Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale, the Sword Art Online movie. Words that will illicit excitement in some and disdain in others. Thanks to Fathom events who provided Fighting for Nippon with a review ticket, I was able to see the film at their special event. Personally, I was sceptical going into the theatre to see the film, but having watched it, how do I feel?

Sword Art Online - Ordinal Scale

“Do you want to go back?”

Kirito is asked this about Sword Art Online early in the film. In many ways, it serves as a good starting point for the ideas the film explores, including itself. One of the best things about the film is that narratively, it’s quite well constructed. Though sometimes the narrative is left to be desired.

The film begins with a flashback of Kirito and Asuna at the lake near their home on floor 22 in Aincrad. They promise to see shooting stars when they get out. It’s a happy memory. A happy memory within their two years trapped in a death game. This is one of the core ideas of Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale. Seeing this film might make the viewer remember their time watching Sword Art Online just like the characters remember their time within Sword Art Online.

Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale‘s plot is structured much better than previous entries in the series. Clear end goals are set up early on, and the stakes are raised as the story follows. Much of the emotional meat of the story (but not all of it) is centred around Kirito and Asuna’s relationship. If you don’t care at all for the characters, much of the film won’t work for you. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything new there. The relationships that the films three original characters are all interesting, heartwarming and heart wrenching. I can’t believe I said that about SAO! At the end of the day, Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale is a love story, though not necessarily a romantic one.

Sword Art Online - Ordinal Scale

Sword Art Online in Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale

Ordinal Scale makes full use of the “lore” of the franchise and contains a fair amount of fan service for fans of the series. One moment during the climax caused a gasp to cross the audience. There is also a bit of service for fans of other Aniplex franchises. I’m glad to see Wagnaria’s still open in the 2020’s. Much of the plot is centred around what happened in the Aincrad arc of season one. In a way that makes it feel like part of the same story and not just a standalone film.

Though the villains don’t get a lot of time to tell their stories, they are probably the best the franchise has seen. “Even if it means becoming like that man,” the villain knows what he is doing is following in Kayaba’s footsteps. That doesn’t matter when it means getting to his goal, which is quite sad. The villains of Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale are tragic figures, who are controlled by their grief. While the franchise may have moved past its death game origins, the effects of that premise are still felt in the world and the characters.

Sword Art Online - Ordinal Scale

Remembering SAO in Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale

Memories of SAO play a large part in the motives of both the heroes and the villains of the film.  “Why would anybody want to remember the horrors of SAO?” Both the plot and one of the villains ponder this question. Though as the series has shown, through a horrible tragedy, Kirito and friends still have some fond memories of their time in the game. This does present the opportunity to show the viewer what very well could have been Kirito if he hadn’t met his friends. The very real painful experiences that the players faced is brought to the center, and the pain of losing a loved one is explored once more. The lasting impact of the SAO incident is conveyed quite well, in a way I wish it was in the series.

The lasting impact of the SAO incident is conveyed quite well in the film, in a way I wish it was in the series.

Both thematically and plotwise the film feels like a fitting conclusion to the story. This is an odd feeling. Going in, people knew there would probably be more, and leaving one is even more certain. It feels like Kawahara and Ito have told the story they want to tell, and that Kirito and Asuna’s journey as finally come to an end. It feels like a good ending, but at the same time, I’m still looking forward to seeing what happens next.

The Technical Aspects of Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale

Much of what Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale explores thematically has been mentioned in the series prior, but not with as much confidence or skill. Reki Kawahara has evolved into, maybe not a great writer, one of competence. While not his best work, Tomohiko Ito is still a talent, and the movie is quite a looker. Notably, the Director of Photography is different from the television series, and that difference is quite easy to see. The film’s change in aesthetic does fit and makes the slightly futuristic Tokyo pop.

The animation of the film is very well done, with the action scenes of much more note. The non-action scenes don’t look bad but lack the flair that the action scenes have.

Sword Art Online - Ordinal Scale

Sword Art Online – Ordinal Scale won’t convince people who didn’t like the series already to like it. If you have any attachment to the franchise, Ordinal Scale is a must watch.

I saw the film at a special premiere thanks to Fathom Events who provided a free ticket. Before the film started there were messages from Haruka Tomatsu and Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (voices of Asuna and Kirito). They discussed that it’s been five years since the original series aired. Though I started the show in 2014, some things don’t change. I’m somewhat surprised that I find myself happy that this franchise is still part of my life. Glad you’re back Sword Art Online.


Posted by Alex Jackson

Avid reader of otokonoko manga and fan of slice of life. Interests include otaku cultural studies and writing fiction. Alex Jackson is a pen name.

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