Kirito recaps the show to a government agent as the ladies teach Suguha how to swim, after which everyone ventures into a new underwater dungeon in ALfheim Online.
For what was advertised as an extra episode, this sure has a lot of padding. Throughout the first hour or so, Kirito narrates the plot of the first season to a government agent who really should already know what happened. Concurrently, the ladies band together to teach Suguha how to swim at the pool and recap the harem/romance parts of the show. None of this is particularly offensive (depending on your tolerance for questionable pool fanservice), except for that entire recap business. Presumably, everyone watching this special has already seen the show, so it’s hard to see the point in spending an entire hour with a clip show. If this were merely a 30-40 minute bonus episode, it would be significantly more interesting to watch. Instead, it becomes tedious.
The actual new footage consisting of the underwater dungeon handily shows off SAO‘s strengths and weaknesses. Despite heavy animation kerfuffles throughout, the art direction is quite beautiful – as it pretty much always was – and I enjoyed seeing the cast’s new ALO costumes, particularly Klein’s two-toned samurai robes. Some actual team combat with both magic and melee was reasonably fun to watch for once, since the ALO arc seemed to be all too happy to eschew one of its main selling points. Yuki Kajiura’s tunes lend a great sense of adventure to the diving scene and overall that short bit is a great reminder of what SAO could be if some real effort were actually put into it.
Alas, the writing isn’t great, best exemplified by Suguha/Leafa’s supposed character arc for the episode. The entire premise of the pool segment is based around preparing her for this dungeon, but when she finally decides to stop being scared and do her thing as the allegedly badass player she’s been billed as during the entire ALO arc, she fucks up and has to be saved by Kirito. Not that I hadn’t expected it by now, but damn. It’s almost insulting at this point. The show only digs itself deeper when the big boss battle with the Kraken at the end amounts to a massive non-climax as an NPC bails everyone out. Troubling.
If you loved Season 1 of Sword Art Online and are hyped as hell for Season 2, this episode is probably a pretty good way to tide yourself over during the wait. It’s more of the same show, for both good and ill. You already know if you want to check this out.
This OVA is very much in the spirit of Sword Art Online, in that it’s boring, tiresomely self indulgent, and does a great job of denigrating a bunch of its side characters in favour of pumping up its hero. So let’s deal with those in order.
It’s boring because this is almost all stuff we’ve seen before. I’m inherently against the idea of recap movies because they tend to be cheap cash-ins that remove any sense of pace in favour of foregrounding big action scenes. This is exactly that but worse, because instead of allowing us to get back into the story, we instead get random interruptions filled with either tedious Kirito narration or even more tedious pool fanservice. Seeing the girls whitter on about Kirito reminds us of just how satellite they are to him and it’s kind of depressing that, given this is the first time they’ve had meaningful solo screentime, they can’t do anything but talk about him. Oh and please, a moratorium on random groping forever and ever please.
The thing is, it’s not like this stuff was scintillating when it first aired. SAO varied between passable and terrible and none of that is improved by being sliced up into chunks like this. You could probably have given a pretty decent recap in two 90 minute movies, but as it is it’s a pretty rapid fire summary of the story – rapid fire enough that I’m uncertain anybody who hadn’t seen the show would be able to follow it. So what’s the point? Nothing wrong with a nice standard length OVA to bust out the bikinis and do some tying up of lose ends. Why then this bloated monstrosity of a recap episode? That’s self indulgence for you.
As for the actual original content, it’s profoundly blah. While it’s nice to see some of the cool visuals of ALO again (although AIncrad must be REALLY high if its that small), the entire adventure seems purposely designed to re-establish Kirito into his god-mode sue position. The ‘Suguha hates the water’ mini-arc they seed throughout is clichéd but effective, and having her overcome her issue to make the save in the end would have been a decent little capstone. But that doesn’t happen – she has an epiphany, fucks up completely and has to be rescued by Kirito in a plot swerve so mind bogglingly dumb it almost sounds like parody. It serves no purpose at all except to remind us how utterly subservient all other characters are to Kirito, both in in-story ability and in story importance.
We’re even denied a decent fight or a proper climax, as the appearance of
Aquaman the Ocean king acts as a gigantic deus ex machina, an uncomfortable reminder of the show’s tendency to rely on such things. This OVA then really accomplishes nothing – it’s a poor recap, it’s boring, it doesn’t provide character development and in fact it actively diminishes some characters. It’s not even any good as the kind of consequences free romp these extra episodes usually are. There’s no fight, the action is weak, the fanservice is crass and the art and animation are so frequently off model it’s not even much good to look at. In fact, the only reason this really has to exist is to whet people’s appetite for the upcoming season 2, so STRAP IN MOTHERFUCKERS.
Frankly as much as I love Sword Art Online, I have little love left for blogging about it. I’m just tired of all the unjustified hate aimed at it. That said, this bonus episode was pretty simple so I don’t need to say that much either way. It’s basically a recap episode to catch people up for season 2 and explain some of the logic behind season 1 in case someone out there didn’t follow it. It also likely serves as foreshadowing for things to come.
I found myself enjoying the recap. It covers many of the best moments of the show and it was fun albeit unnecessary to reminisce. Hearing Kirito himself explain events helped solidify their ambiguity. Sure you can call it bullshit if you like, but I enjoyed it so I won’t. Meanwhile Asuna and the other heroines of the show talk about how they met Kirito and about how Asuna and Kirito hooked up. Fun, sentimental stuff if you loved the series, and informative if you haven’t seen it.
The real fun starts when the recap ends and our party of adventures goes off the end of the world looking for whales. I thought it was cute to focus the adventure on Kirito and Asuna’s pseudo-child’s desire to see a whale. Kirito and Suguha also make up, but even I really only tolerate her so I won’t pretend like I cared about seeing Kirito reforge his bonds with his fake imouto.
In the end the quest itself is a fake, a teaser for unreleased content. The cheesy storyline for the quest was endearingly perfect for an unfinished MMO event. In the end the fact that they can’t even fight the much higher level boss might have been disappointing, but epic loots were never the goal of their adventure in the first place. The hilariously cliche king of the sea sends them all home on whales, granting Yui’s wish and giving our short bonus adventure a fun send off in preparation of season 2. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait for Gun Gale Online.