Sword Art Online Volume 2 DVD: Biggest show of recent years rests on its laurels / by shadebug

vlcsnap-2014-01-24-03h32m08s32.png

This Monday (27th of January) see the release of Sword Art Online. "But Wait!" I hear you cry, “didn’t you already review Sword Art Online?” Why yes, yes I did, but that was volume one of the four volumes that will cover the two seasons of Sword Art Online. Now it’s time for volume two. I hope you’re strapped in.

Now, for brevity’s sake (I figure I should throw brevity a bone every so often) we’ll assume that criticisms levelled at the first volume apply here, so I’ll mostly be talking about the things that are different. Starting with:

Story

This is, of course, the major difference between the two volumes and brings us to the end of the first season. There’s a school of Otaku that will tell you that that makes this the end of the good bit and, from an action point of view, I would say that’s fair.

This volume deals with a world that we now understand and we can get on with making things happen and messing with what we understand. Where the first volume taught us the mechanics of battle, this one shows us how the mechanics are tweaked and broken and how people manage to live their lives as though they were real lives. 

As I’ve said before, this is the action volume and there is plenty of that (yet somehow it also manages to have the most boring moments which I, of course, love it for). This is the volume where we keep not having seen people’s final form and it’s a joy to watch because of that.

Action hero!

Action hero!

A lot of people dislike this bit because of the boring episodes, the episodes they consider filler. Personally, I never had a problem with filler as long as it wasn’t inappropriate (see my Naruto Shippuden 14 review for rants on filler done poorly) and here that filler meant that we got to see relationships develop and it means that there are some very well executed emotional scenes going on. That contrast is one of the reasons why this show was so universally loved. There’s something for everybody.

You would think that you might be able to get away with just getting the first two volumes and a lot of people might agree with you but I will give you a word of warning: this volume ends on a cliffhanger and, if you’ve not seen it already, you may well be compelled to see what could possibly merit a whole other season. That or you’ll pretend to the whole world that it ended very neatly and you’re satisfied with it.

We all see through your lies.

Artistry

There’s not really much I can say here that wasn’t said last time round. We get to explore the world more so we get to see yet more scenery and fashion choices and we get to see boss fights with ever more ridiculous bosses, so it’s still nice to watch.

Translation

You would think that this, much like artistry, couldn’t have changed too much. I don’t know about that, but I will talk about it anyway.

The first volume had dubs that had some very odd choices peppered about them. This volume is no different and, as before, betray what seems to be a lack of understanding by the dubbers of what they were actually making. It’s little things but things that grate, like how the original Japanese has Asuna shouting “Kirito, switch!” as part of their precision, lightning fast, coordinated attacks whereas the sub has her shouting “switch with me, Kirito” as if it’s a polite favour that he should think about doing. Similarly there’s a moment where a character complains about being poisoned in the dub whereas the sub told us they were suffering from paralysis poison. This wouldn’t be a problem except that on the screen it’s clearly paralysis that they’re suffering from, not just regular poison. Not major things, but things that the sub managed to get right and the dub really had no excuse not to.

I'm not gonna say it's NSFW, but it gets pretty raunchy

I'm not gonna say it's NSFW, but it gets pretty raunchy

The real problem with the dub for me, however, was that this is the volume where the love story flourishes. Without wanting to spoil, it’s where sexy times happen. You may or may not have noticed that the standard voice actors that get roped into these things have voices that seem to range from eight year old to sixteen year old. As you might imagine, this makes those sexy scenes all sorts of awkward to listen to. I realise that the characters themselves are only young, but we’re meant to believe that they’ve struggled through having the weight of a world on their shoulders so I’m still not a fan.

Actually, as I watch through again to get screen grabs I’m hating the voices more and more. Maybe you need somebody less prejudiced against dubs.

DVD

Once again, surely this could only be exactly the same as the previous edition. Well you’d be wrong because, this time round, the DVD actually has extras. What extras? Why the original extras that came on the Japanese release, Sword Art Offline.

That’s right, even though you didn’t get to watch the Sword Art Offline that relates to the first volume, they’re sure you’ll find these ones perfectly easy to understand. In fairness, they are. It’s the standard sort of aftershow like the Xtra Factor or Doctor Who Confidential where the stars of the show talk about what’s been happening and interview the characters.

If only I'd paused a moment later I could've pretended the show was called Fart Offline

If only I'd paused a moment later I could've pretended the show was called Fart Offline

I remember watching these way back when they came out in Japanese and finding them a lot of fun. I say I remember doing it because on my disk those shorts were playing at 75% speed for some reason, which meant everybody just sounded weird and deep and it just got really boring to watch because things were taking so long.

I’ll also warn you that if you’ve been watching the show dubbed you’ll get a culture shock when watching Sword Art Offline. Not so much because it’s not been dubbed but more because you won’t see any subs if you haven’t been watching the main show with subs. I know. Classy, right?

Conclusion

So what we have is what many would consider the best quarter of a modern great for Shounen-as-a-loosely-defined-genre. It is, however, marred by poor execution and, once again, it’s difficult to know why you would bother with this on DVD when you can stream the whole show, plus the new special linking into the new season, in better quality. The DVD bonuses might seem worthwhile and, as long as the weird slowing down thing on my review copy was a freak anomaly, they may well be for the true SAO fan, but that fan would have much preferred getting to see the first two episodes that weren’t in the first volume.

So at once much better and much worse than the first volume but still an essential addition to your film shelf if you like to see you some big damn heroics (which obviously deserve some BluRay).

Don't let my review fool you, it's actually awesome

Don't let my review fool you, it's actually awesome

Which I'd say sounds like another

★★★☆☆

3 out of 5 Stars

for managing to squarely take as many steps back as it did forward.