Sword Art Online Returns Strong As A Cyberpunk Murder Mystery

Sword Art Online Returns Strong As A Cyberpunk Murder Mystery

Fourteen episodes in, Sword Art Online II has finished its first arc; and if you were let down after the first anime’s second half, let me assure you, Sword Art Online is back and in grand style.

Good — Reinventing the Wheel

Sword Art Online Returns Strong As A Cyberpunk Murder Mystery

The strongest aspect of Sword Art Online as a franchise is the freedom it has to reinvent itself with each iteration. The Sword Art Online arc is a death game story and the Alfheim Online arc is your typical “rescue the princess” affair — while the upcoming Mother’s Rossario arc totally switches gears and presents a coming of age story. The recent Gun Gale Online arc, dives into yet another genre — that of a cyberpunk murder mystery.

In the FPS MMORPG Gun Gale Online, a mysterious player known only as “Death Gun” has apparently been killing people in the real world by shooting them in the game. In order to repay a favour, series hero Kirito agrees to go into Gun Gale Online and attempt to discover the identity of Death Gun as well as the modus operandi of his killings.

All in all, it’s a well-thought-out mystery where seemingly innocuous details become key in solving the crime. And when it all comes together in the end, it creates a sense of tension and suspense not seen since the original Sword Art Online arc.

Good — A New VRMMO World

Sword Art Online Returns Strong As A Cyberpunk Murder Mystery

Along with the exploration of a new genre comes the exploration of a new world. While Sword Art Online and Alfheim Online were both fantasy games, Gun Gale Online is set in a sci-fi post apocalypse. Thus, it is a world of ruins. Far more important than that, though, is that unlike the other two MMOs, Gun Gale Online is a game where everyone uses a gun.

While Kirito may be a sword master, in a world of guns he is decidedly out of place. Moreover, upon first entering Gun Gale Online, he has very little knowledge of the game — making him a great audience proxy for exploring the world. Adding in Sinon as the veteran player who shows Kirito around allows all the important world-building questions to be asked in a natural manner. At the same time, we witness excellent character development of both Kirito and Sinon as we watch their relationship grow.

Good — Specter of the Past

Sword Art Online Returns Strong As A Cyberpunk Murder Mystery

When it comes down to it, the Gun Gale Online arc is the story of two teens attempting to come to terms with the fact that they have both killed people. Both killed to protect others — including those they love — but they have respectively dealt with the guilt in very different ways.

Sinon has been left with a severe case of PTSD in addition to being emotionally devastated by an attack she suffered in her real life. For years it has haunted her every action — even someone making a gun with their finger and thumb is enough to set off a panic attack. And in a society where she faces constant bullying as a “murderer,” it has proved nearly impossible for her to move on. Yet in Gale Gun Online, she is able to face her fears and take control of them. She has even convinced herself that once she is the top player in Gale Gun Online, she’ll finally be able to take the same control over her real life.

Sword Art Online Returns Strong As A Cyberpunk Murder Mystery

Kirito, on the other hand, has dealt with his guilt and emotional trauma by putting them out of his head and fixating on immediate problems — first in Sword Art Online and then in Alfheim Online. Yet, when his past catches up with him in Gale Gun Online, he is rocked to his core — not only because he killed people but also because he then was able to make himself forget.

Alone, neither Kirito nor Sinon are particularly good at handling their respective trauma. However, in each other, they find a kindred spirit — someone who can truly understand how the other feels. Watching their friendship grow and their wounds begin to heal is the emotional heart of the story.

Mixed — Overpowered Hero

Sword Art Online Returns Strong As A Cyberpunk Murder Mystery

As clueless as Kirito is upon entering into Gun Gale Online, you’d think he would be at a disadvantage as the sole swordsman in a world of gunners. However, this is never the case. He walks in, beats an unbeatable challenge, buys a lightsaber, and proceeds to absolutely thrash every opponent he comes across — including Sinon who is one of the best 16 players in the game. It makes both Kirito seem absurdly strong and the best players (at the most competitive PVP game in the world) seem pitifully weak — though in their defence, I doubt they ever expected to run into someone who could block bullets with a lightsaber.

On the other hand, this makes the climax all the more satisfying — not to mention surprising — with Death Gun being more than a match for Kirito due to his own special circumstances.

Final Thoughts

Sword Art Online Returns Strong As A Cyberpunk Murder Mystery

The Gun Gale Online arc of Sword Art Online II is an entertaining cyberpunk mystery in a future not too far removed from today. But more than just being straight mystery and action, it is also an emotional exploration of two teens who are suffering with the knowledge of what it means to take a life. In the end, it is simply a great watch as both a standalone story and as a part of Sword Art Online overall.

Sword Art Online II airs on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be viewed for free and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll and Daisuki.


  • Look I really enjoyed it but….
    It’s almost exactly the same story as SA:O season 1 and season 2. Kirito meets girl, Kirito loses girl, Kirito saves girl, Kirito nearly loses the girl again and saves her one last time whilst the girl also finds her inner strength.
    I would recommend it to anyone who was a fan of the first two seasons or even just the first one, but…
    They all but completely gave up on the idea of getting Kirito adjusted to the real world again like they did in season 2, a side plot I really liked as it left him vulnerable, a more relatable character. Instead they made Sinon they weak character that finds her inner strength whilst learning to trust in others, Kirito.
    I agree that this is a good direction for the show and allows for new plots that explore the characters in more depth….
    But as far as I can tell they completely ignored every single character from the first two seasons except for Kirito and gave everyone else a little cameo to remind you it is set in the same universe.

    • Exactly, it even mimics the whole female character threatened with sexual violence of prior season.
      At the end of the day its just a indirect harem anime where the females get a strong intro then are pushed aside. Especially with the amount of shots of Sinon’s butt.

    • I’m gonna be blunt here and say that if you replace Kirito with Protagonist and girl with love interest/deuteragonist this bit:

      “Kirito meets girl, Kirito loses girl, Kirito saves girl, Kirito nearly loses the girl again and saves her one last time whilst the girl also finds her inner strength.”

      will apply to a large amount of movie/tv show/anime/game/novel

  • Was it just me though or did the progress of season 2 seem a bit drawn out compared to Season 1?

    • Nope, it wasn’t just you
      They hadn’t the foggiest idea how to do season 2 without doing exactly the same thing as the first season so they worked out the most bare bones script they could get away with and fleshed it out over 5 hours of TV.

      • Plus I don’t know if they were just following the source but Kirito seems to make quite a big leap in logic in determining how Death gun operates

        • but even then when you compare the manga to the anime, it quickly becomes obvious that very little appears to be edited, with the exception of arranging the events in chronological order. I find the manga too off putting to read because of the story that doesn’t always distinguish what is a flash back and what is close to present day event. Though it all looks like the entire story is a flash back
          Ok, screw spoilers then phone

  • This arc of s.a.o is good as it deals with 2 people who have killed people in the past via 2 methods, killer by gun: sinon or killer by sword: kirito, both of whom are very broken because of what they have done in the past & how they hope to deal with these episodes of ptsd, which in the end you’ll hope they will get past

  • All I’m gonna say is this: If you didn’t like the 1st season, you probably won’t like this.

    Unless you REALLY REALLY like guns.

  • I loved the first ARC in season one of SAO.
    Knowing what I know know, would of been good to stop there.

    Season 2 is just an excuse for Kirito to add a glasses type girl to his little Harem.
    Plus now he is also a girl..
    I don’t think they even know whats going on they are to busy looking for excuses to add Fan Service.

    • ah so painful to do spoilers on a phone. The reason kiri to is a girl is down to a rare bug that occurs when he converts his character from one seed to another. It also opened up a little bit of an opportunity to make a few jokes, and was even a plot device to start talking to Sinon anyway, since her behaviour indicates if kirito had a male avatar, she would not have given him the time of dayI really really hate doing spoilers tags from my phone. My clubs keep hitting the wrong specific space

    • At least Sinon wont actually be in his harem, though the first half of this season makes it seem otherwise. Unlike the other girls who transparently wish they could be his girlfriend, Sinon only wants to be buddies with Kirito.

  • I think the biggest problem in this arc was that the identity was revealed so early if you were paying attention. what good is a murder mystery if theres no actual mystery

      • It was ? ive started skipping the OPs of shows just because of the crazy ammount of spoilers in most of them 😛

        • “Who is this new love interest, and will she win the protagonist’s heart? No, silly, the OP shows who he’s officially being shipped with. But feel free to watch this girl struggle in vain. We know you sadists love this shit.”

  • I tend to agree much more with the comments than the article.

    I think I’d have liked it if this arc took like half as many episodes, it just felt so slow and like it dwelled much longer than it needed…

    Unlike the first arc where I just wish they’d spent more time trapped in SAO. Second arc I enjoy, plot was tighter and it was paced really well. In hindsight though it’s arcs do seem too similar, as @bushrat011899 mentions.

    The way they pretty much dropped the rest of the cast is similarly odd and keeps pushing this in the harem direction. So much of his character is supposedly defined by his connection to Asuna so let’s see them working as a real team again, let the other characters exist and have their own stories.

    Honestly I really want to see more of Klein and the big black guy whose name escapes me at the moment, even Lisbeth and a few of the other harem girls were interesting but seem to stop existing once their potential romance with Kirito is established…

  • The adaptation from light novel to anime drops a lot of the interior monologue that really shows a character’s development. A lot of that monologue gets condensed into facial expressions or glances that we only see in animation for a split second. The only time you really get a sense of character development is when things slow down in combat (like when Kirito recalls Death Gun’s name) but sadly they can’t do slowmos all the time for this.

    Even though the storyline will now continue to drift further and further away from the original Sword Art Online game setting, the psychological behaviours of how people act and react in virtual worlds is what the author wants to continue building on.

    Mother Rosario was a really heart-warming arch, it won’t be like the previous 3 arcs we’ve seen.

    • this is why i often have problems with novels converted into films. Some things only work in internal monologue style, but internal monologues are really hard to do well in a film.

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