A review of the second Sword Art Online anime series
Some way into this second series of Sword Art Online I found myself thinking that it was quite brave. Taking the clown-shoed silliness of the first series and slowing everything down, focusing on characters and setting, seemed like an odd decision. Like so many other aspects of Sword Art Online II though, I was disappointed. It’s not being brave, just invoking standard shounen-esque time wasting. Meaning if you watched the series as it aired you will have spent several weeks watching wunderkind Kirito and newcomer Sinon sit in a virtual cave in the middle of a virtual desert.
Imagine a character that is part Jesus Christ and part James Dean and you get the idea
I shouldn’t really have expected anything else really. I liked the simplicity of the first series’ bifurcated storyline in a schlocky, intelligence-lite way, but the spark of that first storyline - trapped in a virtual world, die here and you die for real - was gone. Alfheim, the fairy filled fantasy funfair that occupied the second half of that series and is now the staple MMO for the core cast, was bright and cheerful but lacked the tangibility of Aincrad. It’s disheartening then that this second series kicks off by plunging Kirito into the grimy, gunmetal grey world of Gun Gale Online.
There will always be something enticing about the portrayal of MMOs within anime. Like .hack//sign before it, Sword Art Online tickles the fancy of those who revel in finding the glitches, the rare objects, the dark and hidden zones of online worlds that subvert the otherwise strongly governed rules and are all but untouched by the masses. For the first half of the series at least, again like .hack//sign, the pesky outside world cannot interfere, for the players of SAO are locked into Aincard by a nefarious programmer. Reach the 100th level and escape the game, if you die you die for real, if you try and take off the gear used to access the game, you die.
Three simple rules, ten thousand players, starting pistol... Go. From there protagonist Kirito, a beta tester and all-round MMO connoisseur, is able to single-handedly charge through what would otherwise take squads, groups, even whole guilds to defeat. A lovely bit of wish-fulfilment intimating that by relying on solitary skill rather communal co-operation a single person is able to succeed and thrive.
Sword Art Online is the five million selling light novel series by Reki Kawahara (who also penned Accel World) which, having been dutifully animated, is the disputed front runner for most popular series this season. One of the final things female protagonist Asuna says in the latest (tenth) episode, before the cringe-inducing hokum from male lead Kirito, is that she dreamt of the real world and worried that her time in the titual Sword Art Online, would be lost.
reach level 100 and be released from the shackles of this poor simulacra of a world
Having been ceremoniously trapped within the tiered virtual world upon launch, replete with blood red skies and the inflated visage of the lead programmer, it has been almost two years and there have been murumurs of some of the 10,000 original players settling down and starting a life rather than continuing to fight. Asuna's words though brought to mind Plato's fictional dialogue with his teacher Socrates, commonly termed the Allegory of the Cave.