Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale – Movie Review
If you’re anything like me (and gods help you if you are), you’ve spent a lot of time playing video games and watching anime. If that’s the case, you’ve probably already seen Sword Art Online, the immensely popular anime based on a light novel about a group of people trapped in a virtual reality MMORPG until they manage to clear the game’s 100 floors, each one guarded by a powerful boss monster. There is action, mystery, romance, and awkward moments involving tentacles abound. When death in the game means death in real life, the players must band together to try to survive the horrible situation they’ve been put into.
At least some of them do. Some of them use this as a chance to go on a murderous rampage because this is people on the internet we’re talking about.
Ordinal Scale, the newest entry in the SAO series and its first feature-length film, picks up two years after the players manage to escape from the titular game and introduces us to the Augma, an augmented reality device that counts calories, displays messages, and allows people to play fully immersive games while out in the real world. Think of it as a futuristic Fitbit and you’ll get a good idea of what they’re going for. The most popular app for the system, a game called Ordinal Scale, allows players to fight fantasy monsters out in the real world, earning XP and moving up the rankings each time they do.
However, when boss monsters from the Sword Art Online world show up in this new system, Kirito, Asuna, Klein, and the rest of the cast decide to investigate what was happening. They uncover a conspiracy targeting those who survived SAO, threatening to kill thousands of people unless they can stop it. Nearly every character in the show makes at least a brief appearance, though some only show up long enough to play a bit part. It is a pretty straight forward plot, but it fits nicely into the two hours they have to tell and gives the opportunity for some meaningful interactions between the main cast.
Now, the show had its ups and downs over its 49 episode run, so I had mixed feelings when I found out about this movie. I mean, I love the characters, particularly the relationship between Kirito, the gloomy loner who only finds a sense of accomplishment from his skill at video games (so relatable), and Asuna, the righteous and kind swordswoman who basically dragged Kirito into a guild to help them clear the game and escape back into their real lives. Their romance, while fast developing (it took them just over a year to meet, get married, and have a six year old child cause anime is weird like that), was genuinely sweet and interesting to watch. Asuna was especially enjoyable as a strong, intelligent, and skilled woman and the biggest disappointment in the show was the way she was reduced to a damsel in distress for much of the second arc.
As expected, Asuna and Kirito’s relationship is the star of the movie and it is interesting to see how awkward things have become for them. Outside of the game world, he seems lost, unsure of what his skills truly are and lacking in motivation to move on after the events of SAO. Two years into their relationship in the real world and he’s still not met her family and is struggling to find meaning outside of gaming. Kirito is stuck in limbo, unable to find closure, echoing the sense of frustration I felt when the show reached a somewhat early climax as the group reached the 65th floor.
By contrast, Asuna quickly establishes herself as the strongest character in the film, a welcome change considering my biggest fear going in was that she would be side-lined like she was in the last half of the first season. However, once again she is driving the plot and characters, serving as the leader of the crew until Kirito gets his life together. Even when it appears she’ll be pushed to the background once again, she comes roaring back in the climax as she joins one of the most impressively designed bosses in the show’s history. It is clearly the old Asuna, barking orders and strategies to a veritable army of swordfighters, fairies, and snipers in what turned out to be the most thrilling fight scenes in the series. It was a great to see her being her old badass self after so long playing second fiddle to the man in her life. A few moments of cringy fan-service aside, it is refreshing to see a woman in an action anime with such a starring role.
The whole movie feels like a swan song, a goodbye to the series and the characters. By the end, there is a sense of closure for everyone, fans included. While the pacing did drag in places, the final act was one of the most exciting sets of fights I’ve seen in anime in a long time. With characters from all across the various games featured in the show joining in and some nods to the characters who didn’t make it out of SAO alive, Ordinal Scale would be a satisfying place to end things for the series. Of course, there are hints at a new series that is probably already in production, but where there is money to be made there will always been a new series (I’m looking at you, Dragonball). If they never made another episode or video game from SAO, I would be perfectly happy to leave it here.