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Film Review: Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale

Updated on March 12, 2017

I didn't go into this movie liking Sword Art Online, a popular anime series about people trapped in an MMO game. When you die in the game, you die in real life. I watched about 9 episodes and stopped, because the show just simply failed to hold my interest after a while, even though it had a promising beginning. But bad anime series sometimes have awesome movies, so I thought I'd give this one's film, Ordinal Scale, a shot. Turns out, it was a good idea.

The Plot:

Warning: Spoilers for the Series and Film.


When I went into this, as I said, I hadn't seen all of SAO. The movie though does a good job of covering the important points of the plot of the series, because it takes place after everyone is free from the titular video game and back in the real world. But, an augmented reality game becomes increasingly popular, but Kirito grows suspicious of it. His instincts were right; the whole thing is a setup to lure in "Sword Art Online Survivors", in order for this show's Gendo Ikari to use their memories to resurrect his daughter who died in the game, using AI technology. The daughter, Yuuna, shows up first as a mascot character in the game, as an idol similar to Hatsune Miku. Eventually, Yuuna gains more self-awareness and becomes disturbed by her father's plans, so she works to help the SAO survivors, including Kirito and Asuna, stop him. But doing this means facing the worst things they faced inside the game, all over again, and they have to deal with a new enemy altogether too. Will they save the day, or is it "Game Over" for all of them?

Review:

This movie was good. It's not super deep, but it does make you feel. It made the theater audience react strongly. It was artistically skilled and looked amazing.

Themes and Concepts:

Ordinal Scale was mature and deep in dealing with the theme of memories and how we handle the past. The "mad scientist" guy thinks the "Sword Art Online Survivors" would be happier without memories of their traumatic event. And when we go through traumatic experiences, we sometimes do wish we could erase those painful memories. But, the movie is saying that we have to fight for those memories, because with the bad things that happened to us comes good things, and things that make us what they are. Kirito fights for his memories because he and Asuna met and became a couple in the game, and Asuna means a lot to him, so that part was very emotionally impactful. This movie is saying that even if parts of the past are painful, preserving it is still important.

As with the rest of the series, the film delves into the issue of reality vs. virtual reality. In modern western countries, we tend to escape reality with video games, anime, movies, comics, etc. We have a problem when those things make us see reality as dull and negative in comparison, when we would rather live in a fantasy than deal with it. Sword Art Online isn't an attack on gamers, nerds, and otaku, but it does recognize certain dangers from not having a healthy respect for real life in addition to being infatuated with our favorite media.

Characters:

Kirito and Asuna are the power couple of Sword Art Online, and they really shine in this movie. Other characters are supportive and don't do a whole lot, but look cool and have cool-looking attacks in the final fight scene. Yuuna is an interesting character, embodying both the "idol girl" and "mysterious waif" tropes, with a touch of "mad scientist's beautiful daughter". She's also basically this world's equivalent of a Matrix glitch, and an exposition fairy. She comes up to tell Kirito what's going on, what he needs to know to save the day. I think Yuuna complements the themes of Sword Art Online. She embodies the fear of the past in her father's attempt to resurrect her as an AI, because he cannot accept the reality of her death. She has a "virtual" self that's the shining idol girl who sings pop songs and dances like Hatsune Miku, and her real self, who is desperate and sad. The movie explores the division between reality and illusory computer reality through her as a character, and it's beautifully done.

The Good:

  • Nice art.
  • Asuna is awesome!
  • Asuna and Kirito are such a cute couple, and this movie will tickle your feels if you're into romance even a little. And it's a surprisingly, refreshingly mature take on young romance.
  • The fighting scenes are really fantastic-looking.
  • Kirito doesn't do everything alone.

The Bad:

  • Not sure if the exposition would be enough to work for someone who hasn't seen the show.
  • The characters who aren't Kirito and Asuna don't matter that much. All the main side characters are there, but they don't do a lot.
  • Like with the series, the movie's plot is a little predictable, and Kirito is sort of overly powerful. He never really seems like he's in over his head, and never really doubts himself or needs a pep talk.

Overall:

I liked it. It may not be my favorite anime, but this movie made me see what other people see in Sword Art Online. It's a good, but not great, movie. It's moving, but not like great literature people will be talking about in a classroom in 80 years. It's pretty, entertaining, and fun, not immature, stupid, or vulgar. The word that comes to mind is "nice", like a Thomas Kinkade painting. It's not pushing the boundaries of the medium, but it tells its story well, and you care about the story being told. This movie gave me great hopes for Sword Art Online in the future.

Rating for Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale: 8/10

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    • RachaelLefler profile image
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      Rachael Lefler 5 months ago from Illinois

      Which can either be because they intend for this to be just another reality-like layer of the virtual reality, or because the SAO creators don't know how to make an anime that takes place in the real world, and had gotten too comfortable making everything a video game. Or they know that the audience expects a movie about people inside a video game. I also expected there to be a big reveal about how these people look in real life, not for them to look simply identical to their avatars.

    • RachaelLefler profile image
      Author

      Rachael Lefler 5 months ago from Illinois

      I think sometimes the problem with SAO is that it's too pretty. Fighting in real life isn't so clean and glamorous. It makes it feel like nothing is at stake, because you know Kirito/Asuna will win and they rarely even seem to break a sweat. A more mature anime is typically characterized by its more accurate depiction of how it feels to fight. In this movie, the weird thing is that it's AR but might as well be still in SAO, and they fight the final boss IN SAO, so Kirito doesn't have to train or work that hard to get to a high level in real life, you won't see him punching a punching bag or doing pushups. Even though most people who are in a vegetative state for however long would wake up incredibly weak and need to exercise a lot just for recovery. But they know the audience doesn't want to see that. There's supposed to be a clear line between reality and fantasy but this movie makes it seem like they're still in the Matrix.

    • NBYomi profile image

      N B Yomi 5 months ago from Dallas, TX

      Speaking as a cynic, and soft spoken critic of SAO, I doubt this film will sway me. Because SAO was for new comers of anime what the Twilight series was to teen girls back in 2008 who never read a book.

      And as a guy who's been watching anime in 26 years out of the 28 years of my life, I need more than pretty animation to get me into a series.

    • CYong74 profile image

      Cedric Yong 5 months ago from Singapore

      I loved the Anime and books, but this movie didn't work for me. The whole AR thing just felt odd. It also seemed to contradict what was emphasized in the Anime; that the leads are very ordinary people in real life.