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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Sword Art Online II: Second Course.

This was going to be a review of The 100, but then I realised that SAOII totally ended on Saturday, so here you go.

Sword Art Online II
Second Course.

You may well recall that my views on the first course of this series fell somewhere between utter loathing and deep, deep exasperation, so it would be the understatement of the year to say I did not have the highest hopes for this second course. I expected more of the same from Sword Art Online: Kirito as an invincible god mode stu who exists only to fulfil the bizarre and sticky power fantasies of fourteen year old boys.

It's worth noting, incidentally, that after I posted that last review I had a bloody torrent of fourteen year old boys finding me to protest that there wasn't anything wrong with Sword Art Online. Essays were oft included.

Sword Art Online II's second course picks up some time after the GGO arc, and covers two shorter arcs from the light novels: The Excalibur arc, in which a party of characters we know and love to one degree or another chase down a legendary sword in a dungeon; and the Mother Rosario arc, in which Asuna meets enthusiastic swordsman Yuuki and her guild, the Sleeping Knights, who intend to defeat a floor boss all on their own and are harbouring a tragic secret.

It is - kind of perfect, actually. 


Okay, no. It's not perfect, I can pick out flaws if I try, but this course is exactly what I wanted out of Sword Art Online. Lulzy adventures in the online world, in which Kirito isn't a ridiculous Gary Stu and there's a decent ensemble focus. So many of my issues with SAO were addressed in this course: Kirito gets beaten without impossible odds being involved, female characters are given agendas and motivations other than 'pleasing Kirito', we got more Asuna focus, and in general we had a roundly ensemble story.

The first arc was great fun, being a swashbuckling adventure in which the show managed to give decent time to seven characters, which is no easy task. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the focus on Klein, as he has always been my favourite character in the show. It wasn't an especially deep story, but there was no reason why it should be: It was great fun to watch, and my only real criticism is that it could have done with being an episode longer, to push in more character interaction and a few more fight scenes. The fight scenes in this arc were truly sterling, incidentally, with one fight against a pair of bosses standing out (and involving the obligatory 'everyone showing off their special moves' sequence. I'm a sucker for that stuff).

Also, Thor.

It could also have potentially used slightly fewer characters, in order to focus slightly more on the ones left. Kirito, Asuna, Leafa, Klein and Sinon would have made a fine five man band together, leaving minor characters Silica and Lisbeth out. 

The second arc was - well, I teared up about three times. If the first arc was fun and shallow, this arc was tragic and deep, exploring themes of what it meant to live as opposed to just surviving; of parental expectations, disappointment, and conflicts; and of growing up. It's an arc that tackles quite - real issues in a quite real and earnest fashion, despite the ever-present plot element of a totally realistic virtual world. It also very skilfully rouses emotion from the audience, first getting them invested in a group of characters before introducing several tragic plot twists. The last episode of this arc yielded one of the saddest scenes I've seen in anime for a while. 

Oooh, lightshow.

As with the Excalibur arc, my main issue with this arc is length: Specifically, I think it could have been an episode shorter and told a slightly more condensed story. As it is, it was very overtly drawn out, resulting in a too slow pacing at times.

I feel like this twelve episode course kind of showed what Sword Art Online could and should be: A character driven, ensemble story that eschews epic plotlines in favour of smaller scale stories about the effects of this online world on people's lives. I know that's not where it'll go if there's ever a Sword Art Online III, but I found this course well and truly enjoyable, and I think as a full series it would excel. 

Still, no matter what the franchise's future is - and there is yet no hint that there will even be another series - I am glad they adapted those two arcs. Also, that they were so heavy with Klein. Klein's great. Everyone loves Klein. 

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