Sword Art Online Part 3 DVD Review

Beginning two months after the conclusion of the first arc (Sword Art Online), the story follows our hero Kirito as he faces reality after his time in Sword Art Online (SAO). This includes reconnecting with those around him, such as his kid sister Suguha, having not seen her for the last two years.

On the other hand, our heroine Asuna from SAO is not so lucky, she and 300 other players remain within the servers and are now stuck in the new reality of ALfheim Online, meaning that in the real world Asuna lies in a coma unaware of the events unfolding around her.

Whilst he was initially not interested in returning to the online world as he was readjusting to the outside world, Kirito was drawn back in thanks to the help of an old friend.

Our two heroes from the previous SAO both vow to find each other and try to get to grips with the new online reality of ALfheim Online. In this new arc Asuna takes a back seat as the strong female lead. In ALfheim the new female lead is Leafa, a strong adventurous girl who helps Kirito on his journey by explaining the rules and objectives of the game. Not much is revealed about her in the first few episodes, but a strong bond is shown developing between her and Kirito. Although Kirito has no intention of leading her on, in the episodes we can see his kind nature and strong personality are misinterpreted by her.

The world of ALfheim is a completely different concept to the original world of Aincrad. The game focuses on how people can be divided by race. In the original world everyone was working for the greater good to escape the world and return to reality. In the new world it is the opposite; double dealing and underhand tactics are the norm. The gameplay is also new and does not depend on a person’s exp but instead on how many times they use a technique, which gives an advantage to new players as they could be equals in a battle with a veteran. In Aincrad, Kirito was a beta tester; in this world he is a novice. However, for some reason when the servers were transferred it also transferred his skill points, so now he is an ordinary player with a bit more of an advantage. This is not the only surprise that awaits him in the new world, something else got transferred over too.

Visually the anime has been created in the same style as the previous arc, but it lacks the more intense battle scenes due to the change in pace of the story overall. The continuation of this visual style also suits the new setting of the story and as such the design of the world matches what you would imagine the characters of a video game of this type to be like. This is largely helped by the fact that the anime was not carved up in to two separate seasons, one for each new story arc, as has been done in anime such as Bleach. Initially broadcast in Japan from July 2012 to December 2012, rather than have the first twelve episodes air and then have a break while more are produced, the producers opted for a method that is more widely used in television and made both arcs part of one season, thus allowing them have the same production team and director throughout the piece, which in turn allows the visual style to remain consistent. 

This DVD only covers the first five episodes of the new story and as such it touches on the main story of Kirito saving Asuna, but it does not go into detail about what other players are up to in ALfheim, meaning that you do find yourself forming less of a bond with them. It does however explain why some of the SAO players were transferred into ALfheim instead of waking in the real world. That the DVD is being sold at the same price as the previous volumes but with less content could anger some as it means that they are paying the same price for less. It could be argued that this split was done so that the final two releases had equal content on both volumes (as the second arc only has ten episodes). However, when you consider that on the US release there were special features such as interviews with the US dub cast/director and Japanese creators, you could also argue that including one more episode and then having four episodes plus the bonus content on the final volume would have been a more favorable strategy.

For any fans of the series so far this is a must watch as we see the continuing struggles of Asuna and Kirito and it helps provide an answer to the cliffhanger we were left with at the end of the last volume whilst setting up a new story to draw us back into the anime once again.

Whilst it does not have the same intensity of the previous arc, due to it not being a death game, it does hold its own as a compiling story, one that focuses on different topics, deeper plots and exploring other key relationships within the lives of our characters, both online and in the real world. Overall another great installment of the SAO saga.

Sword Art Online part three is released on Monday 24th February by Manga Entertainment for £14.99 on DVD or £22.50 on Blu-ray.

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