Sword Art Online II
Episode 9

by Nick Creamer,

The opening to this week's episode of Sword Art Online II was such a classic SAO moment that I had to wonder if it was actually self-aware. As Kirito and new heroine Sinon battled in GGO, we got to enjoy a brief moment with all of his prior love interests, as they shared drinks on the side character couch and complained about Kirito not getting enough screentime. Was this actually a comment on the problems of SAO's structure, and how the various female characters have essentially become accessories since their time in the spotlight ended? The world may never know.

Anyway! This was mainly a transition/exposition episode, and not a particularly graceful one. Death Gun ended up executing Pale Rider, which led to Klein and Asuna confirming Death Gun is from Laughing Coffin on the one side (complete with some repeated, unnecessary exposition that fed my suspicion this episode was padded for the show's overall episode structure), and Kirito explaining his actual mission to Sinon on the other. Sinon decided to join Kirito on his mission, and the two of them were off to the races.

That's largely everything that happened, narrative-wise - this was a slow episode, and the dramatic build here wasn't nearly as effective as last week's build to the bridge confrontation. Part of that was due to the clunky writing - lines like “Someday I will come to you. And I will bring you true death with this gun” don't inspire fear, they inspire giggle fits. Likewise “Death Gun will come out to finish me with his black gun,” which kind of doubles down on the inherent ridiculousness “Death Gun” is already starting out with.

The awkward threats and exposition were broken up by one action scene, but unfortunately, that was probably the weakest of the season so far. Which is a shame - although the original Sword Art Online was fairly bad at creating tension in its fighting scenes (generally Kirito would just charge the enemy, there'd be a lot of beam spam-style swinging, and then Kirito would win), the sequel has generally upped both the emotional tension and actual framing/choreography of the fights a great deal. Sinon's solo outing in episode two is still the highlight, but the first fight where Kirito learned to use his sword was also well-composed, and last week's shootouts were at least dynamically directed. Not so this time.

This week's fight was the first time Kirito and Sinon worked together, but whatever inherent engagement might be drawn out of a sniper and swordsman teaming up, this episode didn't demonstrate it - it mainly just featured Kirito doing a lot of flips and then Sinon shooting a guy. No stakes, no buildup, no real tension at all. In fact, Kirito and Sinon's interactions were kind of at a general low point this week - though they've bounced off each other well in the past, this week featured Kirito at his most blandly heroic and Sinon at her most generically tsundere, complete with “This is the only time I'm helping you, okay?!” The narrative forcing Sinon to fall for Kirito hurts even more here than similar situations did in the first season, since Sinon actually has her own character arc to be working on.

There were a couple nice touches, though. Death Gun's declaration that “nothing is over” was a solid mirroring of Kirito's emotional regrets, and I liked their choice to animate Pale Rider frantically trying to log himself out. That's the kind of morbid attention to detail that can bring home the inherent fear of what's really going on here. Sinon's arc also seems to be progressing fairly evenly, with the revelation of Death Gun's power serving to further break down the mental wall she's created between her physical and virtual selves. And the twist of her being ambushed at the end was handled nicely, as well - they didn't oversell the build-up, and so the shot actually took me by surprise.

But those are just bright details. Overall, this was definitely a weak episode, but this season has been hit or miss from the start, so it doesn't really worry me. Hopefully next week will ramp up the action and give us something to cheer for.

Rating: C

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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