword Art Online (Part 2) is a DVD set that contains episodes eight to fourteen of the popular anime series based on Reki Kawahara’s books. The collection’s tales take place roughly two years after the events of part one, which saw protagonist Kirito (along with thousands of other cyber role-players) get trapped within the confines of the titular VR game. The only way of escaping their computer-generated prison is by clearing all one hundred levels of the Aincrad tower, thereby completing the game. Gripes, I know many MMOs try to prevent users from leaving their clutches, by tying them down to a subscription plan, but SAO’s way of retaining active players is ridiculous. I don’t suppose there’s a cheat code to skip ahead to the final stage?
Two years since the game’s launch, the surviving players have gradually adjusted to their new digital lives. Despite suffering a number of casualties the players battling on the front lines have made steady progress climbing up the tower. How much easier their journey would have been had the structure been installed with a functional elevator. With the end goal now in sight Sword Art Online switches from touching one off stories to an on-going narrative exploring the blossoming relationship between Kirito and Asuna. The pair begins to bond after suave Kirito invites Asuna to a romantic dinner, in exchange for her cooking up the tasty morsel he acquired from a slain monster. Kirito’s cooking skill is too low to make said ingredient edible, but Asuna can because both her tailoring and cooking stats are maxed out (she is a woman after all.)
Aside from some short bursts of action the focus of this DVD set is squarely on the Kirito/Asuna romance. Refreshingly Sword Art Online isn’t one of those shows that tease the viewer on whether the leading couple will or won’t end up together. Kirito and Asuna actually tie the knot over the course of these seven episodes, although getting hitched comes at a price (and I don’t mean a healthy sex life getting replaced by wifely nagging.) In order to stay close to the missus, Kirito has to abandon his soloing ways and join her guild. This leads to many complications including putting up with the group’s smug leader and dealing with a nasty bodyguard who refuses to let Asuna out of his sight. On the plus side Kirito and Asuna get to have a brief honeymoon at a lakeside cabin. Their vacation has them adopting an amnesiac girl and tangling with a giant lungfish… standard stuff for holidaying newlyweds.
My rating for Sword Art Online (Part Two) is a five out of five. The series may not be perfect, but when scoring this set I wanted to indicate that I enjoyed this collection of episodes slightly more than part one’s offering (which I have previously rated four stars.) As the series progressed I found myself becoming more and more absorbed in the Kirito/Asuna love story, so much so that it has eclipsed the fantasy adventure aspects of the plot that initially attracted me to the series. Their relationship feels more genuine than other anime partnerships I could mention, so much so that I would rank Kirito and Asuna amongst my favourite animated couples (in your face Homer and Marge.)
Production wise this second chapter in the Sword Art saga maintains the impressive production values witnessed in part one. The artwork is polished and meshes well with the CG effects used to animate the giant bosses Kirito faces. On the audio side of things everything is top notch, from the strong voice acting to the catchy soundtrack. The general consensus is that Sword Art Online peaked with the end of episode fourteen, which prematurely sees Kirito duelling against Aincrad’s final boss. Given that bombshell you may be wondering where the story could go from there. Well it does manage to continue, although the direction it takes wasn’t to the liking of many fans. My thoughts on episode fourteen’s aftermath will however have to wait for the next review.