Time for more Sword Art Online! That first episode was pretty slow, but hopefully this time we’ll get to jump right into Gun Gale and see some bullet ballet or whatnot. I sincerely hope that lightsaber-versus-sniper rifle image was just an artistic flourish, but hey, some people go with sniper rifles on every goddamn map in real life, too. And once again, I request that everybody who’s read the LNs please try to avoid spoiling every single thing I theorize or discuss. It is okay to let me be wrong until the story informs me!
Anyway. Let’s Sword Art Online.
0:34 – Guess we’re getting to know the new girl before Kirito drops in? I’m all for that – these characters always seem to be better in their comfort zone, whereas Kirito tends to homogenize the roles they can occupy in the narrative. I’m not kidding when I say Kirito makes the show worse – it has a fair number of strengths, and could probably be pretty compelling in his absence
0:37 – Hah. Letting us know this is one of those “strike when the moving dial hits the bar” play mechanics is a nice detail. Though if mobs just sit there and let you shoot from outside their attack range, snipers must be pretty OP
0:43 – Destructible environments in an MMO? Classy stuff
1:32 – Dem particle effects. A nice shot
2:41 – Welp, looks like our old friends aren’t gonna be playing the most active role this season. Lisbeth is not amused
3:29 – Nice background. Not the most imaginative name, but hey, that is pretty much how maps are named in first person shooters. I’ll allow it!
3:57 – Man, I’m already enjoying this episode much more than the first one. I guess they figured reintroducing us to Kirito was important, but a little vignette to add some color to this new world they’re exploring sounds much more compelling to me
4:31 – “As we both know, we are a squad of player hunters.” Maybe the original was actually that awkward, but you could easily rephrase this line so it doesn’t sound so exposition-y. Or just cut it, this could easily be inferred
4:34 – Now this is interesting. One of the big points of the first season was that your actions online are reflective of your true self – that, as Kirito said last episode, the only difference between a digital world and a real one is the amount of information. Here we see someone directly attempting to deny that in order to justify his actions – dehumanizing his targets, making them a part of the game, not human beings like himself. It’s playing off the show’s themes without drawing attention to itself. This is good writing
4:54 – Much better exposition, since it comes across as a natural question and response. Interesting that you need separate weapons to fight monsters and players, and also interesting that player-hunting weapons are apparently difficult to acquire
5:13 – Kinda funny comparing her character model to everyone else’s, but yeah, I’ve been in plenty of parties that were four Totally Badass Dudes and one silly-looking squirrel lady or something. Guess who I was playing!
5:35 – Back to awkward-style, but this is such arbitrary and fundamental information that I’m not sure how they could have improved it. A minute to… reset player IDs? What?
5:51 – Ugh, one of these guys? Non-Kirito dudes tend to fall into three categories in SAO: Cool bros, cackling villains, and buffoonish girl-admirers. Guess we know which one this guy is
7:14 – This HUD is great. This whole sequence has been pretty great, actually
7:21 – DUN DUN DUN. I wonder if this is the story of how Sinon lost her party or something
7:36 – This sounds like an exceedingly boring way to play. “I’ll be the guy who carries the luggage!”
8:25 – See, this actually sounds like a game that would be awesome to play. That was one of the problems with SAO – Aincrad wasn’t really articulated as anything more than a generic fantasy RPG, and “you can fly” didn’t make Alfheim particularly distinctive. But here, we’re down on the ground, seeing how a living VR MMO might play out in practice. A firsthand example from the perspective of an average player is much more engaging than following someone who’s never challenged by anything and isn’t even really engaging with the game
Man, Kirito sucks
9:07 – And now, the waiting game. Most of SAO’s best material from Alfheim was like this, too – the slow-building, mood-focused stuff in the real world. This show has a talented team, it’s nice when they’re given some room to breathe
10:56 – Well that’s not good. Guess this is gonna be a long night on the server
14:07 – Goddamnit man KEEP IT TOGETHER
Although yeah, false drama of this scene aside, this does tie in with the “your game actions are reflective of your character” thing
14:45 – FUCK YEAH YOU TELL EM KANBARU
16:33 – YESSSSS
16:56 – NICE GUTS DYNE
17:14 – Man, where did this show come from? This a fun, exciting, personable adventure with easily graspable stakes and even a legitimately likable side character (RIP Dyne Never Forget). This is great!
17:17 – HE IS THAT STRONG
18:08 – THIS IS SOME CRAZY SHIT. Great animation, too. Fantastic finale sequence
18:32 – So much great animation, so many dynamic shots. This episode is ridiculously above the bar
20:16 – Welp, some things never change
22:02 – That’s good to hear. It’d be tremendously shitty if he were hiding some dangerous investigation from her
Damn! I think I can already say that that was easily the best episode of Sword Art Online so far. It was confident – slowly building tension and a group of characters in the first half, unleashing a series of exciting, constantly escalating action sequences in the second. It was well-articulated, with both a sharply defined dramatic conflict and a bunch of tremendous animation/direction highlights. And it was fun! I’ve often had to make my own fun watching SAO, but this was just legitimately great to sit through. I know at least part of that comes down to Kirito not being there, but even the aesthetics really turned it up a notch this week – if this holds up, Season 2 will actually be a legitimately great ride.