For all the shit that Sword Art Online is given, one aspect that I notice never gets all that much attention is the actual animation itself. I’m sure there are several people who noticed that Season 2 was obviously rushed into production whilst watching it, but most of the time they just ignore it in favor of when the action animation is actually good. Now these days, a lot of people pay more attention to sakuga and all that, but I can’t think of anyone who’s seen Ordinal Scale that brought up how the visuals looked exactly like the TV show except with some noticeable CG extras in the background. And given how SAO’s visuals generally look worse than an outsourced episode of ERASED, that’s really bad.
Now I know A-1 Pictures is generally an awful studio with some of the shittiest production practices I’ve ever seen to the point that they’re basically the eastern version of Disney’s live-action department, but they’ve made some pretty visually interesting stuff in the past. And given how Sword Art Online is pretty much their cash cow, why aren’t they putting more effort into it? Well okay, I know why. It’s because the fanbase is so big that they feel like they don’t need to branch out to a wider audience, kind of like how the Avengers is impenetrable to those not interested in superhero stories. But Ordinal Scale is a fucking movie. That may sound obvious at first glance, but then why did that film look like ass?
Since the film is still in theaters, there’s a limit to what visuals from Ordinal Scale I can actually show, but trust me when I say that the entire length of the movie didn’t look any different from the show. And if any of you guys start claiming that show looked nice, you obviously need to have your eyes checked. That’s not even counting those horrible CG extras, the complete lack of people across big backgrounds in certain scenes, and the awful awful action where it looked like the director took speed during shooting. How long was this movie in development again? Certainly longer than either season of the show, and if I can’t even trust the big-screen movie to look great given the amount of production that goes into it, how am I supposed to believe for a second that Sword Art Online is worth a damn as a franchise?
Last I checked, the appeal of anime is supposed to be that it’s animated. That it conveys visuals in a way that live-action can’t, similar to how people want the art to leap at them when they read a manga. Or if you want pure action, then it has to be good action. And if SAO can’t do that even when given a big budget, then what exactly is it contributing to anime as a medium besides getting a million people to point and laugh at it? Now I’m aware the director they chose to bring this show to life is more suited towards quiet shows, which is probably why ERASED looked as good as it did, so maybe he was just simply miscast like the Bakuman director was. But then that just leaves the question why A-1 couldn’t hire someone else to direct Ordinal Scale. Lots of anime change directors when they go from series to movie, let alone the reverse. It’s not always for the better, but sometimes you get Hosada when he was handed Digimon and One Piece for a little while. Does A-1 really not have anybody on standby whose primary talent is action? Granted all of their action shows suck for a reason, but at least the guy who directed that awful Zvezda anime would have made more sense.
But it’s not just the visuals that are lacking. It’s the lack of strong visual metaphors in the animation that really gets my goat regarding Sword Art Online. After all, Haibane Renmei’s animation is kind of bad, and yet the religious metaphors were everywhere throughout its entire runtime. Whenever we see characters in SAO get emotional, it’s always basic feelings regarding contrived fantasy situations. Whenever we see said characters throw a punch or swing a sword, they either cut away from showing anything impactful, or what we see is just a bunch of weightless anger. Most of that could probably be attributed to the fact that Ordinal Scale is a franchise film, which have never really had a good history in regards to conveying anything but earning money from an established property. Having said that, considering this is the SAO installment that’s supposed to give focus on Kirito and Asuna’s relationship – especially given how we’ve seen almost nothing of it since the first arc – it’s pretty disappointing that all it ever amounts to is “I love this man and how he sleeps in my boobs”.
I mean how long is A-1 going to ride on the coattails of its established fanbase as the sole reason for Sword Art Online’s continued existence anyways? Yes lots of people watch the show, but they’re going to get tired eventually the same way most people get fed up with sitcoms after they air a hundred episodes and run out of fresh jokes, or what happened when Durarara returned. Especially when people who don’t even read the original light novels recognize that you’re just doing a cut-and-paste job in regards to visualizing Kawahara’s vision – and Ordinal Scale is anime-original to boot. Good visuals will definitely not stop Sword Art Online in general from being shit, but there’s absolutely no way it can even stand a chance at achieving greatness when the producers themselves don’t seem to have any aspirations of making it great. When they have no unique vision for the property besides printing money. When they continue to saddle the franchise to a director who is completely ill-suited for action scenes.
But given the success of Disney’s live-action stuff, why should I expect its Eastern equivalent (company-wise, not medium-wise) to deny the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule? After all, what matters at the end of the day in the anime world is how much merchandise they can sell and whether or not these employees have apartments they can live in as a result. And unlike Durarara, or even more recent popular A-1 shows like Aldnoah Zero, Sword Art Online has done a good job of staying relevant throughout the years, selling those blu-rays like there’s no tomorrow. As long as it continues to earn more than any of the sixty shows the company has made, A-1 Pictures has no reason to listen to my complaints, let alone beef up the animation quality so that non-hardcore fans can at least appreciate the eye candy. Besides, maybe the hardcore fans prefer it that way. I mean people thought Occultic;Nine looked good, and that is one of the most nauseating visual experiences I’ve ever seen in my life.
Isn’t going to stop me from making fun of it though. After all, when has the behind-the-scenes drama regarding a product ever mattered when taking said product’s actual quality into account? Never, that’s what.
- I actually don’t know if A-1 treats Sword Art Online with disdain due to its huge fanbase, but I don’t care either way. There’s no excuse for the movie looking as awful as it did.
- Also, how the fuck did A-1 employ Kenji Nakamura for one of their shows? And why was that show so shit?