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Sword Art Online II 19 January 2015

2014, 24 episodes: AniDB, follow-up to 2012's Sword Art Online. The survivors of the VR MMO Sword Art Online go on to new adventures.

This series is built from three arcs in the light novel series: Phantom Bullet, in which someone seems to have found a way to kill VR players in real life, Calibur, a fairly straightforward fantasy quest story, and Mother's Rosario, in which a highly-skilled duellist is taking on all comers with an unusual goal in mind.

The first of these was the most satisfying for me: we've been told that the virtual reality tech has been altered so that it was absolutely impossible for it to harm its users, but it still somehow seems that someone's been killing people in the game Gun Gale Online. He shoots them in the game, they disconnect, and their bodies are found some days later. But who's doing it, and how, are mysteries. So Kirito gets sent in to make himself a target…

There's a new character, the sniper Sinon, who has the obligatory Troubled Past but still manages to be quite interesting. There's even some comment on online harrassment of female avatars which is more timely than the director probably expected.

Asuna isn't much in Phantom Bullet, but she does show up in Calibur, where the whole team takes on a quest to slay Ymir, king of the frost giants. This starts off in a very portentous mode, suggesting that the world may be permanently changed if things go wrong, but ends up being a straight fighting story. Quite fun, but essentially slight.

Finally comes Mother's Rosario: Kirito has already lost to the expert duellist, but Asuna takes her on and beats her, and finds out what the challenge was all about. This is a story that deserves to be uncovered slowly, and is perhaps too predictable in its course, but it's full of unashamed emotional gut-punches that for me harked back to the original series.

These are all short stories, and not quite as fully developed as the two arcs of the original series; it's trading on the emotional connections built up in that series, so it probably won't be as much fun if you haven't seen that one.

This is still a story about people playing VR MMOs, largely without the life-or-death concerns of the first series, so the emphasis has shifted more to the ways the characters can bring their MMO-learned lessons to the real world and vice versa. It's sometimes a little over-worthy, but Kirito and Asuna are still engaging. Decent workmanlike stuff.

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