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Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV (a J!-ENT Anime on Blu-ray review)

November 17, 2013 by  



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There have been a few anime series that have received a five star rating from us for 2013, but when it comes to action and adventure, “Sword Art Online” is the best anime series on Blu-ray for 2013!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf

Image courtesy of © REKI KAWAHARA/ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO Project. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV

ANIME RELEASE DATE: 2012

DURATION: Episodes 20-25 (150 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English Dolby Digital 2.0, Japanese Linear PCM Stereo, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

Release Date: November 19, 2013

Originally Created by Reki Kawahara

Directed by Tomohiki Ito

Script by Munemasa Nakamoto, Naoki Shojo, Shuji Iriyama, Yoshikazu Mukai, Yukie Sugawara, Yukito Kizawa

Music by Yuki Kajiura

Character Design by Shingo Adachi

Art Director: Takayuki Nagashima, Yusuke Takeda

Anime Production: A-1 Pictures

Featuring the following voice talent:

Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito

Haruka Tomatsu/Cherami Leigh as Asuna

Kanae Itō as Yui

Kouichi Yamadera as Akihiko Kayaba

Ayahi Takagaki/Sarah Anne Williams as Lisbeth

Ayahi Takagaki as Rika Shinozaki

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee Morris as Leafa

Ayana Taketatsu/Cassandra Lee as Suguha Kirigaya

Hiroaki Hirata/Kirk Thornton as Klein

Hiroki Yasumoto/Patrick Seitz as Agil/Andrew Gilbert Mills

Rina Hidaka as Silica

Saori Hayami/Xanthe Huynh as Sachi

Takehito Koyasu as Nobuyuki Sugō/Oberon

Toru Ohkawa/Marc Diraison as Heathcliff

Kirito and Leafa have finally reached Central Arun, the largest city in Alfheim by the foot of the World Tree. Kirito is determined to face the dangers of the Grand Quest to rescue Asuna. With the support of the Sylphs and the Cat Sidhes, will Kirito save Asuna in time or will he be crushed by Oberon’s evil plans?!

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Kazuto Kirigaya, a hero who had rescued many people by defeating the creator of “Sword Art Online”, Akihiko Kayaba.

All should have been good right after that defeat but 300 people have no wakened up.  One of those people was Asuna Yuuki, a person which Kazuto had fallen in love with during his years stuck inside the “Sword Art Online” game as the character Kirito.

In reality, Kazuto finds out that her father is having her marry Nobuyuki Sugou, the man behind RECTO Progress Inc. who took the Sword Art Online technology from Argus (the developer of SAO) and went on to create Alfheim Online (ALO).

And what no one knows is that Nobuyuki has used the technology of keeping 300 people including Asuna captured within ALO and someone was able to take a picture of Asuna inside a cage on top of the World Tree in the ALO game.

Now, Kazuto returns to the online world but this time ALO to rescue Asuna and with the help of his online daughter Yui (an artificial intelligence from “Sword Art Online” which Kazuto was able to carryover to ALO) and Leafa (not knowing that Leafa is his sister Suguha).

But now what will it take for Kazuto to find a way to climb the World Tree and rescue Asuna?  And for Suguha, who had learned that Kazuto is not her real brother and does not know that Kirito is Kazuha, with emotions that she has had for Kazuto at an all time high, what will happen when she confesses her true feelings for him?

Find out in the final volume of “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV”!

“What is Sword Art Online”?

In 2002, writer Reki Kawahara wrote a novel series titled “Sword Art Online” under the name Fumio Kunori.

While Kawahara would receive critical acclaim for his novel “Accel World” in 2009, which earned Kawahara an ASCII Media Works’ 15th Dengeki Novel Prize and winning the Grand Prize in 2008, the popularity of “Accel World” would lead to “Sword Art Online” being republished and featuring the art work of abec.

This time using his real name on ASCII Media Works’ Dengeku Bunko label from April 10, 2009 and a spin-off series in 2012. The series has since spawned a total of five manga adaptations (“Sword Art Online: Aincrad”, “4-koma”, “Fairy Dance”, “Girls Ops” and “Progressive”). The anime series produced by A-1 Pictures was released in Japan between July and December 2012 and airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami in July 27, 2013.

A video game series was released in Japan for the Sony PSP and now, “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 1” (featuring the first seven episodes) will be released in North America courtesy of Aniplex of America on August 2013.

The anime series was directed by Tomohiko Ito (“Occult Academ”, “Silver Spoon”), featuring music by Yuki Kajiura (“.hack” series, “Eat-Man”, “My-HIME”, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, “Noir”, “Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE”), character design by Shingo Adachi (“Megaman Star Force”, “Rockman.EXE Beat”) and Art Direction by Takayuki Nagashima (“Durarara!!”, “Real Drive”, “Steins;Gate”) and Yusuke Takeda (“Berserk” films, “Armitage III”, “009-1”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, “Golden Boy”, “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing”, etc.).

“Sword Art Online” is set in 2022 and many are playing the Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (VRMMORPG), “Sword Art Online” (SAO for short). The game comes with a virtual reality helmet known as a Nerve Gear which uses the five senses of the brain and so players can control their characters with their mind.

The anime series focuses on protagonist, Kirito, one of the 1,000 beta testers of the Closed Beta version of SAO. On November 6th, the game is released to the public and Kirito is enjoying the game and meets Klein, who has experience playing RPG’s but learns from Kirito about the basics of the game.

While the two are talking, suddenly they are transported to the main courtyard and are unable to log out. They are told by the creator of SAO, Akihiko Kayaba, that all of the people playing are stuck in the game. If anyone takes of the virtual reality helmet of a player, they will die.

As for those playing the game, if they want to be free of the game, they must reach the 100th floor of the game’s tower and defeat the final boss. But if their avatars (their game character) dies in the game, their bodies will also die in the real world. And so far, people in the real world have died by having their Nerve Gear removed.

Having beaten “Sword Art Online”, 300 players including Asuna have not waken up from SAO for some reason. But when he receives a tip that Asuna was seen in the game “Alfheim Online” (ALO), locked inside a cage, Kazuto (Kirito online) is determined to free and rescue her.

He ends up joining with Leafa in “Alfheim Online”, not knowing that her true identity is Suguha Kirigaya, his cousin. And for Suguha, after she learned that Kazuto was not her real brother, she has developed feelings for him but knows that he is in love with someone else. Meanwhile, she has been playing “Alfheim Online” and has teamed up with a player named Kirito and joins him online, not knowing that Kirito is Kazuto in real life.

Alongside with Yui (an artificial intelligence program in “Sword Art Online” who looks at Kirito and Asuna as her father and mother), who is also a support character in “Alfheim Online”. The three work together, taking on new antagonists in “Alfheim Online” but most importantly, Kirito tries to find a way to save the person he truly loves!

In “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV”, Kazuto is getting closer of rescuing Asuna, but the Salamanders are about to attack the Sylphs and Cait Siths.  To help stop the attack, Kirito pretends he is an ambassador of the Spriggans-Undines alliance and cautions the Salamanders to not attack them or they will be causing war on all four factions.  In order to stop the attack, Kirito must take on the Salamander General Eugene.

Meanwhile, Asuna tries to make an escape from Alfheim by swiping a key card that gives access to ALO.  Meanwhile, Kirito, Yui and Lefa reach the World Tree but in order to save Asuna, Kirito must go through the tree which hundreds of guardians are there to protect the area from anyone entering.

But is Kirito’s power enough to defeat them?

The main characters featured in “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” are:

  • Kirito/Kazuto Kirigaya – The main protagonist of the series. The solo player who saved thousands in the game “Sword Art Online” and was romantically involved with Asuna in SAO, after seeing a picture of Asuna locked in a cage in the VRMMORPG “Alfheim Online” (ALO), Kirito is determined of rescuing her.
  • Leafa/Suguha Kirigaya – Suguha is Kazuto’s cousin who has feelings for him. She is very good at kendo but also plays “Alfheim Online” as the character Leifa. Not knowing that Kirito is Kazuto, the two join forces in “Alfheim Online”.
  • Yui – The artificial intelligence program from “Sword Art Online” which is a young girl who was taken in by Kirito and Asuna as their daughter.  Yui tries to help Kirito in finding Asuna.
  • Asuna Yuki – A person who fought alongside Kirito and has fallen in love with him in the game. She is being kept alive by technology used for ALO but is being held against her will inside the game by Nobuyuki Sugou.
  • Nobuyuki Sugou – The main antagonist during the “Alfheim Online” arc and the one holding 300 Nerve Gear victims including Asuna as prisoners in the game, despite SAO ending. He is determined to marry Asuna, while she is comatose and attempts to take over RCT Progress Inc., owned by her father.
  • Agil/Andrew Gilbert Mills – The axe wielder in SAO, he runs a shop known as “Dicey Cafe” and a location for Kazuto and friends in the real world.

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” features episodes 20-25 of “Sword Art Online”:

  • EPISODE 20 – Kirito vs. Salamander General Eugene.
  • EPISODE 21 – Asuna tries to escape from imprisonment in ALO.
  • EPISODE 22 – Suguha finds out the truth.
  • EPISODE 23 – Kirito’s final try to go up the World Tree, will he succeed?
  • EPISODE 24 – Kirito vs. Oberon.
  • EPISODE 25 – The conclusion of “Sword Art Online”.

VIDEO:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” is presented in 1080p High Definition. Because of the ever changing landscape within the Sword Art Online game, there is a good balance between well-painted buildings and interiors and also beautiful painted backgrounds for outdoor scenes. Black levels are nice and deep but its the colorful palette and the beautiful backgrounds that captivate you.

Colors are absolutely vibrant and I didn’t notice any problems with artifacts or banding during my viewing of the episodes.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 English and Japanese linear PCM stereo. The voice acting for the Japanese soundtrack is solid. Both Yoshitsugi Matsuoka, Ayana Taketatsu, Haruka Tomatsu and other cast members have done a fantastic job.

With that being said, having watched the series first in Japanese, watching it with the English dub, I felt the casting was spot-on! Both Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh did an awesome job as Kirito and Asuna, as with Cassandra Morris as Leafa/Suguha. But the casting for this anime series for the English dub was fantastic. Everyone did a magnificent job with their character role.

Subtitles are in English and you can choose from complete English subtitles which include dialogue and Japanese kana translations or a selection to choose just kana translations or no English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” features the following special features:

  • Sword Art Offline 8 – (12:11) Featuring Leafa in super deformed format discussing Kirito’s grand quest.
  • Sword Art Offline 9 – (11:50) Featuring Leafa discussing the Kirito the Spriggan attempting to go up the World Tree.
  • Web Version Previews – Featuring web previews for episodes 21-25.
  • Audio Commentary 20 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Ayana Taketatsu (voice of Leafa), Sayuri Yahagi (voice of Sakuya) and Chiwa Saito (voice of Alicia)
  • Audio Commentary 22 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Ayana Taketatsu (voice of Leafa), Supervising Animation Director and Character Designer Adachi, Action Animation Supervisor Shikama.
  • Audio Commentary 24 – Featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voice of Kirito), Ayana Taketatsu (voice of Leafa), Takehito Koyasu (voice of King Oberon Sugou), Director Tomohiko Ito and Haruka Tomatsu (voice of Asuna).
  • Textless Ending
  • English Cast Interviews – (34:06) Included is a bonus disc featuring interviews with the staff and English dub voice cast.

EXTRAS:

“Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” Blu-ray also comes with the following:

  • 16-Page Deluxe Illustration Booklet – Each page features illustrations with characters from the series.
  • Set of Pin-Up Illustration Postcards – Featuring six different illustrated postcards.
  • Exclusive Bushiroad’s Collectible Card #1 – I’m not sure if each set is random but the card that came with this limited edition release featured “Kirito’s Strong Bond”.
  • Rigid Box illustrated by abec (Original Character Design) – A slipcase which houses both Blu-ray cases.
  • Clear BD cases with 2-sided Japanese Cover Design

Read our Q&A with “Sword Art Online” creator Reki Kawahara and our interview with “Sword Art Online” music artists Luna Haruna and Aoi Eir

I have to personally admit that after the “Sword Art Online” and being so emotionally invested in that series, to watch the second season and now getting into the “Alfheim Online” (ALO) Arc, it was hard for me to transition to this new storyline, new online world.

But after watching “Sword Art Online: Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set IV” and watching episodes 20-25, it brought back what I loved about the series, character dynamics, action and drama but most of all, to see Asuna back again!

Watching the final episodes of the animated series, I was instantly captivated.  From Kirito’s attempts to save Asuna, Asuna trying to escape imprisonment but also growing to like the character of Suguha and seeing her find out the truth of Kirito’s identity but also the emotions that she has been keeping inside for Kazuto, the writers definitely saved the emotion, the action and the intensity of the second season for these final episodes.

While I enjoyed “Sword Art Online” for its overall storyline and characters, the second season was more about the love that Kazuto has for Asuna and how far he would go to rescue her.

One can call “Sword Art Online” an action adventure anime series but its the love story between Kirito and Asuna that keeps this series so strong because of that bond that was built in the first 12-episodes.

And the way the series has ended (for the anime), I’m quite content and very happy with how everything came together.  There were a few surprises left towards the end and suffice to say, as Reki Kawahara has created more novels that furthers the adventures of Kazuto and Asuna, I can only hope that the remainder of the novel series will be released as an anime in the near future.

While it was revealed that “Sword Art Online” will continue with a special to be shown on New Year’s Eve, I think about these four box sets that Aniplex has released so far and I just have to say that the amount of swag that has been included with each volume, especially the original soundtracks and more, “Sword Art Online” is one of the highlight releases of 2013 and one of the better anime on Blu-ray releases to be released in the past few years.

Sure, these sets are broken up into four volumes and Aniplex limited editions may be priced a little high for some anime fans, but this is as close to what anime fans have been getting in Japan and that’s limited edition releases with a lot of swag and for set IV, you get postcards, Bushiroad card, extra DVD with English dub interviews and more!

As a person who loves Japanese RPG games, back in early 2000’s, I was captivated by the “.Hack” series, fast forward over a decade later and I started hearing praises for this story about people trapped in a video game world. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it because I figured that it would be a copycat anime series but I was wrong. The series is addictive and highly enjoyable… Yes, I will go far to say that I love this series!

“Sword Art Online” features a storyline that draws you in and makes you, the viewer, wanting more and more.

As for the Blu-ray release, as one can expect, the series looks wonderful on Blu-ray. While I wished for a more immersive lossless soundtrack, a lot of anime TV series are originally in stereo and for the case of “Sword Art Online”, the soundtrack is purchased in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Japanese Linear PCM stereo. But both soundtracks are well-acted and for the Japanese soundtrack, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Haruka Tomatsu, Ayana Taketatsu and Kanae Ito do a wonderful job!  And I was also very impressed by the English dub with Bryce Papenbrook as Kirito, Cherami Leigh as Asuna, Cassandra Morris as Leafa/Suguha and Stephanie Sheh as Yui.

As for special features, you get the “Sword Art Offline” animations, several audio commentary featuring the Japanese seiyuu (voice actor and actress of the series) plus the original web previews and more.

There have been a few anime series that have received a five star rating from us for 2013, but when it comes to action and adventure, “Sword Art Online” is the best anime series on Blu-ray for 2013!

All four limited edition Blu-ray box sets are highly recommended!

Please purchase this release from Rightstuf






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