Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Sword Art Online
Blu-Ray - Extra Edition
With their years in Sword Art Online and the Alfheim incident behind them, Kirito and his friends are looking to enjoy some much-needed time off this summer, teaching Suguha to swim and checking out some new quests in Alfheim. But before they can get to that, Kirito's government contact will be asking him to take one more look back at Sword Art Online, and all the dramatic turns that brought him home.
The cover of Sword Art Online Extra Edition features all the girls of Sword Art Online mugging for the camera in their swimwear. Both Asuna and Suguha are posed awkwardly to maximize both boobs and butt, and Suguha actually has her hand yanking the back of Asuna's bikini top, pulling it halfway off her chest. That cover is a pretty good metaphor for what you're getting with Extra Edition - it's pure fanservice, and not particularly graceful fanservice at that.
Extra Edition takes place between SAO's first and second seasons, and is presumably supposed to act as some kind of bridge between the two. The majority of its runtime involves Kirito reflecting back on the events of season one with his government contact as Asuna, Lisbeth, and Silica all help teach Suguha how to swim. This basically means that almost all you're getting here is a high-speed recap of season one's plot highlights interspersed with scenes of the girls in swimsuits. Really, really brazen swimsuit scenes, too - by my count, this one hundred minute feature contains no less than three scenes of the girls comparing breast sizes, so if you're in this for boobs, SAO is ready to please.
That said, even if you're assuming Extra Edition is a wholly fanservice-oriented production, that leaves you with a good forty minutes of tedious recap runtime. There's no new insight offered into the events of the first season here - it really just directly relays the beginnings and endings of all the various narrative beats, with a particular focus on the heroics of Kirito himself. In fact, the way this show frames the actions of the first series actually highlights the weaknesses of that series. The original Sword Art Online had tremendous failings when it came to developing Kirito as a character and handling high-stakes drama, and when you reduce that season to its biggest plot beats, that's virtually all you get. Meaning scenes like Kuradeel cackling, Kirito killing bosses single-handedly, and Sugou vamping while licking Asuna's tears are all fully preserved, while the smaller slice-of-life moments that actually offered some relief in SAO have been erased. Sword Art Online abridged is almost a Sword Art Online Worst Hits collection - with its quiet interludes removed, Extra Edition is just a montage of the show's greatest dramatic excesses and most absurd Kirito-heroism moments.
In spite of not really possessing any appeal for SAO veterans, this recap also seems like a poor choice for those new to SAO. If you haven't already seen Sword Art Online, Extra Edition won't really invest you in the narrative - it simply relays the beginnings and endings of various subplots, without any of the tension, character work, or worldbuilding that actually turns plot into story. You'd get about as much from reading the wikipedia synopsis of the episodes, interspersed with random interludes of the main girls groping each other and prompting more recollections of what SAO was like. And the stilted nature of Extra Edition's recap conceit actually dominates the dialogue outside of the recaps as well, as all of the conversations between the present-day characters are framed as transparent devices to prompt “hey, remember when…” segues into more old material.
The last half hour or so fortunately features some actual new material, though it's just a filler quest adventure. It turns out Yui wants to see a whale, and thus Suguha must learn how to swim and everyone else must gear up for a quest that apparently ends in a whale sighting. There's a tiny, half-hearted gesture towards character development for Suguha, but this last act is still largely just plot for plot's sake, and none of the impressive animation that defines Sword Art Online's best action scenes is on display here. The show still has a solid visual aesthetic and evocative, emotionally rich music, but the fight scenes are largely just stills and pans, with nothing matching the visual heights of either season proper. With little animation and no dramatic stakes, even the new content feels like a time-waster.
The voice acting is solid in both languages, with the dub cast coming across as a little more nasally and also more snarky than the original. That's not a bad thing, it just somewhat changes the tone of the character dynamics, with Lisbeth in particular getting “flavorfied” by lines like “that's the gnarliest magic sword a person can get.” Extra Edition comes in a nice slip case, and includes both a poster of the bikini-pulling cover and a booklet featuring an interview with Shingo Adachi (character designer/animation director) and set/weapon/character designs. The one on-disk extra is a faux-news broadcast featuring chibi versions of the main cast, which is basically part commentary track, part silly in-character game show. Overall, I can't say I recommend Extra Edition for anyone but the most diehard of SAO fans - the special seems inappropriate for newbies and superfluous for those simply interested in a bridge between seasons. It's the girls in swimsuits plus a recap of the first season's most overblown moments - that's what it promises, that's what you get.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Maintains Sword Art Online's usual solid art and music; unabashedly fanservicey, if you're looking for that.
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