“I will fear no evil,” were my first thoughts upon hearing that Sword Art Online was renewed for a second season. While I was okay with the first season, and found the recap movie to have a bit more focused, I just never got swept up into what was the big deal with the series. However, hearing that this new season is skipping many storylines to move onto the Phantom Arc of the original light novels (originally written by Reki Kawahara), which is said to be the best of the SAO arcs, and keeping the same director (Tomohiko Itō; Anohana, Fractale), composer (Yuki Kajiura; Fate/Zero, Puella Magi Madoka Magica), and animation studio (A-1 Pictures), it’s time to give Sword Art Online II a fair shot.
The first episode of season two, Gun World, starts in, well, the gun world, Gun Gale Online. Our main setting is inside a bar, where players are watching a program known as the MMO Stream where the hosts are interviewing a top ranked player known as Zexceed. He calls out people who only upgrade their agility in the game, saying that time as well as MMO strategies change constantly.
The bar patrons are pissed, and rightly so. There is complaining amongst them until a person in a black cloak gets up into the middle of the room, proclaiming that Zexceed must face judgement.
He fires at the television, which shocks everyone. Seconds later, Zexceed goes into a spasm, and suddenly his avatar is disconnected.
The cloaked person reveals his mask, proclaiming that he owns the most powerful weapon of judgment: the Death Gun (which is also his name to save further confusion). Is that anything like the Death Note? I mean, we can presume at this point that Zexceed is death, and the masked man doesn’t have to be at that actual location to kill him. And if he’s going off about passing judgment, does this mean that the masked man is really Light Yagami? These are my questions SAO!
Or, alternatively, the Anti-Black Coat from Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance
Moving forward, we are giving a start date for our story: December 2025. Asuna is meeting Kirito (yes, I know his name is Kazuto, but everyone in this series, even in the real world, refers to him as Kirito) for a date. On their date at a park, Kirito comments about how this place is cut off from both the real world (since there are no roads or subways crossing through) and the virtual world (there being only one security camera for that park).
It’s here where I must comment that the chemistry between Kirito and Asuna. Just in this first episode of season two, their relationship feels a lot more genuine than it ever did in season one. They obviously click together very well and have an invisible connection with each other that actually feels grounded. Even in moments where there is no dialogue, the natural body language between the two just sync perfectly. This must be how Kirito must know that Asuna gets totally turned on with all this talk about “information” and “virtual reality” because why else would he be talking about this on a date?
Later on that day, Kirito tells Asuna that he wants to be a creator of games, not just a player. Specifically, he wants to create something that rivals the new technology out there, the Amusphere, which was the technology that replaced the Nerve gear. He wants to create something that goes well beyond the illusion of sensory, but having actual sensory.
There is then a flashback to four hours prior, where Kirito has lunch with Kikuoka Seijirou, a member of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Virtual-Division. This isn’t just a casual meeting between the two of them, Seijirou needs to discuss some business (because everything involving the internet is serious business).
He tells Kirito about the death of a man named Shigemaru Tamotsu, who died on November 14 and was found days later by his land-lady. He had died with the amusphere on his head, showing that he was playing Gun Gale Online for nearly two days straight. An autopsy showed that he died of acute heart failure. The man was a pro-player, who went by Zexceed in the game. At the same time, a blogger wrote about the events that happened at the bar in the episode’s prologue. A similar event happened with another player on November 28 who went by Lightly Salted Tarako (yes, you read that right). The shooter at both incidents went by the username “Death Gun”.
They discuss that the amusphere made it impossible to give anyone brain damage (to probably avoid a repeat of SAO), but there was no way to explain how the Death Gun and the heart failures were linked, a conclusion that both Kirito and Seijirou agree on. Seijirou asks Kirito if he could enter the world of Gun Gale Online and “make contact with this Death Gun.”
Kirito then explains that Gun Gale Online is a game for pro-players, meaning that it’s the only VMMO game in Japan that allow players to convert the coins they earn into cash that can be used in the real world. “Pros” are those that can actual make a profit playing the game. Seijirou then explains that his bosses are really worried that these incidents may cause harsh regulation on the technology, and that it was impossible for them to reach the game administrators in the United States because of The Seed that was planted at the end of the first season caused many shady worlds were created (translation: the writer really wanted to make it so that they had to force Kirito into the plot). All Seijirou wants is for Kirito is to find the admins and get his impressions on them, guaranteeing as much safety as possible.
The flashback ends, and we return to Kirito and Asuna staring at the sunset together. Asuna comments on the sunset, talking about the one they saw when the original Sword Art Online exploded (because that’s the definition of romance)..
“And I-E-I Will Always Love You!”
They decide to leave, to go back into ALO and name drop some old characters that we may see in future episodes.
The episode then conclude in Gun Gale Online, where a blue-haired girl known as Shinon is laying on top of a mountain with her rifle, taking orders from a man unknown to the audience.
Quality animation as always, A-1 Pictures.
Her target is a shrouded man who is surrounded by bodyguards, and she is ordered to take the shot. Her shot is fired, hitting her target, and then simply saying “next”.
Gun World brought a lot of promising stuff to Sword Art Online II. It definitely has an interesting premise, and raises the stakes in a different manor than what is normally seen in this genre of anime. However, there was a definite lack of the action sequences that got fans excited for the series in the first place. It doesn’t have to be Attack on Titan quality, but this is A-1 Pictures, a studio that know how to use their budget.
However, one aspect that really peaked my interest was during the credit song that played at the end. It heavily featured Shinon and a black haired girl who could use what is basically a purple lightsaber. This definitely interests me because it’s obviously taking place in a game that heavily uses guns, but she somehow has the ability to use another weapon. It may seem like that Kirito may finally have someone that can truly out do him.
And while I learned my lesson in trusting Sword Art Online in terms of story, I can’t help but find this arc’s storyline interesting. It was like that when the series originally began as well, but the execution just fell flat. I know I’m going to be in a world of pain when reality comes crashing down upon me, but I’d be lying if my hype levels weren’t raised by a margin with this first episode.