If you followed my previous blog, you may get the false impression that I hate Sword Art Online. That’s not true; I do not hate Sword Art Online, in fact, I like it. It just had a lot of problems that stopped it from being as good as, say, a Bleach or a InuYasha. One of the best things about Sword Art Online was its many various characters, and one of the worst things about SAO was that these characters were usually marginalized so much that you wondered why they didn’t just call it “Kirito Art Online.”
So I decided I would be one of the two or three people who would buy a ticket to see the new Sword Art Online movie, Ordinal Scale. I killed time before going into the seemingly empty theater. I was dead wrong; I had to fight to get a seat. The place was packed. This same theater had only a modest crowd for Bleach’s first movie way back in 2008, so this was very surprising to me. Apparently there’s a whole lot of SAO fans in the area, or at least anime fans.
Ordinal Scale is based around the following premise: there’s a new type of gaming gear out, which is Augmented Reality instead of Virtual Reality. The new version changes the very buildings and objects around you into part of the game (and the animation of the transformation is awfully sweet), and then you fight bosses with various weapons. You are assigned a number, which is related to your rank in the game. If you are ranked 139, that means you are the 139th-best player in the game. A higher number like Kirito’s which stretches into six digits means that you are not as good of a player. You can move up the ranks by winning battles. Oh, and there’s a NPC named Yuna who sings songs during the battles. She’s like Hatsune Miku. It sounds trivial, but it’s actually a huge plot point.
So what’s the conflict? There’s a guy ranked #2 overall who starts beating up on players, including Klein. No joke, Klein has a big role in this movie, which of course we always wondered when he would get his moment. This guy, named Eiji, beats up on Klein and sends him to the hospital. At the same time, the bosses in this new game are bosses from the original Aincrad. And characters who fight those bosses end up losing their memories of what happened in Aincrad. Asuna, who has her role reversed from damsel in distress to action woman, fights off a boss, then starts to forget everything that happened that led her to fall in love with Kirito. So Kirito has to get to the bottom of the problem, and find a way to get everyone’s memories back before it’s too late.
The movie’s biggest strength is its refined focus on all the characters. Silica, Liz, and Sinon all get big parts during the movie. The movie’s other big strength is building Kirito and Asuna’s relationship in a reasonable way. Instead of the usual “I love you I love you I love you” madness of the original, Kirito and Asuna fall further in love through their experiences and memories. Combine these two strengths together and you get the best thing to ever come out of the Sword Art Online franchise. Well, second best, behind Leafa’s breasts. (Oh, and they too get a full-screen cameo appearance in a hilarious fanservice scene.)
I won’t spoil the movie’s plot here, because there’s no reason to do so. I will tell you that the plot is actually coherent and reasonable, that the new characters add a lot to the story, and that the fight scenes (particularly the one in the parking garage – yes, a parking garage!) are well-animated and fun to watch. This is SAO at its finest. It’s actually good. It’s definitely worth seeing.
My favorite part of the entire movie (aside from the full-screen view of Leafa) is a half-second animation where Yuuki appears. Yuuki of course was the girl from the Sleeping Knights who Asuna grew close to before she passed. If you catch the moment that Yuuki appears, you might shed a tear. It’s one of those moments where you’re caught up in the emotion of the movie, and it really adds a lot to having all the feels.
I don’t mean to take anything away from the movie, but you do need to have seen the first two seasons to savor this. Without seeing those, you’ll have no idea why such-and-such things are so important. And while those two seasons were mediocre, this movie finds a way to combine all the best parts about SAO while improving on some of its prior weaknesses.
So yes, Ordinal Scale is good. If you suffered through the first two seasons, this will make them all worthwhile. Since it was a one-night theatrical release, I assume the only way you’ll be able to see it (legally) is by purchasing it once they put it out on Blu-ray. But it’s worth it! And don’t miss the scene after the credits, either.
Movie rating (out of four stars): ***1/2