Review for Sword Art Online the Movie: Ordinal Scale Collector's Edition
It takes just one negative experience to put you off a thing, to the point that no matter how much it improves, you always expect the worst of it. Given that my negative experience with Sword Art Online comprises the entirety of Season 1, that may go a long way to explaining why my heart sank when the check discs for the movie arrived. That’s despite Season 2 being a generally positive experience for me, undoing much of the mess that the misogynistic Fairy Dance arc created, and never really approaching the levels of narrative absurdity that the opening Aincrad arc began the show with. Season 2 was the best of Sword Art Online, so good that a spin-off based on the opening arc of that season is currently airing, Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online. It’s also so good that it’s spawned this Ordinal Scale feature film, which continues Kirito and Asuna’s story after the events of Season 2.
Kirito and Asuna’s relationship is beginning to hit a few bumps in the road (she wants to introduce him to her mother), and it isn’t helped by the newest tech craze not exactly ringing Kirito’s bell. He loves the online world, the escapism of virtual reality, but the new Augma visor has a whole new approach, augmenting reality instead of escaping from it. The big game is Ordinal Scale, and it works by bringing role playing elements and monsters into the mundane world, overlaying the real with the fantastic. Big boss battles tend to take place in public parks where game-players gather. There’s even a VR idol promoting Augma, a digital pop singer called Yuna.
All of a sudden, Sword Art Online end of level bosses begin appearing in Ordinal Scale, and then strange things start happening to the Sword Art Online survivors that are playing the new game; they start losing their memory of Sword Art Online. When that happens to Asuna, it threatens their whole relationship, which originally developed over the two years they were trapped in the game. Kirito will have to play Ordinal Scale to get to the bottom of the mystery, but his VR skills mean very little in the augmented real world, where Kirito is seriously out of shape.
The Sword Art Online movie gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and the character designs and art style from the TV series is present and correct. The extra effort does show in the backgrounds, the world designs, and the action sequences. The image is fine, free of compression, aliasing or even digital banding to my eyes, and the animation comes across smoothly. You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and Japanese with optional subtitles and signs. It’s a great surround track, really doing justice to the action sequences, and making full use of the surround soundstage. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos, although the song lyrics in the film aren’t translated, which isn’t good when one of your characters is a pop idol.
The images in this review were taken from the DVD version of the film, and aren’t representative of the Blu-ray disc.
The disc boots to an animated menu. You’ll find 9:32 of Japanese trailers, and 1:56 devoted to the English trailer, both in HD.
The audio commentary on the disc features director Tomohiko Ito, and voice actors Haruka Tomatsu (Asuna), and Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Kirito), there is plenty of giggling to be had. It’s subtitled in English of course.
The Sword Art OFFline – Ordinal Scale – lasts 14:25 1080i, and offers some chibi observations on the film. You’ll know the form if you’ve seen the similar extras on the series discs.
I haven’t seen the packaging or the physical extras to comment.
Fairy Dance should be a distant memory, but it looms like a spectre over the Sword Art Online franchise whenever I think of it. So my sense of relief trumps my sense of enjoyment when I reflect on watching Ordinal Scale. It’s not bad... it’s actually quite good. It’s got a decent story to it that builds on what has come before, although for the second time it revolves around the survivors of the Sword Art Online incident. It’s different enough to not feel like a rehash of Gun Gale though. The character development for the main cast is strong, while followers of the series have plenty of cameos and appearances to keep them happy.
The tech has moved on as well, reflecting what at the time must have been current events. Around the time this film came out, the Pokemon phone game, where you hunted for the critters in the ‘real world’ was still a thing, while the advent of inventions like Google Glass were promising a new way of interacting with the world, the augmented reality that is used to such stunning visual effect in this film. There’s also mention made of companies mining user data to make profits, which right now is still as current as news gets. Unlike the Nerve Gear and Amusphere, Augma is all about the real world experience, so it doesn’t have the inherent dangers that people face in virtual reality. All they have to do is take off the headset to ‘return’, not that they ever really leave. Given the bad publicity that Nerve Gear and Amusphere had in the events of the TV series, you can see why pretty much everyone adopts the new craze in the film.
Kirito’s still a devotee of virtual reality, even if his favourite worlds now seem like ghost towns, and while his friends are indulging in Ordinal Scale, he looks like a Luddite at first, the outsider not really getting the new thing. Having to use his real body in the real world when he tries playing Ordinal Scale offers a steep learning curve, especially when they encounter the #2 ranked player in the game, who plays it like he’s in virtual reality, apparently defying physics with his skill.
He has to take a crash course in augmented reality when trouble flares up. Without explanation, monsters from Sword Art Online start appearing in Ordinal Scale, and it becomes clear that someone is targeting the survivors of Sword Art Online, that when they lose in a boss battle in the game, their minds are attacked, memories stolen, memories of Sword Art Online.
In previous stories, it’s been pretty clear who the villains are; they have obvious moustache twirling, villainous motives, but in the Ordinal Scale story, the motive behind the assaults on the SAO survivors comes from a different place, one of grief and mourning, a loss that is easier for the audience to be sympathetic to, and one which makes the story in the Ordinal Scale movie stronger emotionally than anything that has come before in the franchise. Even better, the way the story unfolds offers the ultimate ‘cake and eat it’ prospects for fans of the franchise, as the solution to this mystery lies in that part of Sword Art Online that we never got to see in the series. It lies on Level 100. It’s a fantastic climax that delivers on every front.
So I’m really just left picking nits with Sword Art Online the Movie: Ordinal Scale, and given where I started with this franchise, I’ve either been indoctrinated into its ranks of fans, or they’ve actually thought the ideas through. The only nitpick I have left is, just who allows this tech on the market. Nerve Gear, Amusphere, and now Augma; none of them would qualify for a safety kitemark from the BSI!