Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale Review — 7h12 M0V13 sUx0r2

Designed by committee and pre-packaged with a fan-only perspective, courtesy of A-1 Pictures.

  • Someone remind me again why I’m reviewing the Sword Art Online movie today instead of the new King Kong? In fact, I’m on vacation starting tomorrow which means yesterday was the only chance I had to go see Kong Skull Island until the end of next week, and instead I paid fifteen bucks to go see Ordnal Scale. Why exactly do I do this to myself?
  • Oh wait, I remember why. It’s because after five years of shitty shows, video games, and setting off more explosions on the Internet than Wile E. Coyote setting off all the mines in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, this franchise won’t fucking die. I thought after that horribly produced second season, people would just move on from the deadly tug-of-war that is the SAO Internet fanbase. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Youtubers, bloggers, and Reddit are still using the phenomenon as a way to get recognized, and the theater I was at was packed to the point that I had to sit in the front row. And you know what they say? If you can’t beat them, come back and join in the party.
  • Ordinal Scale is pretty much the inevitable conclusion you reach with a popular series like Sword Art Online, and quite frankly, I’m surprised it took this long to come out. It’s been three years since Season 2 graced us with its presence, and the franchise has mostly been kept alive since through big events and a video game canon when the Internet itself was getting momentarily distracted. Now since this is a franchise movie, the chances of Ordinal Scale being good regardless of the show’s quality were lower than the hype for – and eventual quality of – The Boss Baby, because they never have been worth a damn, have they?
  • I mean occasionally there’s a decent one, but for the most part, they’re pretty bad. And the ones have been good were always helmed by directors who wanted to leave their own imprint on the source material rather than try to extend it unnecessarily – or in Eden of the East’s case, just succumbed to sequelitis. Ordinal Scale is directed by the same dude who did the series, so obviously we’re just going to get that style again except with more time and effort put into making Kirito’s dual swords look nice…

I’ve noticed this before, but SAO’s character art is kind of flat, isn’t it?

  • …hahaha, just kidding. The animation quality is the same as the TV series except more consistent. And that fails to distract from a few noticeably unfinished faces and some very off-putting CG that makes the dinosaurs in Jurassic World look like James Cameron made them.
  • It’s really surprising how “not cinematic” the visuals are given that this is the big screen installment of one of the most popular anime franchises of today. I know A-1 Pictures has always taken a bit of a “we know how many people love this series, so let’s just do the bare minimum” approach to Sword Art Online, but I can’t think of one visual in this film that stood out to me. Hell, there are scenes where characters have discussions in big empty spaces, and when it’s not empty, the background people look like a Polygon Pictures CG character wandered into the wrong anime.
  • And don’t even get me started on the action scenes, which continue the SAO tradition of being way too wildly shot in order to feel any weight or even see what’s going on. The action animation is actually consistently nice this time, but the choreography is still lacking, and unless you’re watching a gif that’s at 1/5 speed, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate said animation because I swear to god somewhat hit the fast-forward button during the final climax. And there’s no stakes in regards to said action until the second half because most of it is just consists of the characters playing the new game, which is where we get to Ordinal Scale’s main problem: the plot is incredibly throwaway and more disjointed than the bones of a suicide jumper.

Hello, I’m a little girl, selling out to all my fans

  • It starts off by introducing a new gaming technology called Augma, a virtual reality device that’s the complete opposite from the deep dive system in that you play virtual games in the real world, meaning we suddenly have a new Pokemon Go-esque method of exercise for gamers to stay in shape with. However, Kirito is nowhere near as OP in real life as he is in the game world, meaning he mostly sulks and makes arguments about how reductive this system is while his girlfriend and girl friends get to stay in shape with the new Ordinal Scale game (basically Sword Art Online brought to reality) whilst crying when the technology warns them that eating sweets will make them gain weight.
  • However, things start going wrong when a certain player starts using the technology to assault survivors of the first game and taking their memories for a mysterious purpose. Something that takes a quarter of the runtime to show up in the film, and it only happens to Klein at the start, so I doubt anyone cared. And then there’s a bunch of fake-out scenes along with Kirito and Asuna having their fantasy relationship before the next assault happens. And then even longer before we start seeing actual effects.
  • Yes, most anime franchise movies feel more like a reunion special than an actual story that needs to be told, but they usually introduce the token conflict that ties everything together about twenty minutes into the film. However, Ordinal Scale takes over an hour before something resembling actual weight occurs, which is more than half the movie’s runtime. And even when that happens, it still feels padded with too many callbacks to the previous SAO iterations and characters having conversations about trying to find the plot.

Hahaha *insert self-referential joke here*

  • The majority of the film is just build-up for build-up’s sake. You watch the characters talk about the new technology and engage in the occasional karaoke or random idol dancing. You watch Kirito sulk about how people are leaving the virtual world for this real one where you can’t dual-wield like a boss. You watch a bunch of extras from the first SAO talk about how they’re not leaving. You see Klein and his nameless buddies get disrespected. You see the main antagonist experience jealousy for what he had to go through in the past. It’s nothing but a bunch of loosely connected scenes with nothing interesting to say regarding either the virtual world or the real one.
  • You see, I know a lot of fans argue that the overall theme of Sword Art Online is how the virtual world and the real world aren’t all that different, and it’s mankind’s dream to merge the two seamlessly. And yeah, maybe you could argue that’s the overall goal of this franchise, but I have no interest in judging Ordinal Scale as anything but its own separate thing (that you need to be familiar with the previous anime to understand, because while the film does briefly summarize the past two seasons, it doesn’t do a good job of reintroducing the characters to us). And the movie very rarely brings up anything about the subject with anything more than a passing glance.
  • Someone want to explain to me how Asuna fawning over her virtual time with Kirito, characters having expository dialogue regarding Kayaba’s godliness despite the fact that it was his actions that caused the villain to go crazy in the first place (and yet the villain seems to be in on the worship), and seeing Augma being used in daily life for thirty minutes too long is a smart way to talk about the difference between reality and video games? They’re not inherently bad vessels (well, the Kayaba one is) to discuss social networking and all that shit, but Sword Art Online never has anything interesting to say about them.
  • The final act pretty much had the writers give up once they realized they dicked around too much to the point that they only had like thirty minutes for the finale. There’s going to be mild spoilers from here on out, so skip to the final two bullet points if you don’t want to read ’em.

Once you see what being #1 entails, you will facepalm HARD!

  • Let’s address the elephant in the room: After Asuna becomes personally involved in the whole memory-stealing incident, Kirito works to get his level up fast so that he can confront the bad guy, who’s Rank #2 in the game. We see in the beginning of the film that he’s ranked in the ten-thousands and is physically unfit to boot, but he ends up becoming OP to the point that he becomes #19 or so in the span of what can’t be more than two days. The reason for this is a very short montage that makes the ones in Rudy look like their own separate films where he does kendo training using Silica’s video practices as a guide. That’s it. That’s literally all it took to get him to the fighting level he displays in the game world, and he undergoes no characterization during that time to boot.
  • I know that a lot of people are used to Kirito being a Gary Stu and all, but the movie hammers in that he can’t do that shit in the real world repeatedly. Like five or so times at least. I exercise almost every single day and I’d never be able to do the sort of physical shit our main character ends up doing in the final act. Yet suddenly, the movie decides he can do all that shit as long as he has a training montage. Not enough time to show physical improvement you say? Pfffft. We’re Sword Art Online, man. We don’t care.
  • And then there’s the final climax, which is pretty much just a big Deus Ex Machina on all fronts. Now I can’t actually discuss it because the spoilers here are too major, but let’s just say the game very heavily favors the virtual world to get things solved. So yeah, way to throw whatever message you had out the window, movie. I think American Pie held on to more dignity than you when it did the same with its “sex is something we should do when we’re ready” moral.

Pretty much every character with a recognizable portrait, including the dead, makes an appearance in this film for no better reason than fanservice

  • I guess if you’re a die-hard fan, you’d like Ordinal Scale. But man, that’s a lot of hype for an anime film whose visuals don’t even scream “big screen”. Even One Piece: Film Gold had some big screen moments amongst its TV-quality visuals once in a while, and that movie sucked balls.
  • The only real positive I have for this film is there’s an occasionally funny joke thrown in there, and sometimes the absurdity of the situation will cause a chuckle as well. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a reunion special regarding characters who have not become any more likable over time, with all the interesting stuff smothered underneath a ton of momentum-less scenes, and no chemistry between the good guys and the bad guys to lend any sort of personal weight to what passes as a plot in the SAO universe. If that sounds good to you, you’ve either already seen the movie, have already bought your ticket for a future screening, or have already closed this review whilst complaining about my “edgy anime opinions” on some social media out there, I’m sure.

Minor Quips

  • Technological advancement sure moves fast in the SAO universe, doesn’t it? From deep dive to reality-augmented gaming in just four years?
  • I didn’t see the post-credits scene at the end due to being unaware of its existence, but I do know it’s setup for the next season, which we all knew was inevitable.
  • I’ll probably write some more posts about this movie further down the line. But for now, I’ve got to spend time with the family.

2 responses to “Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale Review — 7h12 M0V13 sUx0r2

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