Sword Art Online Finishes Strong With A Powerfully Human Tale

Sword Art Online Finishes Strong with a Powerfully Human Tale

Sword Art Online is an anime with a great first half plagued by a mediocre second half. Luckily, Sword Art Online II does not suffer from a similar affliction. Vastly different from its murder-mystery first half, SAO II ends strong with a powerfully human tale that serves as the emotional high point of the franchise.

It Can Be Anything

Sword Art Online Finishes Strong with a Powerfully Human Tale

The setting of Sword Art Online is one of infinite possibilities. As each virtual world can be different from the next, it allows for stories of many different genres. Utilising this is perhaps the franchise's greatest strength. The first arc is a death game story, while the second is a classic hero-must-rescue-the-princess tale. The third arc in turn is a cyberpunk murder mystery. And most recently, the final arc of Sword Art Online II has two additional stories: Calibre -- a lighthearted adventure -- and Mother's Rossario -- a bittersweet coming-of-age story. So let's look at those last two, one at a time in a bit more detail.

Calibre

Sword Art Online Finishes Strong with a Powerfully Human Tale

When it comes down to it, Calibre has one major purpose in the overall anime -- it provides some much needed breathing room. Between the tense life-or-death mystery of Gun Gale Online and the upcoming emotional drama of Mother's Rossario, the series screams for some downtime.

Thus Calibre follows the full cast of Sword Art Online's first three story arcs going on an adventure together. Their quest is one any MMO player can empathise with: the insatiable need for more loot -- in this case the legendary sword "Excaliber." But as they find out, there is more to their quest than simply obtaining the sword. If they fail in their mission, ice and snow could overwhelm the world of ALfheim Online and the World Tree itself could die as well.

So Calibre is a story with stakes, but comparatively minor ones: If they fail, there will be various effects seen in the game world, but nothing more than that. No one's life is on the line, there is no murder to be solved, it's simply a group of friends playing a game together.

And that's really where Calibre excels. We have rarely seen the whole group together playing off one another. Sinon and Leefa were the main heroines of their respective arcs but were largely isolated from the rest of the original gang. Then, once their stories were done, they became background characters on par with Lisbeth and Silica (who only had an episode each to begin with). Calibre gives them and the other characters more time to shine as part of an ensemble cast. It really is little more than a fun adventure -- a way to decompress before getting into something as heavy hitting as Mother's Rossario.

Mother's Rossario

Sword Art Online Finishes Strong with a Powerfully Human Tale

Unlike the rest of Sword Art Online, Mother's Rossario is not Kirito's story. Rather it is the story of Asuna, as she struggles to adjust to the real world, and Yuuki, a young girl hiding a terrible secret. While each is facing problems far different from the other, their evolving friendship and what each gains from the other is not only the emotional crux of this story but the driving force behind the plot as well.

In the first arc of Sword Art Online, Asuna was a strong fighter and one of the leaders who thousands depended on to get them through the death game alive. In the second arc, she was powerless, locked in a literal bird cage and molested by her captor while waiting for her hero to rescue her. In Gun Gale Online, she was little more than a spectator cheering on her man. And even in Calibre, she was just another member of the ensemble cast.

Sword Art Online Finishes Strong with a Powerfully Human Tale

In Mother's Rosarrio we finally see what life is like for Asuna after escaping Sword Art Online. She is almost treated as having a handicap by her family as she is two years behind her peers and thus out of the running for gaining prominence in her wealthy family. Her mother in particular is aware of this and is determined to get Asuna back on track for professional success -- through better schooling and an arranged marriage if needed.

Thus, after all she has gone through, Asuna once again finds herself in a cage -- finding that the most freedom she ever had was when she was trapped in a death game. Reconciling who she is in the game world and who she is in the real one is the core of her character development in Mother's Rosarrio. But while alone she flounders in this, it is by befriending Yuuki that she is finally able to grow.

Sword Art Online Finishes Strong with a Powerfully Human Tale

Yuuki, on the other hand, is a person with a simple, yet seemingly impossible goal: to beat a raid boss with just seven people. To do this, however, she'll need not only the best of the best but also someone who will work well with her tiny guild of six. While wholly steadfast in her goal, she remains a perpetually happy girl, friendly in the extreme.

But there is also a sense of mystery about her and her small guild, especially as it is revealed that Yuuki is a faster swordsman than Kirito and has even beaten him in a duel. Yet, despite this, Kirito is certain that Yuuki is not a survivor of Sword Art Online. And by about half way through this arc, Yuuki's mystery becomes the central conflict of the show.

Sword Art Online Finishes Strong with a Powerfully Human Tale

[Skip to the next section to avoid spoilers.] Of course, the big reveal is that Yuuki is dying -- everyone in her guild is. They are terminally ill patients with virtually no chance of recovery. To live the remainder of their lives without pain, they spend most, if not all, of their time in virtual worlds.

Yuuki is only 15 years old. She's only getting started in life yet death within a few months is a certainty. She's already lost her entire family to AIDS, leaving her the final survivor -- which leaves her in an existential crisis. What is the meaning of her life? What impact has she or will she make on the world?

Like with the classic Beowulf, Yuuki finds her meaning and immortality in the written word. For her, having her name (and those of her soon-to-pass-away friends) on a virtual wall for all eternity is proof that she existed. To her, even that is enough.

Yet through her friendship with Asuna, she gets so much more. She makes friends, is able to attend school, and even returns to her old neighbourhood. In the virtual world she becomes famous, proving to all that she is the most powerful player to ever play the game. So when she finally dies, it is not alone or with a small group friends at her side that she passes away -- but rather in the company of thousands. Yuuki was able to leave her mark on the world and in the minds of those who inhabited it; and she dies fulfilled.

Final Thoughts

Sword Art Online Finishes Strong with a Powerfully Human Tale

The second half of Sword Art Online II makes for some fantastic anime. Calibre is simply a fun adventure. Removed from the life-or-death stakes that often permeate the franchise, it provides the characters some downtime where they can simply have fun and enjoy each other's company. Mother's Rossarrio, on the other hand, is a heartbreaking character piece about two girls who form a friendship that changes both of their lives forever. Take those two stories, add in some excellently choreographed action, and you have an anime that is easily one of the best of 2014.

Sword Art Online II aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be viewed for free and with English subtitles in the US at Crunchyroll and Hulu.


Comments

    No, no no. SAO bit me once, shame on me if I fall for it twice. Sure, I hear that the new story is much better than the caricaturesquely derivative fantasy world arc in SAO 1, but that was only one of its biggest sins. The other, namely shitting on a perfectly believable and well told love story from the first half to go in the the tantalizing inceste-y harem crap direction introduced all of a sudden in the second half... well, that if anything, only got worse in this new season.

      Dude, this is a really good season i would advise watching. Nothing like the second half of the first season. It was really really good. Please watch then comment :)

        It was quite the same in the way of ; story climax is character threatened with rape, Kirito having another love interest/addition to harem sort of thing, etc.

          That is the sort of crap that I cannot take. And it's not even that I am particularly averse to the whole harem stuff in my action stories; I enjoyed quite a bit the manga of Mahou Sensei Negima, for example. However, with SAO, I felt entirely and disgracefully bait-n-switch'd.

          I got all invested in Kirito and Asuna's relationship and I was quite impressed with Asuna's character at how believable their love was and how naturally and quickly it developed without the tiresome misunderstandings-ridden tug-o-war of emotions that anime love stories usually have. And then, it was all, "er, sure they were basically living as a married couple, but hey, now Asuna became a damsel in distress so Kirito will have the chance to become closer to his-not-quite-sister-but-close-enough-to-make-it-tantalisingly-taboo relative! Oh and all the misunderstandings and emotional tug-o-war you didn't miss in the first arc? They are here with a vengeance! But wait, there's more: let's throw another tantalising hint that his lolitastic adopted daughter could tritely become another potential love interest!"

          I LOVED the first half of SAO. That's why the disgusting, lowest-denominator-catering crap of the second arc felt such a big betrayal.

      I don't blame you. The second arc was pretty average.
      The new season, well first half is a few cool scenes with a lot of dull dialog that tends to frustrate.
      The second half is... hmmm... frustratingly slow... but if you watch it back to back... pretty good.
      All in all pretty good sequel, but the first arc is always the better tale.

    It's pretty funny because Mother's Rosario is actually decent enough watching; it's pretty down to earth and while still a bit shallow in terms of character development and plot there's enough emotional involvement to make it captivating enough. It's... pretty much different than the rest of SAO.

    Also, it's the one sane oasis in SAO; I mean jesus christ, what happens after this season is batshit insane nuts whackadoodle crazy pants town.

    No, seriously. Seriously. It gets crazier. You're like 'well this shit's just mundane vidya gaem-entwined fantasy-fulfillment,' right?" and then the next arc starts and you're like "The fuck is this? the fuck is that? the fuck is going on?"

      Yeah, but the ideas and premise's presented in the next arc are amazing. Really, I can't wait for him to finish the Alicization arc and translators to finish translating it. I think if nothing else, I love the ideas the author presents in respect to what could be done

    Took me ages to write my own review of it, just like it took me ages to struggle through the first half of the series.
    Both in the end I think are rewarding in their own ways: https://andthegeekshall.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/from-harem-to-humanist-anime-critique-sword-art-online-ii/

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