Another season, another helping of extreme controversy, a countless number of attacks on the fan base, even more flame wars, and perhaps the largest amount of unfair criticisms and double standards ever seen in an anime.
In my review of the first season, I stated that "Sword Art Online was the most over hated anime of recent decade." Considering what I've seen in this season and the newest criticisms against it(despite it correcting most of the weaknesses of season 1), I still stand by what I said back then.
So what do I think of it? This season has solidified my opinion that I've had about the series since Season 1.
Much like Season 1, the story of SAO II is split up into separate arcs, each with a different tone and genre. These arcs are Phantom Bullet(Gun Gale Online), Calibur, and Mother's Rosario. Two of the arcs continue the trend of showing how virtual reality affects reality, while the one in between is just a simple quest.
Keep in mind there may be spoilers.
Phantom Bullet(Gun Gale Online) - The story focuses on perhaps the most controversial protagonist in all of anime: Kazuto Kirigaya, and a new character for this season: Shino Asada. It's about a year after the ALO incident and, yet again, another incident occurs that involves the virtual world that seems to affect the real world. This occurs in the new VRMMO of Gun Gale Online, an MMO created from The World Seed mentioned in Season 1. A player named Death Gun(who's attire looks like a cross between a mummy and the Grim Reaper) was reported in shooting players in-game, only to have them die shortly after in real life. However, unlike the Nerve Gear, which could fry a person's brain, these cases have involved another vital organ: the heart. Because of the Amusphere's improved security mentioned in Season 1, it appears that these deaths would be impossible to cause through virtual reality. Seijirou Kikuoka, a member of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that first appeared in SAO: Extra Edition, contacts Kazuto and offers him a job to investigate, knowing just how much experience he has in the full-dive environment.
The overall genre of this arc is murder mystery.
All in all, this was a bit of a trade-off arc. On one hand, Kirito gets more depth as a character, Sinon(Shino Asada) develops as a character by the end of the arc, and the story can be pretty engaging with the logistics behind the GGO incident. On the other hand, the action is much more limited, some characters are STILL sidelined for the most part, and the episode before the ending of the arc comes off as all kinds of disturbing. I've always loved SAO more for the story and characters, but a few of the final episodes of this arc left me with mixed feelings.
This being said, it was engaging the whole way through, had much better character development, and was a HUGE step up from ALfheim. 9.5/10
Calibur - I'll keep it short for this arc: it focuses on the group of Kirito, Asuna, Klein, Lisbeth, Silica, Leafa, and Sinon on a quest to Jötunheimr.
The genre for these episodes are mainly action.
This arc wasn't nearly long enough to get me emotionally invested. It was nice seeing the other SAO survivors(Klein, Silica, Lisbeth) get the spotlight for fighting, but, overall, the dungeon's setting was too bleak, and the story wasn't nearly as suspenseful as other arcs. 6/10
Mother's Rosario - This arc nearly matches up to the brilliance of Aincrad in half the episodes. Asuna's character development was the main focus of this arc and just like Sinon in Gun Gale, another character is introduced in this arc: Yuuki Konno, a swords-woman that has earned the title of "Absolute Sword" for being the strongest player in ALfheim.
This arcs' genre is mainly drama. It can be pretty heartwarming with Yuuki and Asuna's interactions, but in the end it's unbearably tragic.
Much like most of Aincrad, I was in tears for this arc and the friendship formed between Yuuki and Asuna was beautiful. I won't spoil the ending, but it's very tragic and you'll most likely cry if you have even a shred of empathy. 10/10
Art and Sound: If there's one thing every viewer of Sword Art Online can agree on, it's that it has great animation, and an amazing soundtrack. This series continues the trend, so I won't go any further. 10/10
Characters: This season did a better job in the Character Development department. Overall, the characters were very three-dimensional, and have their own problems that they have to face, such as Sinon with her PTSD fear of guns, Kirito with his inner demons that revisit him from SAO, and Yuuki with her terminal illness.
The backgrounds of the new characters are introduced well, and some of the characters from the first season get more depth.
This being said, quite a few of the characters are still sidelined.
I mentioned that I'd have to wait for Mother's Rosario for Asuna's character development, and this arc made up for the limited amount from Season 1 flawlessly. 10/10
Enjoyment: I mentioned that this season solidified my opinion on the series, and that opinion is that this is my all-time favorite anime. 10/10
Mother's Rosario helped me realize that Sword Art Online really lives up to the 'Art' part of the name. Not only with the many interpretations that every viewer has had(both "masterpiece" positive and "train wreck" negative), but also from how it's able to connect with the fans on a very personal level and become more of an experience rather than a simple show.
Negative Points: Episode 13 was beyond disturbing. I won't spoil it, but it was very uncomfortable.
Action wasn't nearly as exciting as the past season.
Unnecessary fan service that breaks tension in episode 11.
Excluding aspects or story points from the light novels that would have improved the overall quality of the GGO arc.
If you're watching the English dub of Season 2, there are two contradictory lines of dialogue. One relating to a game mechanic in ALO (beast taming) during Calibur, one relating to an event in Mother's Rosario (the floor the Sleeping Knights and the SAO survivor team clear shown in the final episode, as it's supposed to be Floor 28, but they say Floor 23). These minor plot holes are only present in the English dub. The English subbed version doesn't have this fault.
Bonus Points: Still continues the trend of presenting nearly all of the information needed for understanding the plot. This as well makes the story limited in ACTUAL Plot Holes.
Greater focus on character development helped me to connect with the characters much more than Season 1.
Focuses more on how VR affects reality.
Asuna going back to being a bad-ass, and getting far more development.
As long as you don't interpret anything the wrong way, there really isn't any other girl character that "falls head over heels" for Kirito, or has a crush on him. Overall, it's just a nice friendship between him and Sinon with a little bit of cute flirting solely for the purpose of trolling.
Mother's Rosario having the biggest tear-jerking moment of all tear-jerking moments in this series. (T_T)
Correcting a lot of the weaknesses from Season 1.
Overall Score: 10/10 Does a great job at improving an already amazing anime.
If you can afford to give it another chance, I'd highly recommend seeing this season.
If you still hold hatred for this series, and don't have the capacity for being optimistic, or giving it a chance for redemption, then there's nothing I can do.