It was Fall of 2012, and it almost seemed as though the world was in a bleak dark place of temper tantrums and violent outbursts. These were formed due to the nature of one simple questions: Is/Was Sword Art Online really that good or bad? Both sides had convincing arguments to their reasons for disliking or liking the show. But, ultimately, it has now become a staple of how every year, there is that one over-hyped show that defines anime of that year. Now it’s 2014 and we finally have its sequel under the cheers and groans that look forward to or dread it.
Now the one question remains amidst to its conclusion: Is Sword Art Online II better than Sword Art Online? The answer being: yes… kind of?
Make no mistake I was, and am, of the camp that did not see the general appeal to Sword Art Online. With its sometimes flashy action sequences and brilliant score became a general mess of incoherent pacing, god awful 2nd half, and atrocious character development. Going forward with Sword Art Online II, all but one of these negatives that I had with its prequel are officially gone: character development. Of course, this is due to the fact that the prequel introduced these characters, albeit a short while, so now with the sequel, we are able to get to know these supporting characters a fair bit more than at first glance. This in turn makes them a little bit more relatable and likable in that scenario.
Now there are characters that are new to the series that make their debut in this sequel. Sinon being the most notable and hyped character, it is poignant to see how she holds up as a character all her own. From her standout arc, Gun Gale Online, there are some positives to her that I can see clearly but other times I see plenty of negatives that keep her from being great. To put it more into perspective, Sinon has a likable presence and personality that is easily relatable, but her character arcs involving her psychological trauma is, suffice to say, hokey. Her unwillingness to shoot a gun, and yet is able to shoot at most enemies in the game with no hesitation whatsoever comes across as a bit counter-intuitive.
This hokey logic can be applied to the story at large. Although I will say that the story is, by far, the one thing that they didn’t make even worse from the prequel. the hiccups there are in leaps of logic, and trust me there are some, most of them don’t come near close to how badly they were beforehand. There is, of course, the unfortunate illness to the series where the 2nd half of Sword Art Online just becomes weaker as it goes along. Whereas in the previous season it was messy storytelling throughout the 2nd half, here its just flat out dull and meandering. All it is just an uneventful, sappy melodrama involving Asuna and one other character whose backstory I won’t spoil. And really, the less Asuna in any season, the better.
Even with the problematic story elements aside, there are certainly a few moments in Sword Art Online 2 that seem almost laughable in its attempt to be serious. One instance being one of the antagonists going on a full-on psychopathic meltdown on our hero Sinon that goes on for almost five minutes. I almost felt as though the voice actor couldn’t do the script justice and tried his best to make it dire, but failed to do so. What went on was this overacting scene that felt way longer than it needed to be; at the same time it did give me one of the hilarious moments in anime this year.
Now we have what many come for Sword Art Online for: the butts. Er, I mean, the animation and sound! Seriously though, unanimously, everyone can make the case that this series has really good production values. It does have some nice slick backgrounds with really nice lighting to make the world feel vibrant and alive. With this, we have the fighting scenes to go with it, which I seem to be of the minority that the fight scenes in Sword Art Online are pretty mediocre at best. Compared to other shounen shows that do their actions scenes well, here in Sword Art Online 2, most of the fight scenes are pretty tame. Hell, the first one had way more in terms of quality action and even then it didn’t hold a candle to other better fighting shows out there. This entails from how the characters’ actions seem very disjointed and their movements feel rough around the edges at certain points. Nevertheless, when it’s not going for fast paced action, the art and animation is quite stunning for the eyes to see and gander at.
It would be far-pressed to express some sort of relief that the sequel brought us something that’s not unwatchable, even if it still wasn’t a great final product in the long run. For what it’s worth, I could see myself watching this again; at least, insomuch how I would prefer it over the prequel, if I had a choice. It still can’t be given a passing grade from the story’s pacing and writing problems that lower its quality amongst other shows that deserve it more. As if that wasn’t enough for over-hyped shows to begin with.