Title: Sword Art Online: Extra Edition
Produced by: A-1 Pictures
Distributed by: AniplexUSA
Format: Stream via Crunchyroll.com
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
One of the biggest anime events of the last few months has to be the worldwide broadcast/simulcast of Sword Art Online: Extra Edition yesterday. The 25 episode adaptation of Reki Kawahara’s light novel series was arguably one of the biggest anime series’ of 2012, with its simulcast on Crunchyroll ensuring that it would have a loyal fanbase. The series’ main hook was hardly original though, being a scenario that has frankly, been done to death – players of a mass-multiplayer-online-role-playing-game (MMORPG for short) finding themselves trapped in the game, where dying in the game equals dying in real life. What made the series a success though, was arguably how it was executed. The story’s first story arc (known as the “Aincrad Arc”) really delved into the sociological aspects of MMORPGs and the situation the characters found themselves in, as well as the psychological effects such an event would have on a person, as well as the budding relationship between Kirito and Asuna. The second half of the series (Fairy Dance Arc), while not held in as high esteem as the first half (the less said about Suguha the better), did feature one of the few truly creepy, intimidating and despicable villains in recent times.
Sword Art Online: Extra Edition is a 100 minute long recap of the 25 episode series framed around two narratives – the first being main character Kirito speaking to a member of the Ministry of Internal Affairs regarding the incidents that occurred in the series and the second being the show’s female cast using the school swimming pool to teach Suguha how to swim while recalling how each of them met Kirito. Press releases before the release of this special hyped up a mission where the main characters would be going on a quest in the ALfheim Online game to show the adorable AI Yui a whale, but in actuality that was simply the last 10 minutes of the entire special (and had a really rushed and weird ending). Ultimately, I’m not exactly sure who Sword Art Online: Extra Edition was aimed for. Usually, recaps (such as the first two Puella Magi Madoka Magica movies and Tiger & Bunny: The Beginning) are aimed at introducing new people who might have missed the original anime to the franchise while on the flip-side, specials tend to be aimed at existing fans of the property (which the promotion of this special would indicate). In respect to each of these two possible intentions, I think that Extra Edition failed at both.
If it was aimed at introducing new potential fans to Sword Art Online, then the selection of which clips to recap and which to leave out was sloppy, leaving both of the major story arcs impossible to follow. Examples include Recon, Sakuya and Alicia being included in the montages without any reference to who they actually were and in fact, despite the event being referenced, the special didn’t really explore how Kirito defeated Sugou. The majority of the Fairy Dance arc recap was focused on Suguha and her feelings towards Kirito, one of the most controversial aspects of the series – the sibling who falls in love with her big brother only to realise that they’re actually cousins (which doesn’t exactly make it better for western viewers!) and almost completely ignores Kirito’s fierce determination to rescue Asuna, which was the whole reason he entered ALfheim Online to begin with. I can sort of understand Kirito not wanting to tell the Ministry of Internal Affairs that Akihiko Kayaba still existed somewhat. If it was intended for existing fans, then the real question is why we needed to have the entire series retold to us? Sure, there were new clips, but aside from the 10 minute quest at the end, they were merely to provide a frame for the recaps.
I suppose there was another purpose behind the special though – to remind us that boobs exist. Silicia finds herself being reduced to the flat-chested girl with boob envy and Lizbeth to the pervert who is always finding an opportunity to suggest “things”. Most of Suguha’s new scenes either show her breasts bouncing around or references them (and there was even one really weird shot where she was showering and the camera was focused on her cleavage). Also, in the main series, Klein actually became well known as one of Sword Art Online‘s best players but in this special here’s merely reduced to a pervert who is severely downhearted when he finds out the female characters won’t be participating on the quest in their bikinis, which felt really out of character. There were even numerous references to Kirito’s councellor being an attractive woman and I was sat there thinking “Seriously?”. In fact, here’s a collection of images from the special:
Now, I’m not a prude – if anything, I’m probably the opposite; I’m a single young man who yes, does enjoy the occasional ecchi series (I might have even imported the French releases of To Love Ru Darkness and be a huge fan of HighSchool DxD) and as soon as the description of the special mentioning the characters going to a beach location was announced, it was inevitable that some kind of fanservice was going to exist. However, there is a time and a place for fanservice and Sword Art Online really doesn’t strike me as the show for it and the execution was so forced and out nowhere that it couldn’t really y’know…be sexy? Just the thought of hanging on the edge of a possible essay on the timing of fanservice makes me feel weird so I’ll probably leave it that, but yeah…there’s a right place and a right time and this wasn’t it.
Some credit does have to be given to how near the end of the special, when the Minister of Internal Affairs asks Kirito if he’s heard of “The Seed”, Kirito just says “Yes, of course” and closes the door behind him. Damn Kirito, you and your sass.
Personally, I would have much rather have had a 25-minute OVA focusing entirely on the ALfheim Online quest (with an actual, solid ending) and the Suguha-swimming thing as opposed to it being crammed into a rather pointless and poorly executed sequence of recaps or dedicated individual recaps of both the Aincrad and Fairy Dance story arcs (with each being around 90 minutes at least). Or why not both, just not as one thing? Let’s be honest, cramming roughly 625 minutes worth of material into 90 was never really going to work well in the first place.
In conclusion, I really wasn’t impressed with this much hyped special. I felt that its biggest flaw was that it was really confused in its execution, which dragged it down from beginning to end. They should have either went purely for the recap route, or purely for the fanservice OVA route – either would have worked, but this weird hybrid of the two didn’t. As a standalone peace, this wasn’t much and it really didn’t add anything of worth, but for people who have already seen the series and might have just wanted a brief refresher or to see a collage of some of their favourite scenes, they’ll have found it enjoyable (I almost teared up after being reminded of Yui!). As a plus, Yui is adorable as always and her riding Pina was beyond cute: