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Review: Sword Art Online BD Box Set I-IV

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Diving back into Aincrad one last time

Not even original light novel scribe Reki Kawahara could have predicted how big his Sword Art Online franchise would eventually become. Since the first novel was published in April of 2009, Kawahara's creation has seen 12 sequel novels, five separate manga series, a video game (with another one the way), a spin-off light novel series, and a 25-episode anime. I'd say he ended up doing pretty well for himself.

Yet Sword Art Online's success has not been limited to Japan. Indeed, the show has somewhat crossed over into the mainstream through airing on Cartoon Network's Toonami block. Aniplex has decided to give the series quite the deluxe BD treatment, but the question is whether or not these box sets are worth their relatively high asking price for fans.

Sword Art Online BD Box Set I-IV [BD]

Studio: A-1 Pictures
Licensed by Aniplex USA
Release Date: Vol. I 08/13/13, Vol. II 9/17/13, Vol. III 10/15/13, Vol. IV 11/19/13
MSRP: $112.98 [Rightstuf Vol. I, Vol. II, Vol. III, Vol. IV]

I wrote many words about Sword Art Online last year when it was still airing on Japanese TV. Truth be told, I came into it with high expectations and a whole lot of hype. I had always been a fan of .hack, and the prospect of something similar but with a bigger budget had me itching to catch every new episode. Somewhere along the way though, things changed. When the first half of Sword Art Online, the Aincrad Arc (episodes 1-14), came to a wrap, I was pretty much done with the series. It needs to be said that despite my issues with them, I still found the first 14 episodes to be an entertaining experience. Almost a year later, that opinion remains largely unchanged.

The Fairy Dance Arc (episodes 15-25) is still an irredeemable mess.

For those of you who want a more in-depth write up of my feelings toward Sword Art Online as a whole, I suggest you check out my Final Impressions piece from early this year. The short of it is that I don't think Sword Art Online is a good series. I think it's a poor one riddled with large problems across the board. I firmly believe it squanders a cool concept and wastes any momentum it might have had coming out of the Aincrad Arc. That being said, if you're looking to drop cash on the Limited Edition BD box sets, chances are better than not that you already love the show, otherwise you'd be better served just sticking to the legal streams.

With that out of the way, let's get down to business. Are these pricey BD sets worth the price Aniplex is asking for them?

I'm a huge proponent of quality packaging when it comes to anime. In this new landscape of free and paid streaming options, publishers need to give consumers a reason to put down their money to own anime. While digital bonus features are certainly a chunk of that, I believe that attractive packaging is just as important if not more. To that end, Aniplex USA's Sword Art Online BD boxes are a success. The boxes feature exclusive art by light novel artist abec, and when you put each one together, they form one large illustration. The backs of the boxs also have neat little engravings of the swords used in the series. These might seem like minor touches, but when you're paying a premium for it, this kind of stuff counts. As somebody who often purchases nice collector's sets, Aniplex's SAO BDs fit right in on the shelf.

Each box contains two disc cases, though only one of them holds the actual episodes. The other case is reserved for the bonus disc content. Volume 1 contains the first OST (33 tracks) for the series, volume 2 has a DVD featuring staff interviews, volume 3 has the second half of the OST (27 tracks), and volume 4 contains interviews with the English speaking staff. While I had my issues with Yuki Kajiura's work on Sword Art Online, the full soundtrack is still a great addition to the package, especially for fans of the show. 

As far as I'm concerned however, the real stars of this box set are the audio commentaries included for certain select episodes. The participating members on each commentary typically change a bit each time, but the general set up consists of a handful of voice actors and the staff. There's something fascinating about hearing a group of people chat about the episode/series itself as it rolls along in the background. I've always loved audio commentaries and felt it was a shame that seemingly so few anime series seem to get them, so the inclusion here is a real plus. The voice actors exude about as much charm as one would expect, making them fun to listen to even as somebody who didn't enjoy the show that much. I imagine for some folks it might be a bit hard distinguishing who's saying what while reading the subtitles, but there are a lot of great stories to be heard if you're into the actors.

The rest of the bonus content comes in the form of physical trinkets. Each box includes a set of illustration cards featuring the various characters (mostly female) in alluring poses. There's also a total of four 16-page booklets primarily made up of exclusive anime images. I was somewhat disappointed to find that the booklets are rather small, especially compared to  the ones in Aniplex's Fate/Zero sets, but nonetheless it's a nice inclusion. For those of you who play the card game Weiss Schwarz, each BD box has a limited edition SAO card. Due to my incredibly limited knowledge of the game, I can't really speak to whether they're any good. 

Sword Art Online is presented in 16:9 widescreen format in 1080p and was quite the looker on my entertainment setup. If there's one thing A-1 did exceptionally well in many of SAO's episodes, it's the background illustrations. The colors pop, and the richly detailed (as well as the not so richly detailed) areas hold up remarkably well on a big HD screen. Sadly, this doesn't work out so well when SAO falls back on large, poorly animated CG beasts. The Skull Reaper in particular looks just as bad as it did when the series was airing on TV, and no BD transfer can fix that. 

It's not a secret that I don't like Sword Art Online. The show is plagued with issues that ultimately drag it down to the point of no return. It's a show that is full of missed opportunities, much of which rests with the original source material.

These BD box sets are not for me.

No, these BD boxes are very much so designed for the hardcore fans of Sword Art Online. To that end, the question then becomes "are they worth the high asking price, especially when there are four of them?" I don't think the answer is as simple as a yes or a no, but I do think that there is a lot here for fans to enjoy. If you found yourself excitedly watching Sword Art Online every week and felt sad when it finished, these BD boxes will be right up your alley. Everyone else? Stick to the cheaper (albeit less extravagant) DVD sets.

This one is for the fans.

Liz is still the best character though.

6.0 -- (The anime itself is subpar, however the quality of this release is fantastic and elevates the package.)


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Sword Art Online reviewed by Elliot Gay

6

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Elliot Gay
Elliot GayContributor   gamer profile

Elliot is an associate editor for Japanator and can be found contributing to Destructoid on occasion. He lives in Japan and can be found on Twitter @RyougaSaotome. more + disclosures


 



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