ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 2nd October 2015, by NEO Staff

Sword Art Online II: Part 1

A year after the events of the first series, lone wolf Kirigaya Kazuto is still wracked with guilt over the deaths of thousands of players. In the interim, Gun Gale Online, a new VRMMORPG blending futurism and post-apocalyptic wastes, has risen in popularity. Rogue GGO player Death Gun has the ability to cause cardiac arrest in players by shooting their avatars. After the murder of foremost user Zexceed, Kirigaya is reluctantly enlisted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Virtual Reality Division.

To lure Death Gun out, Kirigaya first has to make a name for himself. With the help of top sniper Sinon, and his own SAO skillset, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Sinon might be a gifted and introspective in-game sharp shooter, but she’s only the avatar of the anxious and anguished Shino Asada. The blurring of the real and digital is the show’s bread and butter, channelling Baudrillard in the philosophical reveries and existential angst.

Thematically, it’s a cut above the slow and sanitised Log Horizon, and an extension of the architecture laid down in .hack, but the ponderous plotting of the first series persists. Likewise the writing is equally prone to sloppy digressions, though the attention to the psychological and emotional strain surrounding VR is at the forefront. Gaming as therapy proves particularly poignant this time around.

When it does move into gear, the action sequences are meticulously coordinated, with Tomohiko Ito returning on directorial duties. The use of firearms and laser blades counterpoint the sword and sorcery of the first outing, though the tonal shift from GGO to Aincrad is head spinning.

Slow pacing and pointless tangents counter weighty issues and themes, making for a disappointing, if at times interesting, first arc.
SCORE: 2.5/5
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