Ian Wolf’s Review
Warning: may contain spoilers.
“One must have a heart of stone not to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.” – Oscar Wilde
The end of the second TV series of Sword Art Online is one that certainly tries to get your tears flowing. Whether it does all depends on how sentimental you are.
With Asuna the main character in the “Mother’s Rosario” arc, the first episode of this arc sees her new friend Yukki introducing her to the Sleeping Knights guild. The guild is planning to disband in a few months, but before they depart they want to get their name on the Monument of Swordsmen, a black stone which back in the bad days of SAO listed the players and which ones had died. Now it lists the names of the first people to defeat the bosses on each level.
The problem is that they want to get the names of all six guild members on the monument, and the only way they can do it is to defeat the monster without the help of any other guilds. Asuna decides to assist them. After they leave for the night, Asuna finds herself forcefully disconnected by her mother, who is still annoyed by the amount of time she is playing her games and wants her to change schools. Asuna’s deadline for dealing with all her issues is coming up fast.
Back in SAO, Asuna and the Sleeping Knights begin their mission and on the way there she spots members of another guild devoted to beating boss monsters. The Sleeping Knights fail at their first attempt, but Asuna correctly deduces that the other guild was spying on them and preparing to defeat the monster before them. They quickly return to the battle site, only to discover more guild members waiting for them. Yukki begins attacking them when the other guild’s reinforcments arrive. Luckily for Asuna, help arrives in the shape of Kirito and Yui who block their path, while Klein attacks from the rear. This gives Asuna time for her and friends to enter the boss room and complete their mission, but during the battle something odd happens: Yukki refers to Asuna as her “Big Sister”. Yukki does this again at the Monument of Swordsmen, and when Asuna points this out to her, Yukki logs off and runs away.
With Kirito’s help, Asuna finds out where Yukki is in real life: she is in hospital, attached to a “Medicuboid”, a medical full-dive machine. When Asuna sees Yukki in the real world, she comes to understand why the guild is disbanding: the guild members all met in a virtual hospice and Yukki herself is estimated to have three months to live as she is dying from AIDS. With this revelation Asuna tries to give Yukki the best time possible before she passes away, and Yukki in turn provides Asuna with the motivation she needs to confront her mother.
This main feature of this collection is the character of Yukki and the revelation that she has AIDS. It is a big shock to see an anime dealing with such a heavy subject – possibly the most frightening disease in the world. Not surprisingly, Yukki does die of her illness in the last episode, leading to a particularly notable final scene. Back in the virtual world Yukki gives Asuna her Original Sword Skill, the “Mother’s Rosario” in the arc title, and as she dies the rest of the Sleeping Knights, then Kirito and his friends, and then all the other players in the game turn up to pay their respects as Yukki passes away.
Now, there are two ways you can look at this scene. You can be saddened and moved to tears as Yukki dies, leaving behind both her old and her new friends, and marvel at the huge and noble crowd that pays their respects to her, including other players she had defeated in the game; or, you can think that this is incredibly melodramatic and oversentimental.
Reki Kawahara, the original author of the books, is frequently criticised for being a poor writer. For example, if there is a baddie in Sword Art Online, they tend to always be the vilest person imaginable with no redeeming features, and often come across as borderline rapists. In the case of a dying character Kawahara not only gives the character an incurable illness, but the scariest illness in the world. In the UK, you cannot think of AIDS without thinking of John Hurt voicing an advert in which the word “AIDS” is carved into what looks like a gravestone.
Plus, while it is arguably commendable that Kawahara is highlighting AIDS, the massive crowd near the end somewhat ruins it. When she is dying with Asuna it is sad; when her guild mate arrives it is sadder; when Kirito and his friends turn up you reach your emotional breaking point; when just about every other player in the game turns up you think: “Oh my God, it’s amazing to see so many people pay their respe… hang on… this is way too much!” This is the equivalent of Little Nell’s death scene being attended by every single customer The Old Curiosity Shop ever had. If Little Nell’s death made Oscar Wilde laugh, Yukki’s death would have had him rolling on the floor, wetting himself in hysterics.
In terms of extras, you have the guide book, textless opening and closing, web previews, and two Sword Art Offline previews.
Overall, the first half of this series has been good, but the endings of both the first arc and this final arc were frustrating. The good bits are balanced out by the bad. This is not the end of the series however. There is still one game written about in the novels that has yet to be adapted: UnderWorld, an AI simulation where time flows differently to that of the real world. Plus there is a fifth game that doesn’t appear in the books. This is Ordinal Scale, the subject of the forthcoming Sword Art Online movie to be released next year.
Score: 6 / 10
Anime Quick Information
- Title: Sword Art Online II – Part 4
- UK Publisher: Anime Ltd.
- Genre: Action, Death Game, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-fi
- Studio: A-1 Pictures
- Type: TV series
- Year: 2014
- Running time: 120 minutes