I was a bit late getting on the bandwagon when it came to Sword Art Online. I’ll openly admit that. You see, I was always a “.Hack” guy myself; I’d fallen in love with the games back on the PS2, then the various anime series after that. So when I first got told about Sword Art Online, it just seemed all too similar to me. Naturally, in hindsight, I can see that I was wrong about that. Whilst the two series may have a slightly similar premise, that’s all that really connects them.
So, when I did finally give SAO a try, I was instantly hooked. I watched through both the Aincrad arc, the ALO arc and the Gun Gale Online arc in under a week… And for a parent, that’s some pretty quick binge watching.
Therefore, I am sure you can guess how excited I was about Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, especially since it has now come out on Netflix as well. The movie, set after the end of the Gun Gale Online arc, tells the story of an AR (augmented reality) game rather than a VR game, like the main anime. On top of this, it continues the tale of Kirito and his friends, leeting us find out what has happened to the characters we have come to know and love from the anime.
However, the anime has a number of episodes to show the plot in, whereas Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale has just short of 2 hours. So, how well did it manage to do this in such a short amount of time? Let’s find out!
Picking up four years after the Sword Art Online anime, Ordinal Scale starts off quite far into the release of the latest gaming hardware; the Augma. This piece of kit becomes very popular in a short space of time because it uses augmented reality rather than having the player’s mind dive into the game completely (referred to as “full dive”). After the horrific events in the game Sword Art Online, where players were trapped until the game was cleared and death in the game meant death in real life as well, people know prefer not to have to “full dive” into a game. Thus, the augmented reality technology was a near-instant hit.
This technical marvel also came with a brand new game, of course, named Ordinal Scale. In essence, Ordinal Scale is a fantasy MMORPG that you play completely in augmented reality. When you activate the Augma device, your perception is altered and reality switches to the fantasy world of the game. This sounds absolutely awesome, and in general, is shown to be an incredible way to play a game.
However, part of the story also shows the difference between the augmented reality gameplay or Ordinal Scale and the virtual reality gameplay of Sword Art Online. This is done through Kirito himself, who was insanely powerful in Sword Art Online, but now that his physical body is his player character, he is completely out of shape and unable to keep up with other players. This was a great way for the writers to put Kirito back on an even level with the other characters, as honestly, it had come to the point where he was basically Superman. Resetting a character is something that can be really hard to pull off in a believable and non-cliche manner, but by having the first act of Kirito’s plotline focus on his physical limitations, the writers did it brilliantly.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Sword Art Online story if there wasn’t something “wrong” with the game, and we are quickly introduced to the mystery of this storyline. In short, when survivors of the original Sword Art Online game die when fighting against the bosses from that game, which are now appearing as special events in Ordinal Scale, they suddenly start to lose their memories of their time in SAO.
This is what sets up the real tension and conspiracy within Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, and acts as the driving force for the plot. It makes a nice change from having a story entirely focused on the idea of death, and also manages to add in a bit of duality to the plot – if it were you, would you want to forget all the good memories you have from something, if it meant you would forget the bad memories too? It is an interesting question to pose, and Ordinal Scale handles it well, allowing you to decide your own answer whilst having the characters reach theirs in ways that feel natural for each character.
My only complaint with the movie is in the third act. You see, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale suffers from the same thing that many anime series to movie switches suffer from; a shorter run time. This makes the final act feel very swift in pace compared to the rest of the movie – a little too swift. The final resolution, although satisfying, feels like it just sort of happens… Even the final battle against Kirito’s rival in the movie ends very quickly (and isn’t even the ultimate fight scene in the movie).
However, what does end up being the penultimate fight is exciting, whilst also leaving me feeling rather sad, as it feels very much like the end of an era. I won’t spoil it, but if you’re a fan of Sword Art Online, I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean when you see the fight.
The first thing to note about Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, at least on Netflix, is that you can only watch it subbed. There is no English soundtrack available. Whilst I prefer this, I know there are many anime fans who would generally prefer to watch dubbed, so this needs to be mentioned.
With that out of the way, I can say with complete honesty that the quality of the visual animation in Ordinal Scale is great! There’s a mix of CGI and modern anime style drawing that blends very well, and everything feels like time and effort was put into it. The fight scenes are as hectic as you would expect from Sword Art Online, with all of the attacks and special moves looking beautiful. The voice acting was great, never feeling “phoned in”, and the soundtrack was excellent.
The new character of Yuna, a singing AI, meant that the music was unique and suited the events being depicted at the time, which is something that not a lot of modern shows do very well.
All in all, the quality of Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale was really high!
Okay, so you can actually buy Ordinal Scale on DVD and Blu-Ray… But I can tell you now, it won’t be easy. You can find imports from Italy and Germany on Amazon, but they are selling for £22 or more for the DVD and £25 or more for the Blu-Ray. These prices aren’t all that bad, but I would generally expect an anime movie to be lower than that. That is the sort of price I would expect for a season of an anime show, rather than a movie.
However, as it is currently available on Netflix (at least, here in the UK it is), this means that the cost of actually being able to watch Ordinal Scale is stupidly low! So, based upon that, I cannot fault the price of the movie.
For the cost of your monthly Netflix subscription, or rather, part of the cost if you watch other shows on the streaming service, you get on amazing anime movie. It is more than worth the price of the Netflix subscription by itself, so that’s a win in my book.
And That’s All Folks
Overall, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is a wonderful anime movie that continues the story of Kirito and Asuna brilliantly. The plot is intriguing, yet doesn’t recycle old themes, and even manages to pose a unique question. The quality is right up there with the best of them, and the fact that it is available on Netflix means that you can watch it right now without paying any more money than you normally would. How can I fault that?
Are you a fan of Sword Art Online? Have you seen Ordinal Scale yet? If not, would you be interested? Let me know in the comments below.