It’s one thing to be successful in Anime, it’s another to create a phenomenon. For the past few years, there will always be at least one Anime that would come out every year that would be treated as the biggest thing ever by the fan community and then also derided at the same time for being complete mainstream rubbish that is in fact, killing the industry. In 2013 it was Attack on Titan, in 2014 Tokyo Ghoul, in 2015 it was One Punch Man, in 2016 it was Re Zero and Yuri on Ice, but back in 2012 it was Sword Art Online. Sword Art Online’s original story was about a group of people trapped in a massive online multi-player game using headsets which would allow for perfect simulation and if they died in the game, they died in real life. This show had an interesting premise that really worked and I won’t go into too much detail about the various plot points in the series, since I actually think it’s worth watching to make your mind up yourself on this series, but let’s just say, be cautious going into it. This has been one of the most divisive series in Anime in recent memory. You have got the camp that loves the film and thinks it’s the greatest thing ever and anyone who disagrees with that is a complete loser, which isn’t true. Then you’ve got the camp that hates it and think it’s the worst thing to happen to Anime and anyone who likes it is an idiot, also not true. I’m personally in the camp that thinks the whole thing is just ok. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think it’s more good than bad, but it’s hard to ignore the flaws. As I said I won’t go into too much detail, but I will just say that season 1 was pretty good although it declined in the second half and season 2 is a mixed bag at best in my opinion. The only thing that I will say is, if you are planning to watch or read the series, stop reading the review now, I am going to have to spoil the plot of both seasons in order to review the movie, since the movie takes place after the events of both seasons. If you have stuck around, great.
The movie itself has been written and directed by Tomohiko Ito, the original writer and director of the first season, though he did not return to direct the second season, which admittedly I think is the weaker of the two seasons. I think he has tried to make the best out of it and we can all see how well his work was when he was a writer on Excel World as well. This is his debut as a director of a feature film and it will be interesting to see how he does in that environment. Granted he did a decent job with the writing in the first season and most of the flaws in his writing in that season come from the stuff he had to carry over from Reki Kawahara’s light novel that the series is based on. How does the first big screen take on Sword Art Online go and can it repair a franchise that is kind of on the edge. Also this will be a spoiler free review, however, I will be reviewing the film again for episode 2 of Anime’s Amigo Vlog, so if you have read the review and want to see further details on my thoughts as well as a non-spoiler review of the film, watch that.
Ordinal Scale’s plot takes place shortly after the events of season 2, with the world still in the wake of the Sword Art Online incident, most people traded in their VR sets for augmented reality and this has led to the game Ordinal Scale becoming incredibly popular. The protagonist in this series Kirito, (played by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) is not too interested until he learns that several of the old Sword Art Online bosses are starting to turn up in this game. He travels to several of the location sites with Asuna, (played by Haruka Tomatsu) to investigate, however he is being constantly out done by the player ranked second Eiji (played by Yoshio Inoue) and the mysterious Idol singer Yuna (played by Sayaka Kanda). After one bout goes wrong, and they fail Asuna begins to start losing her memories of the Sword Art Online incident and Kirito’s mission is on to conquer Ordinal Scale and get her memories back as soon as he possibly can, however a bigger conspiracy lies under the surface.
I am just going to say this out right now, if you enjoyed Sword Art Online at this point, this movie isn’t going to change your mind. Most people in my screening were Sword Art Online fans and they seemed to enjoy it. However, having made my position very clear, I am going to say this right now, Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale is awful!! Well I should be more clear, it’s awful on a technical level. It’s perfectly enjoyable. Let me get out some of the positives I liked from the plot. For starters, the early portion of the plot is rather intriguing, though, this world never seems to learn its lessons with allowing gaming tycoons to use technology however they see fit. The early arc manages to get a good balance between its two main characters. One of the biggest problems with Sword Art Online was after its first arc, Asuna was rather pushed to the side lines in favour of Kirito who is just not as interesting a character and she has never really gotten her mojo back with the exception of the final arc of season two. That part of the film was pretty good. However, it doesn’t realise this and once again, by making her lose her memories, makes her completely lose what energy she had left and she becomes the damsel in distress again!! This is everything that was wrong with everything beyond the first arc, the writers simply don’t get that we don’t find Kirito that interesting unless he has a goal. Now, granted this film does give him a goal to achive, however, it further exacerbates a lot of the issues we have with him, because, well, he is just not as motivated. He simply gets way too good at the game, way too fast, there is a reason people have called Kirito a Jesus protagonist and this is one of the times I actually fully agree with them. His improvement in the game should not happen this quickly. I said I was going to talk about positives so I will keep them going, I think this film also made better use of the side characters, who often get pushed to one side after their respective episode or story arcs. That being said, a few of them still get the draft. Leafa, for example is absent for most of the movie and Sinon is barely in the film either. She gets a couple of decent action scenes, but the writers really have no idea what to do with her. While the humour can be alright, some of it is downright awful. There is actually one moment that is meant to be a very tender heartfelt moment in the film, but it had everyone in my screening and everyone in my colleague Renwick’s screening howling with laughter. Ok, now that really is all I can do for the positives, there is not much else to say.
The game Ordinal Scale which has been created for this film is clearly trying to capitalise on the success of geo cashing games, especially the most recent example of Pokemon go and I can see a game like this becoming a reality and it certainly fits in with the Sword Art Online Universe in concept. There is just one slight problem. This is not how the laws of physics work in Sword Art Online. The TV series firmly established that the characters are only capable of this feat in the virtual world, they can’t physically do this in the real world. This is emphasised by the final fight in the real world at the end of season 1. In this season they seem to be able to do half of the stuff they could do in the game in real life, really!! There are a lot of other dumber moments as well. Yuna, for example, is an interesting character in concepts and she turns up in the film quite a few times and they actually do fill in some of the gaps of the mystery around her, but rather like Death Gun in season 2, it’s not a satisfying reveal. The same also goes for new villain Eiji, who could have potentially been a genuinely interesting rival to Kirito, but his potential is rather squandered and he ends up just being a patsy to the main villain, which I won’t reveal for spoiler reasons, again, watch my episode of Anime Amigos which is coming out soon when we will be discussing spoilers of the film. He had some decent motivations and I liked the plan in theory although it doesn’t really make that much sense overall and the whole thing just feels like a massive, massive, let down. The whole point of him being in the film is squandered. Also, the climax of this film is one of the stupidest things to happen in the franchise to date. It makes no sense whatsoever and was clearly put in there just for fan service. Granted, the final fight is amazing, I will give it that, but the circumstances surrounding it and the results of its conclusion, leave a lot to be desired. It frankly doesn’t feel like much has changed in the Sword Art Online Universe, despite the fact that these characters have been through quite a lot at this point. Given that the events of this Universe have spanned four years at this point and it doesn’t feel like much has changed, there’s not much progression at this point, which is rather ironic considering the last series of books were called Sword Art Online Progressive! By the time we were at the ending of the film, it made me feel like there is not much future for the franchise left, it’s a mess, pure and simple and there is no other way I can put it. The whole film has lots of ideas in place but it doesn’t really know what to do with them and it doesn’t come out with a satisfying conclusion.
That being said, however, there were some things I really enjoyed about this film. The initial plot is quite good. The concepts are pretty cool ideas. There could have been some decent character arcs in place if this plot had been better written. There are some genuinely amazing ideas here and it actually works in some parts. The problem is, that for everything amazing thing we get, we get something that is abysmall and it doesn’t balance out. Whereas I felt like Sword Art Online season 1 and season 2 had more good than bad, Ordinal Scale has way more bad than good!
Ordinal Scale was shown in cinemas in the UK with its Japanese cast, so I am going to be judging them. This is my first experience with the Japanese cast considering that I saw both season 1 and season 2 in English dub and Aniplex, the licensor of Sword Art Online has already announced its English dub cast for the films dub, with all the main actors returning to reprise their roles, though it’s been announced that Ryan Bartly will be playing Yuna and Chris Patton will be playing Eiji, so when I eventually see the dub I will be giving my thoughts on their performances. Judging by the previous performances I think the actors are very well cast for their individual roles. The Japanese cast are also similarly pretty good, I felt they were similar to the dub actors, which leads me to think the dub staff are doing a pretty good job in casting. I can’t really comment on the performances because the only thing that is really wrong with them is that the various moments don’t work, but as a result, those moments have only come about because of the poor writing, so I don’t have anything to complain about with the actors. The cast is genuinely talented, which is a shame they are in this!
Ok, moving on to the technical department. This where Sword Art Online truly shines. Once again, the animation is gorgeous. The character designs and the new designs for the outfits are all pretty good. There were a lot of familiar favourites that got a bit of an update, which I liked and I liked all the various Easter eggs which were put in the film. The final fight scene is some of the best choreographed action I have seen in this franchise and it made me completely forget how stupid it was. Overall, all the fight scenes were well choreographed. The music is also fantastic. The new songs written for the film are pretty dam good, including a new song from Lisa who wrote all the openings for Sword Art Online up to this point. The film’s score is pretty good, despite the fact that it does borrow a lot from the already iconic soundtrack that the series had, but the new tracks are also dam good. I have nothing to complain about with this films presentation, it’s actually really good, though, as my colleague Renwick pointed out, there are a few animation gaffs down the line and not as much has been put into the general day to day scenes as the fantasy environments and the fight scenes.
Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale has things in it that are amazing and things in that are terrible, but this is the one incidence where I think in a Sword Art Online, the bad has outweighed the good. Ordinal Scale aims to be a big epic for the franchise, however, it comes off a rather hackneyed idea that doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. The character motivations don’t really work, the plot is all over the place, and while it has an excellent build up, it doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion and the whole thing doesn’t work overall. While I do think this will appeal to the fans it already has, I think many of them are now starting to get tired of the project and the franchise as a whole and I’m certain that even they are going to find some faults in this one. If you hate Sword Art Online, this is not the one to change your mind. Hopefully something will be upcoming that will give us something to enjoy, but Ordinal Scale is a complete mess and it may even sink the franchise.
So that’s my review for this week. There is no mini review because I didn’t have as much time to go to the cinema as I thought. So that concludes Anime April. Hopefully the circumstances will fall into place in the future and I can do another Anime month as it was fun to do this.
Time to move on, next week, we are back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the sequel to one of my favourite films of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.
Thanks a lot for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and if there is one lesson to be leaned, if someone gives you a free VR machine, just say no kids!!!
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