I’m one of those few people who actually likes Sword Art Online. I understand the criticisms about the story and execution, but I still enjoy this .HACK callback for what it is: entertainment.
Because I like the show, I was very excited when the movie was announced. The art looked great, I loved the new costumes, and the idea that Augmented Reality or AR can be physically dangerous was too topical to pass up.
Well, as you can guess, I finally got to see Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, and I have to say it was a ton of fun.
SAO: Ordinal Scale looked good. It had smooth animation and flowing action scenes intermixed with a great set of backgrounds that were emphasized by upward angles. Instead of shoving the characters faces in the screen to reduce background movement, the movie actually worked to show the characters as being somewhere and didn’t worry much about the trials of background animation.
Some issues with the presentation did arise, however.
- There were sloppy frames that remained a focus for far too long.
- The one that sticks out in my head the most is a scene with Kirito, Asuna, and Yui. They are on the back porch of their ALO cabin when the screen basically pauses on the three of them about 20 feet away from the camera. Kirito’s hands each have three lines to indicate fingers of some sort, Yui’s face is blank and bobs to indicate her speech, and the whole scene looks like a bad outline. This isn’t the only time the quality drops in these long shots, and the rest of the movie more than makes up for these losses.
- The background movement went from being traditionally animated to CG animation almost randomly.
- CG already takes you out if the anime if it’s too blocky or overly smooth, so mixing that about halfway through with CG all of a sudden is shocking. A lot of people find issue with CG background people, I am one of them, but I would have much preferred if the creators chose to simply use the CG background characters the entire movie instead of switching.
I loved the camera zoom out that SAO:OS , but I feel like this was often used as an excuse to not draw faces, hands, and may have left the creators rushing to fill background spaces to make the city look alive.
As for sound, maybe my theater just had the bass turned up, but I think the movie had a great sound design that lent itself to the monster battles. Each one felt heavy, dangerous, and tense which isn’t something you can typically accomplish without a little rumble in the theater.
There was also some great emotional acting with characters, specifically Kirito and Asuna. We already know that they want to get married, but seeing them hug and kiss really brings that home. There are a few scenes where you are given an idea of how strong their love is, and I can honestly say I’m very happy those two ended up together. It’s so darn cute!
Now that we’ve talked about the soup, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of SAO:OS: the story.
First off, I should say that the plot presented in this movie isn’t much different than what we have already seen in the Aincrad arc (season one of SAO). There is this cool, brand new headset that is changing the world, but instead of a Virtual Reality full-dive it’s an Augmented Reality partial dive. And, similar to the first ALO arc, we are running off the same SAO game engine as in the Aincrad arc– so of course there is going to be an issue.
The core conflict is that this AR headset is causing the SAO survivors to forget their time spent trapped in SAO. The game that people play on the headset seems to be a standard fantasy RPG with a dash of that mobile game, Ingress, where you have to go to specific locations for in-game items and events. Asuna is on the of the unlucky survivors to have this happen, and Kirito is the one who saves the day. The timeline of events is about a week based on the calendar referenced in Asuna’s room throughout the movie.
The ride is enjoyable, but not without some baseline issues that SAO frequently and intermittently suffered from during its TV run.
- Since people are losing their memories of the SAO death game, there was always going to be some discussion between characters as to if this was actually a bad thing. However, I didn’t expect the discussion to be under a few minutes. It should have been a much longer bit with multiple reactions from different players, but instead we have a quick jab at Kirito and Asuna saying that she liked her memories. I feel like this idea should have been the crux, or at least at play in the background, of the film instead of being shoved to the side and overlooked.
- Kirito isn’t very good at the AR game because he isn’t in shape from playing VR games. That makes sense and added a dash of reality to the movie that I loved; however, when Kirito realizes that he has to start fighting monsters to figure out what is happening with the AR headsets- he seems to get strong too quickly. Remember, we only have about a week for these events, so that means Kirito trains himself to VR-avatar-level physical fitness in days. That’s insane.
- The final battle seems very rushed, Kirito is far too overpowered, and the fight becomes a sort of “best of” bit due to some clever AI hacking from Yui that serves no purpose but aesthetic that reminds us of the various SAO arcs.
- Leafa appears only a few times in the movie being gone at some sort of camp during the events of the AR game. The other girls are barely used, as well, and though I understand this is a Kirito/Asuna story- I’d still like to see more interactions with Kirito’s accidental harem.
Overall, the series is still hindered by Asuna’s rebounding characterization of being strong, then not, then totally strong again; and Kirito’s OP behavior, which always seems so out of place. However, since Asuna’s rebound is based on the fact that her memories were tied to a fear of death, it makes sense why she was hesitant to fight after losing them- she lost her vigor with her SAO memories.
I can’t stress enough that if you liked the previous SAO entries, you’ll love this movie. Again, it’s fairly repetitive in terms of plot outline, but there is something about seeing these guys on the big screen that makes it great. The movie just looks good, too, and there’s something to be said about a great-looking anime movie.
At its core, SAO:OS is a series anime movie with some issues just like all series anime movies, but it’s totally worth the watch.