Anime Review: Sword Art Online II: Phantom Bullet

Sword Art Online has been a rather touchy subject to me of late.   In the days leading up to this review I have made a point to rewatch  the Phantom Bullet Arc to assure myself that it was really worth a review.  I’m proud to say I managed to set aside my biases for Sword Art Online I  in order to give its sequel the proper attention.I believe  in giving every show I review publicly.  Regardless of my thoughts on the previous incarnation of SAO I will be giving its predecessor a fair and untainted criticism.

As is tradition with  Sword Art Online I will do these reviews on an arc by arc basis since every arc is a unique piece.The world and characters change withe each new arc making them hard to include in a single cohesive review. To focus in on each arc allows for the precision required for a true critical opinion.  With that, I have to relate them to the complete series. So, let me bwegin my attempt at redemption on Sword Art Online..

Story:


The Story of Sword Art Online II: Phantom Bullet begins in the exciting world of Gun Gale Online, a Virtual Reality Massively Multi-player Online First-Person Shooter that is rocked by  the sudden appearance of a mysterious assassin.  Going by screen-name Death Gun, the masked player-killer seems to have the ability to kill players by killing their in-game avatars. With the VRMMO genre still in the grips of scrutiny from the events of  the first series the Japanese government turns to Kazuto Kiriguya, better known as the legendary “Beater” Kirito .  This pulls Kirito from the normality of cram school life and into another death game.

Within Gun Gale Online Kirito falls from his normal status of VR-MMORPG God to a newbie who must relearn some combat..  Fortunately, help comes to him in the form of Shino Asada a woman wit post-traumatic stress disorder who fights an aversion to fire-ams through the alter-ego Sinon.  Due to the feminine appearance of his avatar she assumes Kirito to be a girl and the two become fast friends. The two proceed to enter the The Bullet of Bullets Tournament, a free-for-all competition to determine GGO’s best player.  It is here that Kirito must seek out Death Gun  and  confront a long forgotten piece of his past.

Long time watchers of SAO will notice an almost offensive lack of screen time for the female lead Asuna Yuki.  While she is peppered into some episodes but the focus is clearly on Sinon throughout the arc.  This is yet another incident wherein Kirito is tempted by a secondary love interest. I find such things irritating as most fans know it isn’t going anywhere and that she’ll likely join his current friend group. Aside from this Sinon and her counterpart Shino is a surprisingly complex character.

Unfortunately, as her psycho-emotional issue come to an end she fallows the cookie-cutter archatypr of damsel in distress almost being raped and  killed shortly after the defeat of Death Gun. This is the second pet peeve I have with this show. The author of the light novels seems to have an affinity for placing \powerful women  into scenarios where they are compromized and over-sexualized. While I understand the cultural fascination with female submission asn the darker aspects of sexuality among the Japanese popus foreighn viewers might find it unsettling. However   I’m glad this season’s scene wasn’s as allusive to rape as the one in the first series.

Rape and domination issues aside. the story of Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet.is the most praise-worthy of the franchise in my opinion.  It’s theme of confronting one’s past and the stress of dealing with traumatic events speaks to everyone.  The writing of SAO as a series  is evolving and has become extremely enjoyable. I’m very impressed  by the second incarnation’s jump in quality and look forward to the Mother’s Rosario Arc.

Style:


In terms of aesthetic styling sword art has always straddled the line between whisical fantasy and gritty realism. While that holds true for the real-world and Alfhiem Online segments Gun Gale Online seems to barrow heavily from the cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic sub-genres.  The battlegrounds in particular featured bare a striking resemblance to the wastelands of   its sister-anime Accel World as well as Bethesda Softworks Fallout 3 . The execution of of the competitive first-person shooter aspects of this anime is well done, but is little more than framing device for creating a believable world wherein gun battles take place.  Unfortunately, given the evolution it irritates me to se that the creator behind Sword Art Online II  Phantom Bullet did not see fit to equip his protagonist with a more appropriate weapons and attire.

On the topic of Kirito’s gear and avatar style it is mismatched with the setting offered herein. Whereas many fellow players are dressed in combat fatigues and given guns Kirito is given a sidearm and a light-saber with false Jedi robes.  In all honesty.this loadout would be unacceptable if plot did not demand Kirito’s survival.  With this irritation staring me in the face the feminine look of his avatar isn’t so off-putting.  Even the light novels say he has a feminine face and the his attire  was similar to a dress so the similarity was obviously a ploy to cause controversy which demonstrating the childish tendencies of the author.

Sound Design

With my aesthetics issues out of the way sound design to take center stage.Yet again, the sound track and voice casts save this show.. Tracks from the Sword Art Online I have made a triumphant return with a few tracks  receiving remixes.Aside from the original soundtrack the voice actors of the original series have also returned with a few new additions; most notably is the sniper Sinon played by veteran voice actress  Michelle Ruff in the English dub..  Alongside Brice Papenbrook her talents truly shines and the duo make an excellent team. These two seem to fit better here.  They really make the characters pop.

Conclusion:.

This incarnation of Sword Art Online far surpasses the original. The quality of this piece is worthy of anyone’s ranks among the best in recent years.  That said the story needs improvement. My point is it’s getting better.  Watch it on Crunchyrolll or Toonami  or buy it from Rightstuf if you feel so inclined.