Sword Art Online II – Episode 2

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.

Episode 2

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

Sword Art Online

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

2:32 – DEATH GUN atop his trusty steed, GUN HORSE.

Sword Art Online

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

4:10 – This guy has got a sweet character model

Sword Art Online

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!

Sword Art Online

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

5:56 – For once, the fanservice isn’t actually just the camera itself perving on the characters

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

Sword Art Online

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

Sword Art Online

9:20 – You really can’t help yourself, can you, camera

10:56 – Well that’s not good. Guess this is gonna be a long night on the server

12:06 – Yeah, this episode’s pretty great



13:07 – Goddamnit Sinon I told you that is not a melee weapon

Sword Art Online

13:38 – Yeah sounds like that’s working out for them

14:07 – Goddamnit man KEEP IT TOGETHER

14:19 – So you respawn and try another strategy tomorrow night. C’mon bro, amateur hour’s over

14:27 – Oh my god I fucking hate people who do this kill him please Behemoth

14:36 – Dude you’re the one having a panic attack over getting PKed

Although yeah, false drama of this scene aside, this does tie in with the “your game actions are reflective of your character” thing

Sword Art Online


15:56 – Great trick, using the sighting interface to create this “staring death in the eye” image

16:33 – YESSSSS


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!

Sword Art Online


18:08 – THIS IS SOME CRAZY SHIT. Great animation, too. Fantastic finale sequence

18:22 – I think I’m going to like this girl

18:32 – So much great animation, so many dynamic shots. This episode is ridiculously above the bar

19:46 – Jeez Sinon, you have some pretty exacting standards

Sword Art Online

20:16 – Welp, some things never change

21:12 – Sucks being the love interest’s third understudy

22:02 – That’s good to hear. It’d be tremendously shitty if he were hiding some dangerous investigation from her

And Done

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.

68 thoughts on “Sword Art Online II – Episode 2

  1. 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.

    I am not sure they’d explain it, but it actually is a way to show a lot of what this arc is about, about “Real power” versus “virtual power”, and how virtual power is a manifestation of real power. The reticle’s size is tied to the actual players’ heart-rate, and the calmer they are, the more in control of their actual breath-rate and heart-beats, the smaller it shrinks.

    The episode is called “Icy Sniper”, and this is a part of it – people who get stressed can’t shoot well, definitely not as sniper. You need real-life calm to be an in-game sniper.

    4:34 Actions Reflect your True Nature.

    Yup, I found that interesting as well. Sinon, as well as her allies, are people Kirito would consider to be villains.

    4:54 Different weapons.

    I think it costs money, and training, to get different weapons, and you need to skill them up. You know how MMOs work. Also, makes sense if you think of it as “piercing” versus “Slashing” and “crushing”, different armour types versus different weapons are how many RPGs are built.

    • Oh dang, that reticle system is a really nice detail. A very tangible articulation of why these VR worlds feel more tactile and full than conventional games.

  2. I think there was a pretty good reason why they were reluctant to march out to their deaths. Check the after effects of Dyne dying, he dropped his gun. Pretty sure it might have been an expensive weapon as well.

  3. “14:19 – So you respawn and try another strategy tomorrow night. C’mon bro, amateur hour’s over” – If you notice, the guy Sinon shot dropped his gun. Not exactly cheap to die in this game.

  4. The whole episode rang false to me. The lengthy exposition disguised as “strategy”, the panic drama mid-battle, Sinon sniping once then inexplicably walking down into the fray just to retreat back up to a tower to set up the finale stunt. I’ve never known anyone play an FPS/3ps like that. Where’s the inane chatter? Where’s the jocular outbursts? Treating game like reality in SAO’s first arc was believable because it truly was their entire life. The scenario in GG is divorced from any sense of reality of “gamers playing a game”. What reason is there to invest in the “game as life or death” drama the episode was selling? What are the stakes here exactly? The only ones apparently having fun playing a game this entire episode were Kirito’s harem at the end.

    • You’ve never played an MMO with real consequences for death, have you? These guys seem like high level PVPers in what has been established as a hardcore MMO. I wouldn’t be surprised if the guns these guys had took days or weeks of playing to earn, and dying means dropping that hard earned equipment.

      • Maybe something important like that should have been relayed to us, the audience instead of prioritizing ass shots of Sinon? SAO relies way too much on the audience to fill in narrative holes that could very easily be sufficiently covered in a sentence or so.

      • Kadian, they did rely that information throughout the episode. The team commented on how there are two types of guns and how the PvP ones were difficult to acquire (leading them to believe they had an advantage). Not to mention how the whole strategy was built upon the other team taking the same route because “losing some loot doesn’t matter in the long run”.

        So here we have a good reason as to why Mr. Cowboy didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to lose his gear. Plus, as we all know, GGO is a highly competitive game. He doesn’t want to ruin is Kill-Death ratio (as shown by him wanting to log out).

        And finally, which is just pure speculatation, is that the whole scenario must be rather taxing on one’s psyche. It’s “just a game”, yet it seems real. Running to your death is probably not very fun.

    • I agree. While I think the exposition wasn’t too done terribly bad the world building still fails to work for me whatsoever. This is not how you play games. For fucks sake, if you’re that insanely serious about your game and death consequences, then I’d hope people won’t stand in the open or go melee mode with a sniper rifle.

      Then the early mob that dropped a great item could apparently be just afk-sniped from a distant location? I mean, great game design, who could possibly consider this kind of approach in a shooter game!

    • I have seen many, many people treat games this seriously, and as others have stated, there are apparently legitimate consequences for death in this game. Among the serious gamers I’ve known, I rarely see the fun they’re getting expressed in the middle of a losing match. I agree that Dyne’s panic and Sinon’s counter-panic read as pretty silly, but the conflict itself I did not have trouble buying into.

  5. 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

    It looks like they are going to skip over this details so I’ll explain it. It’s pretty interesting.

    Basically, while Sinon levelling she fell (e.g. glitched) down into a high level area (forget whether is was 20 or 40 levels higher but something like that). She was about to log out but realized she was “just” in range of a high level boss while at the same time, was too high up for the boss to actually attack her. So she spend the next few hours slowly chipping down the bosses health until he died and dropped that high level, super rare sniper rifle.

    • Wow, yeah, that would have been some important info to have. The show just makes it look like she was spawn camping rare mobs or something.

      • Seriously, that really isn’t apparent to the audience at all. That kind of glitch I’d actually be fine with even.

    • “So she spend the next few hours slowly chipping down the bosses health until he died and dropped that high level, super rare sniper rifle.”

      Ah, the old “they’re stronger than me but luckily they don’t seem able to turn around that unusually sharp angle and are now stuck” technique nods wisely. Many a fierce dragon/undead/demon king has fallen to this tactic.

  6. Yikes, that seems like a completely different show! Hahaha, it would be far far better if the story focuses on different protagonists with each season, why keep the same boring protagonist that is boring? well, why keep Kirito? maybe even the previous thematics would have been enjoyable and better developed and even it could have been a different show! That only serve as a demonstration to what happen when you insert a gary stu/mary sue and how much it can improve when you remove it. Great post, by the way!

  7. 4:34 – You can read this as articulation of a theme, or just as a pretty realistic presentation of the “PVP master race” attitude some MMO players hold. Or both!

    4:54 – A lot of MMOs have separate gear progression for PVP and PVE so that neither is the “optimal” way to gear up, which means the people who only enjoy one or the other aren’t “forced” to do both.

  8. I’m interested in learning about Sinon. I wonder if her hand trembling IRL was a sign of her being a frail person or if it was just her being thrilled after the battle. The former would make sense as she says she needs to get stronger.

    Either way, it seems like she has a reason to become stronger. Could possibly just be that she’s lonely, though.

    • Nah, we’ll definitely learn the story behind her trembling and “courage to smile on the battlefield” stuff eventually. Even the ED promises baggage and some emotional arc to come.

  9. 5:35 A minute to reset Playre IDs

    This game probably works along the lines of something like MWO where if you keep a player in sights long enough you get more detailed info about things like their health, load-out, optional parts/skills etc. If they stay out of sight or range long enough you have to reacquire all that data again. The other team not knowing how hurt you are or what weapons you’re using is generally a good thing.

      • Nah, see, the episode wasn’t too clear on this. All guns basically have a “prediction line” that tell you where a bullet is going to hit (don’t think it’s seen by the shooter tho). Snipers get a perk where their first shot doesn’t have this line, and you have to relocate, and wait 60 seconds for it to reset. It’s why they big dude was able to dodge her second shot.

        • Ah, k, that does make sense. Of course, that then raises the question of why the show included the sixty seconds line if it wasn’t gonna give us the sniper information that actually made that meaningful…

      • I assume those are details they want to push for later instead. Though, you’re right. That was an odd time to bring it up, without any real explanation.

      • I can already see exactly the episode and scene where they explain the prediction line business to us, but not sure if they’ll shoehorn the 60-second bit into it or not.

    • This is part of it, however part of the mechanic of GGO is also the “shot-line” (I forgot what it was called in the novels), the red line that projects the bullet’s path just before it passes through that spot. A good player can spot the shot-line, pinpoint where it came from, and lay down fire on that area or direct his squad there to take out the threat. Also, as with any stationary target, if the sniper (Sinon in this case) doesn’t move after every few shots the enemy will eventually find them, move on their position, and take them out.

  10. Oh, SAO. Silly SAO.
    May I just say this arc may end up being almost completely devoid of tension (at least for the audience)? In the first act, it was a very legitimate life-or-death situation, and the fact that the world of SAO was the players reality, which explained why all the players took it so seriously. This episode was (excuse me) a bunch of nerds playing a video game for an unhealthy amount of time and taking things way too seriously. Well, I would understand if the characters took it seriously (they’re just that hardcore), but the show is just giving so much drama to playing a freaking video game and taking itself way too seriously!
    When Sinon tells the man not to run away and face death, I was with the guy. This is a game, and I like my items and money. And then saying she has to get stronger was quite a bit ludicrous.
    That ending scene just perfectly summarized everything that’s bad (but admittedly unintentionally hilarious) with the show. And it is interesting how the girls have way more chemistry with each other in one scene than any of them with Kirito (I like the girls, I just don’t like Kirito).

    • Wait, I didn’t support Mustache Man’s actions, as really those are the most annoying people in the world. My problem was the “Face death, don’t run away” argument which may seem good in the surface, but then you realize this is a friggin MMO. Maybe I’m just not that harcore

    • It was melodramatic, but it was fun, which is more than I can generally say for the first arc. It was just better articulated than the first season’s stuff – there was actually a real conflict with multiple variables here, it didn’t just resolve with Kirito doing Omnislash.

  11. You don’t watch closing credits, do you? As with episode 1 of the first season, the opening sequence was used for the end credits in s2 ep1 also, so you would’ve seen the OP last week.

    I do recommend the actual ED, also: very stylistic sort of thing they did there.

    I’d be interested to hear what you think about the lack of plot progression here. I got into an argument on reddit with a guy who suggested a standalone episode with just Sinon helps differentiate her character from one-off female characters like Lisbeth and Silica. I could recognize that was true, but to me, that reflects more on the author’s intentions for those characters than an inherent need to give a character one episode by themselves to establish them.

    • I actually did watch the ED, and yeah, it’s nice. As for plot progression, I think this episode served well to introduce both the character and the world, and was just a compelling little vignette in its own right. I think a plot-focused approach to media is really limited in general, and that we generally only tend to focus on that when the stuff that actually does matter (the execution) fails for us. “Nothing happened” is just an easy complaint to make, whereas the problem might actually be “I did not buy the drama as presented due to a variety of framing factors, and thus felt emotionally removed from this episode.”

  12. For being more fun than anything else in SAO I can give this episode a pass for how dramatic Sinon’s teammates were being about their video games. I wasn’t happy about seeing Silica and Yui again, but at least this was the best looking episode I’ve seen from the season so far other than the first episode of Terror of Resonance.

  13. 2:41 Hun you should get those ears looked at, they didn’t look like that for the Christmas special!
    “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!” I feel like you described every group of friends cosplaying from different series ever.

  14. I get the feeling some of the people watching this haven’t been in a high level PvP group.

    I’ve played EVE online and Planetside 2, both games known for PvP. People take that shit seriously, especially in EVE. Sure, they’ll joke around when you’re waiting, but when the fight is on it’s “battle comms” and you shut up and take it seriously. If you’re not willing/able to do that, you won’t end up playing with the hardcore groups. Some people play to win, so anything that gets between them and winning ruins their enjoyment of the game – including not being able to relay intel or give clear orders because someone’s cluttering up comms.

    And people get invested in their gear, especially when it takes time to acquire. EVE, you permanently lose your items every time you die, stuff takes real time and effort to aquire, and no matter where you are on the server nonconsentual PvP is enabled. Some people ragequit over losing their stuff, or give “tears” – they rage at their gankers, giving the fuel that keeps some of the more sadistic griefers and gankers playing. The difference between PvE and PvP loadouts seems realistic as well. Any game which has both, the PvP players get the advantage simply because they’re prepared for it and are choosing to create the fight.

    One part that rang true is the line at 4:34 – where they call out the predictable PvE players as being like the NPCs themselves, moving according to an algorithm. I’ve seen that exact same “they’re like human bots” reasoning from gankers to dehumanise their targets and justify their actions – thinking of James 315 and the New Order in particular. And to anyone who thinks that games are “just a game”, have a look at what Jester wrote about the bonus round.

    Basically, the tension is there if you’re familiar with that kind of situation. (The fact that it’s not if you aren’t, that is a failure of the show.) People take their games seriously…. And that’s in a 2014 real life non-VR MMO, not these ultrarealistic neural interface future games. If anything, they’re not being serious enough – she should have clued them in as soon as she saw him unveil his minigun.

    • Yeah, I was never in a really serious raiding guild, but I still ran into tons of people who took their games as seriously or significantly more seriously than what we’re getting here. People invest tremendously in their gaming experiences.

  15. Strong enough to smile on the battlefield may be my favorite line to come out of Sword Art Online. Could not get enough of that.

    Totally agree that this episode was way better than nearly everything else SAO has done. The optimist in me wants to believe that is a good sign and this season might be fun, but I’m worried that Kirito is gonna… Well be Kirito. Time will tell, I guess.

      • Is that like the Turing test, except you have to fool someone into believing you are NOT a human being but a mere computer trying to look like a completely hollow host for one’s own self-insertion?

      • Well there’s this episode…

        With this show the problem is that the narrative is centered around Kirito, so Kirito is an active participant in most conversations.

  16. I dislike the way this episode spend too much time on talking and inner monologue during combat. The battle can be messy and hectic, but it must be executed swiftly. In both real life and game battle, thinking and talking are luxury. But that aside, I find this episode ok.

    14:45 – Agree. I am very irritated with players who play tanker but chicken out in Dota team clashes. Man, it was just a game, why so scared of dying, especially your dying is necessary for winning?

    I have a feeling that Sinon will be independent from Kirito in this arc, because she is the only heroine who has her own episode. Even Asuna didn’t have that treatment.

    • Hah, yeah, MOBAs are like the saddest variation on the prisoner’s dilemma. You have to die for the team to win. It’s good for everyone! Between Left 4 Dead and League of Legends, I’ve seen a whole lot of players saving themselves by bringing the whole team down.

      • This is so true. Dying for people is scary, even when it’s not real. On the other hand, Axe.


        Just go into the middle of the five strongest avatars of their respective gods, taunt them to you, so we can kill them and win the game. Don’t worry, you’ll just revive and the bonus gold you’ll get from assist kills.

  17. I really enjoyed this episode! I like that the focus was almost entirely on Sinon for the whole thing, and was pleasantly surprised that she seems to be turning out to be a character who’s legitimately interesting in her own right (I haven’t read any of the light novels either, so I had/have no idea what’s coming with her). Exposition felt pretty minimal too, and for the most part fairly natural whenever it did occur. Good job, SAO.

    • I’d love to see this season of SAO play out somewhat similarly to the light action shows I tend to enjoy, and this episode seemed like a great step in that direction. I hope it keeps up!

    • If SAO can keep the direction and animation as strong as it was this episode, it would make for a great popcorn action show. I guess we’ll see.

    • It’s simple: a) stop thinking; or b) watch to rip apart/laugh at the show. I personally would say that SAO at least is more interesting than, say, Mahouka and actually has a good basis and ideas behind it. Just one problem: Kirito. Get rid of him, and you’ll get a good show.

  18. “STRONG ENOUGH TO SMILE ON THE BATTLEFIELD” when she said that , it made me laugh but when i think about it , she’s right because when you’re in the battlefield facing the ennemy you are surrounded by fear , so yes shinon is right ….. i think she’s an interresting character and a realistic one it’s by far the best female (or character in general) in SaO and she’s pretty badass too :3

    • Please writer, let her still be cool in the presence of Kirito. I actually like her as a character, and she’s not a half bad protagonist.

  19. Pingback: Sword Art Online II: Episode 2 — Pointless | Standing On My Neck

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