Last time on Sword Art Online II I was bored, and this time on Sword Art Online II things were better? Well okay that question mark was a little harsh, I’m not joking when I say that these past few episodes have been some of the best since the first half of season one. The characters, setting, and general story here are actually being decently executed, with some genuine care put into it. However, that still doesn’t necessarily mean these past few episodes have been gems, since many of SAO’s typical problems still linger.
First let’s start with the main improvement, our new main female lead Sinon or, as she’s known in the real world, Shino Asada. Unlike Asuna, or the many other girl’s in Kirito’s now expansive harem, Shino’s actually being fleshed out and getting some decent characterization! It’s a miracle, I know! However, that doesn’t necessarily mean much, since the show is overestimating itself when it comes to her tragic back story. The basic gist of it is that when Shino was a young girl she violently murdered a man in self defense, and now has panic attacks at the sight of guns in the real world. Now the execution of this part of her character is fine, her panic is palpable and the delivery of the scene where she murders the man in post office is pretty chilling. The main problem with this side of her though is how this conflicts with the rest of the show.
Now if there’s one thing I’ve always hated about Sword Art Online in general, it’s how much it takes itself seriously! Oh it made sense in the first half of SAO, after all those character could die from any monster encounter; but afterwards all of the serious moments just felt awkward when paired with the significantly lighter stakes. This definitely applies to Shino’s character, because in general this serious psychological issue just seems totally out of place! SAO just isn’t the type of show that should be covering tragic back stories like this, and in general I don’t really know how much this is going to contribute to the plot, besides making us feel sympathy for Sinon/Shino. I mean it’s a nice effort, but the writer of SAO was clearly way over his head when he wrote this.
The annoyingly serious nature of the show also sours the otherwise really great battle scene that appears in episode 2. Once again, these characters don’t have to worry about the repercussions of actually dying. Death Gun isn’t anywhere near them, and they’re just going to respawn if they lose all their HP! But the show and characters just take everything so seriously, and not in a campy self aware way either. In the end, this is really what has spoiled the otherwise past few decent episodes. Well that and Kirito. Kirito always crashes the party.
Yep he’s finally into GGO (As overpowered as ever, might I add), and with that he’s also got the new androgynous character design which, as I’ve said before, raises the creepy subtext of wanting to be and wanting to make love to Kirito. Otherwise though the new character design is mostly just a cheap gag. It doesn’t do much to change the plot except disguise his true gender and identity to normal players.
That’s actually rather nice however, considering that means Sinon does not currently know that Kirito is a boy; which is a blessing. Right from the beginning my main concern with Sinon would be that she would be all over Kirito, but luckily, due to the fact he’s in disguise, she’s still her normal self. Thank god! She’s the only well fleshed out character in the show, I hope she stays this way even after she learns Kirito’s true identity and gender. I mean that most likely won’t happen, after all they’re still unsubtly hinting that she’ll fall in love with him. Seriously there’s a scene where she’s laying down on her bed after a panic attack and she says, “Someone save me…” Smash cut to the next scene and who is in it but perfect, little Kirito! Jeez, you could at least get my hopes up SAO.
In the end I have mixed feelings about these past few episodes of Sword Art Online II. While they certainly are much better than episode one of this season, and the Alfheim Online Arc, it still has some little issues that ruin my enjoyment of the otherwise good experience. Kirito is still overpowered, the show’s still too serious, and while I appreciate Sinon’s characterization, it’s just kind of out of place considering the way the rest of the show is. Still, the past few episodes have been some of the best stuff I’ve seen from this show since the beginning of the first season, and that’s really saying something. That being said I still can’t give a full recommendation to anyone besides those who liked season one. My opinion is too shaky.
I’d also like to briefly mention, before I end the post, that I was completely wrong about Yuki Kajiura not composing the score for this show. She makes herself very noticeable in the second episode, composing a typical epic choir fight song. Sorry for that mistake, she just seemed invisible in the first episode. My bad!