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.
I will never be ready to talk at any great length about rape. Although I'm aware of, though not familiar with, the physical and emotional damage it leaves in its wake, there is nothing of value I can add to any discussion of it. This didn't seem to stop the first three episodes of BTOOOM! (three o's) though which handles the past and present sexual assault of one of its main characters with all the deftness and sensitivity of throwing a rotten watermelon against a cinder block wall.
unable to fathom the complexities of a countdown on a small box that explodes when it reaches zero
It doesn't help that the first three episodes of the series have the same kind of misanthropic sadism towards humanity that others like Elfen Lied and Gantz have demonstrated. That humans are corpulent, fleshy bags of bile, hatred and animosity and as an audience we are supposed to feel a catharsis, or at least satisfaction, when they are brutally killed.
The trailer for the latest Silent Hill instalment to come from Konami filled me with a rare kind of glee. However, I haven't played a Silent Hill game since Homecoming and haven't completed one since the The Room and it made me wonder why I still get excited about the franchise. The series has seen Akira Yamaoka mutate from music director to music god to game producer, but has now left the nest to join Grasshopper games, so it is certain that his iconic and atmospheric music will not be gracing the eighth entry. The music from the trailer sounds sterling though and while an unabashed fan of his music for Silent Hill, I didn't greet the news of him leaving Konami and the franchise with anything more than a "huh".
far harder is it to see a series slip into confused mediocrity than to precipitously burn out
I fell in love with Silent Hill, both the town and the game series, during the second and third iterations. The third bizarrely came out in the UK before the rest of the world and was one of the first games I got for the PS2, likewise the second game came belatedly to the Xbox and was another firm favourite. After them however the series faltered and hasn't really recovered what made it special - certainly all the individual components are present in games such Homecoming but the spark has never been seen since. And yet I still wanted to tear apart the latest trailer and put the pieces under a microscope, examining them for clues and hints as to what was to come.