“I run faster with a knife. Everyone runs faster with a knife.” —FPS_Doug, Pure Pwnage
As with Aldnoah.Zero, I’ve opted to do a reflection around a quarter of the way into Sword Art Online II, as both series are going to run for twenty four episodes. In Sword Art Online II, a year has passed since the events of the first season, and Kazuto Kirigaya (Kirito) has resumed his education, as well as a relationship with Asuna Yuuki. However, a series of bizarre murders in an online game called Gun Gale Online (GGO) leads government official Kikuoka Seijirou to contact Kirito and begin an investigation into the matter. Despite his initial reservations, Kirito takes up the offer and enters Gun Gale Online, discovering another vast game world in the process even as he tries to familiarize himself with the game mechanics and get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding “Death Gun”, the player responsible for the murders. Meanwhile, a new character, Sinon, is introduced. After witnessing a robbery, Sinon was forced to shoot the criminal in her past, leaving her with a permanent fear of guns. She plays GGO with a fervour, hoping to overcome her fear of guns. Deaths in a virtual-reality MMORPG served as the premise for the first season, and makes a return in the second season, so the second season should be nothing new to those who finished the first.
- Asuna and Kirito have become a happy couple in the events following the original Sword Art Online: the last time I watched this anime, it was Autumn 2012, and I was gearing up for a thesis defense. Since then, much has happened, and although I’m not particularly fond of Sword Art Online‘s second half, overall, the anime was quite interesting to watch.
- This is clearly an imitation of Apple’s WWDC; the latest Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco unveiled the new Mac OS X Yosemite, which will come out in Autumn 2014, along with iOS 8. Yosemite is said to take after iOS 7’s “Flat” UI, unifying the two design paradigms between Apple’s PC and tablet lineups. Depending on where my graduate research needs to go, I may wind up purchasing a Macbook Pro with Retina display.
- I’m going to assume that readers are familiar with Kirito and Asuna, so there’s no need to re-introduce them. The green-haired girl from the trailers is Sinon, a female sniper in the Gun Gale Online game who developed a fear of firearms after being forced to kill a robber during her childhood.
- If the light novels are to be believed, Sinon develops feelings for Kirito; I’m hoping that Kirito is open and honest with her to spare everyone else the trouble of having her despair through a greater half of the season. I realise that love stories sell, but they tend to break the flow of things when forcibly added, distracting from Sword Art Online‘s main story about the distinction between virtual reality and reality when death is a possibility in both worlds. Of course, The Matrix offers a more focused, philosophical discussion, but it is interesting to see an anime approach this sort of thing.
- Lizbeth, Silica and Leafa make a return: of the old crew, despite being one of the duller characters as Suguha Kirigaya, Leafa turns out to be a central character in Sword Art Online‘s second half and was quite entertaining to watch. Here, everyone spends moments relaxing in one of Alfheim Online’s verdant fields. This was an aspect I enjoyed about Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft: settings were fantastical and a visual treat to take in.
- Conversely, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, though boasting an unmatched single-player experience, was much more grounded in reality. The game looks fantastic, and the landscapes, though majestic, lack the same kind of fantasy feeling as do locations in various MMORPGs or even Lord of the Rings. Kirito and Asuna share a few moments together in game before the former is drafted to investigate phenomenon that one “Death Gun” is responsible for.
- Shortly after transferring to a new high school, Sinon befriends a male student, who subsequently introduces her into Gun Gale Online. She soon realises that if she can become comfortable with virtual guns, she might be able to overcome her fear of firearms in the real world.
- Thus, Sinon begins playing Gun Gale Online with a fierce determination, eventually mastering the game’s mechanics and becomes one of the most accomplished players in-game. Gun Gale Online is a massively online shooter with a major emphasis on RPG stats, which is something I would never want in a first person shooter, where performance should be determined by innate reflexes, alertness and adaptability, rather than accumulation of play time to obtain skill points. In most shooters, a time investment either yields customisations (like Battlefield) or else confers superior understanding of the game mechanics (Halo, Counterstrike).
- After a spawn error leaves Kirito with a decidedly feminine appearance, he brushes off advances from the other players and busies himself with an investigation into the matter of Death Gun. Of course, Sword Art Online wouldn’t be thus without some immersion into the game world, and so, Kirito runs into Sinon.
- The first stage in GGO is to pick a weapon. Players start with limited funds and must work with lower-tier weapons, competing in tournaments or other activities in game to earn enough money and unlock more weapons. However, Kirito finds a bit of assistance after beating an in-game game, earning some three hundred thousand credits to purchase weapons with. If rumours are to be believed, the upcoming Battlefield Hardline will allow players to collect XP points and purchase weapons of their choice, rather than unlocking them in a progressive fashion.
Whereas the first season’s first half was a solid adventure, depicting all of the different aspects of an MMORPG in great depth and illustrating the formation of virtual societies as seen with real-world equivalents, the second half was a disappointment, stymied by a forced love story that did not feel too related to the series’ first half. Sword Art Online had a solid premise, but most will recall the botched love story in the second half and consider the anime to have been a grand disappointment. However, it’s only really the second half that was lacking, and as such, when I heard about a second season, I resolved to check it out. I was having a bit of difficulty coming up with something to talk about there episodes in: if I were a government official, the last thing I would do following a string of suspected murders is to ask a high school student to investigate. Instead, this would be an inquiry for the developers and security agency to look into. Similarly, while Sinon’s backstory is plausible, one does wonder why she did not receive more extensive professional assistance to help her following those events. After three episodes, only a little bit of GGO is shown, but otherwise, there was little to talk about besides mentioning how the setup is plausible at best. With Kirito’s entrance into GGO, however, Sword Art Online II returns to its old self, although this time, it’s a murder investigation rather than a fight to survive.
- Kirito chooses a ‘photon sword’ (which will hereafter be referred to as a lightsabre) as his primary weapon, in keeping with his preference for melee weapons (hence the page quote). This weapon handles like a lightsabre, complete with the distinct hum and ‘whoosh’ of activation/deactivation. Most shooters only provide combat knives, and in the multiplayer, getting melee kills is quite satisfying: recently, I played a round of death match on “Strike at Karkand” and wiped out snipers with the knife.
- Sinon recommends the FN Five-Seven as Kirito’s secondary weapon: a semi-automatic pistol chambered for the 5.7 x 28 mm round, it was developed alongside the FN P90 programme and, thanks to a smaller caliber round, grants the pistol a larger ammunition capacity and reduced recoil. The smaller round also has improved penetration.
- Sinon thoroughly enjoys a motorcycle ride with Kirito; the two spend more time with weapon selection and training than originally intended, very nearly being late for the “Battle of Bullets” (BoB) entry. This is a tournament which pits players in a one-v-one match and allows victors to progress, eventually winning real-world currency.
- I included this moment just so I could mention the unsavoury practises of a certain anime “news” site with a distinct orange triangle logo, where any talk about an anime, such as Sword Art Online, are accompanied by animated gifs of the characters doing something suggestive (even if in context, they are not). Compared to that site, I offer superior discussions, and because of the way things are set up here, my site consumes less bandwidth. It also loads faster.
- Sinon is understandably upset after Kirito reveals that he’s male, despite his avatar’s appearance. Elsewhere online, some lesser discussions have its participants trying to “talk” to the characters in show. They might call this “analysis”, but I think “a waste of time” is a better way to describe this phenomenon. I’ve seen the episodes myself, thank you very much.
- The effectiveness of a lightsabre against physical bullets is a hotly debated topic: while fans have theorised that the bullet will melt and spray the wielder with hot metal, or else vapourise completely. While real-world physics suggest partial or complete melting of the bullet, in Sword Art Online II, Kirito bisects bullets with enough force to alter their trajectories such that they do not hit him.
- Death Gun resembles the Terminator with a metal, skull-like plating and glowing red eyes. Appearing as one avatar, Death Gun is, in fact, three former members of Laughing Coffin in Sword Art Online (the game in the anime, not the anime itself): the light novels reveal their modus operandi, and although I’m quite aware of it, I do wonder if the anime will go about handling things differently.
- Sinon’s signature PGM Hécate II was unlocked after she entered a dungeon and fell into a trap of sorts. Rather than fighting the boss head-on, she camped outside of its threat detection range and slowly whittled away its health, eventually defeating it and obtaining the Hécate as a reward. In real life, the Hécate is an anti-materiel rifle chambered for the .50 BMG round and has an effective range of two kilometres.
- Kirito and Sinon meet in a match-up early on; after every shot she fires misses, Kirito decides that a duel might be the best way to settle things. In GGO, whether or not bullets hit are determined by a ray casting randomly in a circle to determine where the bullet will hit, and prediction markers allow player to dodge rounds. Players with a greater skill will have a smaller circle and thus, a greater hit probability.
- After displaying Jedi-like powers in slicing apart Sinon’s last round, Kirito convinces Sinon to concede, and the latter angrily remarks that they will battle again. Now that we’re six episodes in, I’m finally feeling the Sword Art Online vibes, and are quite excited for future episodes. I’ll do a talk on Glasslip next, and from there on out, the next set of anime posts related to the Summer 2014 season will probably be their final reflections. Before this month is out, I’ll also try to have a talk on Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Synergy out.
After six episodes, Sword Art Online II brings the traditional Sword Art Online feeling back to the table (from the first half of the first season, that is), along with new developments that build up anticipation and suspense for upcoming episodes. With the revelation that Death Gun is a former Laughing Coffin member, the stakes have just increased, and it will be interesting to see how Kirito deals with this threat, as well as what kind of information he will unearth about Death Gun’s modus operandi. Assuming that Sword Art Online II is free to focus on this aspect, unfettered by a forcibly introduced love story, I anticipate a solid anime that will prove to be quite fun to watch. I’m longing to see just how Death Gun works in the anime. It’s mentioned that the new generation virtual reality headsets are designed to emit EMR at safe intensities and physically cannot exceed what is safe, so another mechanism will need to be presented. I understand that the light novel already has explained this point (it’s quite similar to the methods used by members of The Campus in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Jr. series), but nonetheless, it will be a treat to see what Sword Art Online II chooses to explore. The second half of the season will likely deal with the UnderWorld arc, although I will discuss that should it make an appearance.