Manga Entertainment’s third release of Sword Art Online collects episodes fifteen to nineteen for the sum of eighteen British pounds. If you’d rather not donate valuable shelf space, to house the four volumes making up season one, the entire series is also available to buy digitally via iTunes. Before downloading the anime just be aware that the App Store version of the show is restricted to the English language dub, which may be a deal breaker for some anime purists. Personally I’m fine with listening to dubbed anime although there are some notable exceptions. If you are feeling brave check out the English language version of Bible Black for some truly woeful “acting.”
Roughly two months after the events of episode fourteen, Kirito is well on the road to recovery after spending two years in a coma playing Sword Art Online (I know games are addictive, but give me a break.) Most of the players trapped in the virtual reality MMO were freed once the teenage protagonist defeated the game’s final boss in a duel to the death. Technically speaking Kirito suffered a fatal blow during the encounter, but he remains alive thanks to the power of deus ex machina. Sadly the same cannot be said for his beloved Asuna who is one of three hundred SAO players who remain lying unconscious in hospital for some unknown reason.
To make matters worse it transpires that in the real world Asuna has a sleazy fiancé who has a fetish for sniffing the hair of comatose youngsters. If our chestnut haired heroine doesn’t recover from her vegetative state she is doomed to marry the sleaze bag, against her will, because Japanese law seems to have no qualms about imposing lifelong commitments upon unconscious ladies. Thankfully there is a sliver of hope, as Kirito learns that a character matching Asuna’s description has been spotted in the popular role playing game Alfheim Online. If he manages to rescue said character, from the cage she is trapped in, will Asuna wake from her slumber?
Alfheim Online may not have the peril of executing players who die in game, but the stakes are still high in this latest instalment of SAO. Death forces defeated players to move back to a checkpoint, which Kirito can ill afford in the race to crash Asuna’s January wedding. Assisting Kirito in this new fantasy world is a winged elf named Leafa, who unbeknownst to him is actually his little sister Suguha. As the two journey together Leafa begins to develop romantic feelings for her virtual companion, which could get awfully messy. Japanese animation seems to have an unhealthy fixation with incest, although it is later revealed that Kirito and Suguha are actually cousins… so I guess that’s okay? Hey, if marrying someone in a coma is legal what’s the big deal with siblings dating?
My rating for part three of Sword Art Online is a four out of five. The series remains an entertaining show providing that you can come to terms with the new direction it takes. After building up the Kirito/Asuna romance so well it is sad to see the series start afresh in a different setting with a new female companion. Although I was eventually able to adjust to the new status quo I wouldn’t be surprised if the change puts some viewers off the show entirely. Asuna fans, for example, will not care to see how the once strong female heroine effectively gets relegated to the role of damsel in distress.
Other viewers may also not like how fan service has began to creep into the series. Although the earlier episodes featured plenty of cute girls the introduction of Suguha is the first example of the female cast getting objectified. Suguha has been blessed with an ample bosom, which A-1’s artists are not shy about showcasing in scenes were she parades about in nightwear. It’s a shame to see her get sexualized because personality wise she is a well fleshed out character. Her crush on Kirito doesn’t develop into a full-blown love triangle, but I think it added some nice drama to the story – particularly in the segments that take place outside the virtual world.
Speaking of the virtual world, aesthetically I much preferred the medieval look of Sword At Online over the fairy themed Alfheim Online. That said the new location gives audiences new kinds of action to marvel at. Gone are SAO’s swordfights and in their place are equally exciting magical duels featuring aerial combat. It’s hard to argue that the second half of Sword Art Online is as good as the fourteen episodes that preceded it, but overall I can still recommend watching it. In my opinion the naysayers who claim that the series fell from grace, starting with this DVD, are grossly exaggerating a slight dip in quality. One would almost think that they are describing the disparity between Bible Black’s Japanese and English vocal performances.