I figured after the first season of Sword Art Online, the second season was going to be more of the same. Half of it was, half of it wasn’t, and it’s a little ironic that the half that is less like the shōnen adventure that is SAO is the one that ended up far more satisfying as a story.
Once again, the art is top-notch, and the music is good, and the action pretty decent. But SAO had a lot of potential as a more emotional, human experience rather than just a lot of shōnen action, and I hoped that those elements will appear as they threatened to in the first season.
However, while the first broad arc of SAO II was very relevant to the aftermath of the experience in SAO, it was a pretty terrible implementation of it. The GGO arc focused on a Kirito who suddenly has a bit of PTSD, having ‘forced himself to forget’ about killing some PKers back in Aincrad. It felt like a really contrived plot, especially since I have very little recollection of that particular raid on Laughing Coffin.
Furthermore, they feminised Kirito for to feed some stupid misunderstanding trope at the start of his infiltration into GGO, something we could have done without. And obviously he roped Sinon into his harem as he did every other girl he has met in SAO. Having the villain of the GGO arc come from SAO was a smart way to connect the two pretty disparate stories, but the way it ended gave too many vibes of the ALO arc, with a rape-y villain and a damsel-in-distress that Kazuto had to save in real life.
And it wasn’t even a good rehash, with a ton of exposition, poor attempts at elucidating Kirito’s problems, and the pretty predictable plot. I mean, I was barely a few episodes in and I could see who was going to be the final villain and how the plot was going to essentially unfold. There wasn’t a good plot twist in sight, and while Sinon’s character is good, her motivations felt so cliché, as if her character was made only after GGO was conceived.
Also, the lack of involvement of every other character despite their appearance in the show to cheer Kirito on felt so forced. it was as if the creators didn’t want you to forget their existence and put them in to repeat lengthy exposition rather than make meaningful contributions to the plot or character development.
And once GGO ended, the series went into some breather episodes where the gang play some ALO. It’s decent watching, i suppose, but all a bit pointless and draggy to me. Here you have a show with so much potential as the virtual and real worlds blur into one, with many serious consequences that can be explored. Yet it’s wasted on showing our protagonists doing quests, and only gave Kirito minor character development? Ugh. not to mention the crap load of terribly pointless exposition throughout the GGO and Excaliber quest arcs.
At least Kline was great fun to watch. He’s now my favourite character in SAO, Asuna running a close second because she’s a female character who kicks ass. It’s why I was so upset with the ALO arc painting her as a damsel-in-distress. All the rest of the characters can be so bland, especially Kirito (despite the desperate attempts to develop him in the GGO arc).
And OP Kirito is OP, but what is even more annoying is that the makers don’t seem to acknowledge this all the time. With his skill, he should have owned Death Gun in their final battle no matter his mental state of mind. And why did other characters look shocked when he pulled a secret move…again? It’s not like they don’t know he’s OP; they even explicitly state in in the show! Bleh.
Oh, and Kirito’s harem is so lame. Kirito/Asuna is already canon; does every girl that meets him and gets saved need to be attracted to him? Just stop that bullshit already.
Then it moved to the Mother’s Rosario arc, and there SAO II finally delved into the less shōnen elements of the series. Asuna’s family situation was dovetailed very well with Yūki’s situation, and it brought tears to my eyes as the series reached its emotional end. It was a poignant, bittersweet story that really showcases the sort of storytelling that the setting is ripe for. While it forwent a lot of action in this arc, it made sure to pull on heartstrings as much as it could.
To me, the action of SAO should always come second to characters. I say that a lot about many shows to be fair, but the characters are what makes stories work. None more so than SAO, where despite its shōnen roots, has a great amount of potential for character-driven plots to thrive.
Unfortunately, the light novels are licensed and I can’t read them online to compare with the anime. I don’t know if all the events that happened in SAO II are faithful adaptations of the LNs or had a lot of creative input from the animators. But to me, SAO II started out really poorly, but ended its last 6 or 7 episodes on a brilliant high, sort of the opposite of what happened with the first season.
Would I recommend it? For the sake of Sinon’s relatively interesting backstory, and for the wonderfully touching and human Mother’s Rosario arc, I think SAO II deserves a watch from any anime fan.