Sword Art Online Season 2: An Angry Rant
Well, we are now about half-way into the second season of Sword Art Online, and a look at the season so far might be in order. This season we have a new game for Kirito to explore, Gun Gale Online, a departure from the earlier fantasy-settings of the series. We also have a somewhat new plot, and perhaps even a new main character? Let us take a look.
A New Game
There was a flaw the first season of SAO had that really should have been more damaging than it was: Kirito, and indeed everyone else, can not die within the game. Unlike the first game, Sword Art Online, there was no actual danger for the most part. Alfheim was a video game, and dying meant nothing more than a slight inconvenience. Of course there was drama and conflict, but if you think about it Kirito was remarkably safe during this adventure. There is a difference between being on the battlefield and playing WoW.
The author may have had the same thought, for this season death inside the game is back again. A player called Death Gun in Gun Gale Online apparently has gained the ability to kill other players by killing their avatars in the game, and he shows off this ability. Kirito is called in to help, being a survivor of SAO, and he accepts. I have always found Kirito's seeming lack of trauma astounding, living years inside a game seeing death and misery seems to have done no damage. He is ready to enter another game without a problem.
Our (New) Hero
However, there has been some changes to Kirito. As soon as he enters the game, his avatar turns out to be a woman. And with this Kirito seemingly undergoes a change. Is it my imagination that Kirito seems much more «feminine», more insecure and with a softer tone of voice? He comes with awkward laughs and in general acts like the shy guy from so many animes. Kirito never had much personality, being a stoic warrior ready to fight for the ones he love, but now he has gone down the feminine protagonist-path, especially when hanging around Sinon, the new main female of the arc. Maybe he changed between seasons, but it seems strange to me.
Sadly, Kirito has never been more than the average anime hero, and we don't learn any new things about him, what his hobbies or interests are outside of the games, or his background. Instead we seem to cut back on fleshing out Kirito's place in the world, as most of the side characters from the previous season, including his love interest Asuna, is pretty much tossed aside, only appearing to comment on what is happening. Asuna never did much, but we were told that she too was a top player. From warrior to damsel in distress and now Asuna resembles the wife staying at home while the husband goes off to war.
Considering that none of the old cast is called upon to help, a new side character is in order. Thus we get to know Sinon, a sniper in the world of Gun Gale Online. She is more interesting than both Kirito and Asuna to be sure, and I do hope everything about her comes together in the end. Sinon is a bit of a loner and not comfortable around men, with the exception of her friend Kyoji. She doesn't like working with men, which is understandable in a world where all men except Kirito and his bland friend are either pathethic losers or assholes. She has an obsession with being the best and strongest, an obsession that goes out the window in the middle of the story and is never seen again.
A bit of emotional baggage is revealed, however. Kirito starts suspecting that Death Gun is an SAO player, like himself, maybe one he believed he killed. This starts to get to him, the first time Kirito ever seemed haunted by the people he killed in the first season. Strangely enough they don't go with someone we saw him kill, instead the make up a new character Kirito murdered. Perhaps for reasons that will be uncovered, maybe so that no moral ambiguity is added to the previous season. There Kirito's actions were always seemed as justified, and he seemed to have no particular emotions I can recall about killing. Here we see him shaken, but this is sadly not followed up on. Whether Kirito is a murderer or all he did was justified is never resolved or explained, the point on Kirito killing is dropped. I don't think the author really cared about these actions, life is quite cheap after all.
Kirito, new to the world of guns and snipers, decides to go with a lightsaber, which he is already an expert at. This made me realize that we have never seen Kirito struggle with anything in these games, he has an extremely fast learning curve whenever he encounters a new game. A bit of a waste, there could be some development in Kirito struggling and learning, but as a piece of wish-fulfillment he must be as awesome as possible at all times. Somehow he is able to realize that you have to predict beforehand where your opponent will shoot to be able to dodge within hours of starting, something the experienced players who must have been playing for months had not realized. Such is the awesomeness of Kirito.
The point of her lost motivation happens when she meets Kirito in battle. I was curious about what would happen there, to be honest. In the world of Sword Art Online, hitting, attacking, even being mean to a woman is the worst crime in the world. While the men are taken down without a second thought and truly living up to the name “the expendable sex”, women are so sacred that the worst criminals are usually marked by shoddy treatment of women. So how were they going to resolve this? The hero, the incarnation of amazing could not lose, nor could he actually hit his opponent. Of course, the only solution was for Sinon to give up. The woman shown to have an almost creepy obsession with winning easily gives up on her chance to win at the first sign of being outmatched.
After this we get her trauma story, about shooting someone. Again, the victim of the shooting was a man who clearly fell into the evil kind of man the show had, with over the top insane mannerisms, just to make sure the audience feels the murder was justified. Sinon then has to come to terms with her own weakness and trauma when fighting against Death Gun.
Here we encounter a problem. What exactly is stopping Sinon from logging out here, or any time during the chase? She is terrified, but never thinks to use her ticket out of the game. In SAO everyone was trapped inside the game, but this is not the case here. What would be the worst that could happen if Sinon logged out? She also falls in love with Kirito during this ordeal as all women eventually succumbs to the sexual power of our leading man, and she helps out in the final battle.
Villains Without Substance
The main villain is taken down, but Kirito suspects another person may have cooperated with Death Gun, the player who has been killing gamers. And so we fall back on the trope that I fear may be a trend in SAO: the rape. Attempted rape was the final effort to create drama in season 1, and it used again here, only this time with no build up at all. I suppose endangering women is the most serious crime in this universe, but it feels like a cheap emotional play. Sinons friend Kyoji suddenly enters Sinon's room and makes his move on her. Rejected, he then tries to force himself on her. Kirito arrives, and the two defeat Kyoji, who of course was the other part of Death Gun.
So there we have the villains. We learn that there was a third member of Death Gun, an SAO survivor, but he is never seen. Most likely he will serve as a villain in time to come. Kyoji and the other member are supposedly brought in, two completely forgettable characters. We never meet the man controlling Death Gun, so nothing is known of him.
As for Kyoji, he did nothing that would give away any evil intent until the end, and even as his nice self we knew nothing about him. He seems to have just been a guy who wanted people to fear him and who had no problems with murder. Kyoji was the one actually killing while the other one was in the game, meaning he was lucky enough to be able to get to each victim even though he had no powers or abilities. While Death Gun was a cool idea, there really was nothing behind the mask, no real people, just props. The real-world versions of Death Gun are extremely forgettable with no real motives or backstories. They will fade into obscurity unless something spectacular happens in the later episodes. Well, maybe well see some more of the side characters from the first season in the second half of season 2 at least.