Madman Entertainment has bought Sword Art Online movie back to theater’s, this time it is playing with the English dub track. I went out last night and caught a screening of the movie. As a fan of SAO I can tell you now the Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale English Dub did not disappoint.
Ordinal Scale is set in the year 2026. This is 2 years after Kirito and his friends escaped the world of Sword Art Online and were able to remove the NerveGear unit keeping them trapped in the world yet alive at the same time.
The movie opens with a brief recap of what the NerveGear was and the events that occurred inside the game. This acts as a good refresher for people that may not have seen the series in some time (as the first series aired almost 5 years ago now) and could also bring someone that hasn’t seen the series at all up to speed, providing them just enough information to be able to understand what is going on and enjoy the movie. Although this recap won’t give those who haven’t seen the series any details on who specific characters are or their established back stories. For this reason I’d suggest at least watching the first 14 episodes of season 1 (Aincrad arc) before seeing the movie if possible.
The main plot of this film revolves around a new piece of technology known as the Augma. The Augma is a wearable device that is penned to be the successor to the NerveGear, but works using augmented reality technology instead of the Deep-Dive virtual reality technology the NerveGear relied on. Because of this they are pitching the product as a safer alternative to enjoy MMO games as the users remain conscious. The most popular title is a hit new game built specifically for Augma, called Ordinal Scale (often referred to as OS in the film).
Ordinal Scale renders the game world and creatures around the users in a real world environment. Think Pokemon GO but if you could physically see the Pokemon in the world as you traveled from place to place. Fairly early in the film it is revealed that all of the “survivor’s” of SAO were gifted a free Augma. Asuna and the others have embraced the tech and use it a lot but Kirito is a little more reserved and is shown to still prefer VR over the new AR games.
The Augma isn’t just for playing games and fighting monsters though, there is a real life aspect for it’s users as well. During multiple times in the film it is shown that Augma users can spend gained points and use their ranks in certain games to receive real life gifts such as cake at a cafe, drinks from certain vending machines and even concert tickets.
Word starts getting around that bosses from the Sword Art Online game have started appearing as raid bosses in Ordinal Scale. So every night, a new location is revealed and a ton of OS players flock out to wait for the raid event to start in the hopes of gaining a heap of bonus exp and raising their game rank.
Hearing of this news is what pushes Kirito to give the Augma a real go as he heads out to investigate why SAO creatures are appearing in a separate game.
This is where SAO: Ordinal Scale flips things from the main series when it comes to some of the characters. Normally it’s Kirito that is represented as the all powerful hero but in this film it is Asuna who is more powerful in this game due to Kirito’s lack of embracing the Augma earlier. Asuna is much higher in rank and is the one on the battlefield during these raid fights that often performs the killing blow and is awarded MVP on multiple occasions.
It’s during one of the raids that the group meet who will become the front-line antagonist for the movie. A powerful young boy named Eiji, currently ranked #2 in Ordinal Scale. Eiji’s motivations I found to be really interesting and brings things full circle, looping back into plot points from the first season. Providing some insight into another’s perspective of what happened inside of SAO and what does it have to do with the massively popular AR idol for Ordinal Scale, Yuna?
The above question I won’t answer in this review as it does tread into spoiler territory but the ending of this movie wraps everything up together and reveals why the antagonistic forces in this film are doing what they are doing.
Kirito and friends find out that players of Ordinal Scale are losing their memories of their time in SAO if they are defeated in Ordinal Scale by one of these SAO raid bosses. During the course of the movie it becomes apparent that the “survivors” are being targeted by someone or something to take these memories. One of the strongest points in the film is when you find out why these specific memories are being taken and what they are being used for.
Asuna is eventually struck down while protecting another lead character in battle and loses her memories of SAO. This leads to one of the most emotional scenes I can remember from any recent anime I’ve seen. I could feel Kirito’s pain when he reads Asuna’s diary she has been writing since losing these memories. But also made the next scene amazingly powerful when the two of them embrace and show how much they love each other even though Asuna has no memories of them ever meeting, the first 2 years of their relationship or their wedding day.
One of the main themes being driven through this movie seems to be, how far would you go to be with the ones you love. This is presented not only as Kirito’s motivation to progress and attempt to retrieve Asuna’s memories, but also as the driving force for the “villains” in the movie, just from a different perspective.
This all leads to the film’s climax, which is packed full of fan service for people who have seen the 2 series. Many of the characters we’ve grown to know and love from both core series all come together to assist in taking down the final threat of the movie. A scene that is absolutely packed full of action, backed with a banging soundtrack and contains some of the best animation to date in any Sword Art Online scene. Truly a highlight of the movie.
As I just touched on, there are scenes in this movie where the animation is amazing. The actual production value of this film isn’t as noticeably increased when compared to the main series but the set pieces are much bigger and contain a ton of extra little details, noticed especially when the Ordinal Scale activates and the world transitions from the regular streets to the game world of OS.
The music in this film is represented almost as a character of it’s own. There is a running karaoke theme among the main cast which leads to some small musical numbers and the OS AI Yuna also sings the backing song while the raid battles are happening and the during the final act of the film. Besides these moments which complemented the fight scenes the opening and closing theme’s of the movie were also a great fit.
The home release Blu-Ray has some great special features. It contains the fairly standard Japanese and English trailers for the film and a full audio commentary for the film featuring the creators and Japanese cast. Finally is an interesting short titled Sword Art Offline-Ordinal Scale. It has chibi versions of Kirito, Asuna and Yuna presenting a talk show answering questions about the film and provides behind the scenes snippets of information.
If you’re a fan of Sword Art Online, especially the first 24 episodes, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. It contains all of your favourite characters from the series, tells a tragic but interesting original story that connects back into the events of the first season and even provides some alternate perspectives of those events. I highly recommend going out and catching a screening of the Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale English Dub if you can.
Also be sure to wait around through the credits for a nice little extra scene.
All images – ©2016 REKI KAWAHARA/PUBLISHED BY KADOKAWA CORPORATION ASCII MEDIA WORKS/SAO MOVIE Project
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