Sword Art Online, the extremely popular virtual reality massive multiplayer online role-playing game (VRMMORPG) anime that debuted during the summer of 2012, welcomed us back this year with Sword Art Online II.  The hero of SAO, Kirito, is entrusted with the task of investigating the mysterious murders in the competitive first-person-shooter MMO dubbed "Gun Gale Online", during which he meets an unlikely ally named "Sinon".  

The first 14 episodes (15 if you count the 14.5 episode as a standalone) deal with how things play out for our protagonists and how they deal with the tribulations placed before them.  This review deals with how Kirito and Sinon deals with the mysterious "Death Gun" murders of Gun Gale Online while trying to move forward from the demons of their past.



  Story & Plot Impressions  


Kazuto, who is better known by his gaming alias "Kirito", is a survivor of the deadly reality game known as "Sword Art Online".  Kirito is known as the hero who defeated the man responsible for trapping them there and therefore freeing the remaining players from the encaged digital world.  This time around he is tasked by Kikouka Seijirou in investigating the Gun Gale Online murders caused by someone known as "Death Gun", that of which is similar to the incidents of Sword Art Online where killing someone inside of the game results in real world death.  Reluctantly accepting the job offer, Kirito converts his Alfheim Online character to an Gun Gale Online one and begins his duty to seek out who is responsible for these SAO-type murders, why they are performing them, and their motive for doing so.

First off, this plot is very plausible from the way it is setup; from how Kirito is the "go to" guy for the mission and the motive of the killer(s) in question.  Something that is very important in the sequel of any anime that has seemingly ended completely is for their to be a logical reason as to why it would continue...and it does just that within the realm of reason.  Kirito was given an option to do this, whether-or-not he wanted to was completely up to him and it makes more sense that it was done that way (I say this compared to the second arc of the original Sword Art Online where Kirito had to forcibly enter another VRMMORPG "Alfheim online" to save Asuka from the clutches of Nobuyuki Sugou.  I was not a fan of this reasoning).  The way it was executed was very good initially, but I later had mixed feelings once things were reaching their high point.

The plot unfolds once our protagonists figure out how to solve the incident based off of what is happening, which is tried-and-true for anytime you are attempting to solve a mystery or a problem; gain understanding and figure out a method for finding the solution.  Something I liked was how they took an extended amount of time to weed out possible alternative methods to eventually arrive at the conclusion of how the "Death Gun" murders were being performed.  It is always good to elaborate on incidents like this to be sure that the protagonist actually has sufficient understanding of the situation before he figures out what is happening, this avoids it looking like they have an arcane 6th sense which is providing them with what they need to know; it is highly unrealistic.  The problem, however, comes from how Asuna deducts what is going on and just who Death Gun is during episode 11 "What it Means to be Strong" without ANY information whatsoever and she does not even say that her A.I. daughter "Yui" provided any information either.  Just that one little nuance made the ending feel rather "moot" to me, it attempted to force a moment at the end to tug on your heart-strings but instead it just caused severe annoyance due to its illogical plot properties.

Asada, better known as "Sinon", is the deuteragonist during the series and feels more-or-less unimportant to the entire plot.  The problem is that Sinon's story does not give any significance to the main plot of the Gun Gale Online arc, she just acts as a secondary character that introduces her own problems into the fray.  Nothing she does is really too impactful on how things play out, and her own personal issues does not really tie-in as to why things are going about what they are; Sinon merely acts as a link between Kirito and Death Gun and any other faceless character could have easily played the role that she was assigned.  While I do think her character is well done (which I will explain later on in the "Character Development & Impressions" section), what she brought to the table did not really enable the plot to move forward at all, it acted as nothing more than a self-contained story that acted as a filler to the main plot.

Overall I think the plot was fairly good and that it was moved along in a timely manner, but some of the inconsistencies in logic during the very end of the arc softened the blow on how good it could have been.  I also hate that Sinon had so much described about exactly what she is dealing with and who she is but does not really contribute anything to the story plot wise.  Overall, it was not too bad.



  Character Development & Impressions  


There are a number of characters presented within Sword Art Online II, the main ones being Kirito, Sinon and Death Gun.  I feel that these characters were given their fair share of development considering that they each had different circumstances attributed towards them.  In the following paragraphs I will take the time to discuss each of them in detail.

Kirito is the main character, as he was in the first Sword Art Online, yet I feel like they are trying too hard to make this character have something to deal with.  Right after his first victory in the 1-on-1 qualifier for the "Bullet of Bullets 3" tournament in Gun Gale Online, they introduce the main antagonist and allow him to trigger a suppressed memory from Kirito's past which followed him throughout the entirety of the series.  I feel like this development tool was lazily done and did nothing to really impact the series or his own personal views, it effected Sinon's perspective a great deal more and seemed like hollowed emotion that was designed without the character in mind.  In fact, I do not feel like Kirito really changed much at all, he did most of his growing during the first season of Sword Art Online and this season, if anything, shows how set-in-stone his foundations are.

Sinon is a basket case, developed by her traumatizing event as a child which left her with nightmares and a hellish fear of guns.  Normally someone would say this clashes with her playing Gun Gale Online, but it is a strange occurrence this is entirely too plausible (you can argue that Gun Gale Online is a virtual real and therefore nothing there is real).  Also, her ambition for wanting to do well in Gun Gale Online is fitting, yet I feel they should have made Sinon use pistols instead of a sniper rifle in order to really show strides in getting over her phobia.  This character grew the most during this series because she was so unsure whether-or-not she had did the right thing, and even if it was in self-defense or for the safety of others, Asada had to come to the conclusion that she committed a horrible act against someone (deserved or not).  Meeting Kirito and witnessing how he attempted to move forward despite his past inspired her to do the same.  By the end of this arc she has not completely changed, but she has built up a basic foundation to begin forgiving herself and carry the burden of her past without letting it hinder her day-to-day life.

Death Gun is a character that is stuck within the "glory" of his past, longing for those days again and having a skewed view of reality since the digital and real world are one and the same to him.  I have a big mixture of emotions when it comes to this character because, while they are undoubtedly wrong, I also see the logic behind his insanity.  The biggest problem I have with this character design is how the author makes him out to be a complete bad guy without any sensible motivation behind it, but I think he could have possibly been saved during the course of the anime (Which I will explain later in the "Miscellaneous" section).  Overall, I think he was an empty antagonist who served his purpose but seemed to be created for the sake of drama.  I feel like if they added more depth to his back story he would have been a better character.                            

These characters all dealt with issues that came from their past, each one of them were taking actions in order to move forward from their past selves in order to make a meaningful tomorrow.  This is a good unified characteristic to give across all characters, but I feel only Sinon's was meaningful in character development and that in itself did not carry significant weight on the plot.



  Miscellaneous  


  SPOILER WARNING!   - This section will contain loads of sensitive material that may very well spoil the plot of the Gun Gale Online arc of Sword Art Online II.  You are only advised to read this section if you have completed the above listed episodes or simply do not want to start/finish the anime while wanting to read my ideals on what is happening.  You have been warned.


Shouichi Shinkawa was responsible for the deaths of many, both in Sword Art Online (Second-in-Command of "Laughing Coffin") and in Gun Gale Online.  I can understand why most would view him as a detestable person, he is one in the rawest sense of the word.  Killing is never right, but it is understandable in circumstances in which you have no choice, but doing it for pleasure is something inexcusable to a decent human being.  Though, what I want to talk about is something more expressed about his personality in Sword Art Online II, and that is how I feel that Asada's rejection of his affection directly contributed to his insanity within the Gun Gale Online arc.

Love and affection, obsession and infatuation, they can sometimes work hand-in-hand and can sometimes be mistakenly interchangeable.  Shouichi revealed during the end of the series that he was drawn towards Asada because she had actually killed someone in the real world, because he murdered in Sword Art Online, he was rather intrigued that someone had the gall to commit the atrocity without hiding within virtual reality.  Though, it seems that he really did care about Asada and wanted nothing more than to be someone special to her.  It is only natural to want your affections returned when you love someone  dearly, but what happened next might have really been Shouichi's undoing and I do feel like, while it is entirely his decision to do these things, Asada may have played a small role in it. 

It was very obvious from how things panned out that Asada leaned on Shouichi a lot because she felt he understood her and considered him one of her only real friends.  However, be it for the sake of their friendship or otherwise, she lead him on by giving him the possibility of them becoming something "more" only to never let things go that far.  During episode 7 "Crimson Memories", Shouichi expressed his feelings to Asada with her rejecting him and asking if he could wait until she has proven her strength in combat.  This is terrible because she is giving him clear hope that if she does well in "Bullets of Bullets 3" that she will be up to trying to become something  more than just friends.  Later on during the same episode he tells her that he really likes her, the he believes her and will wait until she becomes strong, to which she replies "Yeah".  All of this time he really believed that if she placed well within the tournament that they would finally be together.  Though, during episode 13 "Phantom Bullet", she pretty much acts ignorant to her promise and rejects him again (even if he is being a bit weird, she already knows why).  You can tell that it really hurt him emotionally, but the most important thing about this particular incident is what he said right before he hugged her, "I'll stay with you forever.  You don't have to rely on him.  I'll protect you forever, okay?".

It was clear from when he mentioned "him" that he was talking about Kirito because of the incidents that he had witnessed.  Shouichi had been rejected numerous times, pushed off of Sinon when he tried to hug her twice, and she even snatched her hand away when he had taken hold of it.  In contrast, Kirito held her for a long time during episode 6 "Showdown in the Wilderness".  Not to mention she was seen sitting provocatively with Kirito in a cave during episode 11 "What it Means to be Strong".  Finally, at the end of the Bullets of Bullets 3 tournament in episode 13 "Phantom Bullet", she hugs him tightly of her own volition and allows a grenade to kill them both to end the tournament as dual winners.  Shouichi was probably mad because he had a bad character type because all of his points went into agility because of advice of Zexceed, a topped rank player in Gun Gale Online.  Not being able to protect Sinon and make himself out to be a strong player, regardless of the amount of hours he has logged, makes him feel inferior to Kirito and his jealousy got the best of him.

Like I said, I do believe this is all Shouichi's fault and that Asada has absolutely NO obligation to give his feelings back, but if you are going to hit a guy with unrequited love then it is best to be direct about it.  Do not lead someone on when they expect something from you and you are doing nothing more than pretending to meet that expectation.  If she would have given him a chance then maybe that would have given his life enough purpose to where he did not need to be involved in the "Death Gun" persona, or maybe if she had shown him equal affection as she had Kirito then he would at least feel that his kindness was worth it.  It is easy to see how jealousy could play a factor in his motivation to hurt others, love is powerful and can easily fill someone with hatred if used improperly.



  Final Verdict  


  HALF  -AND-  HALF  

 STRENGTHS   - Logical reasoning for the plot, Kirito energy blade action, Episode 13 was superb, Excellent character development for Asada.

  WEAKNESSES   - Entirely too much dialogue at times, Bullets of Bullets 3 tournament was a joke, Asada's part in the plot seems like a filler, Poor character development for the antagonist.


Sword Art Online II is truly a "Half-and-Half" because of the balance of highs and lows that were given within the anime.  You have amazing fight scenes and then episodes of nothing but dialogue, completely rational plot with meaningful motive and then illogical deduction on the part of Asuka to mess things up at the end.  This anime has just as many strengths as it does weaknesses and it is very easy to hate and love it simultaneously.  Long time fans of the series will be happy that it is better than the Alfheim Online arc of the original Sword Art Online, but might be disappointed because it lacks the same intensity as the original arc throughout some parts.  Overall it was pretty solid with some slight nuances that someone that is not as analytical might let pass.  I personally hope the story solidifies by the second arc of this series and provides more of the explosive action scenes we were thrilled by during Gun Gale Online.

Thank you for reading my review and make sure you come back for the review of the second art of Sword Art Online II!