Sword Art Online II
Episode 18

by Nick Creamer,

A fairly slow episode of Sword Art Online this week, as the show laid out some variables for our final arc, Mother's Rosario. There was a whole bunch of lazy hanging out with the gang, a flashback to Asuna and Kirito reclaiming their Aincrad lake house, and the introduction of a mysterious new swordsman. Though it was pleasant enough, this week was once again bogged down by SAO's serious issues with exposition.

We started off with all the characters relaxing and doing homework in the Aincrad home before flashing back to Agil's bar, where he recounted the story of how he and his wife created their bar together. I actually really like Agil's story - there's a great romance to the idea that it could have just as easily been his wife trapped, and that his compulsion to fight on the front lines was born of his desire to get back to her. Unfortunately, this recounting of his own motivation led to an Asuna line that felt like a complete rewriting of her character from the first season.

In the original Sword Art Online, Asuna was initially the one who was rushing to escape the MMO - her character arc over the episodes she spends with Kirito was specifically about her learning to appreciate time spent in a virtual world. In spite of that, in this week's episode, Asuna specifically says “I don't like my family, so at times in Aincrad I nearly forgot why I was fighting.” This is basically doubling back on one of the few clear elements of growth in her personality, all because the show now needs to use her family to create a different kind of drama. It's really sloppy character writing, and definitely something that removes me from the characters as people in the same way Kirito's sudden shifts in GGO did.

After that, the show zoomed through a quick fight scene in order to get to Asuna and Kirito's reunion with their lake house. This stuff I actually did buy - the slice of life moments at the lake house were oddly enough some of the first season's best material, and the way this episode expressed Asuna's happiness at returning to it really helped sell the significance of this moment. This was a visually conservative episode, but Asuna's expressions throughout were excellent, and reflective of something very consistent in her character. If anything's going to make whatever this arc is doing with Asuna's family land as emotionally true (and I'm worried about that already - SAO does not have a good track record with Asuna and arranged suitors), it'll likely be the contrasting peace she feels in relation to her life here.

That temporary peace was a constant in this episode's second half, which mainly consisted of the whole gang lounging around the cabin and talking about an impressive new swordsman. I appreciated the coziness of these scenes, but the sequence definitely dragged overall - this felt like a clear example of a scene where the animators couldn't figure out how to liven many pages of exposition. There were attempts to add some visual excitement through some 2D RPG visual gimmicks (representing a fight with the swordsman like an old Final Fantasy game, etc), but there's only so much you can do to make half an episode of describing a strong person interesting. Hopefully the density of exposition here means we'll be diving straight into the actual action next week.

Rating: B-

Sword Art Online II is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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