Spoiler Warning: Because I have no mouth and I must scream about Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale this post has no choice but to contains spoilers because I have no mouth and I must scream about Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale.
The UK has received an unprecedented steady stream of the hottest theatrical anime premieres in the past six months with more down the pipeline thanks to the amazing efforts of Anime Limited and soon Animatsu. From Your Name to A Silent Voice, the next movie in this streak is… uh, Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale; a movie follow-up continuing the SAO flame with a new original story written by the original author Reki Kawahara. I had the opportunity to go see the movie on the UK premiere date last month with a couple of friends at Picturehouse Central in London while ignoring the fact that I could’ve simply watched it from the cinema 10 minutes away from my house. For what it’s worth, Ordinal Scale is an intriguing film bringing new concepts to the table but remains a victim of the awry story and structure infamous to the franchise.
The movie is an original story set in-between Mother’s Rosario Arc (where the second season left off) and the Alicization Arc (to be adapted in season three~?) where the world is graced with a wonderful AR device called the Augma. Learning from the mistakes of full dive VR the Augma gains mainstream appeal because the technology allows users to remain conscious in use as the virtual world is augmented on top of the user’s vision. Mirroring the world building narratives from the likes of Summer Wars the Augma becomes an integral component of people’s everyday life. More than just a gaming device; the Augma is able to track fitness data, award users with loyalty points and vouchers to goods and services as businesses embrace the new technology. Heck, the service even has its own fucking bespoke idol – because even though technology has advanced at a rapid pace in 2026 the world never learns and continues to embrace our make-belief idol overlords.
It feels rather refreshing to finally return to Sword Art Online since the second season wrapped up back in 2014. With 8 volumes of the light novels somehow under my belt and currently basking in the Alicization
Whatthefuckishappening story arc, I was interested to seeing how a SAO movie would look like and how it fits into the overarching narrative.
If I were to describe my experience seeing Ordinal Scale in 10 original keywords in chronological order…
- SAO WILL FUCKING RETURN
The production quality of Ordinal Scale is undoubtedly a massive step up from the last two seasons; a clear response to the financial success and the gargantuan fan following the series had spawned since the first anime episode aired 5 years ago. Tomohiko Ito who directed the previous SAO seasons and recently Erased did justice in delivering a coherent and enticing experience in the storytelling and cinematography departments. I didn’t expect to find myself heavily immersed than I should have amidst the action scenes thanks to the impressive camera work and lack of filler shots interrupting the flow. Screentime never felt wasted as it frequently did in the television series (with Lisbeth, Silica and Leafa getting the DEBAN they deserve) and perhaps thanks to Ito’s direction on Erased the feels-touching moments in Ordinal Scale felt just the little more genuine despite the overarching melodramatic tones baked in by default. The 1:1 Augma renditions of key locations around Tokyo as they transform into fantastical environments; from the streets of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro to the open spaces around Tokyo Dome and Akihabara personally tickled my memories when I was in these exact same spots in Japan last year. The idea of augmenting real life surroundings into a fantasy world made me realise this is anything but another stepping stone to the conception of Brain Burst in Accel World – another Kawahara work set in the distant future of SAO.
The last boss fight is an immensely beautiful visual treat which shines dazzlingly on the big screen. The buffed up 3DCG special effects meshes a lot better this time with the 2D elements – seeing augmented monsters defeated and bursting into a million and one multi-coloured looks vividly next-gen compared to the special effects used in the past. I’m honestly eager to see how the boss fights look without the augmentation imagining a bunch of random people swinging around their advanced Wii remotes in a cordoned off public area.
Aside from the brilliant sakuga™ let’s not also forget about the music. Ordinal Scale
succumbs embraces the world of idols by including their own «AI idol» Yuna – voiced by Sayaka Kanda; a singer and actress unfamiliar to the anime realm performing a number of idol-ly songs amidst the multiple boss fights scattered throughout the movie which intertwines with Yuki Kajiura’s godly choral scores. Although I was more focused on the boss fights than Yuna’s performances it mostly sank into the realm of white noise unfortunately, however listening to them again after via the original soundtrack album the tracks are the typical genki idol tunes that will never fail to get you to fist pump your glowsticks into the air. Yuki Kajiura yet again delivers with her angelic choir squad to maximise the hype levels to overdrive during the popcorn-munching action sequences while making you genuinely feel for Yuna and Eiji with their cheap little sob-story which instantly reminded me of that moment of exposition the latter half of the Re:Zero anime for some reason. Every time Yuna yells “MUSIC START” before every fight Honoka from Love Live! rolls around her bell pepper grave more intensely.
While I’ve somehow been praising Ordinal Scale being the greatest piece of SAO anime so far I can’t finish this post without shitposting about the augmented elephant in the room which sullied my experience to what could have been an amazing SAO film – no, not the butt shots spread throughout the film; the final conclusion.
There has never been a more polarising hot topic as Sword Art Online when it dropped into everyone’s seasonal anime calendars in 2012. While I would like to steer clear from this area of discussion since it’s been talked to death in all kinds of media – what has been consistent in the rhetoric is the critical response to the story. Anyone with an unfried brain will admit Sword Art Online’s storytelling isn’t perfect, and unfortunately Ordinal Scale isn’t the special case study it should have been.
While the final Aincrad Floor 100 boss fight was a marvellous piece of battle eyecandy, it was also shamelessly dumb in practice plugging in every single important arc-based character from previous story arcs – Alfheim Online and Gun Gale Online specifically; just to remind you they exist. They even went as far as giving a nod to Mother’s Rosario‘s Yuuki (;__;) as Asuna lands the finishing blow of the fight. I can understand the reason behind why they did this but this was merely a prelude to what made my affinity for the film was shatter into a million tiny CG particles and tried to silence my screams and laughter of disappointment in the cinema.
The main reason being why I thought I was going to like Ordinal Scale was because I genuinely believed Kirito was going to be nerfed; dethroned from his God status from previous arcs to an underdog since his scrawny real life body is unable to keep up with reality’s demands, just to mix things up a bit for a change. But oh no. Ooohhhhh nooooooo.
The final fight in the arena when Kirito IN VR FUCKING SUPER SAIYAN FULL DIVE MODE BECAUSE UH, OH YEAH – THESE FUTURISTIC GOOGLE GLASS THINGS SPECIFICALLY MADE FOR AR CAN SECRETLY DO VR AND NOBODY IN THE ENTIRE WORLD KNEW ABOUT THAT UNTIL NOW AND NO SUPERVISORY AUTHORITY IN THE WORLD CALLED AUGMA OUT ON THIS SHIT tops out to become number 1 in the ordinal rankings after a truly inspirational grinding montage making grinding look like a walk in the fucking park shot his previous standing in six-figures right up to the top fucking ten strongest players of the game – wiping out all the monsters in the field in one fell swoop with his huge-arse deus-ex-machina sword he looted from the spoils of the Aincrad boss beforehand.
I guess it was my fault for the wishful thinking but all of my hopes and expectations for Ordinal Scale to break the SAO curse of plotholes and inconsistencies went straight down the gutter like how Klien got unconditionally wrecked by Eiji earlier on in the film. Kirito and crew saving the day in an «AR game» ultimately via «full dive VR» is like winning a «sword» fight by using «guns».
Ordinal Scale is a self-contained story written by Kawahara through and through which sadly continues to trip itself up thanks to the never ending flawed story – while on the meta aspect Ordinal Scale serves as a clever set up foreshadowing what is to soon arrive in the next arc in the openly hinted third season. On the bright side, as much as I hated the dumb climatic moment it didn’t compromise the fact that I had an enjoyable time watching thanks to the spectacular battles scenes, the fun little Aniplex™ easter eggs and the head-shaking fanservice that manifests in every scene. Ordinal Scale is a major improvement for the Sword Art Online series and I am looking forward to seeing where the series takes its next step.
SAO WILL RETURN / 10
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to go order a pair of Sony MDR-1000X.